Thursday, December 24, 2009

Can you hear me now? Cell Phones in the District

Anyone who knows me would tell you that this post rings of irony. Despite being the right demographic and a scientist to boot, I was one of the last people that I know to get a cell phone. Being that I was a poor student for so long, as well as being thrifty (some would call it cheap), independent (some would call it stubborn), and reliably punctual, it wasn't until 2006 (when I moved to D.C.) that I got a cell phone.

As I told J after our purchase of matching Droids, in terms of cell phones, over the course of just 3 years, I've gone from the outhouse, to the poor house, to the penthouse. But still, I'm far from an expert. I haven't tested 100 phones and each carrier, so I'm not going to get into a long review. Instead, here are a few things we've learned along the way that anyone in D.C. should know the next time they are thinking about renewing their contract.

We were in the market for our first smartphones after carrying regular cell phones for the last few years. Everything seemed to boil down to the iPhone (through AT&T) and the Droid (through Verizon). After doing extensive reading on the internet (it is what I do... after all, it's what all those years in school taught me) and after playing with both devices thanks to our techie friends and family (I almost wrote that we played with our friends' units), we determined that it was mostly a draw between the two.

So then it came down to carrier. Most people will tell you that Verizon is the industry standard. AT&T loyalists would counter that the difference isn't noticeable in major markets like D.C. But here's the kicker that any Washingtonian should know. If you use Metro, Verizon is king and will continue to be in the near future.

Why? Because Verizon is the only carrier that will allow you to get service throughout the entire Metro system. Even though this monopoly is fading, it is still critical to your next cell phone decision. This past October, Metro expanded service to all major carriers (Sprint Nextel, AT&T, and T-Mobile) in 20 of the most popular underground stations. However, it will be another year (and knowing Metro, probably more) before the other 27 underground stations install service. Tunnels aren't planned on being finished until late-2012. Read more here.

In other words, over the course of any new two-year contract, Verizon is the only carrier that will work in all stations and all tunnels (albeit spotty at times). For someone who spends at least 5 days a week on Metro going to and from work, you don't have to be cell phone expert to make this decision.

J Says

I'm so excited to finally ditch my giant work-issued Blackberry in favor of the sleek new Droid. I really wanted an iPhone but I was worried about the service problems I'd heard about with AT&T. The decision to stay with Verizon was made for us when my iPhone-toting parents stayed with us for Thanksgiving and couldn't make or receive calls consistently in our condo.

Once we decided to go with the Droid, we opted to go into the Verizon store (Union Station) to complete the upgrade. Save yourself a headache (and some seriously tired feet from standing around forever in a store with no chairs) and just buy the thing online. Our salesman was friendly enough but he wasn't particularly quick, and at times we felt like we were buying a car as he went to "check with his manager" about every discount or rebate we asked about.

Speaking of discounts . . . make sure you check with the carrier to see if your workplace has worked out a special deal. My law firm had negotiated a discount on the voice and data plans with Verizon, and many firms and the federal government have similar discounts. It never hurts to ask!


Alix said...

We actually had a good experience with our salesman because we had a pretty complicated transaction since we were starting a family plan (and I was leaving my family's plan yes I'm 28), though he was not paritcularly quick in either sense of the word. I was wondering aloud if chic-fil-a (where's your post on them?? I can write it in one word: AWESOME) would be open on Thanksgiving and he told me it would not because it is run by Jews, who don't celebrate Thanksgiving, and that is why it's closed on Sunday.

J said...

We've never had chic-fil-a! Maybe our awesome friends M and A will show us the ropes!

Alix said...

Oh wow. We would be happy to fill that huge gaping hole in your lives. We acutally discussed getting chic-fil-a trays at our wedding ...

blunoz said...

First, WRT this post, thanks for sharing this. Very interesting and good to know. Glad I have Verizon. (And I have been amazed how much I am able to do on the Metro from my Verizon phone).

Second, WRT Chik-fil-a, my family LOVES Chik-fil-a. In case you didn't catch the humor in Alix's comment - it's actually a CHRISTIAN-run business, hence they are closed on Sundays.