Almost two years later, I still don’t give a damn about LTE

In March 2011, Verizon gave the world the USA’s first LTE handset that was worth buying. That handset, the HTC Thunderbolt, was met with much fanfare. A large and crisp display, beautiful and solid hardware, new LTE powers, and just about anything one could want from a high-end Android smartphone. Unfortunately, the flagship LTE device suffered from a fatal flaw that still remains today : awful battery life.

It’s hard to deny how convenient it is to have blistering LTE speeds on a smartphone. It bests just about anything in the market today but the experience comes screeching to a halt when you realize your dilly dallying on the net for 20 mins has compromised your battery life significantly. Luckily, both chipsets and battery capacity on smartphones have become much better since the Thunderbolt, but the problem remains to a large extent. An extent where manufacturers are throwing insanely large batteries into handsets to keep these phones alive.

The fact of the matter is that Americans don’t want to go back to anything that’s slower than LTE now. They’ve gotten a taste for the speed, and they’ll justify that portable charger in their backpack now. Sorry, nothing about that sounds right.

Too many times have I had a LTE handset unit come across my desk that has literally died on standby. After the simple Android setup, I can think of three (maybe more) phones that have just died from sitting in a very short amount of time. That’s not really much of an issue anymore, but the battery drain differential between LTE and something like HSPA+ is notable.

One of the best handsets that’s soon to hit the market will undoubtedly be the upcoming Nexus 4. With an insanely fast processor, gorgeous display, and the latest version of Android, it’s exactly what every Nexus device has ever been. This time around, however, the device is getting scorned for the lack of LTE, which is pretty ridiculous. Google learned its lesson with the Verizon Galaxy Nexus and the onslaught of issues and complaints that followed, so this really shouldn’t be surprising anyone. But it does.

What Google could have done was give the Nexus 4 AT&T LTE bands and sell it at a higher cost on the Play Store, but that’s not what the search giant was trying to do. The Nexus 4 is very powerful device that has an unsubsidized price that should make carriers cry. The low $349 price tag is likely largely in part to the fact that Google did leave a LTE radio out of the Nexus 4. The handset will work on T-Mobile and AT&T’s HSPA+ network right out of the box, and many other networks in Europe. Not only would throwing one set of LTE bands into the phone be more costly to make, but it would only be able to be used by a certain set of carriers. Google has made the device that everyone should have expected it to make. Nothing more. Nothing less.

When we’re talking LTE in the US, there are currently only two viable options, but from my recent experience, over saturation has already slowed one of these networks down a bit in my experience. I took to the streets of the Mission District here in San Francisco with a Droid RAZR MAXX HD and a Optimus L9 to test the networks out.  Every single test ran, Verizon’s upload speed kicked T-Mobile’s in the ass, but that wasn’t the case for download speeds, which is going to be the most important to the average consumer.

(Something to keep in mind about the Optimus L9 is that it’s not a HSPA+ 42Mbps handset, but 21Mbps. If it was, we’d see speeds closer to this here from the Galaxy S Blaze 4G )

In the span of 15 blocks, here are the results between the two handsets. In all pictures below, T-Mobile is on the left and Verizon is on the right.


So what does this prove? Well, not a lot. Network performance and coverage is going to vary anywhere you are, but my main point is that I am more than happy with the average speeds of HSPA+ and after a network is saturated with devices using LTE, the two dramatically different networks don’t seem to be all that different in terms of performance. At the moment, AT&T’s LTE is just insane. Easily averaging 30Mbps, if not more, on multiple speed tests, it’s the fastest network I’ve seen. Still, it only makes me wonder how that speed will look once it’s been around as long as Verizon’s LTE network.

Don’t get me wrong, now. When LTE matures to the point that it will bring my handset the same day battery life as non-LTE devices today, I’ll welcome it with open arms. Right now, that’s not the case, and I couldn’t care less.  If you can’t live with out LTE, that’s fine. I’m not saying anyone is wrong here. I just believe it’s overblown a bit.  I do know that LTE will essentially be unavoidable at some point, but for now I’m happily seeing HSPA+ exclusively. It’s pretty serious.

  • Anonymous

    With Verizon I’d say LTE is a must anymore. Most people who are on Verizon I speak to say that  2-3down/500k-1mb up is the best they can do with Verizon 3g. Pretty much the same picture (if not worse) with Sprint 3g. At&t 3g is good where I work and even better at home where there is less congestion on the tower. I normally get 3-4 down/ 2-3 up at work and 6-7down/ 3-4up at home. T-mobile just put up a tower in my area not to long ago so I don’t know what their speeds are. Once more people are moved over to LTE from 3g and EDGE networks getting shutdown and refarmed for HSPA+, HSPA+ speeds will just keep getting better.

  • Wheeler Kevr

    The Thunderbolt was the first LTE Android, but not the first LTE handset. the first Handset to have LTE was the Samsung Craft that was available for metroPCS.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks. Maybe I should have been more clear. I elaborated in the first line of the post. 🙂

  • The HSPA+ speeds I get with Solavei are fast enough for me. My battery life is outstanding. I don’t miss Verizon even a little. Check my profile for more info.

  • Rahul

    The problem is that if the GSM networks with LTE ( AT&T ) start prioritizing traffic for higher UE category devices on their HSPA networks then these HSPA users may suffer some kind of throttling.

  • rand0m

    Isn’t the battery life on most high end LTE devices just as good as their 3G counterparts? At least from my experience with the gs3 and iphone 5 vs their predecessors. Besides, you can always turn LTE off when not needed? I always thought LTE was not a big issue but after using it for a while I can’t imagine going back. Even on AT&T HSPA speeds up to 4mbps I feel the difference and start to get impatient when waiting for things to load.

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