The (Slight) Differences Between the Verizon and AT&T iPhones
The Verizon iPhone 4 is nearly identical to the one currently on offer from AT&T, but there are a few minor differences worth noting which may be decision makers or breakers for some. The biggest difference with the Verizon phone is a change of the internal antenna and cellular radio to ones that will play nicely with Verizon’s CDMA network. The advantage of this is that the phone will now run on Verizon’s much touted network, and many iPhone users should experience better signal and call quality in places where they found AT&T’s coverage lacking.
There are two disadvantages to the CDMA technology that Verizon uses however. One is that it is not as fast as AT&T’s HSPA network (should one have excellent reception and bandwidth). This means that, compared to places with great AT&T coverage where few people use their phones (if such places do indeed exist), users will find the Verizon iPhone slower.
The second disadvantage is that Verizon’s CDMA technology does not allow for simultaneous voice and data use. That means that it is impossible to, say, browse the internet while on a phone call. This is likely not something people do terribly often, but sometimes it can be invaluable to look something up in Wikipedia or refer to an email during a call.
There is one feature that may be an available only on Verizon however, and that is the ability to use the phone as a Wifi hotspot. This feature is already available on many phones Verizon sells, including most of their Droid lineup, and typically requires an additional monthly cost. What it allows you to do is turn your phone into a Wifi router that your computer can see and connect to, allowing you to access the internet on a computer or tablet (up to 5 devices at a time) using your phone’s cellular connection. The mobile hotspot feature could come to the AT&T iPhone at some point in the future (should AT&T choose to implement it), but there are no announced plans.
Price-wise the two phones cost exactly the same, but the monthly fees associated with them may be slightly different. Fifteen dollars a month buys you 150 megabytes of data on Verizon and 200 MB on AT&T. For $25 dollars a month, you can buy 2 gigabytes on AT&T and $30/month will get you unlimited data use on Verizon. This means that light data users (which is likely most people) are essentially paying the same on either network, medium data users (200 MB-2GB) can save $5 a month on AT&T, and heavy data users (>2GB) should choose Verizon.
Why you May Want to Wait to Buy a Verizon iPhone
All that being said, the best course may to be to wait a few months before buying any iPhone, and here’s why.
Apple has, like clockwork, been coming out with a new version of the iPhone once a year, always in late spring or early summer (June or early July). If you buy an iPhone now, you will be committing to a new two year contract and won’t be able to upgrade to whatever new phone Apple comes up with. Since the next iPhone is only 4 months away (assuming Apple keeps to its schedule), it makes sense to wait for the new model. You won’t want to miss out on whatever improvements Apple makes to the next iPhone.
It is also important to note that many people won’t be able to buy the new iPhone, at least not without paying additional amounts to their carrier. If you are currently on contract with a carrier that’s not Verizon, you will almost certainly have to pay some kind of early termination fee to cancel your plan. If you are on Verizon and you’re not eligible for a phone upgrade (which typically only happens when two years have elapsed and you need to renew your cellular contract), you will have to pay the unsubsidized price for your iPhone. Currently, the unsubsized prices for the iPhone are $599 and $699, adding $400 to the price of the phone.
I have no doubt that Apple has something exciting up its sleeve for the next version of the iPhone (they always do) and it makes sense to wait for it — it’s only 4 months away, and it might cost a lot of extra money to get the Verizon iPhone now. But, if you’ve been waiting a long time for a Verizon iPhone and just cannot wait any longer, you will not truly go wrong buying an iPhone 4 on Verizon. There’s no telling whether the Verizon network will fare better than AT&T’s when it gets slammed with iPhone users, but the iPhone 4 is a great device and Verizon is not charging any more for it than the competition.