So, recently I set out to buy a new smartphone, and like everything in my life, something that should have been simple turned into a huge can of worms!
I knew I wanted an Android phone, with reasonably good specs, that would work with my current carrier (T-Mobile/Family Mobile), that wasn’t the size of a Tom Clancy novel (I hate “Phablets”, and I think people look really stupid taking pictures with iPads!), that had a removable battery (Why is that so hard??), a decent camera, and a memory card slot. Shouldn’t be hard, right?…
I’m the type that researches thing thoroughly (some might say obsessively) before buying. I wanted a screen size 4.5″ or smaller – which is definitely bucking the trend. Removable batteries seem to be disappearing, because the manufacturers seem to be more interested in style (thin-ness) than functionality. Memory card slots are less common, and I think it’s because the companies think their customers are idiots and want to keep things childishly simple (This is Google’s stated reason for not having memory card slots in their phones, although they say it more charitably!)
The problem arose because most phones with smallish screens any more are “budget” phones, and they sacrifice camera quality or other features to keep the price down. Plus, the network technology has changed since I bought my last phone… and I didn’t find that out until I had settled on a phone… whereupon I had to go through the whole process all over again.
See, when I bought my last phone, 4G (4th Generation data) technology was pretty new. T-Mobile had rolled out a 4G system that my phone was compatible with, but it wasn’t available at my home. That was OK, because the city nearest me (Tucson) did have the technology, and my voice call signal was good enough at my home, even if the data was slow. After all, that’s what WI-Fi is for.
Then, I started noticing that I was losing my signal more often, and of course I blamed the phone. But I tried another (older) phone, and the situation was the same. My phone was also getting generally flaky as well, so I started shopping for a new phone.
I was pretty far along in my selection process when I discovered, quite by accident, that my carrier did have high-speed data in my area, but…
Like VHS and Betamax, or, more recently between BLU-RAY and HD-DVD, there were several competing technologies out there for 4G data on mobile devices. The “4G” that my 4-year-old phone used turned out to be the loser in the fight, with the winner being LTE (Long Term Evolution). Additionally, I think they have been progressively turning off the old systems to make bandwidth for the new, and that would explain why my old phone is dropping signal much more often.
Of course, if one buys a phone from the carrier, a lot of this pain can be avoided, since they want you to have a good experience on their network. My problem, as outlined above, was the carrier didn’t have any phones I was interested in; It was either great big behemoths that I couldn’t even hold with one hand, or El Cheapo smaller phones with crummy features. So I went looking for an unlocked phone I could use that fit my needs.
Well, long story short, I finally found something that isn’t as perfect as my old phone, but I think it’ll do. What a struggle! Bottom line: If you go shopping for a phone from anybody except your carrier (and there is a vast selection out there), do plenty of research. Even in the world of phones compatible with your carrier, not all are created equal. Especially make sure the phone you pick has the bands and frequencies your carrier uses.
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I’d love to hear your comments!