Q: What would you recommend as a smartphone from Verizon?

– submitted by Nancy Slater

A: This question could be rephrased, “which smartphone besides the iPhone do you recommend?” Users who don’t have AT&T’s service (i.e. Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc.) can not yet get an iPhone, so I get questions like this quite often. However, answering this isn’t so easy. But I do have some advice for those of you pondering this thought.

The first thing to ask yourself is “do I really want an iPhone?” As mentioned above, a lot of people want an iPhone but don’t have AT&T. If they stay with their current carrier, they can’t get an iPhone so they are looking for “the next best thing.” Having lived and breathed this industry the last several years, I can honestly state there IS NO next best thing. Rather, there are “different things” out there, but none truly come close to the iPhone at this time. Some phones may look like iPhones at first glance, but looks only scratch the surface of what an iPhone is all about. If you really want an iPhone, take the time to consider if you should switch to AT&T. Don’t gloss over this point – it’s so important, let me say it again – if you really want an iPhone, you MUST consider if you should switch to AT&T. If an iPhone is really what you want and you purchase another phone you will be disappointed.

To this end, I share these observations with my clients: I’ve had many people tell me they don’t really like their various non-iPhone smartphones or are indifferent about them. They either are difficult to setup and use or they just don’t do anything that gets them excited. Almost everyone I talk to that owns an iPhone LOVES their iPhone. That speaks volumes. In fact, a recent study found that over 77% of iPhone buyers would buy another iPhone, a number that is far above any other smartphone brand. So let me state this one last time before moving on – if you want an iPhone get an iPhone or you will be disappointed.

But assuming you must get a non-iPhone smartphone, the next questions to ask yourself are 1) what do you want to do with a smartphone 2) what features are important to you 3) why are those features important to you? The answers to these questions will help determine which direction you want to go.

In my opinion, the two main players are Android (Droid) and Palm Pre, with Blackberry coming in a distant 3rd. Yes, there are also “Windows” phones, but I simply can not in good conscience recommend a Windows phone at this time. Usability issues aside, Microsoft’s mobile strategy is currently in a serious state of disarray and transition (read about the ill-fated Kin phone to get a feel for Microsoft’s troubles). The Windows phone you purchase today could be completely obsolete in a few months (beyond what I would consider “normal obsolescence).

The reason I put Blackberry in third is because for all the advances in the smartphone industry in the last few years, in my testing it seems that the Blackberry phones are still based on years-old technology. The user interface and software are still rooted in designs that made the Blackberry phones top-notch five to ten years ago – but designs that have since been leapfrogged. Once you have used an iPhone, Android, or Palm Pre phone, using a Blackberry seems cumbersome and restrictive. However, many people swear by the design of the hard-key Blackberry keyboards for heavy e-mail and texting use. It is worth testing various Blackberry phones just to see what they are like.

Android and Palm Pre phones are difficult to describe because there are so many different types of phones based on these systems that there is no single answer. Unlike the iPhone, where so far Apple has introduced only one new model every year, many different manufacturers release many different models throughout the year. So where someone can say “iPhone” and there is no question which phone they are talking about, referring to Android or Palm Pre phones must be much more specific because each model can be quite different than the next.

The best advice I have for Android and Palm Pre phones is testing the various models available on your carrier and determining which models “feel” better to you. Do you like a hard keyboard or a touchscreen better? Does a particular phone fit better in your hand? Does the interface seem intuitive and easy to use? How do the web sites you frequent look on the phone? For a device as personal as a smartphone, all the tech specs in the world really don’t matter. If the phone doesn’t “fit” you like a glove, then it’s not really going to be all that useful to you. Incidentally, this is exactly why so many love their iPhones (see the beginning of this article once again). Combined with the three questions above, getting a hands-on feel for the various models of smartphones should help you narrow down your choices.

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