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Test driving T-Mobile's LTE network, one year later

Derek Walter | Oct. 19, 2015
Last year, we took T-Mobile's Test Drive challenge to scope out its LTE coverage. This year, we tried it again. Here's how its coverage stacks up.

t mobile iphone
Credit: Derek Walter

T-Mobile has a clever way to get you to take its service for a spin—hoping that, of course, you decide to make a permanent switch when it’s over. With Test Drive, the self-described “uncarrier” loans you an iPhone 5s with a T-Mobile SIM card for a week in order to try out the network. The company started this practice in 2014, and Macworld’s Susie Ochs gave it a shot and tested its network speeds in various places around the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Now, with T-Mobile offering some of the best iPhone 6s deals around, the carrier is sounding more appealing than ever before. So, one year later after our initial benchmark testing, we decided to take another Test Drive to see if it had changed. 

Based on Susie’s experience, I had concerns over how good of a signal I could get while traveling with T-Mobile, but the siren call of Music Freedom, Jump on Demand, and other dangling carrots finally convinced me to at least give it a try.  

After using the phone on the road, in town, and at home for the seven-day trial, the experience was straight out of the popular children’s poem There was a little girl from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: 

There was a little girl,

            Who had a little curl,

Right in the middle of her forehead.

            When she was good,

            She was very, very good,

But when she was bad she was horrid.

Poetry aside, here’s what I mean. When I had a solid LTE connection, the Internet was lightning fast. It’s not surprising that T-Mobile keeps winning accolades for being the fastest of the four large networks. But when leaving urban areas and going inside buildings, the network struggled.

How Test Drive works

You sign up for Test Drive online, so you don’t even need to head into a store if you don’t want to. I went into a T-Mobile retail store anyway, as I wanted some reassurance from a human that there wouldn’t be any restrictions on linking the loaner phone up with my Apple ID and getting some logistics about the program. The manager confirmed I could sign in, download apps, and essentially use it as my personal phone during the trial period. 

t mobile test drive 
The Test Drive welcome kit includes an iPhone 5s and all the key peripherals. Credit: Derek Walter

The test experience

I timed my trial with a road trip I was taking with my wife along the California coast, and I ended up setting the iPhone up while I was on the road. I excitedly opened the box, slapped in the SIM card, and... nothing. Surprisingly, the iPhone was completely dead. After about 15 minutes plugged into the car charger, it came to life, and I went through the setup while my wife was driving us through Monterey. 

 

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