A Samsung smartphone running Windows Mobile (image credit Sean Gallup/Getty)
Washington, DC (written by Rob Pegoraro/Special for USA Today) --
Question: How do Verizon Wireless's new smartphone plans compare with the old ones and the competition?
Answer: That carrier's "Share Everything" plans replaced an array of individual and family plans when they went into effect on June 28. They brought a certain pleasing simplicity but not automatic savings.
That's because these plans eliminated two traditional ways to trim a smartphone bill - paying for fewer calling minutes or text messages - while also lowering its data cap on cheaper plans.
So while individual users could have paid $79.99 for a decent smartphone plan (450 minutes for $39.99, plus 1,000 texts for $10, plus 2 gigabytes for $30), they're now looking at paying $100 for the same usage levels ($40 for unlimited calling and texting, the only tiers included, plus $60 for 2 GB).
(The calculator on Verizon's site that yielded that estimate didn't recommend a $90 plan with 1 GB of data, but I wouldn't either. It's too easy to max out a limit that low.)
At AT&T Wireless, a solo smartphone subscriber would pay $89.99 for 450 minutes of calling time, unlimited texting and 3 GB of data. You could live dangerously by opting for a $20-for-300 MB data plan, but I wouldn't.
Sprint's cheapest deal for an individual smartphone user is a $79.99 Everything Data option with 450 minutes of calling, unlimited texting and unlimited data.
T-Mobile is cheaper yet, offering a $69.99 plan with 500 minutes, unlimited texting and 2 GB of full-speed data, after which your connection gets throttled to "2G" speeds (under 100 kbps) until the end of the billing cycle.
Verizon's new deals look more competitive when you put multiple devices on one plan. Two smartphones with 4 GB of shared data - a reasonable allotment if only one user spends a lot of time in bandwidth-hungry apps- would cost $150
And that is within a penny or two of what AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile charge in their cheapest realistic shared-use smartphone options. But those carriers include fewer minutes (550, 1,550 and 1,000, respectively) and more data (3 GB per phone, unlimited for both, 5 GB shared, respectively).
But the more devices you put on one plan, the tougher it is to decide to switch carriers. See how this works?
Don't forget that prepaid options can easily beat all these prices, assuming those services' coverage suits your needs.
Before your eyes glaze over from all this math, realize there's one number that you can probably ignore: included calling minutes.
Yes, even as carriers either tout unlimited calling or make it your only option, the average number of voice minutes per phone has been dropping. At the same time, free night-and-weekend calling and free calls to other mobile phones have made it increasingly difficult to run up overage fees.
Texting and data use are much more likely to run up the meter. That should explain why people continue to sign up for plans with talk-time quotas but get antsy with each move by carriers to impose data caps.
The offline mode that Google showed off last month arrived Wednesday in a new version of its Android Maps app. To use it, navigate to a location and select "Make available offline" from the menu; a blue square outline will appear, and you can then zoom in or out to determine how much of that area you want to save offline.
You can't cache an entire state's cartography, but I was able to save a map of the Washington area that covered about 640 square miles (and yet only took up 87 megabytes of space). From then on, you can scroll around and zoom in or out of the map with zero data connection.
This is a great addition that makes the prices some carriers charge for proprietary mapping services (for instance, $4.99 or $9.99 at Verizon and $9.99 from AT&T) look even more ridiculous. (This feature requires Android 2.3 or newer versions, although other items in this new Google Maps release only run on 3.0 and up.)