The Verizon iPhone 4 beats its AT&T counterpart for the reliability and quality of its voice calls, though it may be a bit slower on data connections, according to early reviews. And the jury remains out on whether the new version of Apple's smart phone has remedied the reception issue that was a weak point in the otherwise-superb AT&T iPhone 4.
Those are the upshots from a number of reviews of the upcoming Verizon phone out today, based on reporters using press samples supplied to them by Verizon and Apple. Consumer Reports was not one of the media outlets that received an early sample. We'll begin testing the Verizon phone when we receive it next Thursday, and we expect to have our initial take on the phone posted by late in the day.
Here's more on what reviewers are saying:
Voice calls: Reviewers made calls in a number of cities. Wired's Brian X. Chen, for one, reports that on the Verizon iPhone, "People can hear you better, and you can hear them better. It's that simple." And the New York Times' Davids Pogue says, "The Verizon iPhone is nearly the same as AT&T's iPhone 4—but it doesn't drop calls." That jibes with our Ratings of cell-phone service providers, based on the experiences of more than 50,000 Consumer Reports subscribers using both regular cell phones and smart phones. Those found Verizon to be among the most satisfying carriers for voice calling, and AT&T to be the least satisfying.
Data connections: A number of reviewers, including Wired's Chen and Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, measured data speeds when using the AT&T and Verizon phones on their respective networks. Chen found, simply, "Verizon’s 3G-transfer rates are slower than AT&T’s." And Mossberg reported, "AT&T's speeds varied more while Verizon's were more consistent, but overall, AT&T was more satisfying at cellular data."
That aligns with AT&T claims of a faster data network than some competitors, as some reviewers noted. However, the reviewers' experiences are anecdotal, and speed may not be everything when it comes to data service. In every one of the 23 metro areas in which we conduct our survey, satisfaction with data service was higher for Verizon customers than for AT&T subscribers.
Reception issues: Only a few reviewers addressed the question of whether the Verizon iPhone 4 shows reception issues like those we found on the AT&T version of the phone. Reviewers seemed to differ in their experiences. MG Siegler of TechCrunch reports, "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."
But Engadget's Joshua Topolsky noted, "In low connectivity settings, we could get both the AT&T phone and the Verizon phone to dip slightly in bars if we covered the bottom half of the devices with our hands. We did not see any noticeable change in call quality or data quality." And the Times' Pogue remarked, "The redesign doesn't help with the famous Death Grip issue, in which holding the phone in a certain way makes your signal bars drop. Then again, the problem emerges only when you're in a very weak signal area, so you'll see it less often on Verizon. I couldn't reproduce it at all."
Differences between the AT&T and Verizon iPhone 4: Reviewers made a point of noting that the two versions of the iPhone 4 are nearly identical, regarding hardware—save for differences made to accommodate Verizon's CDMA cell-phone network. AT&T iPhones run on a GSM cell-phone network. This accounts for the other main difference between the two phones: on Verizon's CDMA network, you can't make voice calls and be online at the same time, and this was confirmed by reviewers.
But as Pogue pointed out, this may not be a huge issue for everyone: "Continuing processes like downloads, Personal Hotspot and GPS navigation resume automatically when you end your call. You can still send text and get messages when you're on a call. And none of this applies when you're in a Wi-Fi hot spot; in that case, you can call and surf simultaneously."
Verizon appears to have an edge in the iPhone wars, at least according to these early reviewers. Check back next week for CR's first look at the Verizon iPhone, based on tests in our labs.