Should You Buy a 4G Phone?

Category: Mobile

Should I buy a 4G phone? I'm ready for a new mobile phone, and not sure if 4G is the right way to go. I use my smartphone all day, for email, web browsing and apps. So speed is important to me, but I need something reliable too. Do you think 4G is ready for prime time, and if so, what models do you recommend?

Is It Time For a 4G Upgrade?

Depending on your needs, and your mobile carrier, now may not be the time to buy a 4G mobile phone. Hardware is scarce and so is true 4G coverage. Before you spend extra dollars for a leading-edge 4G phone and 4G data plan, here are some things to consider.

First, 4G is not that different from 3G. Voice quality and text messaging are not improved at all in 4G. Data throughput is theoretically 10X faster in 4G, but 3G is pretty fast already. A 4G phone will excel at online video, music downloads, and gaming, which require high bandwidth. But 4G will not make as big a difference in ordinary tasks such as Web browsing or email. Latency (the lag between making a network request and getting a response) affects response time far more than download speed in such applications.
Buying a 4G Phone

4G often costs more than 3G, even when you can't use it. Sprint charges an extra $10/month on each of its 4G phones even if 4G service is not available in the buyer's area. AT&T has a 2 GB per month cap on its LTE data service, after which you pay by the byte. Verizon starts metering LTE after 5 GB per month.

True 4G is still relatively scarce. The only true 4G service currently available is 4G LTE. Verizon offers it in about 70 markets, and AT&T recently rolled out 4G LTE in just five markets. Spring uses 4G WiMax which is slower than 4G LTE. T-Mobile has a HSPA+ network that is slower than both LTE and WiMax, but that doesn't stop T-Mobile from calling it "4G." U. S. Cellular will deploy its 4G LTE network by the end of 2011, but it won't be available nationwide. MetroPCS has 4G LTE now, but it too is a regional carrier.

4G Handsets - Slim Pickings

There is little choice in 4G handsets, too. MetroPCS offers just two Samsung 4G phones. Verizon, Sprint and AT&T each offer 3 or 4 at most. All of them are Android phones. It's unlikely that we will see a 4G iPhone before mid 2012, until the expected arrival of the iPhone 5. But Apple is characteristically mum on the details, and there's no guarantee that they'll include 4G in the next iPhone. 4G is an emerging technology, even though carriers have been touting it since 2008. Unless you are a total mobile data addict, you can probably live without a 4G phone until more options are available.

But if you want 4G and you want it now, and if the service is available in your area, here are some of your options. On the Verizon network, the Motorola Droid Bionic is Verizon's newest 4G model, and is considered top of the line. Other options include the HTC Thunderbolt, and the Samsung Droid Charge. On Sprint, you've got the Motorola Photon, the HTC EVO, and the Samsung Conquer. AT&T offers the Motorola Atrix, the LG Thrill, and Samsung Infuse. All of the above are Android based. Check online reviews to see what others say about battery life, actual download speeds, and reliability before making a decision.

I do live in a Verizon 4G LTE area, and my wife has had the 4G Droid Charge for several months. It's a very nice phone, and battery life is decent. But my aging first-edition Motorola Droid is overdue for replacement. The camera lens is cracked (my fault), the battery is dying after 3-4 hours, and it just seems to get more sluggish every day. Today I plan to grab the Droid Bionic and take it for a long weekend test drive. I'll let you know how I like it next week!

Do you have a 4G phone? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Should You Buy a 4G Phone?"

Posted by:

07 Oct 2011

I don't have a 4G phone of any kind, and there's an excellent chance that I never will. I think that people my age - pushing 70 - don't want or need these advanced, modern phones that do everything including the dishes, laundry, and windows. It seems that all we want are phones that operate much like a landline, according to my senior friends and Internet contacts. However, we do want our phones connected to a reliable provider company, like Verizon, where the cell phones have a greater area of ucoverage than the cheap phones and not very popular carriers offered at Wal-mart, or the Dollar Stores. I had one of those kinds of phone once. Ten miles out of town and they didn't work...

Posted by:

07 Oct 2011

I started with a 4G phone from Verizon. The first thing I discovered was that there was little or no information on how to use an Android without attending a class at 6:30 in the morning on a week day. Not going to happen to this dude. I took it back and got an IPhone4. Pleanty of information on how to use it, an amazing number of Apps available and I couldn't tell the difference between the speeds on the phones for business use. Another important thing was battery life. The 4G phone had trouble lasting a day without recharging.. Not so with the IPhone.

Posted by:

07 Oct 2011

While 4G may be 6 to 9 months away in my ares, I'm still considering a 4G phone as my two year replacement comes up soon and I don't want to wait another two years to get something better than my 'feature' phone. I am going to take a serious look at the Samsung Prime on Verizon.

Posted by:

V Abrego
07 Oct 2011

I realize the Sprint network does not run as fast as true 4G. Last time I tried to "check it out" my wife and I were in a Sprint Store - next door to an AT&T store. Had excellent reception on both networks. Downloading on her iPhone (3Gs) and an EVO 4g were clearly different. Multiple downloads at the same time from multiple web sites were clearly faster on the Sprint phone. Sure, its not a scientific survey but, the "4G" did seem to make a difference. Over the last several months, I can tell a subjective difference when using my phone as a hotspot in 4G vs 3G coverage areas.

I'll stick with Sprint as its uncapped. The downside to the 4G phone is battery life. I now carry at least two spare (or one extended) batteries for heavy use through the day.

V Abrego

Posted by:

John Coriell
07 Oct 2011

So, what you are saying in the 4G article is, I have been told by T-Mobile my Samsung Galexy S 4-G phone is not really a 4-G phone? Should I be suing them for selling me a product that I really don't have? Can you help?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Not saying that at all. It's just that T-Mobile's network is really HSPA+, but they're calling it 4G. As I understand it, the speed on HSPA+ does not compare well with a 4G network, such as Verizon offers.

Posted by:

07 Oct 2011

there is no 4g in the uk and i cant see there being any for years to come so it dont apply to us

Posted by:

DJ Rosen
08 Oct 2011

Maybe extraterrestrials have 4G. Next time you see a UFO, ring them up or send them a text message. Ray Walston will love it.

Posted by:

08 Oct 2011

Hi Bob & All! I updated my old regular phone (this Aug)to a "magical" little beauty. Yup-it says 4-G & it is a T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S. I happen to love it!!!!! It took almost a week of playing around with it to figure it out & add a few fun Apps. I'm a moderate user-checking Email, messages & hitting the web for info. It's probably not "perfect" but it does enough for me. Calls are clear & speaker works great! It has wi-fi & bluetooth & enough "juice" at the end of the day that allows me to drive my hubbie crazy playing Majong until the battery pings for plug-in relief!!! ;>D
BTW-not that it really matters-but I'm 60 & I LOVE technology--> I find it is all really "a Magical Mystery Tour" sayeth The Beatles!!! I never want to sound like a Granny- But let's try to appreciate the current technology as the true marvel that it is & maybe not be so critical! Enjoy & Peace!!! Trish

Posted by:

08 Oct 2011

In all honesty, 4G is very, very limited, right now. There are only certain areas, that have the right infrastructure to support it. It will take time, to complete the entire infrastructure. Then, there will still be areas that won't support it, much like DSL or Cable Broadband.

As Bob said, there isn't that much difference between 3G and 4G. I liken it, to the difference between a 2.0Ghz CPU to a 3.0Ghz CPU. Both are fast, but a 3.0Ghz CPU is a bit faster. Does it really matter in the long run? Depends on what you want to do with the 'speed'.

I have a HTC Inspire 4G. I love it. Do I do a lot with my phone? No. Mainly, phone calls and some texting. Oh, and playing some games. I occasionally, get on the Internet, to check my bank balance, Gas Buddy and a few other places. When I am at home, I use my Wireless Router to access the Internet and download things. Saves me data usage on my plan, since I am not using Wi-Fi to download.

The biggest problem is battery time. I really don't think that it matters which phone or provider, battery time is the biggest complaint in all reviews, for all 3G and 4G phones. What I do, is keep my phone connected to it's power source, when I am at home. This way, my battery is charged, when I leave home. In the mean time, I still get messages and phone calls.

I am not sure about all providers, but, I do know that AT&T has records of just how much data, you use monthly. I am glad, they do. It is what helped me to decide, which Data Plan to choose. I selected the lowest Data Plan 200MB a month. On average, I used less than 20MBs, a month. Again, I use my Wireless Router to download data. I am retired, so I am home most of the time.

For those, who use their phones as a PDA or for Business, battery time is a real bummer, even with 3G phones. So, the bottom line is, to think of various ways to keep the battery charged. Using the car cigarette lighter is one way and a Jump Start battery starter, that has a USB slot is another. I use that when I take my grand kids fishing, so I don't have to keep my car running. I play games on my phone, while they are fishing.

Even with the battery issue, I still LOVE my phone. Oh, by the way, I am 68 years old and still love gadgets. Remember, "He who has the most toys last ... Wins." An old geek saying. LOL

Posted by:

08 Oct 2011

I don't want to start some kind of a petty war over smartphones, but on break at work today, a co-worker (with a fruit phone 4 in his hand) made the comment "Wow that's fast!" referring to the phone that I was holding.
Sent from my HTC Inspire 4G

Posted by:

11 Oct 2011

4G alive and well in San Antonio, TX!!!!

I have conducted download speed tests on my Sprint EVO 4G receiving download speeds between 4 and almost 8 Mbps (the fastest being 7.81 Mbps). I use 4G whenever I leave the house.

I use Google maps as my GPS while driving. I'm able to receive views in satellite view. The satellite feature in 3G does not work as well.

Well look at that...I just had a download speed of 5.09 Mbps.

Posted by:

16 Feb 2013

Has anyone bothered to check the download speed at 3G? According to Antwan he gets 8 Mbps on a 4G network! If the difference is not large then its not worth bothering with 4G its battery problem and the higher cost. Just my two cents. I for one can't determine which is best from all the comments here or Bob's article. I will look it up on the net see what tech sites say and rate.

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