Pros: A solid re-release of the most impressive iPhone yet, combining museum-quality design with industry-leading display and camera hardware, video calling software, and third-party applications that are rarely matched by rival devices. Developed primarily for Verizon Wireless, including the iPhone family’s first Wi-Fi-based Personal Hotspot data-sharing feature for computers and iPads, and benefitting from enhanced call reliability in some parts of the United States. Battery performance is roughly equivalent to original iPhone 4’s, which offered a major jump relative to the prior-generation iPhone 3GS. Still reasonably priced given all of the technology inside.
Cons: Designed for Verizon’s large but slow CDMA wireless network, resulting in markedly reduced data speeds in some areas, and always preventing cellular data services from being used while calls are incoming or in progress. Lack of SIM card slot and GSM support preclude this model from being used on majority of international cellular networks. Despite opportunities to fix previously acknowledged enclosure issues, glass and metal body remains unusually susceptible to damage and antenna attenuation unless a case is purchased and used. Other issues from AT&T iPhone 4 persist, including limited space for high-resolution video, photos, and apps in the lowest capacity 16GB version. Released eight months into iPhone 4’s life cycle, only slightly ahead of anticipated successor model.
Single-carrier exclusives on Apple’s iPhones evaporated one country at a time, eventually leaving only AT&T with a complete lock on the lucrative American iPhone market. The growing wireless provider profited handsomely from its early support of the platform, rising by the end of its exclusive contract to become the United States’ largest wireless carrier, but it continued to provide spotty service, turning off untold numbers of actual and potential customers. When Apple finally announced in January 2011 that Verizon Wireless would join AT&T as an iPhone 4 carrier in mid-February, demand for an alternative American iPhone cellular provider had plateaued at a deafening level; plausible estimates suggested that literally millions of devices were just waiting to be sold to Verizon hold-outs and dissatisfied AT&T customers alike. Apart from the three years of unnecessarily bad press it had endured on behalf of its original partner, this was an ideal situation for Apple: it could just release another iPhone—any iPhone—and watch the iOS user base jump dramatically.
So the release this week of the Verizon CDMA iPhone 4 ($199/16GB, $299/32GB) is noteworthy, despite the fact that it is almost identical to the original June 2010 iPhone 4, which Apple now calls the “GSM model.” While the Verizon iPhone 4’s highly familiar looks and features will instantly render it stale to “early adopters” who want Apple’s latest and greatest technology as quickly as possible, and its reliance on the globally unpopular, comparatively slow CDMA EV-DO cellular standard won’t endear it to “power users,” the Verizon iPhone 4 is a peace offering to potential customers who just want an iPhone that can reliably make phone calls in previously problematic parts of the United States, regardless of the data compromises that may entail. Given that Apple will introduce a fifth-generation iPhone within the next several months, we had considered discussing all of the pertinent changes in a simple asterisks-and-footnotes update to our previous comprehensive iPhone 4 review, but for the sake of thoroughness, we have produced this detailed addendum. Even though the Verizon iPhone 4 feels today like a gap-filler until the next iPhone debuts in mid-2011, it’s worth considering in some detail, as Apple will most likely keep it around as a less expensive model through mid-2012.
To directly answer your most likely bottom-line question right now: our general recommendation of the Verizon iPhone 4 is targeted at a very specific group of readers—existing Verizon customers who (a) cannot wait several months for the next iPhone, and (b) do not care what Apple will do with that next-generation device. This recommendation acknowledges the substantial pool of people who wouldn’t call themselves early adopters or power users, and also don’t want to use AT&T’s service. On the other hand, even these customers should go into Verizon iPhone 4 purchases with their eyes wide open. People who buy the Verizon iPhone 4 today and hope to upgrade in the near future will likely discover that its lack of a SIM card slot and GSM support limit its resale value, starting soon after the next-generation iPhone ships. Until then, Verizon iPhone 4 users will benefit from modestly improved call quality and in some cases markedly better call reliability, at the cost of noticeably slower data speeds and certain limitations on simultaneous calling and data use. Using the pages below, as well as our detailed feature-by-feature AT&T iPhone 4 review, you can decide for yourself whether to buy a Verizon iPhone 4 now, or wait a little while for the next model. The pull-down menus at the top and bottom of each page will take you to additional sections of this addendum.
Body, Packaging, Pack-Ins, and Accessory Compatibility
Beautiful but also controversial from the moment it hit users’ hands—and the occasional sidewalk—the original iPhone 4’s glass and metal body has returned almost unchanged in the Verizon version. Without rehashing all the details from our full review, the iPhone 4 is made from a metal core with flat pieces of glass above and below, each with an oil-resistant coating. While the device naturally attracts fingerprints on both sides, the coating enables them to be easily wiped off with a soft cloth, subject to the risk of hairline surface scratches. The steel central frame is matte-finished, showing fewer marks and possessing a thin lip of black plastic that protects the glass against edge chipping.
On the left side of the metal core are volume buttons and a ringer switch; the top has a headphone port, tiny microphone hole, and Sleep/Wake Button, while the bottom has a second microphone, Dock Connector charging/synchronization port, and a speaker. The front glass has holes for a plastic Home button, a small camera, and an ear speaker, while the back has holes for a larger camera and LED flash, plus a silver Apple logo and matching text. There’s a 3.5” touchscreen on the front, branded by Apple as a “Retina Display” because its 960×640 resolution has 326 dots per inch—more than the human eye can individually perceive at normal viewing distances.
The cardboard boxes for the Verizon and AT&T iPhone 4 are almost identical, with modest front photographic and rear text tweaks that reflect Verizon’s service terms and network specifications.
Apple packages each iPhone 4 with three accessories: a wall power adapter, a USB cable, and a set of Earphones with Remote + Mic, all nearly identical to ones that have also been sold separately for years. Two Apple stickers and two paper pamphlets are included to provide warranty details and initial tips for the iPhone. Our purchased Verizon iPhone 4 also arrived with a red folio containing a receipt, a Verizon activation guide, and a mailing label to return the unit if necessary.
While virtually everyone has praised the iPhone 4’s looks and solid, substantial feel, its unusual fragility was obvious to all but the most blind Apple loyalists: the glass front and back were ready to be accidentally scratched or shattered, and the central metal antenna frame was atypically prone to full or partial cellular signal loss when held naturally in a hand. An additional issue wasn’t known at the time, namely that a white version of the iPhone 4 had been pulled at the last minute because its glass back was creating problems with its rear camera, something that hadn’t been an issue for Apple’s previous silver, black, or white iPhone enclosures. Following our prior iPhone 4 review, Apple downplayed initial reports of problems with the device’s body, selected a small group of journalists to tour its secret testing facilities, and grudgingly offered free cases to affected users, a temporary solution it discontinued several months later. While apologists attempted to prove their faith in the company by keeping their iPhone 4s bare, Apple went back to work on a revised antenna design, and quietly set up a new testing station to figure out why certain case designs were easily scratching the rear glass and causing intermittent camera problems.
The most obvious physical differences between the Verizon and GSM iPhone 4s are in the glass and the antenna, but neither is as dramatic as their eight-month release date gaps might suggest. First, Apple has made modest cosmetic changes to the Verizon version’s rear glass: the FCC and other certification icons that appeared on the GSM iPhone 4 have disappeared entirely, as has the IC number. This reduces the quantity of tiny text and logos that were previously found right above the Dock Connector port.
It has also changed the antenna. Apple previously split the iPhone 4’s metal core into three segments, one on the bottom, one running from the left to the top corner, and one from the rest of the top down the right side. Now there are four segments, one each for the top, left, right, and bottom sides, with four symmetrical black gaps rather than three. While it was initially claimed by some—notably not Apple—that these antenna changes would address the signal attenuation issues identified in the iPhone 4 last year, our Verizon iPhone 4 exhibited the same reductions in signal strength that we saw with AT&T, knocking a four-bar signal down to one bar and dramatically weakening wireless data performance. Apple has said only that the antenna changes were designed to make the device work on Verizon’s CDMA network, nothing more.
The antenna changes also required the ringer switch to move a few millimeters south of its prior position. Consequently, some prior-generation iPhone 4 cases won’t perfectly fit, so a number of case developers have readied revised versions with slightly larger holes to accommodate the switches on both versions of the device. Even Apple’s own Bumpers required a redesign, suggesting that the company didn’t know back then that it would be changing the switch’s location.
A comparatively tiny change brings the volume buttons a millimeter lower on the Verizon version than on the AT&T version. Based on our testing, the integrated volume button covers on prior iPhone 4 cases will generally work, but cases with dedicated ringer switch openings will partially overlap the switch. Less protective cases with pill-shaped openings for the switch and buttons may work without modification.
Apple has also made two other changes to the Verizon iPhone 4’s body. The new frame omits the Micro-SIM card compartment that’s found on all GSM iPhones, most recently on the iPhone 4’s right side. This seemingly modest external change means that, unlike other iPhones, the Verizon iPhone 4 cannot be used with the hundreds of SIM-dependent GSM cellular networks found outside the United States—a major difference that will impact this model’s resale value relative to the standard iPhone 4’s.
Finally, Apple has swapped the miniature Philips-style screws found on the first shipping iPhone 4 units for tamper-proof “pentalobe” screws that have appeared in subsequent iPhone 4 units. As the iPhone 4 was barely user-serviceable before, this latter change does little more than reduce the number of options for opening its chassis. Few people will care about this particular change.
Otherwise, the CDMA iPhone 4 is more or less identical physically to the original version. Because of the glass and metal body concerns mentioned above, we continue to strongly advise that iPhone 4 owners use substantially protective cases—a less expensive option than buying insurance to cover accidental drops, chips, and scratches. The best options we’ve seen come from third-party developers such as Speck (including the CandyShell Flip and PixelSkin HD) and SwitchEasy, but there are many other options spotlighted in our iPhone 4 Case Gallery.
Many are in the process of receiving updates to address the changed ringer switch location, revisions that most developers are explicitly noting on their packaging and web sites; Scosche’s open-sided kickBack G4 case now has a “Also works with Verizon iPhone 4” sticker on the box. We have not noticed any differences in the Verizon iPhone 4’s performance with non-case accessories such as speakers or chargers, but will update this section if we do.
Changes Inside: Chip, Battery, and Cellular Data/Calling Performance Differences
For the most part, the GSM and CDMA versions of the iPhone 4 perform identically: their screens look the same, their cameras work the same, and their batteries are more or less identical. All of these hardware capabilities are as impressive as our prior review noted they were. The subsequently-released iOS 4.2 runs at the same speed, with the same resolution, and virtually the same capabilities on both devices; the same suite of pre-installed applications we’ve previously discussed remains entirely intact here, down to specific features such as Visual Voicemail. Third-party iOS apps also run the same on GSM and CDMA iPhone 4s. Only the word “Verizon” at the top of the screen clues you in that there’s a difference.
Though teardown specialists such as iFixit have identified a number of small changes inside the Verizon iPhone 4—as well as a Qualcomm MDM6600 cellular wireless chip and changes to the device’s GPS and vibration components, these differences turn out to be virtually invisible from a user’s perspective. While the wireless chip is technically capable of supporting both CDMA and GSM standards, the Verizon iPhone 4 doesn’t include antenna or SIM card hardware for GSM purposes. GPS performance appears identical between AT&T’s and Verizon’s units. The new vibration mechanism is just a little quieter than the old one, and limits the iPhone 4’s movement on a flat surface during vibration—the original version shifted as it vibrated, while the new one stays in place. Like the Verizon iPhone 4’s battery, which weighs 1.3 grams less than the GSM device’s, most people won’t notice these changes at all. But users will notice some potentially major differences between the devices in cellular performance, both in the data and phone calling departments. Here’s what our testing found.
Data. Apart from the Verizon iPhone 4’s continued antenna issues, there were very few surprises in its performance as a phone and as a data device. Used over a Wi-Fi network, it offers roughly the same downloading and uploading performance as an AT&T iPhone 4 connected at the same time: over a mixed 802.11g/n network, our tests showed both devices ranging between 10-13Mbps download speeds and 0.9Mbps upload speeds, markedly faster for downloading but similar in uploading relative to our typical AT&T cellular results in East Amherst, New York. Just to get a sense of what some Verizon Android upgraders might expect, we also tested the Verizon iPhone 4 against a first-generation Motorola Droid phone in the same physical location over Wi-Fi, and the Droid registered a 9.1Mbps download speed with a 1Mbps upload speed, very modest differences versus the iPhone 4 at 10.3Mbps and 0.94Mbps, respectively.
Cellular differences were considerably larger. Whereas our AT&T iPhone achieved cellular download speeds in the 2.6Mbps range over AT&T’s network—and we’re not in a location with particularly impressive AT&T 3G towers—our Verizon phone struggled to achieve 1Mbps download rates from the same indoor testing location, most commonly seeing speeds in the 0.6 to 0.8Mbps range, with both phones floating around three bars of stated signal strength. Verizon upload speeds averaged 0.4Mbps range relative to AT&T speeds in the 0.8Mbps range. Outdoors, we went to a location where both phones showed five-bar signal strength, and though AT&T’s speeds were similar to what we saw indoors, jumping into the 1.1 or 1.2Mbps upload speed range, Verizon’s performance improved to an average of 1.5Mbps for downloads, once hitting nearly 2.2Mbps, an aberration relative to other results, while upload speeds fluctuated in the 0.7 range.
While both phones were subject to significant variations based on testing location and the location of the servers they were connecting to, the AT&T iPhone 4 was most frequently faster than the Verizon version, sometimes by a significant 2:1 or greater margin, and at other times roughly matching it. That said, the Verizon iPhone 4 outperformed Verizon’s original Droid in direct indoor cellular testing: average Droid download rates hovered around 0.3Mbps, and uploads averaged 0.25Mbps, alternating with the Verizon iPhone 4 at 0.6Mbps for downloads and 0.37Mbps for uploads. In other words, though the Verizon iPhone 4 falls markedly behind the pace of the AT&T iPhone 4 on a cellular connection, it will offer tangible gains to some Verizon upgraders.
We found that antenna attenuation continues to significantly impact the Verizon iPhone 4 under the same sorts of conditions that affected the AT&T GSM device: depending on how the iPhone 4 is held, it can lose almost complete data connectivity over a cellular connection and partial data connectivity over a Wi-Fi connection. In one test in vertical orientation, the Verizon iPhone 4 started at four bars of signal strength and had a Speedtest.net result of 1.1Mbps for cellular downloads and 0.5Mbps for uploads, falling to one bar, 0.1Mbps for downloads and 0Mbps for uploads. Wi-Fi testing in horizontal, two-hand-holding orientation showed a 50% or greater drop in downloading speeds (12-15Mbps downloads down to 5.2-5.5Mbps) while 0.9Mbps upload speeds remained stable. Simply adding a case to the outside of the iPhone 4 effectively fixes the problem.
Calls. Though we were prepared to hear significant variations between phone calls—or be told by callers that we sounded a lot different to them—users outside of AT&T’s most heavily congested markets should not expect to hear major or even minor differences between Verizon’s and AT&T’s iPhone 4s. In our primary Western New York testing location, which has solid but not fast AT&T coverage, both we and our callers heard only the tiniest distinctions between the phones: all of our callers reported that we sounded just a hint quieter and less treble-heavy on the Verizon iPhone when we were using it as either a speakerphone or handset, which two callers said made us sound a little more intelligible on the AT&T iPhone 4; all of the callers agreed that this made for ever-so-slightly more natural voice rendition on the Verizon version.
Regardless of whether they were being reached on land lines or cellular phones, all callers said that the differences were so small that they would hardly be able to tell the phones apart, and on the other side of the phones, we felt the same way. We drove with both phones through an area that occasionally suffered from dropped calls, and neither phone had an issue there, or elsewhere. Verizon’s reported signal strength was slightly higher from location to location than AT&T’s, but this appeared to make no difference in call quality, nor did the data-impacting antenna attenuation issues.
Where the Verizon iPhone 4 will make an obvious difference is in cities and neighborhoods with poor AT&T coverage, including areas that are heavily saturated with customers, ones at too great of a distance from AT&T’s towers, and places where AT&T’s signals have trouble penetrating buildings. Until and unless Verizon’s slower but bigger network reaches similar rates of saturation, Verizon iPhone 4 users will continue to benefit from more stable connections and fewer dropped calls in those areas—a non-trivial benefit for those who are willing or compelled to sacrifice speed for reliability.
Calls Plus Data. One particularly noteworthy distinction between the Verizon and AT&T versions of the iPhone 4 is the Verizon device’s inability to simultaneously handle cellular calls and cellular data. If the Verizon iPhone 4 is disconnected from a Wi-Fi network and browsing the web, an incoming call will interrupt whatever Safari is loading, and only resume when the call has ended. Attempt to multitask your way back to the browser and a warning message will appear: “Cellular data connections are not available during this call.”
While this isn’t an issue when the Verizon iPhone 4 is connected to a Wi-Fi network—it can make and receive cellular calls while using Wi-Fi for data services—this particular limitation disappeared for AT&T users years ago when the iPhone transitioned from EDGE to 3G, enabling simultaneous cellular phone and data use. If the AT&T iPhone 4 is switched to EDGE mode, it doubles its battery life for calling purposes, but loses the simultaneous calling and EDGE data capability. The Verizon iPhone 4 does not have an EDGE/GSM toggle; instead, there’s only a Cellular Data on/off switch. It notably can still receive text messages when it’s in the middle of web browsing.
Battery Drain. Apple’s promised battery life for the Verizon iPhone 4 is identical to the prior GSM version: 7 hours of 3G talk time, 6 hours of 3G data, 10 hours of Wi-Fi data or video playback, and 40 hours of audio playback. Our prior iPhone 4 battery tests established that Apple’s numbers were generally right on the money or conservative, and the Verizon iPhone 4’s 3G battery drain is virtually identical to the AT&T version’s: an automated one-hour Safari web page loading test running on both devices at once knocked 14% off the AT&T iPhone 4’s battery and 15% off the Verizon iPhone 4, precisely in line with last year’s battery results.
Though most other aspects of battery performance are similar between the original iPhone 4 and the Verizon version, we did note that the Verizon iPhone 4 exhibited less battery drain in an idle state—screen off, 3G on, Wi-Fi off—than the AT&T version under identical conditions. Over a seven-hour period, the Verizon iPhone 4 lost 13% of its power, while the AT&T iPhone 4 lost 19% of its power, which is to say that the fully-recharged Verizon version could sit for roughly 54 hours in this state before requiring charging, and the AT&T version would last closer to 37 hours. Both devices use less power when connected to a Wi-Fi network, which is how they’d most commonly be left at home, so their idle times would increase relative to these baseline “on the road” figures.
One iOS Change: Personal Hotspot/Internet Tethering
When Apple added “Internet Tethering”—a cell phone-as-computer-modem software feature—to the iPhone in iOS 3.0, it notably omitted AT&T from the list of providers who were supporting the feature, most likely because AT&T’s network was not ready to handle additional demands from users with “unlimited” data plans. AT&T later allowed iOS 4.0 users to tether their iPhones to their computers, assuming that they were willing to downgrade to limited-capacity data plans while paying an additional $20 monthly fee for tethering service. Users went to the General > Network menu to “Set Up Internet Tethering,” established a USB or Bluetooth connection between the computer and the iPhone, and could use up to 2GB of shared bandwidth per month before additional fees applied.
Verizon and Apple rolled out an updated version of Internet Tethering in iOS 4.2.5/6 called Personal Hotspot—the only major new feature they unveiled together. This feature replaces single-device Internet Tethering with a feature that works with up to five devices at a time, now using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or USB connections to the iPhone, and Verizon offers 2GB of additional shared data that all of the devices can draw upon for $20 total per month. If Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are globally turned off for the iPhone 4, users can enable the Hotspot to work only over USB, over Wi-Fi and USB, or simultaneously using all three interfaces at once, the latter two with additional battery drain.
We tested the Verizon iPhone 4 Personal Hotspot feature against two other options: a MacBook Air equipped with Verizon and Novatel Wireless’s USB727 3G CDMA Adapter, and a direct 802.11n Wi-Fi connection between the MacBook Air and an AirPort Extreme 802.11n router. Download performance of the Personal Hotspot was roughly consistent with the Verizon iPhone 4 operating on its own—both were in the 0.9 to 1.0Mbps range—but uploading speed was markedly lower, hovering around 0.15Mbps versus 0.4Mbps average for the iPhone 4 in non-Hotspot mode. The USB727 3G CDMA Adapter let the MacBook Air reach a higher peak download speed of nearly 1.3Mbps, but the upload speed was below the untethered iPhone 4’s at roughly 0.2Mbps. Making a direct Wi-Fi connection between the MacBook Air and a router connected to broadband service saw download speeds of 14Mbps and uploads in the 0.9Mbps range. All of the tests were conducted with Speedtest.net using the same servers.
In sum, the Verizon iPhone 4 Personal Hotspot feature delivers only slightly degraded performance relative to a standalone Verizon USB CDMA adapter, with similarly weak uploading speeds that measured roughly 1/5 as fast as the 1Mbps or better downloading speeds. The convenience of carrying only the self-powered iPhone alongside a laptop, rather than adding a battery-draining USB dongle, may justify the modest data performance dip. Users with access to dedicated Wi-Fi broadband connections will obviously benefit from dramatically faster uploading and downloading; users without such access might prefer to rely upon the iPhone 4 itself for uploads while switching between the computer and iPhone 4 for downloading needs, particularly given Verizon’s 2GB monthly cap on tethered data, and the unlimited data plan for the iPhone 4. AT&T users should expect potentially faster Hotspot performance, offset by legitimate network reliability concerns and arguably irrelevant iPhone 4 bandwidth limitations.
Verizon Versus AT&T: Initial Service Plans And Customer Support
Though we include this section of our iPhone 4 review addendum for your reference, we’ll note up front that Verizon’s and AT&T’s current service plans for the iPhone are subject to considerable change over the next year, as both companies are continuing to make last-minute strategic pricing and feature tweaks in an effort to keep or wrestle away customers. As of today, there are substantial similarities between Verizon’s and AT&T’s plans—some official and documented, others available if you speak with AT&T’s customer retention lines—but there are also some noteworthy differences.
|Individual Plans||$39.99/450 mins||$59.99/900 mins||$69.99/Unlimited|
|Family Plans (2 Lines)||$59.99/550 mins||$69.99/700 mins||$89.99/1400 mins||$109.99/2100 mins||$119.99/Unlimited|
|Data Plans||$15/200MB||$25/2GB||Tethering with extra 2GB/$20|
|Text Plans||$10/1000 msgs||$20/Unlimited (Individual)||$30/Unlimited (Family, shared)|
|Individual Plans||$39.99/450 mins||$59.99/900 mins||$69.99/Unlimited|
|Family Plans (2 Lines)||$69.99/700 mins||$89.99/1400 mins||$99.99/2000 mins||$119.99/Unlimited|
|Data Plans||$30/Unlimited Data||Personal Hotspot with 2GB/$20|
|Text Plans||$5/250 msgs||$10/500 msgs||$20/Unlimited (Individual)||$20/5000 msgs (Family, shared)||$30/Unlimited (Family, shared)|
In order to qualify for the advertised $199/16GB or $299/32GB pricing, a customer must commit to a two-year voice and data service agreement with either company, and fall within that company’s “new customer” or “not recently upgraded customer” qualifications for a full $400 subsidy, details of which are available on Verizon’s and AT&T’s web sites. iPhones can be purchased from both companies without the two-year contract at higher prices. For the time being, Verizon offers only a single data plan option that’s more expensive than AT&T’s at $30 per month, but includes unlimited iPhone data—something that AT&T discontinued for new customers in favor of capped, less expensive $15/$25 plans. Both companies offer Personal Hotspot/Internet Tethering data features for $20 more per month; under its plan, AT&T now allows 4GB of data to be shared between an iPhone and a connected computer or iPad, while Verizon gives the unlimited iPhone user 2GB of data for tethering use. It’s noteworthy that AT&T currently requires unlimited data-using iPhone customers to downgrade to a limited plan before selecting Internet Tethering, a real turn-off for long-time iPhone users.
Verizon offers a wider range of prices for SMS/MMS text messaging, but fewer messages at its $5 and $10 prices as AT&T, while both offer unlimited messages for $20. By comparison, AT&T offers a wider range of family plan two-line cellular calling minutes, but overlaps Verizon with similar offerings at the shared 700, 1400, and unlimited minute packages. Right before press time, AT&T announced an expanded unlimited “Mobile to Any Mobile” calling plan to let its users make unlimited calls to other mobile phones—including rivals’—under certain conditions, yet to be specified.
Since both companies’ offerings are otherwise substantially similar at this point, the major reason to choose one provider over the other come down to scope of coverage, quality of phone service, speed and quality of data service, and quality of customer service. The first three factors depend entirely upon where you live and primarily use your phone in the United States; frequent travelers will be more likely to find Verizon’s service reliable in major cities, but it will also be slower. Customer service from both companies, in our experience, is far too often in the “friendly but clueless” category—agents who express a willingness to do whatever they can to help, then explain how they can’t help, and rarely follow up on promises to do so later. We would not give either AT&T or Verizon a thumbs up for customer service; competitor T-Mobile has historically been better at both avoiding problems in the first place and resolving them properly when they do occur, but of course, it doesn’t have an iPhone yet.
Whether they’re considered collectively or individually, Apple’s iPhones are now international juggernauts: in 2008, they transitioned from niche luxury products to more affordable 3G worldphones, then became faster and more popular with the 2009 iPhone 3GS, and finally received massive upgrades for the 2010 iPhone 4. As we said in reviewing the iPhone 4 last year, there’s no doubt that the latest model is Apple’s best yet, but it’s also the most fragile—both in materials and cellular attenuation. Prior iPhones benefitted from cases; the iPhone 4 all but required one. This hasn’t stopped it from being a runaway success, and deservedly so, as its delicacy was one of only a few key issues with an otherwise impressive piece of hardware.
Another was the iPhone 4’s continued U.S. dependence on AT&T, which moved too slowly to keep up with customer complaints over the scope and quality of its network—yet still managed to become the country’s biggest wireless carrier thanks to the iPhone family’s success. With the Verizon CDMA iPhone 4, Apple ended AT&T’s exclusivity, effectively removing the biggest barrier between itself and another several million iPhone customers. Viewed from one perspective, it’s no great surprise that Apple changed so little between the AT&T and Verizon versions of the iPhone 4; clearly, it didn’t think that it needed to do so, and history will most likely prove this conservative decision correct.
That said, Apple doesn’t deserve a pat on the back for rewarming last year’s model just long enough to fill the gap before a new iPhone debuts. At a time when rivals are starting to release considerably faster “4G” LTE phones, including models for Verizon’s network, the Verizon CDMA iPhone 4 is last year’s iPhone, warts and all, only with more limited cellular network compatibility, generally slower cellular data speeds, no support for simultaneous voice calls and 3G data, and one new feature—the Personal Hotspot—that non-Verizon iPhones will quickly gain in an iOS 4.3 update. Storage capacity continues to be an issue, particularly for the lower-end 16GB model, but with both versions as high-resolution videos, photos, and Retina Display apps continue to compete with music and now books for the iPhone’s limited flash memory. Because it doesn’t improve upon the GSM model, and actually falls short of it in a number of tangible ways, the Verizon iPhone 4 merits a lower rating of B: a small step down from the earlier AT&T version, though still within our “general” rather than our “limited” recommendation category.
Though it might have been lost by some readers due to all the fuss over “antennagate,” our big picture view of both iPhone 4 models continues to be straightforward and generally positive. Apple’s improved screen, battery life, and dual cameras all represented big jumps ahead of the prior-generation iPhones, and though the beautiful glass and metal enclosure wasn’t the company’s wisest design, users willing to encase the iPhone 4 on their own dime can benefit from and truly enjoy the performance improvements—ones that will feel dramatic until the fifth-generation iPhone comes along. To the extent that it trails the AT&T version’s release by so many months that the next iPhone is at this point just around the corner, the Verizon iPhone 4 isn’t as broadly appealing, but it will still satisfy the millions of current Verizon and disgruntled AT&T customers who just can’t wait any longer. Those who can wait will surely be rewarded soon enough by an even better device, and thanks to this product’s release, patient people will face shorter lines this summer than they otherwise would have encountered. That alone is reason to praise Apple and Verizon for taking the easiest path forward this time.
Addendum: The White iPhone 4
Updated April 28, 2011: After a ten-month delay, Apple finally released the white iPhone 4 in both AT&T and Verizon CDMA versions. The following addendum discusses the new model in detail, without modifying the text, conclusions, or rating of our original review.
By now, the story behind Apple’s white version of the iPhone 4 is pretty well established: the company announced it for a simultaneous June 2010 launch with the black iPhone 4, then repeatedly delayed it due to unspecified manufacturing problems. As weeks and months passed without details from Apple, various sources claimed that the white iPhone 4’s screen or body was leaking light, that the rear camera was having exposure or flash problems, or that Apple couldn’t get the Home Buttons to the right white tone. Ten months later, Apple finally announced a revised release date of April 28, 2011, and briefly suggested that component and coloration issues had indeed been responsible for the delay.
We went out and grabbed one to see what had changed, and there are in fact a number of differences—generally small ones—between the black and white models. They’re discussed in this addendum to our original iPhone 4 review, which is otherwise preserved unchanged.
Packaging and Body
When Apple originally showed the white iPhone 4 to journalists last year, there weren’t many obvious physical differences between the white and black models other than the colors of the front and back pieces of glass. Apart from the black version carrying “A” markings—FCC ID BCG-E2380A versus FCC ID BCG-E2380B, for example—they’re identically labeled with rear silver text and logos, while possessing the same 3.5” displays, beveled steel cores, matching metal top and side buttons, and fine mesh grilles. The AT&T version has three line-shaped interruptions and a Micro SIM tray in its steel center; the Verizon version has four line-shaped interruptions and no SIM tray.
The only obvious difference from one color to the other was an extra rectangular shape immediately above the white model’s front speaker. From a distance, it looked like a gray box, but up close, it was actually a grid of dot-shaped holes in the interior paint, designed to let the proximity sensor peek through the otherwise opaque white coating. These dots were obvious in Apple’s publicity photos, and similar dots—even smaller ones—were subsequently used for the ambient light sensor on the white iPad 2.
Users first discovered responsiveness problems with the black iPhone 4’s proximity sensor shortly after its release, an issue Apple addressed in a software update last year. But the white iPhone 4 obviously had more serious hardware issues: over the last ten months, the company quietly decided to replace the original grid of dots with a black pill shape that enables the proximity sensor to operate without encumbrance. Consequently, our testing of white and black iPhone 4s showed no perceptible difference in the proximity sensors’ responses to objects approaching the screen. Though the black pill doesn’t look great on the front of the white iPhone 4, it’s not awful, either—just another little thing that Apple’s designers will properly eliminate in the future.
Regardless, this change required Apple to reprint all of the white iPhone 4 boxes it had previously manufactured showing the old sensor. The final box depicts the black pill on the face, as well as the thin rings of white plastic that surround the front and black panes of glass. It also shows the still black line-shaped breaks in the white iPhone 4’s steel central antenna, but the angle doesn’t reveal a couple of other tiny changes. The headphone and Dock Connector port holes are now lined with light gray plastic, replacing black parts found inside the black iPhone 4. While this is a trivial difference—an obsessive little “yes, Apple cares about that” design detail that dates back to early black iPods—it’s worthy of a footnote here because the white iPad 2’s black ports didn’t receive the same attention for whatever reason.
The white iPhone 4 also appears to be a hint thicker than the black iPhone 4—seemingly only in the glass panes and surrounding plastic rings—though Apple has not in any way indicated this on its official Tech Specs page for the device. While the added thickness is not enough to impact the fit of soft rubber or partially rubber cases, it potentially could be an issue for certain cases made solely from harder materials.
Last but not least, Apple has noted that the white paint on the iPhone 4 required an extra UV coating, which was believed to be necessary to protect the bright white device from discoloration—possibly yellowing—over time. Straight out of the package, the white iPhone 4 looks extremely similar to the clear acrylic-faced fifth-generation iPod, which was the last iPod model to switch from plastic to metal and glass. We’ll have to see how the white paint holds up over time, but based on the fact that our old white iPods continue to look white years later, we’re guessing the iPhone 4 will do just fine.
The Screen: Light Leakage
Another issue that was once claimed to have delayed the white iPhone 4 was light leakage from the bright Retina Display through the shell. We tested the final white iPhone 4 in pitch black rooms, and saw no evidence whatsoever that its screen was leaking light through either its front or rear casing, even when it was turned up to its maximum brightness level.
You can decide for yourself whether a white bezel will be a distraction to the type of video viewing, game playing, and/or web browsing you plan to do on your iPhone; these days, our editors tend to prefer black bezels, but it’s purely a matter of personal preference.
While we did notice a slight color difference between the screens of the white iPhone 4 and the primary black iPhone 4 we used for our testing—the black iPhone 4’s screen had a slightly blue color temperature relative to the white model’s slight yellow tint—we would ascribe this to device color-agnostic differences in the screens Apple has recently been getting from its suppliers. We noticed a similar tint shift in the black Verizon CDMA iPhone 4 and in a more recent AT&T GSM iPhone 4 we’ve purchased; small color temperature variations of this sort appear to be the norm now rather than the exception.
Another claim was that the white iPhone 4 was delayed due to camera problems: reports suggested that the rear camera was overexposing images due to added light that was coming through the white-painted glass relative to the more light-absorbent black version, and some people believed that the LED flash might exacerbate the problems. Photos appeared online purporting to show redesigned white iPhone 4 rear casings with extra-thick paint around the rear camera and flash, so we naturally wondered whether Apple would do something so drastic and obvious—and whether there was in fact a problem at all.
After testing the white iPhone 4 alongside a black iPhone 4, we were relieved to find that there were no obvious cosmetic differences in the paint surrounding the rear camera and the rest of the glass. We did, however, conclude that there are small differences between the ways that their cameras work, though we can only speculate as to whether they’re due to the white paint, changes in newer camera sensors, or something else. In any case, the differences are highly unlikely to be noticed by average users, and do not uniformly favor one version of the device over the other.
First, we noticed a difference in the two models’ low light performance that slightly favors the white iPhone 4. In a dark room, the white iPhone 4’s camera benefits from gathering just a little extra light, which appears on the otherwise black screen as very grainy additional outlines of shapes. This is a benefit in that the white iPhone 4 is a tiny bit more capable of previewing the scene you’re trying to compose in the dark, though the grain initially looks like rough, unappealing additional noise on the screen.
We also noticed small differences in the cameras’ color rendition, though they’re challenging to completely quantify because of the aggressive auto-adjustments made by Apple’s Camera application. Many of the sample flash and non-flash photos we shot appeared to default to slightly lighter tones on the white iPhone 4 than on the black iPhone 4, but when we used the white balance locks and manual tap-to-expose controls in Tap Tap Tap’s application Camera+, there was no clear winner between the devices—the same image snapped repeatedly on each camera sometimes looked better on one, then the other, then nearly identical.
From where we stand, if an issue existed before, Apple has solved it to the extent that shots taken with either iPhone 4 are for the most part difficult to distinguish from one another. There are circumstances such as low-light or bright light shooting in which one device may appear to have a small edge over the other, but more often than not, additional testing suggested otherwise. The differences are in any case mild enough that users shouldn’t and won’t care about them.
Contrary to some speculation, Apple has not made other major changes to the white iPhone 4. The device’s controversial antenna design remains as susceptible to wireless signal attenuation as before, an issue that the company appears to be waiting to address in the true next-generation iPhone model. It also continues to be fragile due to its use of slippery front and rear glass panes, which our readers and editors have found to be susceptible to scratches, chips, and cracks under various circumstances.
Mitigating the latter issue somewhat, Apple now replaces cracked rear glass for only $29 assuming that no damage has been done to the hardware inside, while charging a higher $199 fee if the front glass is damaged. Additionally, many good to great case and screen film options now exist for the iPhone 4, collectively protecting the device and reducing its wireless connectivity issues. As we’ve said before, if you buy an iPhone 4, you should really use a case; as beautiful as it is, protection is strongly advisable.
Given that Apple’s past iPhones have traditionally enjoyed roughly twelve-month lifespans before successor models were introduced, the company’s decision to release the white iPhone 4 ten months after its black predecessor has struck many people—us included—as surprising, if not downright confusing. Clearly the company wasn’t content to let the device be scuttled by its early engineering challenges, but since white models have twice been discontinued entirely by their first birthdays, it’s hard to know whether this version of the iPhone 4 is destined to become an extremely short-lived collector’s item, or whether it will eventually become the low-end model when the next-generation iPhone debuts later this year.
In any case, the white iPhone 4 is as safe of a purchase today as the black version is—if you’re still considering the purchase of an iPhone 4, there’s no strong reason other than aesthetic taste to choose one color over the other. Late though it was, Apple appears to have fixed or significantly mitigated the engineering issues that plagued the white iPhone 4, leaving only the black pill-shaped proximity sensor as an awkward little scar on an otherwise beautiful design. That little cosmetic blemish aside, this model is as good of a pick as its black predecessor, and worthy of the same ratings and recommendation.
Company and Price
Company: Apple Inc.
Model: iPhone 4 (Verizon CDMA)
Price: $199/16GB, $299/32GB with New 2-Year Contract