Verizon today announced that the iPhone 4 will be coming to its network in the United States. What’s the difference between the two cellular network’s iPhones? And is it worth making the switch to Verizon if you are currently with AT&T? Spot Cool Stuff investigates:
AT&T and Verizon iPhone 4 Differences
Network technology and reliability is the most significant differences between AT&T and Verizon. AT&T operates on its much (and perhaps somewhat unfairly) maligned GSM-based network. The Verizon iPhone will work on the company’s CDMA network.
Common wisdom has it that Verizon’s network is superior. And, indeed, a 2009 study by Wired Magazine that ranked the four major cell phone companies in the U.S. found that Verizon was the fastest and AT&T the slowest.
But will an actual user’s iPhone experience on AT&T versus Verizon match up with that common wisdom? Spot Cool Stuff isn’t completely convinced. First—and most crucially—the Verizon iPhone announced today will not work with the company’s LTE 4G network; it is in 4G that Verizon is putting most of its expansion efforts and network improvements. Secondly, AT&T has already had to adapt to a crush of new data-hungry iPhone users; it’s not certain how well Verizon could cope with a similar influx to their network.
That said, in high-use areas (most especially San Francisco, Washington DC and New York City) AT&T is pretty horrendous—Verizon could hardly do worse. And Verizon has the superior customer service.
Advantage: Verizon (though not by nearly as much as popularly thought)
Cell & data plans
At the time of writing, Verizon and AT&T have identical basic rates: $39.99/month for 450 minutes, $59.99 for 900 minutes, $69.99 for unlimited. The perks vary a little. Most significantly, AT&T automatically rolls over unused minutes to the next month.
Both carriers require their iPhone users to sign up for a data plan. AT&T charges $15/month for 200 MB of data or $25 for 2 GB. Verizon has not yet anounced their data plan rates; we expect them to be similar, if not identical, to AT&T’s.
Advantage: AT&T for those who don’t talk much (mostly because of the roll over minutes).
Simultaneous data and voice
AT&T’s iPhone allows you to talk and surf the internet over 3G at the same time. Verizon’s does not, though you can talk and surf while in a wifi hotspot.
Secondary device internet access
Both AT&T and Verizon iPhones will allow you to access the internet on another device via your phone. AT&T’s iPhone does this by “tethering.” Turn on the tethering and you can surf the internet on, say, your laptop via your iPhone’s 3G connection (and on your iPhone’s data plan). The Verizon iPhone allows for the same functionally by creating a virtual hotspot, the main advantage of which is that up to five devices can be online at once.
If you are only connecting with one device there is no significant difference between AT&T’s tethering and Verizon’s hot spot approach.
Advantage: Verizon (though the difference is relatively minor)
SIM card slot
AT&T’s iPhone has one. Verizon’s iPhone does not (since it is not a GSM world phone).
That makes absolutely no difference when using your iPhone with your given phone number in the United States. Having access to a SIM card slot might a difference when using your iPhone overseas. AT&T uses GSM, which is the standard used in vast majority of countries (with the notable and inexplicable exception of Japan). Unlock your AT&T iPhone and you can buy a SIM card and use your phone with a local number. You can also use products that take advantage of SIM card access, such as the cool 3-in-1 SIM card case (photo below) that allows for the simultaneous use of three phone numbers on one iPhone.
AT&T and Verizon iPhone 4 Similarities
• Features not mentioned above, such as Bluetooth and front/back facing cameras
• Battery life
• Operating system (both run the same apps)
Should you get a Verizon or AT&T iPhone?
It would have been so much cooler if Verizon were coming out with a LTE 4G iPhone with GSM world roaming. We wouldn’t have hesitated suggesting THAT for nearly everyone. As it is, whether you should get a Verizon iPhone depends on your current circumstances:
If you are currently a Verizon customer then definitely get the Verizon iPhone 4 if that’s your desire. Sign up early—current Verizon subscribers have priority on iPhone from Feb 4th to 10th. Take note though: the CDMA Verizon iPhone 4 is slower and has older technology compared to a LTE 4G Android smartphone. If data connectivity speed is paramount to you consider an LG Revolution or HTC Thunderbolt.
If you are a new customer deciding between an AT&T or a Verizon iPhone 4 then we suggest Verizon, especially if you live in a major urban center. If you live in a more rural place definitely check the Verizon coverage map before signing up; it could be that you live and work in locations better served by AT&T.
If you currently have an AT&T iPhone then chances are you are at least mildly annoyed with the reliability and customer service you are receiving. But whether it makes sense to immediately jump ship to Verizon depends on your individual circumstances:
• If you already have an iPhone 4 then you are still within your 2-year contract period. Stick with AT&T (at least until Verizon launches an LTE 4G iPhone or your contract expires).
• If you have an iPhone 3 or 3GS and are within your 2-year contract period then it really isn’t worth the cost switching to Verizon unless you’ve experienced significant frustration in your particular coverage area.
• If you have an iPhone 3 or 3GS (or some other phone) and have already fulfilled your 2-year contract then celebrate your freedom to choose. Stick with AT&T if you’ve been at least moderately satisfied with them; don’t hesitate to jump ship if not.
If you spend time overseas then you have the extra complication of weighing the advantages of AT&T’s GSM iPhone and its access to a SIM card slot (see above). The Verizon iPhone will work in 40 countries around the world; that includes Japan (where AT&T’s iPhone won’t work) but excludes some major destinations including Australia, Brazil and nearly the whole of western Europe. Even in those countries where you can use a Verizon iPhone 4 the coverage won’t be nearly as good as AT&T’s counterpart and you are unlikely to have data access. Further, Verizon’s international roaming rates are astronomically high (AT&T’s are merely very high) and there’s no possibility of buying a SIM card and using your iPhone with local number.
One final note: Spot Cool Stuff has received no compensation from either Verizon or AT&T for this review. Ourselves, we use AT&T and have been reasonably happy with them. But, as this post makes clear, there are lots of people who could benefit from a switch to Verizon.
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