Should I Dump AT&T? And if So, What Next?

By  |  Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Earlier this week, I sought your advice on whether I should get rid of cable TV, and many of you responded with useful feedback.  Now I need your thoughts on an equally major dilemma: Should I dump AT&T and give up my iPhone 3GS?

So help me, I’m not an AT&T hater. My iPhone is my primary phone, and it works fine most of the time–including at home, where audio quality is good and calls rarely if ever die. I’m aware that AT&T 3G, when it works, is speedy, and that simultaneous voice and data is a benefit. I also understand that other carriers are far from perfect, and that it’s not a given I’d be happier with something else.


This morning, I was on an important call that went fine until the significant part started. Then the connection died. And no matter how many times I redialed, it died again without getting through. Even though the phone claimed it had a full five bars of coverage plus 3G. Eventually, I lunged outside (into the pouring rain) and ran to my car. Sitting in there, I was able to get through.

I wasn’t really surprised: I spend a lot of time in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco, and for the most part, my AT&T iPhone is an outdoor phone there. Indoors, it’s an utter crapshoot whether I’ll be able to make and take calls. I’ve lived with the situation for a year and a half, but I’m growing weary, and I have no idea when or if the situation will improve. (We know that AT&T Mobility President Ralph De La Vegas is not a reliable source of information on what to expect.)

(I also have no idea whether the iPhone itself deserves any of the blame–there are those who say that poor reception is at least partially the phone’s fault.)

Anyhow, for the first time, I’m seriously considering switching to another carrier–which most likely means using another phone as my primary handset. (Full disclosure: The iPhone is one of the most newsworthy platforms of any type we cover, so I’d keep the phone and wouldn’t cancel my AT&T account…but when I just wanted to get stuff done, I’d use a different phone.)

Here are the options I’m currently contemplating:

Verizon Wireless: I’d buy a Droid or the soon-to-be-available Palm Pre Plus. The Droid, however, is no longer the coolest, most advanced Android phone– the Nexus One, which is really a T-Mobile phone, is. The new Pre Plus, on the other hand, is the newest Web OS phone, and WebOS is an OS that speaks to me. It also works as a MiFi-like wireless router, which might let me get rid of my EVDO adapter. On the other hand, the WebOS app library remains skimpy, and Engadget’s review of the Pre Plus leaves me worrying about its battery life. And the Pre, like the iPhone, now feels like a last-generation phone when it comes to screen resolution and camera specs.

Sprint: I could buy a (no longer the latest and greatest) Pre from these guys, too, and their service-plan pricing is aggressive. I also know of folks who are fans of Sprint’s coverage and reliability.

T-Mobile: I’d get the Nexus One. (Actually, I’d spring for the $529 unlocked model so I wasn’t committed to T-Mobile for two years, and could use it overseas for cheap with a pay-as-you-go SIM card.) It’s a good phone with a good OS and lots of apps (including Google Voice!) and its future seems bright.

Wild card: I could unlock my iPhone and use it on T-Mobile, right?

Weird wild card: I could get a MiFi pocket router from Verizon, use it with my iPhone, and make calls via Skype over Verizon’s network, right?

None of these options is without its pitfalls, but if I had to do the deal today, I’d get a Verizon Pre or a T-Mobile Nexus One.

Or I might just stick with the iPhone and AT&T. If carrier support wasn’t an issue, I’d still choose the iPhone. And like I said, AT&T works fine most of the time. It’s just that when it doesn’t, that “More Bars in More Places” tagline feels more like mockery than a promise.

What would you do?

[UPDATE: Let’s turn this into a poll!]


Read more: , ,

27 Comments For This Post

  1. Wayne Dixon Says:

    Actually you could wait and get the Google Nexus One on Verizon when it arrives in the spring. The MiFi wouldn’t be a bad choice, if there was a skype android app, then it would make even more sense. Just use the Wifi on the Nexus One with the MiFi and Skype, you’d be all set. You could also do the same thing with the iPhone as well if you procured the MiFi. However, to me anyway, the thought of having to pay for another service is just ridiculous. But, if it means your livelihood then it might be worth the $60 a month. It’s too bad you’re not in a Clear 4G area, then you could just get the WiMax and be all set more than the MiFi.

  2. Chris Dollard Says:

    Move to the Great White North and activate your 3GS on Bell Canada. They just launched an awesome 21 Mbps HSPA network, you could live in Vancouver and commute back to SJ as much as you like.

  3. Bill Horn Says:

    I have a Droid. Not much traveling with it yet, but I’ve had no troubles with connectivity or sound quality. Former Alltell customer (before it was eaten by Verizon. Never had any connection problems with them, so far it’s been the same with Verizon.

  4. Joe Says:

    I’m in the same boat on this. I’ve had it up to here with not being able to make a call on my iPHONE. I love all the features and the device itself is hard to beat.

    AT&T’s pricing is over the top for what you pay per month for service and is just generally unreliable.

    My two years are up in May and unless Apple / AT&T come out with something really game changing I’m going to make the switch.

    (As I type this I actually just dropped a call… not an exaggeration)

  5. Rob Adler Says:

    How much do you rely on your Apps? If you use them a lot then the Pre is not a great choice. Android is better, but no near the iPhone at this time.

  6. Trina Unzicker Says:

    wait until wed, january 27…rumor is that apple will announce that it will partner w verizon wireless in april. i think that may also be when the iphone 4g is available. that’s what i’m waiting for – don’t want to be held by the short & curlies w at&t!

  7. Ploni Almoni Says:

    I have the Sprint Pre and am very happy with it, it doesn’t have a lot of apps, but the number of apps has tripled in the past 2 months (from 300-something to 1,100) and some of them are very high quality. The Mifi capability of the Verizon Pre Plus might even save you money, it’s less expensive than your EVDO adapter per-month probably.

    Battery life is a bit short, about an hour shorter than some popular Android phones, often if you use it heavily for internet, long phone calls, that will put it under the 8 hour mark. Recent firmware has fixed this some. The answer to that problem is get a touchstone charger to keep it charged at all times while you’re not carrying it, then it has acceptable battery life. Plus turn off the instant messaging and push email when you don’t need them will add another 2-3 hours of battery life.

  8. Ploni Almoni Says:

    Oh yes, get homebrew (Preware) for WebOS, that will double the number of apps available to you from the official app catalog’s 1,100 to over 2,000. Unlike the iPhone and jailbreaking, the homebrew community is *supported* by Palm and their way of installing apps doesn’t disappear after each firmware update.

    It’s technically more open than the Android, the phone doesn’t need an unsupported hack to be “rooted”, just download the SDK and you get a Linux root prompt from Palm’s own tools. (This is not necessary to install or use Preware homebrew apps, and in fact for the Verizon Pre Plus is largely unnecessary if you get the Mifi features from Verizon.)

  9. padevries Says:

    If you unlock the phone you can use it on T-Mobile but I doubt you will not get 3G coverage.

  10. Andreas Says:

    The i-phone itself maybe partly to blame. I am on ATT, and I use a Blackberry on 3G in New York City without any problems.

  11. Jay Says:

    I am a self proclaimed Apple fanboy. I’ve had all 3 iphones and loved them each like they were a part of me. However, I recently got the new Blackberry Bold 9700 and at first I couldn’t wait to throw my sim card back in the iphone. But I absolutely love this blackberry now. Call quality is amazing, signal strength is far superior to the iphone and I haven’t dropped a call since I switched. I think the iphone itself has a lot to do with the sketchy phone reception. If you can get past the glitz and glam of the iphone you can truely see that as a useful phone on the go its inferior to Blackberry and even the new Nexus One. Multimedia is a winner for the iphone but other than that I’m no longer seduced by its sexy touchscreen and apps.

  12. wsquared Says:

    Wait for Nexus One on Verizon.

  13. Dan Uyemura Says:

    Let’s get serious. If IPhone goes to Verizon, Verizon’s network is toast too. (especially under the weight of both iphone and nexus one AND android users)

    Granted, I’m in LA which is not SF or NY, I think the only reason “verizon is good and att sucks” is cause verizon does not have the iphone.. yet.

  14. Millard Says:

    I love my Droid. Maybe the keyboard isn’t great, but it’s much better surfing the web or filling out a form when you can see the dang screen. I thought I was a virtual keyboard guy — until I had a hi-res screen and a real keyboard. I’m not sure I’d use a Nexus One if it worked on Verizon and you handed it to me for free. The Droid will get Android 2.1 before long and will likely keep pace. Maybe the Nexus One is faster, but I’ve yet to be unhappy with my phone’s performance IN ANY SITUATION.

  15. Mike Cerm Says:

    I’d say that the Palm Pre on Sprint is the way to go, based mostly on the cost of service alone. Depending on the amount of minutes you use, switching from Verizon or AT&T to Sprint can save anywhere from $20-50 per month. The free mobile-to-any-other-mobile network plus the early nights and weekends are amazing.

    My Pre on Sprint doesn’t drop calls like my iPhone used to, that’s for sure. Also, since Sprint is CDMA, if I’m in an area with poor Sprint coverage, are there aren’t many, the Pre can just roam on Verizon’s network, and I don’t have to pay the Verizon premium.

    I switched away from the iPhone, and there really isn’t anything I miss about it. However, if you still have iPhone apps that you can’t live without, you can take the money you save on Sprint and get an iPod Touch (or continue to use your iPhone on Wi-Fi).

  16. Trent Ryan Says:

    I would say the nexus one on Verizon. Google saids that it should be out by spring.

  17. Dale Larson Says:

    AT&T is unreliable for voice is San Francisco, and I live in San Francisco. My fiance uses my old 3G, unlocked and jailbroken for use on T-Mobile. She has no problems using her iPhone for voice in San Francisco, and all the time can get through for voice and data when I can’t, standing right next to her.

    So despite being the guy who camped at the front of the line (three times) to get the first of each model, two weeks ago I ordered my Nexus One to use on T-Mobile. I knew I couldn’t use it to replace my apps, but figured I could use it to replace voice calling. And with Google Voice, I can give out a new number and have it ring both phones but go to only one voicemail (and play other cool tricks).

    Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to bring myself to use the Nexus One much, even when carrying both. It’s just such a big hump to get over how intuitive and easy and smooth the iPhone is to how clunky everything is on Android. I type much slower, I have trouble navigating, etc. I’m thinking to force myself to drop the iPhone for a week to give it more of a fair chance, but I really wanted to like it better.

    The iPhone is just so good that I find myself putting up with the completely intolerable AT&T and giving up voice usability (and even reliable data connections) just to keep using the phone that is that much better. My hope is that Android will close this user experience gap even more this year.

  18. Ploni Almoni Says:

    That’s pretty much the advantage of WebOS over Android, it’s nearly as elegant to use as the iPhone (I used to have an iPod Touch), rather than having an interface that’s “clunky”. Also, from a practical level, Android needs a third party task manager to terminate many apps, sort of like Windows Mobile in that the default is multitask an app forever, rather than an elegant way to manage multitasking that WebOS has.

    On the other hand, some of the new Android hardware is better (the high resolution screens of the Droid and Nexus One), build quality for Android phones is much better, and there are more apps for Android, so it’s not a bad choice to make.

    What’s great about both WebOS and Android is that there are now many phones that are comparable to the iPhone but not on AT&T or with the more “closed” philosophy of Apple. Just a few years ago, that wasn’t the case.

  19. Ben Says:

    I’ve had an iPhone for more than a year (first 3G, then 3GS) and have never had a call dropped – ever! I live in Europe and am using Orange, can’t complain at all (Tethering works and costs only €2 extra a month…). If 3G reception at AT&T sucks so bad, try switching to edge, or is that equally unreliable?

  20. Andy Says:

    Not much talk of the BlackBerry. My personal vote would be the BlackBerry Essex/Tour2 on Sprint when it comes out. You get a great Blackbery that has international capability, WiFi, and Sprint is pretty much the best in terms of price. I can vouch for their service in San Francisco as I had 3-5 bars constantly when I was out there.

  21. heulenwolf Says:

    If you want to answer your question about whether the iPhone causes poor reception before making the leap to a new platform, try this:
    1) Buy a unlocked GSM phone (lotsa cheap options out there <$50)
    2) Add it to your AT&T account as a family plan line sharing minutes with your iPhone, voice only (should cost $10-20 more per month, right?)
    3) Use Google Voice to send your calls to both phones and carry both with you for a month. Alternate which phone you take your calls on.

    If you notice many calls coming through on the cheapo phone and not on the iPhone, then you know the iPhone radio hardware is part of the reception problem. If you don't, well, you know the iPhone works at least as well as the cheapo phone and maybe its time to look at a new carrier, preferably taking calls on each in the same environment.

    If you try it, please tell us all how it goes.

  22. Backlin Says:

    How far do you have to go on your contract, or is the ETF a significant amount?

    If you have ~6 months left, wait for Apple to announce an iPhone upgrade, and whether or not they’ll stay with AT&T as the exclusive carrier. If they go Verizon, do that. If not, dump your current iPhone and get a Nexus One (or the future pwnage Android phone), they should be on Verizon by then.

  23. technoview Says:

    Get Verizon’s Palm Pre Plus. It’s double the power of Sprint’s Palm Pre and comes with the wireless charger. Never mind the WiFi Hotspot special…just get the MyTether App for the Palm Pre at a fraction of the price (I’m using it now and works really great for my laptop!). Considering Palm Pre Plus’s awesome multitasking capability, synergy feature, wireless charger, multi-touch screen, get the best bang for your buck for this top of the line smartphone. Apps are rapidly growing for the Palm Pre, while I already have one app posted on the app catalog…I’ve got plenty more to build (can’t wait for the 3D SDK); just let me know what you’re looking for.

  24. Ploni Almoni Says:

    It comes with the wireless-charger-compatible back cover, that will save you bucks on getting a full touchstone kit (you can get just the touchstone) but the Pre Plus does *not* come with the Touchstone. By double the power I assume you mean double the RAM and storage, it has the same (very good) Cortex processor that’s in the Pre, the 3GS, and the Droid.

  25. Tom Says:

    Get the Pre…. Sprint offers the best deal, the only advantage to the Verizon ‘plus’ is the 16gb vs 8gb internal memory. The rest is the same.
    Seidio offers a battery that adds to the ‘thickness’ of the phone but power of 2 full days of heavy use. Small tweaks are available from home brew authors to improve upon what is already the best OS available, and including home brew, you have well over 2000 apps. Sure, this falls short of Iphone and Android, but the palm Webos is better. The pre is the BEST voice cell phone I’ve owned hands down.
    Camcorder and Flash support will be available on Spring AND verizon in February. Multitasking is also a must. Roaming is no charge on Verizon networks and hacks exists to force the sprint phone to roam only, but in my area, sprint outperforms, especially in data.

    I could not imagine going with an iphone.. and my reasons are:

    – Home Brew Applications System is not controlled by Fascist Apple

    – Can change your own battery to almost triple batter life

    – Can be used as a wireless router/movible access point with up to 5 connections.

    – Best voice cell I’ve ever owned.

    – Highly customizable/tweaks.

    – Flash support in Web browser.

    – All the apps you ‘really’ need.

    – GPS Navigation included with sprint plan.

    – WebOS/Cards/Multitasking

    The ONLY drawback I see after the battery upgrade is the missing memory expansion and only 8 or 16gb internal memory, but the pluses of this phone well overshadow.

    I am a picky person, I never like anything, but he Palm pre is the best phone and the coolest gadget I’ve ever owned. I’ve looked at the market and there is nothing I would consider trading this phone for.


  26. Carolyn Blair Says:

    OK I hate AT&T and am considering using a Gmail mobile phone but need to get a cell phone that is not controlled by –yep – AT&T! Any ideas?

  27. die steel Says:

    I want to thank you for this informative read, I really appreciate sharing this great post. Keep up your work.

4 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Thinking of switching from AT&T? « Chicago Mac/PC Support Says:

    […] of switching from AT&T? I am.  My iPhone problems haven’t gotten any better.  AT&T is sending me a Nokia E71 and hopefully that will allow me to receive/send calls.  If […]

  2. AT&T Aces 3G Tests Says:

    […] my iPhone in large swaths of San Francisco–the one that’s lately had me flirting with giving up the iPhone entirely in favor of a Verizon phone. If the story’s overall results are any indication, though, I might be much happier with my […]

  3. Palm’s Pre, Plussed: The Technologizer Review Says:

    […] Plus, which runs on Verizon Wireless and began shipping in January. After I recently said I was flirting with abandoning my AT&T iPhone, Palm offered to loan me a Plus for review. Here’s my take, following up on the story I did […]

  4. Life With Droid: The Good, the Bad, and the Bizarre Says:

    […] after thinking it over for a couple of weeks, I took dramatic action: I bought myself a Motrola Droid from Verizon Wireless. Why the Droid? […]