If you were holding out for Apple to announce a new, next-generation iPhone, perhaps even an iPhone 4G LTE, at WWDC and were disappointed that there was no new hardware announcement, you shouldn’t be disappointed. 3G smartphones, or even evolutionary 3G devices that rely on HSPA+ technologies are still great options. Depending on your needs, these phones may be better suited for you.
1. Roaming: As it stands, 4G in the U.S. is being built on disparate technologies, so roaming both in the U.S. domestically and internationally will be a challenge with 4G smartphones. Sprint uses 4G WiMax, where available, for data and relies on 3G CDMA/EVDO for voice in handling simultaneous voice and data. There isn’t a multi-mode 4G/3G CDMA/HSPA/GSM phone yet that can handle worldwide traveling with Sprint, but if you opt for a 3G smartphone–like the recently available Motorola XPRT Android smartphone–you can get a world phone that will give you 3G data in the states and abroad. The situation is similar with Verizon Wireless, where the carrier uses 4G LTE, and for GSM carriers like T-Mobile, which uses a different 3G/HSPA+ 4G band than other regions of the world.
Additionally, even with AT&T’s iPhone 4, which is a global smartphone, you’ll find the device locked so you’ll have to pay high roaming fees to AT&T when traveling abroad. If you consider an unlocked GSM smartphone, you may come out ahead if you travel overseas a lot as you can pop in a local SIM and get local rates for voice and data, and then plug your AT&T SIM card back in when you arrive home.
2. More options: If you take iOS and iPhones out of the equation, you’ll have more choice of platforms and carriers. Currently, in the U.S., iOS is only available on AT&T and Verizon Wireless. If you prefer cheaper alternatives, you can find other smartphone alternatives on Sprint and T-Mobile USA. If Verizon and AT&T are for you, there are also other platforms worthy of consideration, including Windows Phone 7, webOS, Android, and BlackBerry.
3. Better coverage: 4G rollout, although fast, still doesn’t blanket as much of the country as 3G does. Right now, LTE is still nascent, and though AT&T and T-Mobile are working to overlay its 3G network with evolutionary HSPA+ technology, you’ll need an HSPA+ phone, marketed as 4G, and also to live in a 4G coverage area to enjoy enhanced data speeds. LTE on Verizon Wireless is still the leader when it comes to real world performance and speed, but if you don’t need 10-20 Mbps downloads on your phone, 3G will serve you perfectly well and you’ll always have coverage, unless you go camping in the most remote of areas. In a couple more years, perhaps the battle between reception and speed will die off, but now you still have to pick your poison. Given that 4G is mostly only available in select major metropolitan centers, if you leave those areas frequently, or don’t work or live in or near those areas, you’re still on 3G speeds and networks anyways.
4. Better battery life: The woe of 4G is battery life, and that is no where more evident than Sprint’s first 4G smartphone–the HTC EVO 4G launched a year ago–and Verizon’s HTC Thunderbolt. Though both smartphones rely on differing 4G standards and technologies, users of both will tell you that shortened battery life is the price you pay for 4G. 3G phones are more power efficient, and given Sprint’s initial suggestion to turn off 4G on the EVO 4G when you don’t need it, it may be the winning option for those who rely on their phones for emergencies, to make and receive calls, and are away from a power source for extended periods of time.
5. Choices galore: Not only do you have options for carriers and platforms, as we had discussed, but you’ll also have options for form factor. So far, most 4G smartphones come with a large 4.3-inch screen. There are a few exceptions, however, such as Sprint’s HTC EVO Shift 4G, which comes with a landscape-oriented sliding keyboard similar to the HTC T-Mobile G2. There’s also AT&T’s HSPA+ 4G HP Veer, which has a diminutively small footprint and compact portrait-oriented sliding keyboard. However, most phones fall under the touchscreen-only category. If you like the BlackBerry form factor? Well, you’ll have to settle for 3G or hold your breath and guess when that form factor will launch with 4G. For now, 3G form factors are more varied and you’ll have more choices in terms of devices, manufacturers, form factors, carriers, technologies, and if you really want an iPhone, the iPhone 4 is still a great option.