Zazzle Shop

Screen printing

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Verizon iPhone: A First Look

After almost a week with the Apple iPhone 4 for Verizon, it's clear that a new network makes one of the best smartphones even better.

By Lance Ulanoff
Verizon iPhone interface
It's unlikely that, even without the "camouflaging" bumper on, anyone would've noticed that I've been carrying around a Verizon iPhone for the last few days. Except for some very subtle surface differences, this long-awaited phone is virtually indistinguishable from the AT&T model, but as I see it, the lack of major modifications makes this iPhone no less desirable or fun. I liked the AT&T Apple iPhone, despite a network about as reliable as my favorite team, the New York Mets. The Verizon iPhone features every bit of that fun, style, and power, and it adds a couple of new tricks that make it almost unstoppable.
Let's start with the network. I'm one of those unfortunate AT&T customers that lives in a dead zone. No, I'm not in some small, disconnected, backwater town. Instead I live just 50 minutes from the heart of New York City. Yet my AT&T connectivity has not improved one bit since I joined the network. This fact has filled my life with a never-ending series of bad connections and dropped calls on both myBlackBerry Torch 9800 and any AT&T iPhone I've tested.

The Verizon iPhone features, of course, that little symbol in the upper left hand corner of the screen that tells you when you're on the Verizon network. And when I was on, I stayed on—everywhere. Call quality was consistently good, though not markedly better than the best AT&T connection. Those dual CDMA antennas that sit on either side of the phone (they're part of the metal band that wraps around the edge of the handset), kept me connected during calls and data sessions through every location I tested. Yes, I did see the phone drop to 2G speeds once or twice. The phone indicated this with a small circle next to the bars.
Testing Reception and the Hotspot
One of the other small changes in the Verizon iPhone is the reconfiguration of the antenna breaks. The Verizon iPhone is somewhat more symmetrical: there are two breaks per side. Some people believed that they could create the fabled "death grip" on the AT&T iPhone by bridging the somewhat asymmetrical antenna gaps on it. For fun, I took an AT&T iPhone and gripped it hard until I saw the bars drop. I also gave the Verizon iPhone a similar grip and never saw the bars drop down. Even so, I'm not sure what that proves. I tend to think of bars as stupid, inconsistent indicators that rarely give you the real picture of your connection quality.
Holdng the Verizon iPhoneThere is one other thing that the Verizon iPhone brings to the picture and this may be my favorite feature: the personal hotspot. This is not new technology. Obviously, you can buy a MiFi personal hotspot or use competitor phones to achieve the same effect: a Wi-Fi hotpot for up to five of devices wherever you can find a 3G signal. Even so, it's a first for the now four-year-old iPhone brand. AT&T may want to hurry up and introduce the same capability on its iPhone.
The personal hotspot feature comes with the Verizon iPhone, but it's not free. It will cost an additional $20 per month (the Verizon iPhone is $199 for a 16GB model and $299 for a $32GB model, both with a two-year contract). Verizon has yet to announce specific data plans for the phone. I decided to see how the Verizon iPhone would handle a real-world situation, and this is where I fell a little in love with the new iPhone.
Looking for Differences
I asked my two children to come with me for a ride and bring both of their iPod touches. While in the car, I followed the on-screen instructions to set up a new hotspot. The Verizon iPhone automatically provides a Wi-Fi password you can share with those who want to connect to your phone (you can also create your own). The kids both saw the new Wi-Fi hotspot on their iPods and with the security key, they were connected in moments. I had a strong 3G signal and the kids had a strong Wi-Fi connection to the Verizon iPhone. We started driving and I asked my daughter to see if she could surf the Web. She went to Google and initiated an image search. The results came up immediately and she had no trouble browsing individual images. Simultaneously, my son opened Pandora and started streaming music. We hooked up the iPod to my car stereo. Only once during the 20 minute drive did the connection stutter, but it quickly recovered. The whole time, the Verizon iPhone noted on-screen that two people were connected to the personal hotspot. Apple said this alert is useful to ensure that there aren't more people leeching off your connection. If any of us had stopped using the hotspot for 90 seconds, the hotspot would have automatically turned off to conserve power.
I did dig around the Verizon iPhone looking for other notable differences, but I found little worth reporting. The buttons moved a millimeter or two on the body (this necessitated the creation of a new Universal bumper to support both iPhone carrier models), and the operating system got a point upgrade (to 4.2.6) to support the CDMA network.
I also tested the Verizon iPhone with the Jawbone Era, Aliph's latest Bluetooth headset. I put the Era in pairing mode and the Verizon iPhone instantly discovered it. Soon, I was listening to a Pink song in single-eared pseudo stereo along with the sound effects for Angry Birds. I also made a couple of calls which sounded good.
FaceTime and Final Thoughts
Since I also had an AT&T iPhone with me, I decided to have a little fun and started a FaceTime video call between the phones. Obviously, there's no reason an AT&T iPhone and Verizon iPhone can't do FaceTime. But as T-Mobile is quick to point out in its 4G commercials, you can't use FaceTime unless both parties are within range of a Wi-Fi network. We made sure our two phones were near Wi-Fi, and initiated the calls, which worked perfectly.
A few other Verizon-iPhone specifics: unlike many other Verizon smartphones, the Verizon iPhone does not come pre-loaded with any Verizon software. I like this: If I want something on my phone, I'll install it. Also, as a CDMA phone, there is no simultaneous voice and data capability unless you're also connected to a Wi-Fi network. If you're using the personal hotspot mode and a call comes in, the phone will prioritize the call.
The Verizon iPhone goes on sale to existing Verizon customers on Feb. 3 and becomes generally available on Feb. 10th. No ship dates were announced.
I think it's important to note that we are almost four years removed from the initial excitement of Apple's first phone, and there are reasons not to buy a Verizon iPhone. Nowadays there are many strong competitors on a variety of providers and from many different manufacturers. This iPhone isn't even on Verizon's new 4G LTE network, which makes it slower than some of the most exciting phones available today. But the unfortunate reality of these super-fast devices is that battery life is not so grand. Apple and Steve Jobs have always focused on performance in a variety of metrics, and if super-speeds have the potential to kill battery life—perhaps the most important factor in any mobile device—then it's unlikely we'll see a 4G iPhone any time soon. Considering the performance I found with the Verizon iPhone, I do not see this as a problem.
Overall, I liked the iPhone with AT&T, and I like it even more with Verizon. I expect many other consumers will feel the same. Sorry, AT&T.