Why I’m Not Buying the Nexus One…or any Other Smartphone

My personal experience with AT&T has been so horrible recently that I’ve pretty much given up on using my iPhone 3GS as a phone. While some people have no problems at all connecting to voice and data services through the country’s largest phone service, it seems like I’ve had more dropped calls than completed calls. As Sumocat pointed out earlier today, you have to go with the network that works for you.

In my case, AT&T just doesn’t work reliably in my home office, in my neighborhood, throughout San Francisco, in chunks of Silicon Valley, on the Las Vegas strip or in Manhattan. As I’ve noted before, it’s one thing to have your work disrupted by dropped calls, but poor reception can cause a LOT of stress and even cost lives.

AT&T is not the only network that’s stressing out customers and dropping calls. Our own Warner Crocker is having trouble staying in touch during a crisis due to poor reception and battery life.

Warner’s reporting that AT&T’s the most reliable network at a hospital in Richmond, VA. His sisters are having trouble staying in touch via Verizon. Sumocat is also having issues with getting his Droid working in northern Virginia.

After not being able to get a hold of my family after a major earthquake in Northern California during CES, I decided to add a T-Mobile line to my mobile arsenal as insurance. I’d originally planned on spending about $500 and getting a contract-free Nexus One and paying month to month. After reading reports about so-so battery life and watching the calamity in Haiti, I’ve changed my mind and won’t be buying a Nexus One or any other smartpone for my T-Mobile line in the near future.

As much as the geek in me WANTS a Nexus One, there are more pressing matters. One, I need to be able to place and receive calls reliably, especially in case of a family emergency or natural disaster. Two, I decided to send the American Red Cross the $500 I’d set aside for the Nexus One.

The Nexus One has a pretty big battery pack, but like the iPhone it needs to be charged on a daily basis. When I went to India last month I carried an old Blackberry Pearl. Its battery is rated to last for up to 360 hours on standby and four hours of voice calls. I went over a week between charges. I’m sure there are even simpler phones with even better battery stamina out there, but the Blackberry Pearl will serve me fine for now. Voice calls have been crystal clear so far from home and on the road.

After watching what’s going on in Haiti in CNN and MSNBC, I’m now of mind that a phone with long battery life and a solid voice connection trumps fancy apps, slick user interfaces and killer industrial design. As much as the geek in me wants a Nexus One or a fancier phone, it’s much more important for me to know that my family can get in touch or that I’ll be able to place a call when needed.

For now, I’m keeping both my iPhone 3GS and the Blackberry Pearl. If push came to shove and I had to reduce my mobile carrier budget I’d ditch the iPhone and stick with the Pearl, knowing that I’d be able to dial 911 when my life depended on it. Hopefully I’ll never hit a concrete divider head on, injure myself in a motorcycle accident or have to put out a car fire on the side of a highway again, but if I do I sure as hell won’t trust my lfe to AT&T or a phone that’s low on juice.

Obviously, it’s not economical to have dual voice plans. It is relatively cheap to pick up a pre-paid phones. Most of my family is on AT&T. From what I can tell, T-mobile is being the most aggressive about improving its network in the San Francisco Bay Area. After I eat lunch, I’m heading over to the T-Mobile store and picking up an assortment of pre-paid phones to add to our emergency kits and distribute to family members.

I remember when my father bought his first mobile phone. It came in a briefcase and I believe  it was on Cellular One’s network. Back then, mobile phones were marketed as life lines and business tools. Nobody cared about anything else. I can only hope that our country’s wireless carriers can go back to these roots and start focusing more on personal safety and a tad less on entertainment and apps.