Tech-Friendly: Test drive your next smartphone before you buy

By Paul Gorski

Not all mobile phone/text/data carriers offer great service in all areas. This may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed about some of the spotty mobile coverage in Rock River Valley region. I encourage you to test drive your next mobile phone before you buy.

I have some pretty strong feelings about local mobile phone coverage. With all the cell towers popping up, you’d think we’d be covered throughout the entire region. Not so.

I’ve had a variety of phones and mobile carriers since 1992, and have been struggling with getting consistent coverage in Winnebago County the entire time.

I’m one of a vanishing breed — I still use my phone to make voice calls. The voice coverage at my house for three of four major carriers is poor. Text messaging usually works from the house, but voice coverage on a variety of phones through a variety of carriers is weak, at best.

I won’t mention the carriers’ names, but I can say I’ve had better voice reception in general with Motorola phones across the multiple services. I’m considering upgrading to a new Motorola Android-based phone now.

Before you buy your first or next smartphone, check your carrier’s coverage maps online. Some maps drill down to local neighborhoods. The maps aren’t perfect, but they offer a starting point.

Also, talk to friends and neighbors who might be using the same service. You could even invite them over to see how their phones work at your home or work.

Most importantly, request a try-before-you-buy period before committing to any contracts. Most of the major carriers offer a two-week trial — take advantage of it. Use the heck out of the phone: voice, text and data.

Don’t expect to get coverage in a basement, but try the phone where you live and work most of the time. You might find one phone works better than another phone from the same carrier.

Remember, no coverage map or sales associate can guarantee service at any one location. Mobile coverage varies greatly based on terrain, your specific phone and cell tower location.

Even with discount mobile carriers, you can easily spend more than $600 a year on mobile phone/data service. Why pay for poor service? Try before you buy.

Paul Gorski ( has been a technology manager nearly 20 years, specializing in workflow solutions for printing, publishing and advertising computer users. Originally destined to be a chemist, his interest in computers began in college when he wrote a program to analyze data from lab instruments he hard-wired to the back of an Apple IIe.

From the Jan. 9-15, 2013, issue

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