I read an interesting article a while back titled “Mobile devolution: Why Verizon’s no longer a place for Android enthusiasts” by J.R. Raphael. I really like the few articles of his that I’ve read – they drill down into some core issues and provide some helpful, often overlooked, insights.
But as I ruminated on that article in particular, I was a bit puzzled: Verizon not for Android enthusiasts? I’m an Android enthusiast and I’ve felt fine with Verizon.
But really, the argument should encapsulate all mobile ecosystems – Apple, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, etc. So the question really becomes:
Is Verizon not for mobile enthusiasts?
For those not familiar with J.R.’s article (and I strongly encourage you to read it), let’s first look at his arguments. Then I’ll give my perspective on the issue, and we’ll wrap up with the resounding verdict! Or at least some kind of verdict.
Arguments against Verizon as a place for Android enthusiasts
Note: J.R.’s arguments are specifically surrounding the Android ecosystem on Verizon, but we can easily extrapolate his argument to the other ecosystems on Verizon as well.
J.R. essentially makes the following arguments:
- Verizon doesn’t carry all of the phones that an Android enthusiast would like, especially the Nexus-branded devices. He mentions the LG Nexus 4 and the “Google editions” of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One.
- Of the ones it does carry, it’s often “later to the party” than other carriers. The HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4 came to Verizon after some other carriers.
- Upgrades come to phones later than they should (an issue we looked at previously).
- Blocking apps like Google Wallet and tethering applications.
- Verizon’s CDMA network makes it impossible to bring in your own unlocked device.
He concludes the argument by making a good assertion: if you’re an Android enthusiast, you should put your money where your mouth is.
I really appreciate J.R.’s take on the issues, because it’s a well-needed broach of the subject. Some of us are hard-core mobile enthusiasts – I would definitely consider myself in that group. I love mobile devices (especially smartphones), I root every single smartphone I get, I often force tethering to work, I tweak it to my desires, and I’m excited about the next stages of technological evolution with extended computing being added to the mobile mix.
So how do I feel about Verizon?
There are a lot of factors here, so I’ll break it down into sections:
- Coverage: You can’t deny Verizon’s coverage – research shows it has the larger network, Consumer Reports constantly places it in the top carrier spot, and a press email I recently received stated that “Verizon Wireless Ranks Highest in Wireless Network Quality Performance in All Six Regions” (study by J.D. Power). This is an often-overlooked side of the conversation. I hear people talk all the time about going with a carrier that appreciates unlocked phones like T-Mobile, but they don’t talk about how the coverage and quality aren’t as great. I subscribe to Consumer Reports, and of “the Big 4″ (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile) they consistently rate Verizon and Sprint (CDMA networks) in the two highest positions, with T-Mobile and AT&T (GSM networks) in the two lowest positions (also cf. CDMA section below). That needs to be a part of the conversation.
- Devices: This one is a mixed bag. If you’re not a Nexus enthusiast, you’re pretty much covered: Verizon carries the Apple iPhone 5, Apple iPhone 4S, Nokia Lumia 928, HTC Windows Phone 8X, BlackBerry Z10, BlackBerry Q10, Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy Note II, Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One, and the Motorola Moto X (marketed as a “quasi-Nexus-style” device). So J.R. is right – they don’t carry the LG Nexus 4 or the “Google edition” versions of the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4. However, as reported by Engadget, the Developer Edition of the S4 is available directly from Samsung, and it does work on Verizon. The difference between the “Google edition” and the Developer Edition is that the Developer Edition comes with the Samsung UI, but has an unlocked bootloader.
- The whole CDMA issue is relevant here as well. According to PC Magazine there are some pluses and minuses with GSM vs. CDMA. CDMA’s “code division” system for encoding calls is “a more powerful and flexible technology,” enough so that “3G GSM” used the technology. However, GSM has come a long way since its inception, and is now the world standard. In the US, five of the top seven carriers use CDMA (Verizon Wireless, Sprint, MetroPCS, Cricket, and U.S. Cellular), and two use GSM (AT&T and T-Mobile). However, due to the nature of CDMA and how the US carriers use it, most of the time you can’t take phones from one carrier to the other.
- Device releases: You can’t deny cold, hard facts – J.R.’s right about this one. Some of the major phones do come to Verizon later than other carriers. For this article, the question becomes: does and should that matter to mobile enthusiasts? Obviously it does matter to some, because it really rubs J.R. and others the wrong way. I would say in theory it matters to me, but in practice it doesn’t matter at all. I usually wait for my 2-year contract to run out, and just get whatever top-of-the-line-ish device I want at that time. If I have to, I’ll wait a month or two to grab a newly-released product, but it doesn’t really bother me all that much. The other side of the question is, should it? I think there are a couple answers to this:
- In general principle, waiting shouldn’t bother us. We’re too much of a “Give it to me now!” culture, we need to feel the burn of waiting sometimes. Especially with technology: you don’t need that device right now, you want it right now.
- In specific principle, we should expect carriers to treat us with respect. Does having to wait on a device compromise that trust? Not necessarily – it all depends on what’s causing the waiting. One thing that often doesn’t get mentioned with this discussion is the root cause. Is it possible Verizon dropped the ball? Of course. Is it possible that the phone manufacturer decided to make a deal with another carrier or two and offer it to them first? Definitely. There are multiple possibilities here, and we need to consider all of them.
- Device updates: J.R.’s right again with the facts, and as I referred to above, we previously looked at the waiting game we have to play with device updates. Specifically, I gave the example of my previous Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It should’ve received updates very soon after their release (after all, it was a Nexus-branded device), but instead it became a one-to-two month waiting game. Again, waiting isn’t the biggest deal, but the question is what’s causing the slowdown. Do carriers need to be involved in that process? And keep in mind, this isn’t really a Verizon-only issue, the waiting game occurs with other carriers as well.
- Last but not least, the blocking of applications. I know about this all too well. The most notable examples are what J.R. mentions, Google Wallet and tethering applications.
- Regarding tethering, originally Verizon blocked all tethering apps besides their own (specifically, they pressured Google to block them from the Play Store for Verizon phones). Then the FCC ruled that they had to allow tethering apps. Now, there are some restrictions to using tethering apps (have to be on a non-unlimited plan and not on an iPhone), but it’s generally allowed. However, it’s still blocked for unlimited data users. I first ran into this issue before the ruling, so I had to sideload a tethering app myself.
- Regarding Google Wallet, it’s an incredibly complicated situation. While the general principle should be that it’s allowed, Google wants Wallet to access the secure element of the phone, something that Verizon is not too keen on (cf. the argument for Verizon allowing Google Wallet and a more neutral stance). David Ruddock’s argument is that it’s not necessarily a FCC violation, but a business decision.
That’s a lot of info, so let’s do a simple breakdown. Here are the positives, or ways in which Verizon is a place for mobile enthusiasts:
- Voice, text, and data coverage
- Availability of non-Nexus devices
Here are the negatives, or ways in which Verizon is not a place for mobile enthusiasts:
- Availability of Nexus devices
- Device update speed and frequency
- Blocking apps (previously)
And here are the neutrals, or ways that either don’t matter as much or are a toss-up:
- Device release speed
- Blocking apps (currently)
So what does all this mean?
Where does Verizon stand?
Okay, I’m going to give a blanket, non-opinion-based response, and then my personal response.
The blanket response is that if you look at all of the above, you need to decide what matters to you. Do you care more about quality of service and availability of a wide range of popular devices? Then Verizon’s a great place for you. Do you care more about getting a device on day one and having it update on day one? Then you may want to consider another option. But whichever way you go, keep in mind the pluses and minuses, and ask yourself some hard questions. Why does this matter to me? I’m not trying to convince you to go one way or the other, but I’m trying to convince you to give your reasons some serious considerations.
For example, I know of some developers who need to get a device ASAP, for obvious reasons. They may have to go with a non-Verizon carrier for that. But at the same time, some developers understand the popularity of Verizon and the phones they provide, and will definitely wait a little for a Verizon version of the device. It’s a mixed bag, even in that area.
Personally, these are the things I really care about from a carrier:
- Coverage: I especially want data coverage everywhere (I’ll make an exception for basements and elevators).
- Devices: I want a high-quality, well-received device. I don’t care if it’s a “Google edition” or not, I just want a great phone.
- Device updates: I want at least decently fast updates. I’m paying for well-maintained service, and to me, part of that includes timely updates.
- Blocking apps: I don’t want any apps to be blocked. I want the consumer to be able to choose what to go with, not the carrier.
I put a much higher priority on the first two than I do the second two, but the second two still matter to me. I’m really into new software and personalization, so I want access to a lot, software-wise.
From that I’m sure you can tell that I’m very happy with Verizon, but with some caveats. I have to give Verizon really high marks for coverage – the only times I’ve ever had issues were way out in the boondocks of North Carolina, and I just mentally shrugged my shoulders, effectively saying “Oh well. I’m in the boondocks, what can I expect?” I also have to give pretty high marks for devices – they may come slightly later than other carriers, but at least they have all the big devices covered. Choice is great for consumers.
However, as I expressed in my previous article, I am disappointed in the update frequency, and I still want to know why carriers have to be involved (at least to the extent that they are). But that’s carrier-wide, not just with Verizon.
Perhaps the one area I’m most disappointed with is the blocking of apps. I’m a bit of a “phone freedom!” kind of guy in this area. I’d rather have the choice of whether or not to download something questionable, instead of having that ball in the carriers’ court. I definitely understand the implications and caution behind giving away the keys to the kingdom as it relates to the secure element and Google Wallet, but I’d rather that risk be on my shoulders instead of the carriers’. It’s understandable that they want to get involved, but I’d prefer it to go the other way.
So here’s the deal: I’m very happy with my Verizon service, I’m very glad I was able to get the device I loved (Samsung Galaxy Note II) on Verizon, I’d prefer a couple of their practices to change, but I’m not bothered enough by them to change carriers.
For now, this mobile enthusiast will remain on Verizon. And while other carriers may look tempting in other areas, Verizon covers the ones I’m most concerned with.
But your situation may be different, and that’s okay. As J.R. did, you may find the need to switch carriers to properly rectify your mobile desires. As a consumer, that’s your right, and your choice. And another one of your choices may be to lodge a nicely-worded comment with your carrier, letting them know what you care about as a mobile consumer.
It may seem like it doesn’t matter, but the more of us that do things like that, it will matter.
What do you think about being a mobile enthusiast on your carrier? Do you like it? Want to change? Let us know in the comments.