Showdown: Sprint Power Vision vs. Verizon Wireless V Cast

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For the past few weeks, I've been wondering who is winning the video cell-phone battle between Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Which one serves up better content? The last time I tested services, Sprint had not yet introduced its EV-DO network, and the new Power Vision service that runs on that network. Now that it has, and now that both carriers have video downloads as well as full-fledged music stores, I grabbed an LG VX8100 V Cast phone from Verizon and the sweet, slender Samsung a900 Power Vision phone from Sprint, and set out to pick a winner.

Sprint takes the cable TV approach, packing in a dizzying number of channels. If you pay $25 per month (in addition to your voice plan) for the Power Vision Ultimate Pack, you get an abundance of content from NBC, Fox News, Fox Sports, ESPN, The Weather Channel and Discovery Channel.

Although for the most part, video downloads are prepackaged 1 to 5 minutes TV clips, Sprint does outdo Verizon in a big way with its live programming. Fox News, NFL Network, Fashion TV and the Fuse music channel all offer live streams to the phone for continuous viewing. An extra Sprint Live TV subscription gives you even more continuous programming, from CSPAN, Discovery, TLC, Bloomberg and more.

Sprint also lets you get continuous streams of music, from Sirius, Rhapsody and other solid music partners. On the streaming audio front, Sprint is the uncontested winner. Verizon has no plan to offer radio-style programming.

But Sprint is pricey. The basic $15 Power Vision plan gives you very little, and though some channels can be purchased a la carte, you're still better off starting with the $20 Plus Pack, which has at its core ABC News Now and a wide array of programming from Fox Sports.

Verizon Wireless launched V Cast a year ago with a $15 per month price tag. It hasn't raised the price, though it has increased the amount of content available. There may not be live programming, but there's constantly refreshed content from some big names that Sprint doesn't yet have. CBS and the whole Viacom stable — Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, VH1 — as well as and Speaking of the weather, Verizon's local coverage is not very good: Although it has both Accuweather and the Weather Channel, between them the the two only cover 21 cities.

V Cast has better content organization. The channels are listed under four main topics, News, Entertainment, Sports and Weather. Sprint's Power Vision channels are sprawled across many categories, with lots of stuff buried in folders and subfolders. Each Sprint channel is assigned a number, like on TV, but there's no way to remember the numbers, nor is there a helpful channel guide on Sprint's website (hint, hint). I also like how the V Cast video playback is easy to pause and resume. Sprint's controls are non-existent.

So, I'm ruling in favor of Verizon's V Cast, but it beats Sprint only by a narrow margin, mostly because of its lower price. Download speeds and picture quality are the same for both, yet Sprint's streaming channels aim toward a future that Verizon seems to be ignoring. The truth is, for the first time in years, Sprint customers have reason to feel good about their carrier. That is, provided they live in a Power Vision service area, can get their hands on a phone like the Samsung a900, and are willing to pay the extra Power Vision fees.