Phone fans, fast-forward to 4G! We've got our hands on the first LTE phones to hit the UK and put them through their paces. The iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE, HTC One XL and Huawei Ascend P1 LTE are all on sale today -- but do they deliver on the promise of faster phones?
The four LTE phones will be joined later by the Nokia Lumia 920 and Lumia 820, and a 4G version of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. Hit play to see the phalanx of 4G phones in action, and read on for the results.
You can buy these 4G phones on contract from EE, the phone network formerly known as Everything Everywhere, formed by the merger of Orange and T-Mobile. 4G hasn't started yet, but you can buy any of these phones and transition seamlessly onto the 4G network when it launches -- although that is taking a gamble on how much your contract will cost.
4G promises faster connection to the Internet, so we put the phones through their paces with different tasks that involve talking to the Web. We turned off browser caching where possible and watched how fast the phones could load up webpages or play a YouTube video. And we used the Speedtest.net app for Android and iPhone to measure upload and download speeds.
We tested each phone individually, and then put them next to each other and raced them to see how your phone would be affected by other people on 4G nearby. And we also ran the same tests on an O2 3G iPhone 5 and an EE 3G iPhone 4S to see the difference between 4G and current 3G.
So the good news is that 4G is indeed faster -- often significantly faster -- than 3G. But what struck us was the variance of the results: sometimes we'd get a download speed of 43Mbps, and sometimes we'd get speeds of 6Mbps when all the phones were racing at the same time.
Upload speeds were more consistent, generally hovering around 9-10Mbps, even when download speeds weren't looking too clever.
In fact, when the 4G phones were running together, the iPhone 5 on O2's 3G network actually managed to beat them a couple of times, hitting download speeds of around 14Mbps. That's roughly three times as fast as the iPhone 4S on EE 3G.
But upload speeds did show 4G's superiority. The O2 iPhone 5 was lucky to hit 2Mbps, but 4G ranged from 7Mbps to 16Mbps, even when the 4G phones were running together.
So when it's slow, 4G is roughly neck-and-neck with decent 3G -- but when it's fast, it's very fast.
In our tests, the fastest phone was the Galaxy S3 LTE, which loaded webpages the fastest. In speed tests the S3 and iPhone 5 both cracked the 40Mbps barrier a couple of times, but the iPhone 5 showed a much wider range of results, and was often affected by being tested close to other phones.
But there's a but
Firstly and most importantly, the speeds we found for these phones simply show what 4G is like at that one time, at that one spot, and shouldn't be taken as a definitive demonstration of what you can expect from your 4G phone.
And we were in central London, a stone's throw from EE's offices, which is likely to have the best coverage. And despite having a handful of phones 4Ging simultaneously, there's still no way to tell how the network will perform when open to the public, with who knows how many people browsing the Web, streaming music and videos, uploading photos to Instagram and what have you.
We're cautiously optimistic about 4G after our time with the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE, HTC One XL and Huawei Ascend P1 LTE -- but it's still early days for 4G. To see how they square off in other areas, check out our comparison of the first 4G phones.
What do you think of the LTE line-up? Tell me your thoughts about 4G in the comments or on our Facebook page.