Early Verizon iPhone 4 tests: slow data, better calls

Following prior iPhone launch traditions, Apple has offered a handpicked collection of reviewers early access to the Verizon iPhone 4, embargoing their reviews until this morning. Their conclusions are collectively mixed, focused on four primary differences between the AT&T iPhone 4 and Verizon CDMA version, and wavering on the wisdom of making a purchase now.

Data Speeds: Virtually all of the reviewers agree that Verizon’s data speeds are much slower than AT&T’s in areas where both phones get solid service. Downloads and uploads are commonly twice as fast on AT&T’s network, so Verizon customers will see photos and videos take much longer times to upload when away from a Wi-Fi network, while apps will take longer to download and install. On the other hand, reviewers claimed that subtle redesigns to the Verizon iPhone 4’s antenna enable it to avoid “death grips” that can kill calls and data on the prior iPhone 4.

Hotspot Access: Apple’s iOS 4.2.5/4.2.6 renaming and repositioning of Tethering to become the new Personal Hotspot feature was generally praised. Personal Hotspot is now accessible from the top level of the settings menu, and though it is slow using Verizon’s network, it is expected to debut on AT&T within days of the official Verizon iPhone 4 launch.

Data Versus Calls: Confirming a known deficiency of Verizon’s CDMA network, reviewers noted that the Verizon iPhone 4 cannot make calls and receive data at the same time, as the AT&T iPhone 4 can. However, unlike the original EDGE-only iPhone, which sometimes blocked calls when data services were in use, the Verizon iPhone 4 appears to allow calls to go through and stops data services when they come in.

Call Quality: Reviewers generally agreed that calls sounded somewhat better and were less likely to drop when using the Verizon iPhone 4. However, call performance did vary between geographic regions, and The New York Times’ David Pogue suggested that Verizon’s network might buckle under a “stampede of new iPhone customers.”

Wisdom of Buying the Verizon iPhone 4: Though the reviewers were generally positive on the addition of Verizon as an iPhone service provider, several cautioned that Verizon/AT&T performance varied considerably between locations, and some warned potential Verizon customers that they would be unwise to jump on board right now. Pogue specifically noted that Apple was asked about but would not guarantee the iPhone 4’s longevity in light of the anticipated release of the fifth-generation iPhone in summer. If Apple follows past patterns, he suggests that “you’ll be stuck with an outdated phone in only five months.”

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