Hands-On with the T-Mobile Test Drive and iPhone

| Analysis

I’ve been a loyal AT&T customer since the very first iPhone came out in 2007. And by “loyal,” I of course mean “too lazy to switch to a different provider, despite not really liking AT&T.” I’ve long been looking for a way to see how other cellular services stack up, so trying out the T-Mobile Test Drive (which TMO’s own Jeff Gamet described recently) was a no-brainer for me.

Getting a T-Mobile iPhone 5s shipped to my house was darned easy using their online signup process, and I had the device in my hot little hands just two days afterward. They do put a hold on your credit card for $700 (plus tax) while you have the iPhone, so be aware that you’ll see that pending charge appear.

Anyway, here’s the equipment that came in the box:

As you can see, this is standard stuff. The only notable thing is that the iPhone didn’t come in an Apple box—it was stuck under some plastic wrap in the cardboard insert. The device itself looked completely new, but it was funny to find that the New York–area number assigned to my phone already had a spam telemarketer voicemail waiting for me! Well, I thought it was funny.

All pretty good so far, but here’s the downside: After I walked through setting up the phone, I immediately noticed that I was getting between no service at all and one bar of 4G in my house, despite T-Mobile’s coverage map insisting that I live in an area with good signal.

When I turned off Wi-Fi, loading webpages was impossible, and this happened on pretty much every call I tried:

Sad trombone.

After driving around for a bit, I did notice that the speed of T-Mobile’s network seems very comparable to AT&T’s in my area, so when the coverage was good, everything clicked along just fine. The fact that the service won’t work in my house is a deal-breaker, but naturally, your mileage may vary. I do note that T-Mobile offers free signal boosters for customers who meet their qualifications, so if your coverage is poor, that’s one route to take. 

I’m certainly disappointed in what I found, but that’s the purpose of the Test Drive, right? It was well worth my time to check it out, and I think it would be worthwhile for a lot of folks. The process couldn’t have been much easier, that’s for sure.

Bottom Line: If you’re dissatisfied with your current provider and like T-Mobile’s plan offerings, the Test Drive is an excellent, free way to figure out whether their service will work for you. Just be sure to return the iPhone to a T-Mobile retail store within seven days, or you’ll get stuck with the entire cost of the device. Also be aware of the other caveats of the Test Drive, which include a potential $100 fee if you damage the device or leave Find My iPhone turned on. Read the fine print, my friends!

Comments

Lee Dronick

Thank you for the review, I will be sticking with AT&T which I have found to be reliable.

vpndev

I had not heard about the signal boosters so that’s a nice piece of info to have. Coverage in my area is fairly good by it’s lousy at my house. One bar is typical, inside often “No Service”. So I think I’ll look into that.

Lee Dronick

  I had not heard about the signal boosters so that’s a nice piece of info to have. Coverage in my area is fairly good by it’s lousy at my house.

I have a microcell that AT&T gave me, a few years ago they there were handing them out most subscribers. Anyway the microcell sends out a strong cell signal in the house, but connects to the cell service via my internet service. I am not sure if this is the same technology as T-Mobile’s, but I assume so.

Terrin

I have been on everybody’s network at one time or another. Currently, I am on T-Mobile. I live in Ann Arbor Michigan. The service is very good. Faster than AT&T in some areas (especially in metro Detroit). Further, T-Mobile is a better deal if it works well in your area. For $60 a month I get unlimited everything, and don’t have to pay extra for things like using my device as a personal hotspot. The HD voice is also very nice.

For people who don’t get great service inside, but do outside this might improve with iOS 8 and its build in wi-fi calling that T-Mobile will support. So essentially if the cell signal is weak the phone will route the call through wi-fi.

ALso people seem to forget that when the iPhone first came to AT&T, the service wasn’t that great. With more customers, the service improved.

Lee Dronick

  ALso people seem to forget that when the iPhone first came to AT&T, the
service wasn’t that great. With more customers, the service improved.

It has greatly improved here in San Diego, they have added quite a few new towers and repeaters.

vpndev

>connects to the cell service via my internet service.
>I am not sure if this is the same technology as T-Mobile’s,
>but I assume so.

That’s what expected but then I saw in the FAQ the question about signal level, and whether or not you have at least one bar. So it may be that it’s a cell-to-cell booster rather than a cell-to-Internet one. I guess that would solve their 911 issue without requiring a GPS in the booster.

It will be interesting to find out.

daemon

T-mobile’s free signal booster is just that. It only boosts an existing signal,  which makes it not nearly as reliable as a microcell that uses your Internet as a backhaul. But then you don’t need a separate service to make it work.

One thing everyone should know, most tmobile phones come with the ability to make wifi calls,  the phone makes a secure Internet connection to tmobile’s servers and then uses voice over IP to deliver your call to its destination.  This makes all wifi spots micro cells for tmobile.

I’m not sure Apple is on board with wifi calling,  since it’s a carrier specific software.

vpndev

>I’m not sure Apple is on board with wifi calling,  since it’s a
>carrier specific software.

Apple has been positive about the feature so I think that it’s “on board” with it. And I think that one carrier already supports it (i.e. prior to T-Mobile’s recent announcement). But I forget which.

daemon

T-Mobile was the only carrier to support wifi calling in the United States since 2007. So… I really don’t know what you meat by T-Mobile’s recent announcement. And there still isn’t any other carrier to announce wifi calling.

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