By Seth Weintraub
October 30, 2010

The carrier makes all the difference.

I received two separate Android phones this week to evaluate and I thought it would be interesting to put them up against one another even though they are aimed at different audiences.  The MyTouch4G from T-Mobile is an HTC phone running Android 2.2 with a nice candy bar form factor 3.7 inch screen, front-facing camera with a zippy processor and a strong metal shell (that also brings some weight with it).  Cost: $199 with a plan.

The Samsung Intercept on Virgin is virtually identical to the Sprint (S) Instint, which is a smaller, thicker phone with a physical keyboard and only a 3 megapixel camera in the rear (sans flash).   It runs the older Android 2.1 and costs $249  prepaid, $25/month.

At this point, I’d normally recommend the MyTouch 4G because of the hardware and software differentiators above.  However, T-Mobile, which normally doesn’t mess too much with Android phones, is all over this one.  They’ve hijacked the search button and changed it to a ‘genius’ button which pulls out the Android voice recognition and puts in another one from Nuance (which works, just not as well and isn’t as well integrated overall).  When you start up, you are given a wizard which is a nice easy way to get your settings into your phone, but it doesn’t give you an option that doesn’t put a heavy overlay on your screen.  Where your browser would normally be, T-Mobile has inserted “Faves”.  They also tile applications which just adds more clutter to the screen.

On the other hand, The Virgin Intercept is a very basic phone.  The screen resolution is only 240×400 and it shows pixelation immediately.  However, Virgin doesn’t try to add any glitz the the phone.  It is pretty much stock Android 2.1 (soon to be 2.2 I’m told).  Browsing works fine, maps work great with GPS, Email and SMS all work great as stock apps.  Sure there are some Virgin apps on there but they haven’t messed with the OS so much that you don’t recognize it.  Additionally, the slide out keyboard is one of the best I’ve used.  It is only 4 rows but by incorporating the space bar into the bottom row, the top row is all dedicated number buttons.

The kicker is that Smartphone plans usually start at about $75/month after taxes for the basic plan with unlimited data and SMSes (as does this MyTouch).  Virgin’s Intercept is only 1/3 of that at $25/month and it is pre-paid so you can quit at any time (why would you?!) Virgin is actually just Sprint’s network.

I’m probably being too harsh on the MyTouch 4G – it isn’t that bad of a phone.  Call quality is good and it does get 4G speeds if you can find a location of one of T-Mobile’s HSPA+ towers. It can also act as a hotspot (for an additional fee).  I’m told that the MyTouch fanbase is used to this UI and will appreciate the consistency as well, but obviously it is foreign to me.   T-Mobile as a carrier is also very good and carries two of the best Android phones out there, the G2 and the Samsung Vibrant which are both fantastic alternatives to the MyTouch 4G because they aren’t burdened with a proprietary overlay.

The cameras, both front and back, on the 4G are of good quality and the bright flash will let you get some shots in the dark.  I don’t mean to single out the MyTouch 4G because every carrier can be cited for messing with Android phones too much.  I even like some of the apps like T-MobileTV and the Modes which, for instance, let’s you turn off email at home or a ‘kidzone’ mode which turns off the dialer and other sensitive apps when kids want to play with the device.  I just wish these features could be added in a standardized way to a stock build…at least as an option.

Again, I’m obviously comparing a high-end MyTouch4G with a lower end Samsung Interecpt, but unlike other budget phones the Interecpt comes with a budget plan.  A phone in the Interecpt’s class on T-Mobile is the Motorola Charm which is significantly cheaper than the MyTouch.  But after you buy the Charm (or get it free), you get the same data plans as the MyTouch, which isn’t cheap at all.  And you get that plan for two years.

So how long does it take to recoup your $250 down price on Virgin?  You break even on the first month ($275/each for phone+1 month plan) if you compare a cheaper $100 phone on a major carrier with $75/ month plan, it takes only 3 months to break even with the Virgin post paid.

Even if you get an excellent free smartphone with a $75/month plan, you break even with the Interecpt  in 5 months.  The next 19 months, you are saving $50/month.  Or almost $1000 over the life of your phone.

Those are the kinds of numbers that can change an industry, if people think ahead.

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