Review: Apple iPhone 4 (Verizon CDMA, 16GB/32GB)
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.