The Verizon iPhone 4 Reviewed: What the Web is Saying

Verizon iPhone 4

Verizon iPhone 4Pre-orders for the Verizon iPhone 4 began early this morning (12:00 a.m. PST), and appear to be going smoothly so far. And with timing that couldn’t possibly have been coincidental, many tech news outlets yesterday pretty much simultaneously (embargo, anyone?) released their Verizon iPhone reviews. Here’s what the web is saying about Apple’s smartphone making the jump to Big Red.

John Gruber starts off his terrific review at Daring Fireball with a great summary sentence that could describe just about every other review out there: “It’s the same phone. The only difference is the network. And Verizon’s network is better.” The rest of the review primarily addresses network difference. He ends with a minor variation of the same starting phrase:

So let’s slightly tweak the nutshell summary of the Verizon iPhone: It’s the same phone. The only differences are (a) a brief period of Verizon exclusivity for the Wi-Fi hotspot feature, and (b) the network. And Verizon’s network is better.

Like Gruber, Walt Mossberg finds that where the Verizon iPhone shines most is in call quality and reliability. Mossberg makes a great point, however, for those who spend time outside of the U.S.:

[B]ecause Verizon’s iPhone—like most other Verizon phones—doesn’t work on the world-wide GSM mobile-phone standard, you can’t use it in most countries outside the U.S. AT&T’s iPhone does work on this standard, and can be used widely abroad, albeit at very high roaming rates. In the midst of my testing, I had to travel to Hong Kong, one of the few countries where the Verizon iPhone functions. But even there, it only worked for voice, not data, at least in the areas where I was working. The AT&T model handled both voice and data everywhere I tried it there.

Over at TechCrunch, MG Siegler reveled in the ability of the Verizon iPhone to make lengthy calls without losing service, in case you had any remaining doubts that Verizon’s network is better for call quality. He’s also one of the few reviewers who actually addressed the iPhone 4’s antenna issues:

This Verizon version of the iPhone 4 seems to have none of the same antenna issues. Try as I might, using the “death grip” and every other grip I can actually do, I can no longer reproduce the same attenuation problem that the previous iPhone 4 model had. I death grip the thing, and no bars drop. More importantly, calls don’t drop and data doesn’t stop. Again, Apple won’t comment, but problem, apparently, solved.

David Pogue of the New York Times tested the Verizon iPhone in five different U.S. cities, including San Francisco and New York, notorious problem spots for AT&T’s network. Pogue has almost nothing but praise for Verizon, noting that it dropped only one call during his testing, compared to many for his AT&T device, but he does point out that customers might want to be wary of getting into bed with Verizon:

Even if Verizon’s network is the best in America, its policies and prices are still among the worst. This is the company, after all, that admitted to billing $2 every time you accidentally hit the up-arrow button. (Verizon refunded $52 million and paid the Federal Communications Commission a record $25 million fine.) This is the company that just eliminated its “new phone every two years” discount policy, that just cut its new-phone return policy to 14 days from 30, that doubled its early-termination fee (to $350 if you cancel your two-year contract before it’s up).

Rather than heap praise on Verizon’s network, Macworld’s Jason Snell lauds the arrival of carrier choice for prospective iPhone buyers. His review is a thorough look at not only the Verizon iPhone, but at the iPhone 4 in general, so users new to Apple’s smartphone might want to start here. Snell’s best point is about how the new Personal Hotspot feature shipping with Verizon iPhones seems at odds with CDMA’s inability to handle voice and data simultaneously:

[I]f you’re using the Internet and your phone rings, your Internet connection immediately drops. […] If this was an issue that only precluded you from checking your e-mail while dialed into a conference call, it would be a minor annoyance. But if you come to rely on the Personal Hotspot feature—say, sharing data with a couple of colleagues while on a road trip—it’s got the potential to be infuriating.

Brian X. Chen joined the chorus of those praising the Verizon iPhone’s superior voice quality over at Wired, but went into more detail about the tradeoffs the device makes regarding streaming media quality and connections speeds:

The AT&T handset on average scored significantly better in speed tests: 62 percent faster for downloads and 38 percent faster for uploads. […] In real-world use cases, the Verizon iPhone’s slower transfer rates are noticeable. Netflix streaming is smooth on both devices, but on the Verizon iPhone, compression artifacts are more apparent: The video stream is adapting to the slower transfer rate. Loading websites in Safari was faster on the AT&T iPhone, and so was installing apps.

So to qualify my original statement about John Gruber’s summary, he is probably right that for most users the information that the Verizon iPhone 4 is the same phone on a better network will suffice. But for those with special considerations, like globe-trotters and people who seldom if ever leave strong AT&T coverage zones, use their device primarily for texting and rarely for voice calls, or are heavy and demanding mobile media consumers and multitaskers, there’s still ample reason to pause and consider before taking the Verizon plunge.

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