From AT&T to Cingular to Verizon to T-Mobile to Project Fi

pfiI signed up for my first wireless plan in 2000; only the actual phone number has remained constant.

The eternal quest for the cheapest/best/reliablest(sp?) plan has taken me to Google’s Project Fi beta. What’s Project Fi? Google Fi gives you a new type of sim card that allows you to connect to more than one carrier and/or wifi hotspots for making phone calls or using data. I was a T-Mobile customer before Project Fi, so this plan keeps my access to T-Mobile, while adding Sprint and any public wifi that registers as strong enough to support voice/data.

The plan is $20 for unlimited talk minutes and text + $10.00 per gigabyte of data. The idea is that having quick switch to open wifi will cut down on data needs. Since my phone number is a Google Voice number, trying out the service is really easy… although transferring a number over is as easy as transferring a number to any other carrier.

Why switch? I currently use T-Mobile’s “not that well-advertised” $30 plan; it is unlimited data (although throttled after a few gigs of use) with 100 mins of talk per month. This plan requires either rooting or additional payment for tethering. It’s a cheap plan and it works pretty well, but there are many T-Mobile dead zones (including my house!) and I tether often, so it’s annoying to have to face dropped calls and to keep rooting every time Google releases a new android version. Project Fi is more expensive per gig, but calls/texts are unlimited and they refund any unused data credits each month, so you literally pay for only the data you use. If you need more data in a certain month, you’re billed for the additional data at $10.00 per gig. I’m banking on public wifi handling most of my data needs… hopefully most everything except turn-by-turn directions and tethering.

Hopefully Project Fi offers solid switching between T-Mobile, Sprint, and public wifi. In any case, both plans are off-contract, so switching back is as easy as switching out the sim card.

Project Fi currently requires a Nexus 6, 5x, or 6p, and you get some benefits from purchasing a new Nexus directly through Project Fi. You can pay for your phone over time without fees or financing, and they throw in a half-price case. Unrelated to Project Fi, Google throws in a $50 credit to the Play Store, so if you’re looking to escape from the iPhone or Windows Phone, you can now replace a good number of apps for the price of a Nexus… which is really the only Android phone I’d suggest buying at this point.

Phone Hardware and Carriers so far:

  • Nokia feature phone (AT&T, Cingular)
  • OG Motorola Droid (CDMA – Verizon)
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus (CDMA – Verizon)
  • LG Nexus 5 (GSM – unlocked – T-Mobile)
  • LG Nexus 5x (GSM – unlocked – Project Fi)

I don’t know yet because I have a papaya…

What the ....?

This is an actual speech to text conversion presented to me with a straight face (I presume) by Google.

“They’re an automatically. I moved out. But if you were expecting that talk to you Is it right I don’t know yet because I have a papaya. It’s a lot, bye hello, and I will get along very well. Mediation lenient directions. I don’t know, i’m you know community and The neither of the week. It’s those hang up on the actually and hang out, and call. Hey, but, Shh, Shh, trying to call. Yeah.”

For the record… I was talking about mangoes, not papayas and NO ONE calls me the “neither of the week” and gets away with it!

Verizon Phones as of right now

Time to upgrade?

There are four contenders for your smartphone money right now if you’re on Verizon:

  • Galaxy Nexus
  • Motorola Droid Razr
  • update… Droid Razr Maxx now available with a much larger, but still non-removable battery.
  • HTC Rezound
  • Apple iPhone 4S

Really short version: I’d reluctantly get the Galaxy Nexus over the Razr, but I can’t help wondering if there’s another Verizon phone to be released in December. (Update: I got the Nexus and I no longer think Verizon will release anything else this year. Might push out the Droid RazrMaxx next year before getting into the quad core phones.)

Longer version: All the phones are really quite good and you can’t really go wrong with any of them, but all have rather tragic flaws. The Nexus has the least important tragic flaws and ships with ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich – latest flavor of the Android OS). Whichever Android OS phone you get, you can look forward to 4 times the ram of your current OG Droid (if you, like me, are still rocking one!), and the upgraded processor (between 1.2 and 1.5 Ghz) will be dual and powerful. Apple underclocks their processor to 800Mhz.

Detailed version:

  • Galaxy Nexus Good: LTE enabled, pure Android (no bloatware dropped on top of ICS should make it a very responsive beast), has NFC (near field communications), good-looking screen, ships with ICS (the latest version of Android), quick camera, os will be supported and updated by Google (rather than Samsung), good guts to the phone, removable battery.
  • Galaxy Nexus Bad: screen is not Gorilla Glass (it will scratch easier than your OG Droid… (Update!) although… this video suggests it’s pretty damn scratch resistant), lots of plastic, no removable data card, camera is 5MP instead of the standard 8MP (might not be a big deal, but it needs to be noted).
  • Motorola Droid Razr Good:  LTE enabled, good hardware guts, badass shell of kevlar and steel, Gorilla Glass screen, removable data card, thin body, most masculine design of the four, some of Motorola’s bloatware is actually pretty cool (energy settings according to time/location).
  • Motorola Droid Razr Bad: ships with Gingerbread (Motorola says it will upgrade to ICS in 2012, but doesn’t give a date), battery is NOT removable (although the new Razr Maxx makes this less of an issue since the battery has so much more capacity), no extended battery option as you can’t swap the stock one out, screen is lower resolution than the best smartphones (tradeoff).
  • HTC Rezound Good:  LTE enabled, good hardware guts, pretty screen, 8MP camera, comes with expensive ear buds and Beats technology (great if you listen to hip hop… somewhat gimmicky if you don’t), nice looking phone, apparently will ship with a wireless charging back cover.
  • HTC Rezound Bad: screen is not Gorilla Glass, fat phone, tiny (although removable and replaceable) stock battery, bloated Sense software on top of Android (slower responses), ships with Gingerbread (although HTC promises to upgrade to ICS in 2012).
  • Apple iPhone 4S Good: smallest phone (good or bad depending upon how you look at it), fast and clear camera, Siri (if you’re into her), clear display, can be cheaper depending upon which model (storage size) you get, ios is more mature and less fragmented than Android, potentially better battery life (although ios seems to have some bugs degrading battery performance at the moment).
  • Apple iPhone 4S Bad: not LTE enabled (you cannot use the fastest data speeds available from Verizon), no removable battery, it’s the smallest phone (good or bad depending upon how you look at it, its hardware specs are significantly lower than the three Android phones, and both the glass back and the screen are rather fragile. The iPhone is due for a complete redesign next year that will doubtlessly include LTE functionality and make you hate your older iPhone 4S.

Miscellaneous Andy notes:

  • If you want to buy the Razr or the Galaxy Nexus, call/visit your local Costco to see if they sell the phone. Costco usually sells the phone at the same price as Verizon BUT they often add a bunch of goodies for no cost (extra chargers, docks, cases, etc.). (Update… Nexus package is NOT worth it at Costco. Crappy case, crappy holster, and another charger cable isn’t worth the extra 20 bucks.)
  • I want to and may still get the Razr because of the badass shell and tougher screen, but I’ll probably end up getting the Galaxy Nexus due to the faster software release schedule and removable battery. If the Razr had a removable battery and/or shipped with ICS, I wouldn’t even look at the Nexus, but in aggregate, the Nexus wins on points. (Update: I got the Nexus. It’s great; it would have been better if it came in the Droid Razr housing. Battery cover on the Nexus is pretty flimsy. The rest of the phone seems pretty solid. LTE is completely worth it.) (Second update: check out the Droid Razr Maxx if the battery issue was scaring you away from the original Razr.)
  • Battery life could be a real issue with this ENTIRE generation of Android phones. Thirsty processors and LTE will suck em dry pretty fast. This is another potential downside with the Razr, as you’re out of luck going the extended battery route. This is a potential upside to the iPhone 4S, as you’re trading power and LTE for battery life.