My April, 2011 Missoulian InBusinessMonthly column
The Verizon iPhone came out in the first part of February, and if you didn’t jump in right away and are still considering one, you should think about the basic differences between the two iPhone options – AT&T and Verizon – to decide which might be best for you.
The basic difference is the type of cellular network each carrier uses and the capabilities of those networks, even though they are both iPhones: AT&T uses GSM cell technology, while Verizon uses CDMA cell technology.
(The calling and data plans, return policies and handset upgrades are constantly changing between AT&T and Verizon, so I’ll leave those for you to decide.)
What CDMA and GSM mean isn’t really the point here; the bottom line is differences in phone and data functionality that affect traveling out of the U.S. and being able to talk and use the Web at the same time.
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), “The Verizon (GSM) iPhone works in about 40 countries, including Mexico, Canada and China; AT&T (CDMA) phones, on the other hand, work in 220 countries.”
So if you are just going to roam around Montana and North America, Verizon has better coverage. But outside of North America, AT&T is the better choice. In both cases, the roaming costs while away from your home turf will be big, he warns.
Do you need to use the Web at the same time as you talk on the phone? You can do that with an AT&T iPhone; you can’t with a Verizon iPhone.
Pogue writes that, “You can’t talk on an CDMA 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.”
He continues: “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 feature that 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. But, if you get a call, he warns, the Personal Hotspot feature cuts off Wi-Fi until you hang up the phone.
But dropping calls – or not – might be most important to users. Both Walt Mossberg of All Things Digital at the Wall Street Journal and Pogue say the same thing: Verizon doesn’t drop calls.
See Pogue’s review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/03/technology/personaltech/03pogue.html ; and Mossberg’s review here: http://ptech.allthingsd.com/20110202/verizon-apple-iphone4-review/
Pogue also wonders if the crush of iPhone traffic on Verizon’s network will degrade service, as it did with AT&T. Other reviews already show that Verizon’s data download speeds are slower than AT&T’s.
Consumer Reports has also weighed in, saying that the Verizon iPhone still suffers from the older iPhone “death grip” and you still have to hold the handset in a certain way to get good reception. The publication still can’t recommend it; see http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/search.htm?query=iphone.
And one last point: There has been a new iPhone model each July for the last few years. iPhone 5 rumors have already begun with a guessed-at release date in July. Do you want to get an iPhone 4 now or wait another few months to see what’s new with the iPhone 5?