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The Verizon iPhone 4 Reviewed: What the Web is Saying

Verizon iPhone 4Pre-orders for the Verizon (s vz) iPhone 4 (s aapl) 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 (s 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 (s nyt) 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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9 Responses to “The Verizon iPhone 4 Reviewed: What the Web is Saying”

  1. The only people that are going to get the new iPhone are going to be those already carrying Verizon. Verizon is not going to be seeing such a huge spike in their profits due to the fact that people who have wanted an iPhone have already made the switch to AT&T years ago. Unfortunately for Verizon all the upgrades will be in house, and all their profits will probably go to Apple for the ability to carry the phone.

    • Well, many people bought their iPhone over two years ago and haven’t upgraded since. That means they could switch carriers without penalty. Why wouldn’t they? I for one have a second generation iPhone 3G and am just waiting for the next version of the iPhone to be released and supported on the Verizon network. I am no fan of Verizon for other reasons, but the quality of the AT&T network in the NYC area is so dismal, that I am willing to give Verizon a try again.

  2. I’ve had the iPhone 4 since launch in Ireland and have never once dropped a call. Phone calls are crisp and I get 3g speeds of about 3mbps down/1.5mbps up in all but the most remote places. I think Americans would do well to remember that the iPhone 4 doesn’t/didn’t have any problems outside of the US and should blame AT&T for a poorly designed GSM network rather than the phone itself. Once you take that into account, the Verizon iPhone is just a bog standard iPhone 4 whose heart is stuck in the past.

    Who makes calls on their phones anyway???

  3. The major improvement from the Verizon iPhone 4 I think is clearly going to be the network. Verizon just has better reception, so that’s an improvement the device can’t do on it’s own — although Steve Jobs did kindly model at one point how to correctly hold the phone so as not to cover the antenna.

  4. I think what makes most people crazy about AT&T is their inability, year after year to fix New York City and San Francisco — and the suspicion of total incompetence/stupidity on their part considering that’s where 90+% of the tech press lives/works.

    This in no way is meant to praise Verizon or anyone else. You want good cell networks, go to Europe — you get perfect voice calls and fast data while underground riding the Paris Metro for goodness sake — it’s like you’ve taken a time machine to the tech future. All US carriers are just terrible compared to their European counterparts.

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      I don’t know what the issues are in NYC, but San Francisco is pretty much designed to have bad cell service. It’s made up of many hills and valleys, most of the city has no buildings more than 3 stories tall, most of the city is really old, it’s surrounded by water that of course has no cell towers and which on the western side is salty and causes the air to be corrosive, and politically, people with an anti-corporate viewpoint actually have a voice and there is no Republican party for corporations to pay off to get around that or around environmental regulations. AT&T has an old name, but they are the newest of the carriers, so their SF network is immature. And they are Texans, so again, no Republican party in SF for them to pay off. Plus, to top it all off, this is Apple’s home turf, everyone here uses an iPhone.

  5. I can see the hyperbole engines have been supercharged and set to over drive. If you can’t be unbiased then please at least try to write something original and not simply regurgitate other reviews.

    While the Verizon network MAY be better for SOME it is not, nor will it ever be better for everyone. To imply otherwise is nothing more than hype and shoddy reporting. I have been on literally every cell carrier in southern california, including multiple stints on AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. The vast majority of southern California Verizon service has bad but not totally unusable voice quality 90%+ of the time at best and unintelligible voice quality the rest of the time at worst. Their 3G service is passable but highly sensitive to even the slightest change in weather conditions. AT&T for the majority of the southern California area is a far better option if you want an iPhone with the optimum level of both voice and data service.