Now that AT&T has brought its 4G LTE network to Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, there is finally competition here with Verizon for the coveted title of "Best smartphone experience in the Lowcountry" -- as determined by yours truly.
To be sure, every carrier has its pros and cons, and there are much better values out there for your money if you go for the pre-paid model (meaning you have to shell out $600 or more for the top-of-the-line phone upfront but pay far less over the course of the contract -- if there even is a contract).
That said, if you want the latest and greatest -- but also the fastest -- you only have two options. So how about we have us a good ol' fashioned carrier deathmatch, shall we? Note: This deathmatch assumes a new customer agreeing to a two-year contract and a current top-of-the-line phone, such as the iPhone 5, HTC One or Galaxy S4.
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Might as well get the worst one out of the way first. You're going to pay a ton of money each month for the ability to have access to the sum of human knowledge in the palm of your hand at the fastest speeds currently possible -- $199 for the phone, then a monthly fee for the privilege of owning the phone (Verizon $40, AT&T $45), then you get to choose your monthly data plan (both carriers offer their shared data plans now, voice minutes, and texts are unlimited). Verizon's minimum is $50 for 1GB of data; AT&T is $40 for 1GB. At this time, AT&T does still offer individual plans. Most comparable of those is $39.99 for 450 anytime minutes, $30 for 3GB of data and $20 for unlimited text messaging, a better option if you use more data, but worse if you use more voice minutes.
Both carriers' 4G LTE networks are blazing fast and offer more than enough speed to handle whatever you throw at them, including streaming HD video (as always, be mindful of your data plan, if you do so). However, only Verizon has 4G LTE coverage in Beaufort at this time. When I inquired about a time frame for north of the Broad River, Ann Elsas, communications manager for AT&T told me, "We are rolling out LTE in earnest across South Carolina, and Beaufort is certainly on our radar. However, we can't provide a specific city-by-city timeline for LTE deployment."
Verizon has come out on top in various customer service satisfaction surveys over the last two years. AT&T has thousands of free Wi-Fi hotspots available nationwide. Verizon has far more LTE coverage in the U.S., AT&T has better coverage worldwide for all you international jetsetters. Other than that, I'm really racking my brain here trying to come up with anything else that distinguishes these two carriers.
Verizon, but really only because of the lack of LTE coverage in Beaufort from AT&T. Once that is remedied, choosing a carrier really comes down to coverage where you use your phone the most. My advice is to host a dinner party and invite friends who have a phone from both Verizon and AT&T, then see who has more bars.
Morgan Bonner is pre-press manager and a systems administrator for the Packet and Gazette.