Alongside the announcement of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) for the HTC Vivid, AT&T snuck in a little announcement about ten of its phones that will be getting an update as well. Unfortunately no dates were given, only a statement that we will see updates for these devices “in the coming months.” Normally a side-by-side announcement like this would imply an imminent release, but several different manufacturers are listed, so I think it’s more of a cry for customers to not freak out—ICS is coming, eventually.
The list is fleshed out with the usual top-of-the-line suspects, as well as a small surprise or two. The Samsung Galaxy Note, S II, S II Skyrocket, Pantech Burst, Element—tablet—and LG Nitro all feature very high end processors and features in general, so no surprise that they are on this list. The Motorola ATRIX 4G, ATRIX 2, Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, and the Samsung Captivate Glide all have a 1GHz Cortex A9 processor.
If manufacturers and AT&T are putting time this early in the game into upgrading 1GHz devices, it may spell hope for those of us with phones that while not slow, are less than high-end. After all, the Vivid’s just-released update is only the first carrier-borne ICS update in the US. So, now that AT&T has gotten the party started, where’s the “donate coffee for after-hours programming” button on Verizon’s website?
An update for the HTC Vivid on AT&T’s network is now available and will be rolling out over the air (OTA) soon. For now AT&T isn’t pushing the update, instead waiting for the rush of manual downloads to finish first. As mentioned in the title, this update is to the coveted Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream sandwich, and brings along an update for HTC’s custom UI, HTC Sense, which is now version 3.6. Also included is Beats Audio, that decently useful audio-enhancement app that some users love and some hate.
For those unfamiliar with what’s offered in this update, there is a lot to love. ICS and Sense 3.6 bring a whole host of new features—too many to count. Many of the changes are superficial, just making things look better, but many either make the device itself run faster, or make things easier for you to use. HTC details it all with pictures and step-by-step directions in a PDF available here.
You will want to be on a WiFi connection for this update if at all possible, as it weighs in at a data-plan crushing 314.09MB. If WiFi isn’t available, HTC does provide instructions for manually updating via your PC, but doing so will wipe out your applications and settings. In short, plan this operation carefully.
To update, go to All Apps > Settings > AT&T Software Update > Check for updates—wait—OK. Once the massive download is finished, a popup will appear. Tap OK > System update is ready > OK. Now sit back and wait, probably for about 10 minutes, and whatever you do, do not turn off your device during this process—this would also be a good time for a back-up charger. Enjoy your newfound Ice Creamy goodness!
We have a couple of promising developments for you—and the wireless industry as a whole, really. In meetings yesterday, the FCC took small but positive steps towards legalizing two propositions set to give us customers more 4G LTE options, and more interoperability. The first concerns Dish Network’s unused spectrum in the 2GHz band, the second concerns T-Mobile’s request that the FCC require interoperability on all US 700MHz LTE networks.
First, with regard to Dish, the FCC has agreed to consider and investigate the possibility and ramifications of Dish using its 40Mhz chunk of 2GHz spectrum to build out a LTE network. Currently the spectrum is assigned to be used for what Dish does best—satellite. The spectrum is unused right now because Dish completed the purchase of it just this month for a whopping $3 billion plus. Dish has not yet formally declared its exact intentions for the spectrum, but mumblings and rumblings indicate a land-based LTE network.
Second, the FCC has agreed to move on to the next step in considering interoperability of all 700MHz LTE networks. Right now both AT&T and Verizon operate LTE devices on different parts of the 700MHz bands. And as almost any US wireless subscriber these days knows, AT&T and Verizon’s networks do not play nice with each other.
Cricket has joined the Rural Cellular Association in its fight against Verizon—and AT&T, for that matter—on Capitol Hill in Washington. While the RCA had more humble beginnings back in 1992, it is no longer a simple association for a handful of small carriers. Its ranks—which now number over 100—include Sprint, T-Mobile, and now Cricket.
“I am extremely pleased to welcome Cricket Communications to RCA,” said RCA president & CEO Steven K. Berry. “Cricket provides some of the most innovative, dynamic services in the wireless industry, focusing on consumers’ interests and needs. Cricket shares many of the same advocacy concerns as our current members, and their presence will only strengthen our fight to ensure the wireless industry is a competitive one…”
RCA is the US’ largest small carrier advocacy group, and is currently fighting several policies that it believes would give Verizon and AT&T too much spectrum, and therefore too much power. Namely, it wants “automatic data roaming, interoperability throughout the 700 MHz spectrum,” and several other similarly-themed objectives. In short, RCA’s members want the federal government to preserve their competitiveness in a rapidly-changing cellular market. Cricket joining this movement certainly isn’t a death nail for Verizon, AT&T, or their 4G LTE plans. But, a thousand crickets working together may just be able to take down the giant.
AT&T has announced that it will be expanding its 4G LTE network to twelve new markets in the near future. The first of these markets will go live in April, followed by more in May and the rest over the course of the summer.
The company’s Monday press release focused on the addition of Cleveland, Ohio to its 4G LTE network, but other markets include Naples, Florida; Bloomington, Lafayette, and Muncie, Indiana; Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana; St. Louis, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; Akron and Canton, Ohio; and Bryan-College Station, Texas.
“AT&T customers in Cleveland can look forward to even faster mobile Internet speeds very soon, on our leading lineup of smartphones and devices,” said Larry Evans, vice president and general manager, AT&T Ohio and western Pennsylvania. “We’re excited to bring Cleveland all that 4G LTE has to offer. Our teams will be working hard across the city toward our upcoming launch.”
AT&T, of course, touted its dual-4G LTE and HSPA+ networks, as well as low latency and a fantastic lineup of 4G devices. With the company supposedly phasing out its old 2G network, more 4G markets can only be a good thing.
Verizon has the best 4G LTE coverage, no doubt there. But what about the fastest coverage? After all, 4G doesn’t amount to a bag of rocks if it’s not fast. Taking a cue from Microsoft’s “Smoked by Windows Phone” playbook, Verizon hit the streets with its “Ultimate 4G Throw-Down.”
Now, these comparisons are assumedly fair and unbiased but—spoiler alert—not once did I see Verizon lose, while even Ben the PC guy is forced to eat some humble pie every once in a while with his Windows Phone. Verizon also threw in some fine print stating that its tests against AT&T were conducted in an AT&T HSPA+ market, not an AT&T LTE market. Kind of makes you wonder just how confident Verizon actually is.
The end results are as is to be expected, Verizon came out on top in every video clip shown. According to a third-party—hopefully legitimately unbiased—study, Verizon bests the national average of T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T by over 8.5Mbps. I’d be happy with just 8.5Mbps.
Verizon’s average is right at 14Mbps, with AT&T coming in second at 5.5Mbps, Sprint third at 5Mbps, and T-Mobile last with just under 4.5Mbps. The comparisons on Verizon’s side were definitely done with top-tier phones; I saw a DROID RAZR and a Galaxy Nexus, among others. It’s hard to tell what exactly the other provider’s customers were using, but there certainly was variety, and they were all decently sized phones, if nothing else.
AT&T is preparing to shut down its 2G EDGE network, if a letter sent to customers in New York is any indication. ”Your current, older-model 2G phone might not be able to make or receive calls and you may experience degradation of your wireless service in certain areas,” the letter read. Some customers are still on AT&T’s 2G network, but most have moved on to 3G HSPA and 4G LTE. According to Mark Siegel, an AT&T representative, deprecating 2G would allow the company to free up some of its wireless spectrum for newer technologies.
Last week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, AT&T announced that customers will soon have access to global coverage via a single SIM, eliminating the cumbersome need to carry multiple SIM cards. Even more interesting is AT&T’s plan to let app developers pay for users’ data. What exactly this means is unknown, but we’re excited by the possibility of checking social networks or playing media without making a dent in our data plans. The big question is whether users would need to have a pre-existing data plan in order to take advantage of this feature. Details are still scarce, but the wireless network plans to roll this feature out sometime next year.
Sometimes, I miss the good old days, back when I could afford to drive on vacation—or down the street—when flagship phones were flagship phones for a couple of years or at least a few months, and unlimited meant unlimited. AT&T does not share my nostalgia, and is blazing forward into the future, where unlimited actually means 3GB, unless you’re on 4G LTE, in which case it means 5GB.
At least we finally have some hard facts, as AT&T has been rather flaky since quietly instituting a data-throttling program late last year. This program has come under fire—even a successful small claims lawsuit—for unfairly throttling customers “grandfathered” in on an unlimited plan. Now, instead of getting throttled as low as 2GB because you’re in the “top 5%,” AT&T is promising to give you unfettered data access-all the way up to 3GB for 3G/4G HSPA+ and 5GB for 4G LTE. After that you might as well find a phone jack, because dial-up just might be faster.
Of course, this only affects those of you who have held onto your old unlimited data contracts. Tiered plans haven’t changed. Unlike T-Mobile, AT&T is not planning on bringing unlimited back with a cap setup; instead, this policy is purely fire-control while AT&T finds new ways to lure people away from unlimited contracts. My suggestion: free devices! Start giving away a free Galaxy Note+Tab, and I’ll bet you’ll snag more than a couple people away from their inconvenient unlimited plans. I’d definitely think about it.
Count that as two strikes against AT&T and two points for the consumers! Judge Russell Nadel of Ventura Superior Court in Simi Valley, CA found in favor of a disgruntled AT&T “unlimited” data customer this week, awarding him $85 a month for the duration of his contract-or $850. The lawsuit was filed in small claims court for $10,000 and stated that it was unfair of AT&T to throttle him at all, let alone at only 2GB of usage. While $10,000 is a bit extreme, so is AT&T’s throttling.
This is a current hot-button issue for many companies, with AT&T in particular getting a lot of heat lately. The problem arises when “valued customers” are paying $30 for a grandfathered unlimited data plan—allowed by stated policy—but AT&T has started throttling them after 2GB of usage-even though that same $30 would otherwise buy you 3GB of tiered data.
This sounds a lot like racketeering. “Of course you can keep the grandfathered unlimited plan, but if you know what’s good for you, you’ll choose the tiered option. And it’s only a few dollars more.” Ol’ Bell’s response has been that the top 5% of data users may experience throttling to help alleviate network congestion for the good of all.
We all know that Verizon has a substantial LTE network, one that is still growing rapidly, as evidenced by our earlier article. But it may come as a surprise to some that AT&T also has an expanding LTE network, today hitting several new cities and even entire counties in North Carolina and Florida, bringing the total number of AT&T’s LTE markets to 28. Not bad… for last year. Verizon is about to break 200 markets and is still expanding.
Milking this upgrade for all its worth, AT&T released three separate press releases to cover the addition of two new markets and the expansion of one-all in the same geographical area. First we have the expansion of the Raleigh, NC market, which has expanded to encompass Durham, NC. Following that up, we have sunny Florida, which saw the addition of the Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties, encompassing the Tampa-St. Petersburg market, and Sarasota and Manatee counties forming the new Sarasota-Bradenton market.
Coverage isn’t everything. Speed is still speed for many people, and AT&T’s LTE network is definitely faster than 3G. Exactly how fast is a matter of debate. While Verizon gives us its numbers in “real-world, fully-loaded network environment” terms, AT&T gives us no numbers, only the over-used “up to 10 times faster than 3G” tagline.
Spin it however you like, AT&T’s 28 LTE markets are not keeping up with Verizon’s 195. AT&T does have an advantage in its HSPA+ 3G networks, which is faster than Verizon’s 3G network. But with Verizon promising to have its entire 3G footprint covered in LTE goodness by 2014, AT&T needs to learn the meaning of the term “giddy-up.” A few well-placed speed details might not hurt either.
The beautiful Nokia Lumia 900 is manufactured from a single-piece injection-molded polycarbonate shell and features a 4.3-inch AMOLED ClearBlack Display (CBD), 1.4GHz processor, 16GB of internal memory, 512MB of RAM, and a 1830mAh battery. Performance-wise, it can best nearly every device on the market. The 8MP Carl Zeiss camera takes fantastic photos, and the quality of the 1MP front-facing camera is astounding. The intuitive Windows Phone OS, support for AT&T’s 4G LTE network, and $99 price tag are just icing on the cake.
Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX
The Motorola DROID RAZR was easily one of the best Android phones of 2011. It was one of the first seriously thin phones and it had the best specifications, durability, and styling to come out of Motorola in a long time. Now, with the introduction of the MAXX variant, it's almost irresistible, even to those currently locked into a contract. With Verizon’s 4G LTE, a 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and a 3300mAh battery pumping out over 21 hours of talk time, the Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX is ecstasy wrapped in Kevlar.