The Pros and Cons of Adopting 4G Android Phones Today

By Ryan Whitwam

Is 4G ready for your real-life use?

The new marketing blitz makes it clear, you should want 4G now. Who doesn't want faster data, after all? But it's not as simple as that. There are clear benefits to getting a 4G phone, but before taking the plunge, you should consider the cons as well. The diverse hardware ecosystem in Android phones means the carriers are using them as the first big 4G push. 


The Bandwidth Advantage

even more impressive. The slowest tests bottom out around 7 Mbps, but speed in some markets is over 30 Mbps. If you're going to be pulling raw data down, the difference will be noticeable. Web browsing will be a bit faster, but due to constrained resources, rendering will keep the experience from being blazing fast. 

Syncing files, downloading podcasts, streaming video, and other activities that require robust data connections will be better on 4G. But they might not be that way forever. As more users get on the 4G network, speeds could take a bit of a dip. But that's just a reason to get there first. So you can soak up all that data for your own. If you're willing to pay extra for tethering and Wi-Fi hotspot functionality, that 4G data could prove quite useful on a computer too.

How Battery Life is Affected

That is not to say that all the battery life concerns will be solved come next year. 4G will always require more power. Even at this late stage, 3G uses much more power than 2G does. In fact, one of the most repeated battery life conservation methods is to toggle 3G off. You just don't get something for nothing, and faster data is a big something.  

Android phones have their fair share of battery life concerns, and we suspect manufacturers will take note of that. Expect 4G to be a highly promoted feature, with a very simple method for toggling it on and off. The 4G phones on Sprint have a simple home screen widget to turn 4G on and off easily. These first gen 4G phones are not going to be devices that can have 4G on all the time. You'll probably want to turn it on only when you're using it. 

Phone Size and Weight Considerations

That last point about manufacturers taking note of 4G battery issues is going to lead to another negative. Your first 4G phone is likely to be heavier than it should be. This is going to be a function of adding a larger battery to the device. Frankly, you should hope for this. It is probably better to have a heavier device and acceptable battery life than a light phone that dies in 2 hours. 

Another factor that is likely to make upcoming 4G phones beefier is the 4G data modem itself. Being a first gen piece of hardware, it is going to be bulkier than comparable 3G chips. This is probably going to change as time goes on as engineers have more time to develop smarter designs. Of course, 4G phones are not just 4G yet. So there will be 3G hardware in them too. That's just another component to make room for.  

A real 4G phone is going to be bigger and heavier. No two ways about it. If you're fine with the added bulk, this might be a worthy tradeoff to get super-fast data. 

New Voice Standards

One Voice will probably be the eventual model. The downside of this is you could find yourself in the middle of a work in progress standard. Is your first gen hardware going to work correctly with an eventual 4G voice standard? It's hard to say. You might have to deal with complicated firmware updates just to get voice calls working down the road.  

The confusion over voice standards does offer a benefit right now, though. 3G networks are considerably more built out right now. That means hassle free calling in more places. A 4G phone with a 3G voice requirement won't be searching for 4G to make calls, it just uses the larger 3G networks automatically. We imagine 4G calls, like data, will use more battery life when they do happen. So you can come out ahead in that way. 


Depending on your wireless carrier for 4G, this can be a pro or a con. If you're looking at getting a WiMAX 4G phone from Sprint, it's a con. Cell providers have to license frequencies to run their networks on. This is mandated by the FCC to avoid interference caused by having different devices talking in the same space. Sprint is right now stuck using 2500MHz for their WiMAX network. This is quite a bit higher than their 1900MHz 3G frequency. 

You should care about cellular frequency because higher frequencies will not penetrate buildings as well. Sprint is taking a risk with using 2500MHz. They will need more towers to cover urban areas than their competition. If they make plans to switch technologies or frequency bands down the road, you could end up with a mess on your hands. 

If you're looking to get with AT&T or Verizon, the frequencies are very desirable. Both carriers managed to nab a piece of the 700Mhz B-block spectrum when it was auctioned a while back. Verizon actually likes to refer to this as 'beachfront' property because of its ability to travel far into buildings and underground. Just like the higher WiMAX frequency is a hindrance, 700MHz LTE is a benefit. This 'beachfront' property is a good bet for the future. 

Image credit: Gizmodo, Intomobile, Samsung