Test Driving T-Mobile

When I heard about T-Mobile’s Test Drive, I realized it could alleviate the one fear I had about switching to T-Mobile. I liked the idea of their lower prices, reported high speeds, and their anti-contract attitude. However, I, like anyone else considering switching networks, was concerned about the coverage. Friends can tell you about the network, but without being able to try it out yourself, in your home, at work, along your commute, and at your friends places, you can’t be sure that the network will actually work for you. I signed up for it immediately, and last Wednesday, I got an iPhone 5s in the mail, running on T-Mobile’s network. It’s a brilliant marketing gamble, but whether or not it pays off depends on each indicidual’s experience.

The entire process was very simple. I signed up online, and a few days later, my iPhone 5s was delivered. It came with the USB charger, one lightning cable, and one pair of EarPods. Since I didn’t need the headphones or charger, I didn’t open them, hopefully making someone’s job at T-Mobile just a little easier. From there, all I had to do was turn on the iPhone, and I was connected to T-Mobile’s network. I set up the App Store with my account, and downloaded a few essential apps. Social networking, a few games, Pandora, and, most importantly, two network testing apps. I then began my experiment with T-Mobile. When I was done, I simply went to a T-Mobile kiosk at the mall, turned it over to them, and I was done.

To begin my testing, I loaded up SpeedTest.Net’s convinient iOS app. I put my iPhone 5, running on Verizon right next to the iPhone 5s, running on T-Mobile. I then hit start on both of them at the same time. The T-Mobile phone download speed came in at aproximately 15 Mbps, which was, on average, around 5 mbps faster than my Verizon phone. I then opened up CoverageMap by RootMetrics. The app is great for mapping out actual coverage and data speeds. It’s a great independent source, one that can’t be manipulated by the service providers. The app can even continually test, so you can run the app when you’re walking through your neighborhood or driving on your commute. Throughout the week, I used a combination of these two apps to test out T-Mobile’s network on quantitative level. To get some qualitative results, I opened up Pandora and iTunes Radio.

These tests were simple. I just used iTunes Radio and Pandora Radio in the same areas I use my iPhone running on Verizon’s network, and payed attention for drops in quality or skipping. I also tried turning on high quality audio in the Pandora app, to see if the higher quality music would cause issues for the network. For every test, I also tested my own iPhone to get a baseline. The results surprised me in some areas, but were exactly what I expected in others, for better or for worse.

The results of the speed tests showed T-Mobile’s speed was as fast as if not faster than Verizon’s in most locations. I used RootMetric’s app to run a continual test durring my commute a few times, and while driving on some of the roads in my area. The app can run without user interaction, so it’s great to just run it while youre driving and forget it. Remember, you should never use your phone while you’re driving. I did the same while running Pandora and iTunes Radio. While the network was wonderful in populated areas, less populated areas had little to no coverage. iTunes Radio and Pandora would stop working, and the Coverage test would come up with dark areas. It was very disappointing when this happened. Oddly, I noticed unusually high data speeds in the mall, where there were dedicated T-Mobile stores. Clearly, T-Mobile was doing some manipulation here, but that much can be expected of any cell phone carrier.

My overall impression is that T-Mobile’s LTE and 4G networks are fantastic, when you have access to them. In more popuated areas, it was fast, but fell flat when I found myself off the beaten path or on the highway between metropolitian areas. I love listening to Pandora when I’m on the road, and having it cut out, forcing me to listen to FM radio, was incredibly disappointing. I did like it, and despite the lack of coverage between towns, I am still considering switching to T-Mobile for a few reasons. First, the company hasn’t been fighting against Net Neutrality, as many other carriers have been. T-Mobile also costs less, and is less restrictive. They even have unlimited talk, texts, and data.

I was pleased with how easy it was to deal with T-Mobile, and enjoyed their fast network in areas that had reception, but I won’t be switching just yet. T-Mobile would pay my early termination fees, but I think I’ll wait to switch when their 4G network is more mature in my area. I can’t give that advice to everyone though. If I could offer any advice from my experience it’s this: go try T-Mobile. It’s simple, just go to their website and sign up. A $650 hold is placed on your credit card, but that gets released after you return the loaned iPhone 5s. That’s the biggest caveat. The rest is quite easy, and you’ll find the week flys by. Once you’re done, you can simply send it in or bring it to a T-Mobile store. After you’re done, you’ll know whether or not switching to T-Mobile will be worth it for you. Go check it out.


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