Changing Cell Phones Again

Slightly off topic, but since I use a cell phone so much for data transfer and work, it’s important that my device works for me. This is my current thought and experience, so take it with a grain of salt.

I want to talk about my experience with Verizon and iPhone, other carriers, and T-Mobile in particular.

Back to Verizon

I switched back to Verizon this past weekend, from T-Mobile. Coverage and performance were just bad enough that I made the move back.

I had to trade in my iPhone6, but I got a new one from Verizon. I’ve had my phone 11 months, and with the $330 trade in from Verizon, I lose about $80 in cost to pay off the T-Mobile phone. I should have been able to keep my phone and use a new SIM, but carriers seem resistant to using devices from other networks on their own. No good reason, but that was the state of things for me.

I had performed a backup to iCloud before I left for the store. Once there, I had the plan I wanted selected in 5 minutes, and about 5 minutes of a little paperwork (can we call it that on an iPad?) before they turned off my old one and activated the new one. Inside of 5 minutes I had a live phone.

Since I was in a hurry, I did the restore at home. I had to update to iOS 8.4 first, since that was my old device, but once that was done, the restore started from backup and I could use my phone. As I went into music or photos, I could see everything downloading across an hour or so. When it was done, almost everything was back on my phone. Icons in the right places, all my music, even my photos taken right before the backup were there. That’s a fairly seamless upgrade.

Or almost seamless. Security isn’t transferred, so I needed to update logins for mail, spotify, twitter, etc. The hassle for me is I use Password Safe, with the Safes in Dropbox. That meant I needed to use another device to get my Dropbox password before I could access the rest of my credentials, but a small price to pay.

Two nagging issues: my Bluetooth settings were lost, so I had to reset my car, headset, Pebble, Fitbit, etc. Some of those apps don’t like losing settings and trying to reconnect. A few hassles there. Also, the Amazon app still had a few of my books listed, but they weren’t downloaded. I had to delete them and re-download to make them work.

That’s about a smooth phone transfer process as possible. Windows is getting better, but it’s not that smooth. I haven’t upgraded Android phones, so I’d be curious if that worked well.

Carrier Choices

There are five of us at the ranch. Across the five of us, we had a point this year where we had service on all four carriers in the US. My two boys have shared a Sprint plan for years. My daughter’s first phone a few years ago was a Windows 8 phone and that was only on ATT at the time, so she had them. My wife and I were on Verizon, until I moved to T-Mobile last year,.

The boys have liked Sprint, which has had good service and coverage. They get unlimited data, but no hotspot unless they are willing to pay (they aren’t, and neither am I). I was hesitant to go with Sprint, only for the potential issues internationally. They use CDMA and 4G here in the US, but I wasn’t sure how that might go overseas and decided not to experiment. Other than that, no real reason to not choose Sprint.

ATT is bad. My daughter’s coverage might have rivaled mine at the ranch for poor quality. She moved to Sprint this year, and is much happier, so I decided not to try ATT.

Verizon was decent for me a few years ago, but when they upgraded to a 4G network out in the rural area in 2013/2014, holes started to appear. It was bad enough that I got annoyed. However I found out things could get worse, so I went back. Traveling around the US, Verizon was very good, and even now I’m happy that I can make calls almost all the way home and usually all the way to the kids’ school.

We’ll see what happens in the UK. I may just purchase a SIM when I’m there, or just carry my iPhone 4GS (or take one of the kid’s old Androids) and use it there.

T-Mobile Issues

I really liked what T-Mobile did last year. They really changed the cellular industry in the US and have almost removed contracts. When I switched last week, Verizon didn’t even try to get me to use a contract. Just a monthly pay-off-your-phone charge.

I also like that T-Mobile allowed me to use my phone in Canada and the UK for no charge. I could get texts for free, which is most of the way I communicate with family. I got wi-fi calling for free, same number, no getting everyone on Skype. I also got 3G data for free, with reasonable costs for 4G data. That fit my life.

However the coverage was bad. At the ranch, I could get T-Mo in my bathroom upstairs, but not if I walked back to the bedroom. I could get it W of the barn, but not E of it. The other places I had a small, roaming carrier, which was OK. I did get voice and text while roaming, but I had big holes coming and going from the ranch, as well as on the way to the kids’ school.

I also had problems in buildings. In one school, one store, and numerous places I’ve traveled to in the US, I couldn’t get coverage inside buildings. I saw this reported, and T-Mo securing a different frequency in some cities to combat the issues. However as I’ve visited SQL Saturdays around the US, I had numerous issues.

I’ll also say that at times when I’ve switched in and out of the T-Mobile network while driving, I will have a period of time when I can’t make or receive either calls or text. That’s maddening. The final straw for me was last Thursday, leaving school, with T-Mobile LTE on my phone, being unable to send a text to reply to my son. He could text me and I’d receive it, but was unable to reply.

Maddening.

It’s a bit sad, because I like T-Mobile overall. The performance was amazing, getting me 35Mbps in Parker, CO. Overseas coverage was good, and I used less data as music streaming was free.

However I also used less data because it wasn’t available. Including a trip to Sioux Falls in July where I had 2G, Edge network coverage from T-Mobile. That was maddening.

Spotty Coverage

I tend to be in less populated areas for much of my travels. Not rural, but I ski, hike, travel to smaller towns in the US, and I find coverage really spotty. In Custer, SD, Verizon and T-Mobile were the best, but Verizon was by far better.

The era of ubiquitous coverage is not here. I know Google tends to expect this in their philosophical view of the world, but many of us don’t have this type of coverage. We have lots of holes and slowdowns.

In fact, I still think software needs to account for this, and I’m hoping that people learn to write for the cloud and understand that it’s not just Azure or AWS, but really any service could be interrupted and allow for that. Degrade or fail gracefully.

I’m hoping this changes over time, but for now, I decided to go with the best coverage I can find for most of my work. That’s Verizon and my fingers are crossed it works as well as I used to.

About way0utwest

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