Full review of the Verizon iPhone 4: Apple's first CDMA phone
The Verizon iPhone is one of the most anticipated smartphones in recent memory, made even more so by the endless rumors and years of waiting those who wanted it had to endure. Now it's here and while the radio has changed it's still pretty much the same iPhone 4 Apple shipped on AT&T back in June 2010. A 7 month old phone on a brand new network is not something iPhone users have had to consider in the past. Is it worth the wait? Is Verizon really a better network? Does CDMA have important shortcomings you need to be aware of? Will the entire thing be rendered moot when Apple announces an iPhone 5 in June?
Figuring out the answers to these questions and more have kept all of us at TiPb extremely busy over the past couple of weeks. So hit the jump and on for our full Verizon iPhone review!
Since the Verizon iPhone 4 is still an iPhone 4 we're only going to look at and compare the differences between the Verizon model and the AT&T/GSM model here. If you haven't already, check out our original iPhone 4 review to see all the features that are similar including FaceTime video calls, Retina Display screen, 5mp camera and HD video recording, etc.
In the box
You'll get the standard Apple headphones, the wall adapter, a sync cable, and your manuals. The only difference is really the phone and the back of the box.
The back of the box simply specifies the carrier. Other than that, everything should be the same. Oh let's not forget that you won't get a handy dandy micro-SIM removal tool, since CDMA phones don't use them.
The Verizon iPhone has different breaks in the antenna band than its AT&T/GSM sibling. Even though the antenna band was redesigned for CDMA, I don't see any improvement when it comes to the "death grip" issue (see our explanation of "death touch" vs. "death grip" for more on this). If anything, I experience it more than I do on my AT&T iPhone 4. I'm not sure if attenuation on the Verizon version is worse because of a difference between CDMA and GSM or if it's something else. I experience the issue on my AT&T iPhone but it seems that the signal doesn't drop as quick and when it does, it goes up quicker when I'm not touching the break in the band. The Verizon version seems to lose bars a lot quicker and it takes a bit longer for them to come back.
As most people have already figured out, putting a bumper or a case on your phone will solve the death grip problem.
Other than the breaks in the antenna bands, the mute switch and volume buttons are moved down about 2mm on the Verizon iPhone 4. This is because of the break in the antenna at the top left of the phone. For users coming from an AT&T iPhone 4, this can be annoying as many current iPhone 4 cases will not work as the silent switch and volume buttons are positioned differently.
The only other difference I have found is that the Verizon iPhone 4 doesn't have the FCC and other clearance marks on the back the way the AT&T/GSM version does.
The AT&T/GSM iPhone 4 is currently running iOS 4.2.1. The Verizon iPhone 4 launched with iOS 4.2.6. The only major feature 4.2.6 adds is personal hotspot capabilities (called mobile hotspot on other devices). AT&T has announced that they will offer mobile hotspot as well but no dates have been given yet, and it will require an iOS 4.3 update. Currently AT&T offers internet tethering for iPhone users but you are limited to Bluetooth and USB tethering.
The Verizon version supports wifi tethering for up to 5 devices. This is extremely nice if you're somewhere without wifi and need to access the internet from a wifi only device (like a wifi iPad). You can simply enable the mobile hotspot feature and it'll show up as a wireless network on your other device. You can also choose to add a password if you'd like. We'll cover that below.
If your'e coming from an AT&T iPhone, you'll feel right at home. Actually, if you've ever used an iPod of any kind or an iPad, you'll already know what to do. The Verizon iPhone is no different than its AT&T brother. Plug into iTunes, sync your content, and you're good to go. Verizon also offers a contact transfer app for current customers that'll easily bring down all your contacts wirelessly for you (given you use Verizon's contact backup service). If you need more help:
- How to transfer data from your old AT&T iPhone to your new Verizon iPhone
- How to transfer data from your old Blackberry or Droid/Android to your new Verizon iPhone
There's really nothing new here, both iPhones will sync and store data in the same manner.
All the apps that run on the current AT&T/GSM iPhone also run on the Verizon iPhone (with the sole exception of carrier branded apps, like AT&T Navigator.) Apple has hundreds of thousands of apps and games available for the iPhone and Verizon will be releasing some carrier-specific ones as well, hopefully something to tie into their NFL deal. Here are some good starting points:
- Top 10 best iPhone 4 apps
- Top 5 iPhone apps for Droid/Android switchers
- Top 5 iPhone apps for BlackBerry switchers
CDMA is long known to handle calls better than GSM. But is that really true? When it comes to clarity, sure. But you do lose some features when using a CDMA iPhone. Conference calls are only good for up to 3 people, including yourself. The way calls are handled can differ too. On AT&T, if you initiate a conference call, you can merge the calls, split them off, and hang up separately. On Verizon, hanging up on one will hang up on both. This is also a downside of the current version of CDMA Verizon is utilizing.
In most of our Verizon voice tests, call clarity was always on par with AT&T or better.
Personal hotspot is definitely a welcome feature to iOS. It's also only available for Verizon customers at the moment. AT&T has stated they have plans to release it, presumably with the launch of iOS 4.3, but no date has been given yet.
This feature allows you to turn your phone into a wireless hotspot. Up to 5 devices at a time can connect and use your iPhone 4's internet connection. We tested this pretty thoroughly and found that it works as promised. I was pretty impressed with the speeds and reliability.
Verizon is offering their customers unlimited (though potentially throttled) data, while AT&T only offers 250MB and 2GB data tiers. This is a huge selling point for them. But can their network handle the traffic? From our experience, yet it can. Quite well actually. Leanna and I both conducted speed tests. Mine in the Chicago area and hers in the Denver area. While AT&T was much faster for me, in real world situations (even tethering), neither of us had issues with Verizon and it always loaded pages within seconds of our AT&T iPhones. Sometimes it even loaded them quicker.
Data speeds and network reliability will, of course, heavily rely on coverage in your particular area. AT&T typically handles well in larger populated areas while Verizon has been known to have a strong network in rural areas as well. We conducted several Verizon iPhone 4 speed tests and the results were more than respectable.
Verizon iPhone or AT&T iPhone?
That's really a decision each individual person is going to have to make. As always, you should base it on what the coverage is like where you live. For some, AT&T and Verizon may both be strong players in your area. If you're in that situation, take a look at each carrier and what benefits GSM has over CDMA and vice versa. We also did a Verizon iPhone 4 vs AT&T iPhone 4 comparison. We pitted them against each other, and both held their own. You'll really have to weigh out what options are more important to you. Do you need simultaneous voice and data or are you more concerned with call clarity? The little differences can end up being annoying over time so it may be worth it to weigh your options and choose the carrier that'll best fit your individual needs.
State of the Verizon Jailbreak
A lot of potential Verizon switchers have been asking if they're able to jailbreak if they switch. The answer to that is a big fat yes! greepois0n supports the Verizon iPhone as well. I jailbroke mine on launch day without a hitch. We've also got a complete guide up on how to jailbreak the Verizon iPhone 4. So if you're a jailbreaker (or want to be), make sure to give that a look.
We had quite a week playing with the Verizon iPhone 4. We came away feeling that Verizon is definitely capable of delivering a great customer experience. I'd have no qualms about using the Verizon iPhone 4 if you don't need simultaneous voice and data or don't mind some of the little annoyances that come along with CDMA. The plans on both carriers are roughly similar with the exception of Verizon offering unlimited data while AT&T only offers tiered.
Now that Verizon finally has the iPhone, both businesses are going to have to compete for our business. For almost 4 years, AT&T hasn't had to compete for iPhone revenue. If you wanted an iPhone, you were going to play by their rules. Those days are long gone and we have a feeling it's going to get pretty interesting from here on out. Let the carrier wars begin!
iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.