Verizon Wireless 4G: faster but waiting for it in my neighborhood

The Samsung Charge is the second 4G phone Verizon Wireless (VW) has given me to review and my experience was much like the first 4G phone I reviewed – uncertain.

VW 4G territory is in dark red. Blue arrow points to where I live.

That’s because 4G remains 16-18 miles from my home. So I tested it a couple of times as I neared 4G territory closer to Boston. And 4G is much faster and I would probably spring for if it covered more territory . But I won’t deny my frustration with 3G. Most of the time, 3G will not do a credible job downloading videos so I don’t bother. Sometimes they work. Most of the time, 3G is too slow to be practical (of course, you never know whether it’s the speed of the Internet or the phone’s video processor – many times, the latter I suspect).

As I passed into 4G territory, I was in the middle of a Google search and `snap!,’ it finished (the “3G” indicator on the top of the display changes to “4G”). That was good. To me, 4G seems to take a quick breath, then page loads instantly. But the same thing happened with 4G that happens with 3G: occasionally, it just freezes for whatever reason.

VW bills 4G as “blazingly” fast – up to 10x faster than 3G. And I suspect sometimes it is. It all depends where you are and the strength of the signal. VW voice service, which usually ranks the highest among carriers, has declined a bit in my experience if dropped calls and inaudibility are any indications. Technically speaking, 4G operates at up to 100 Megabits per second, but practically speaking, a 4G smart users gets 5-12% of that that. Regardless, that’s a vast improvement over 1-2 megabit speeds with 3G.

BUT, I presently pay for $30 for unlimited 3G downloads which I believe VW is discontinuing once I change plans. As the chart indicates, VW limits usage and charges $10 per GB after you exceed your cap. With faster speeds, guess what? You’re likely to download a lot more.

The Charge is fine Android 2.2 (aka Froyo) smart phone. Click here for an explanation about Android 2.2. I am an iPhone guy and Android can be frustrating, what with four navigation button’s  versus the latter’s one. I am sure the reverse is true and the few Android users I’ve talked to without exception seem unlikely to defect anytime soon.

Noteworthy about about the Charge is that’s it’s the third cheapest 4G smart phones from VW – $150 for the phone assuming you sign up for the two-year service commitment. The Charge is a lot of  phone for the money. The Samsung Stratosphere at $100 is VW’s second least expensive 4G smart phone while the Pantech Breakout is first at $50. VW also offers a couple of pre-owned 4G phones $100 of under.

The phones 4.2 inch AMOLED display is brilliant and carrying the somewhat over sized smart phone in shirt or pants pocket is not a problem. It’s 5 ounce weight is an ounce or more less than early versions of larger smart phones and it’s not as thick. State of the art semiconductors just get better, faster and smaller.

I recommend this phone, but would hold off for 4G until coverage is everywhere I go. On Jan. 19, VW said it brought 4G to five more cities and that now 200 million across the nation have access to it, BUT it’s still 20 miles away from my neighborhood.

I asked a live chat person (“Lily”) when 4G would come to my town, fully expecting a non-answer. That’s exactly what she gave me: “”Our 4G coverage is expanding everyday.” “That did not answer my question,” I shot back. I asked again and waited a minute or so for Lily to respond and did not hear back. It felt very much like trying to watch a video using the 3G.

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