That depends on what you see as the features you need most. The basic difference is the different type of cell network each carrier uses and the capabilities of those networks. This is aside from the calling and data plans, return policies and handset upgrades which are constantly changing between AT&T and Verizon; and I’ll leave all those points for you to decide among. And here in Montana, where AT&T is bringing more network online this year, it’s a good idea to think about more coverage, too.
But the basics – and possibly the deal killers for individuals – are the differences in the hardware of each phone, even though they are both iPhones. AT&T uses GSM cell technology, while Verizon uses CDMA cell technology. That means some basic differences in phone and data functionality, two of the most important are traveling out of the US and being able to do two things at once on the phone.
Do you need to be able to travel with the phone? According to David Pogue (in his review for The New York Times; see link below), “The Verizon (CDMA) iPhone works in about 40 countries, including Mexico, Canada and China; AT&T (GSM) phones, on the other hand, work in 220 countries.” So if you are just going to roam around Montana, Verizon probably has better coverage. But both in and outside of North America, AT&T might be a better choice overall. But in both cases, the roaming costs while overseas are big.
Do you need to use the web at the same time you talk on the phone? You can do that with a AT&T (GSM) iPhone. You can’t with a Verizon (CDMA) iPhone; David Pogue points out that:
“You can’t talk on an C.D.M.A. phone while you’re online. That is, if you’re on a call, you can’t simultaneously check a Web site or send e-mail over the cellular network — and, annoyingly, the Personal Hotspot feature cuts off. (It reconnects when you hang up.) If the top of your screen says “3G,” an indication that you’re in a high-speed Internet area of Verizon’s network, incoming calls take priority and interrupt your online connection. If you’re online in an older, 2G area, you stay online and the call goes directly to voice mail.”
This is unless you are within range of a Wi-fi hotspot. Then you can use Wi-fi for Internet and talk on the phone at the same time, because the iPhone is using the cell network for the call and the Wi-fi for the Internet access.
Pogue points out a new feature that the only the Verizon iPhone offers: the Personal Hotspot, where the iPhone becomes a Wi-Fi base station for up to five other laptops or devices. That might be important to you.
But dropping calls – or not – might be the most important thing to users. Both Walt Mossberg – Verizon iPhone 4 Review – Walt Mossberg – and David Pogue – Verizon’s iPhone Doesn’t Drop Calls – David Pogue – say the same thing: Verizon doesn’t drop calls.
Pogue does wonder if the crush of new iPhone traffic on Verizon’s network will degrade service, as did with AT&T. Verizon claims it won’t.
And Consumer Reports says that the Verizon iPhone still suffers from the old iPhone 3 “death grip” and still can’t recommend it. See Consumer Reports Electronics Blog: Verizon iPhone 4: Mind the gap, our tests show.
Finally, there has been a new iPhone model each July. Do you want to wait another few months to see if the iPhone 5 will be out before you decide?
As with any new high tech toy, the choices make things complex. But, bottom line, if you really want an iPhone, wade through the details and decide which way to go.