LTE is a relatively new feature in our smartphones and, likewise, a fairly new service offered by wireless providers around the world. It's an emerging wireless technology around the world and it's leaving millions upon millions of fans in its wake.
Unlike the 3G networks of old, which quickly buckled under the pressure of an ever-increasing number of data users (read: smartphone owners), LTE is designed to handle bandwidth-sucking smartphones and constant transfers of large data packets. It was designed for data usage and, needless to say, it performs quite well, it exceeds expectations.
Most won't have to think back very far to recall browsing the Web via 3G. LTE is still relatively new and some of you now may even still be using a 3G phone. Or maybe you don't live in an LTE area – maybe you do, but not for your carrier of choice.
But for those of you who have had the pleasure of using LTE, there is a clear and definite difference in the two technologies. Web pages load noticeably faster; applications and small games are downloaded in no more than a few seconds compared to several minutes; and YouTube videos start playing almost immediately.
It's a world of difference. And once you go LTE, it's seriously hard to go back.
After using the HTC ThunderBolt – the world's first LTE smartphone – for a while, I swapped back to the iPhone 4 on Verizon. There were just some bugs I couldn't shake, and there were some iOS applications I needed that I couldn't find viable alternatives to on Android at the time. (Not to mention, I had an Android smartphone on T-Mobile's HSPA+ network at the time, too.)
I switched back to the iPhone 4 and everything felt as if it were in slow motion. After using the iPhone 4S on Verizon's 3G network for a while and switching to the LTE-equipped iPhone 5, I decided that LTE is a must-have feature. Neither 3G nor HSPA+ were really fast enough for my preference – I wanted only the best. LTE (along with device selection, which is actually beginning to improve), I found, was one of the main reasons I couldn't force myself to switch to a prepaid carrier.
As for AT&T, I have been using the HTC One X, also an LTE device, almost continuously since its release in May. And last week I received a Samsung Galaxy Note II for AT&T, a device I've been drooling over since it was first rumored. Without a doubt, it is my number one pick for a smartphone out of any of the currently available or rumored devices. The only thing that could even tempt me to put the Note II down is the rumored HTC DLX for Verizon. But even that, I'm thinking, won't steal me away. (I guess time will tell.)
Literally minutes after I finished my Galaxy Note II review, however, a device landed on my doorstep. The international Galaxy Note II. Inside and out, these two devices have virtually identical hardware except for a few minor details, like the AT&T logo on the back, and one major feature: LTE connectivity. The AT&T version has it and the global version does not.
As far as software goes, however, the international variant has an unaltered, newer version of TouchWiz Nature UX. The AT&T variant has TouchWiz Nature UX minus the details Ol' Blue found unnecessary and with the addition of all AT&T's pre-installed applications (AKA bloatware).
Let's be honest, very few people like bloatware. I can count exactly one AT&T and one Verizon application that I have ever actually used, and those are the myAT&T and My Verizon apps. The rest are just space wasters, and while AT&T allows you to "uninstall" them, the apps remain installed and will persistently notify you when they need to be updated. In short, the ability to "remove" them is more annoying than not being able to, mainly because it's a haphazard attempt to satisfy complaining customers.
But this bloatware, specifically in terms of the Galaxy Note II (or any U.S. smartphone with an international sibling), should serve as a reminder as to why carriers having a hand in software is a terrible, terrible thing. Android updates are inherently bad, and they've hardly gotten any better despite Google's attempt to hasten turnaround times. And at the end of the day, it seems carriers are the ones to blame.
So what does all of this mean? Where am I going with this?
Originally, I never planned to keep this international Galaxy Note II any longer than I had to. Plain and simple, I wanted LTE. My first impressions of AT&T's HSPA+ network, particularly on the Galaxy Note II, have been poor. In a stark contrast to the 30Mbps with the LTE model, my speeds have ranged from 7Mbps down to just plain bad. And the uplink is atrocious in comparison to the 10+Mbps on LTE, maxing out at about 2Mbps and averaging well below 1Mbps, even in well-covered areas.
Yet I am now willing to keep the international version (yes, even with the questionable speeds) in favor of better, untouched software and the reasonable possibility of markedly faster software updates, thanks to not having to wait on a green light from AT&T first.
Case in point, the international Galaxy Note II has had the multi-window feature – easily my favorite Note II-specific feature yet – for almost a month now. That update is nowhere in sight for the U.S. carrier models, and those who want the feature will have to turn to third-party development and modification.
And this concept certainly extends far beyond the Galaxy Note II.
At first, after Google announced the Nexus 4 by LG, Nexus fans were complaining that the Nexus 4 is coming without LTE connectivity. In a nutshell, you have the carriers to thank for that. No compliance with their rules by Google means no LTE. However, despite initial upheaval, quite a few people want the Nexus 4. A holiday poll I ran earlier today had readers up in arms that we didn't include the Nexus 4. (Don't shoot the messenger! I didn't make the poll.) The comments section is filled with people suggesting they will buy the Nexus 4. And I don't blame them. That price is hard to beat, with or without LTE. And it looks like a nice phone.
Ultimately, my question to you is: what is LTE worth to you? Is it of the utmost importance? Would you trade LTE for a device with untouched software? Would you give up LTE and use HSPA+ for a pure Google or pure TouchWiz Nature UX experience and faster updates all around? Or do you prefer your faster speeds, slower turnaround times and more expensive phones? Sound off below!