For iPhone, Almost Heaven

After almost four years of speculation, the iPhone will finally come to Verizon’s network on Feb. 10.

And to answer everyone’s question, the Verizon iPhone is nearly the same as AT&T’s iPhone 4 — but it doesn’t drop calls. Holding AT&T and Verizon iPhones side by side in the passenger seat of a car, I dialed 777-FILM simultaneously, and then rode around until a call dropped. In San Francisco, the AT&T phone dropped the call four times in 30 minutes of driving; the Verizon phone never did. The Verizon iPhone also held its line in several Manhattan intersections where the AT&T call died. At a Kennedy airport gate, the AT&T phone couldn’t even find a signal; the Verizon dialed with a smug yawn.

Most impressively, the Verizon iPhone effortlessly made calls in the Cellphone Signal Torture Chamber of Doom: my house.

The Verizon iPhone did drop one call — in baggage claim at the Los Angeles airport. In general, the Verizon and AT&T iPhones are identical. Same low-resolution camera on the front, suitable for Wi-Fi videochats, using Apple’s FaceTime software for iPhone or Mac.

The 16-gigabyte phone costs $200 with two-year contract. The monthly service costs, for example, $70 for unlimited voice calls, plus $20 for 5,000 text messages, plus $30 a month for unlimited Internet use. The single new feature in Verizon’s iPhone is Personal Hotspot, where the iPhone becomes a Wi-Fi base station. Many other app phones have it — AT&T’s iPhone gets it on Feb. 13 — but Apple’s execution is especially nice. The hot spot feature costs $20 a month extra, and buys only 2 gigabytes of data for all of those laptops. It’s not a big deal, but those buttons no longer fit existing AT&T iPhone cases. A second C.D.M.A. difference: When you exchange long text messages with non-Verizon phones, they get split up into 160-character chunks. If the top of your screen says “3G,” an indication that you’re in a high-speed Internet area of Verizon’s network, incoming calls take priority and interrupt your online connection. If you’re online in an older, 2G area, you stay online and the call goes directly to voice mail.

Continuing processes like downloads, Personal Hotspot and GPS navigation resume automatically when you end your call. The Verizon iPhone works in about 40 countries, including Mexico, Canada and China; AT&T phones, on the other hand, work in 220 countries. Even if Verizon’s network is the best in America, its policies and prices are still among the worst. (Verizon refunded $52 million and paid the Federal Communications Commission a record $25 million fine.) Consider, too, that if surveys are any indication, Verizon can expect an enormous stampede of new iPhone customers. The same thing might happen to Verizon.
Verizon swears that it’s prepared for the onslaught. Remember, too, that so far, Apple has released a new iPhone model every July. Apple won’t say if there will be an iPhone 5 for Verizon this summer. Finally, a lot has changed in the years it’s taken the iPhone to come to Verizon. Phones that run Google’s Android software have eaten a lot of the iPhone’s lunch. A huge part of that, of course, was the AT&T factor; people bought Android phones so they could be on Verizon’s network.

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