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The Verizon iPhone is here. Should you make the switch?

This Thursday, the long-awaited iPhone 4 from Verizon finally hits the stores. For millions of loyal Verizon customers who have suffered from years of iPhone-envy, this is a dream come true. They can finally get their hands on the top-rated smartphone on the market, without worrying about patchy service and dropped calls.

But for existing AT&T iPhone customers, the choice is a little harder. Although there is the promise of a better user experience on Verizon, the services are not quite identical; there are some trade-offs to be made. And what about the financial impact? Although there have been rumors of discounts and incentives by Verizon to lure customers away from AT&T, nothing has been formally announced.

Here, we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of Verizon’s iPhone, so you can evaluate whether it’s worth making the switch.

Advantages

1. Fewer dropped calls

For some long-suffering AT&T customers, this is the only thing that matters. And it looks like Verizon’s network will live up to the hype. Independent critics like the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg have compared the performance of Verizon and AT&T iPhones in similar conditions and have confirmed that the Verizon iPhone suffered far fewer dropped calls. The Verizon network was also available in more places, and the strength of signal was generally far better than AT&T’s.

One thing worth keeping in mind: no-one is quite sure how the Verizon network will respond to the addition of millions of data-guzzling iPhones. Verizon executives have assured anyone who will listen that the network can cope, but no-one can be certain until it happens.

2. Personal Hotspot

The Verizon and AT&T iPhones are almost identical is design and features. Both have the same hi-res Retina screen, the same 5-megapixel camera on the back, and the same low-res camera on the front, which can be used for video chat with other iPhones and Apple devices.

The one new feature on Verizon’s iPhone is Personal Hotspot, where the phone can be used as a Wi-Fi base station for up to five other wirelessly networked devices. This can be incredibly useful, and not just in the local coffee shop. Think of those hotels that still charge you up to $15 a day to connect your laptop. Or those rooms in your house that are too far away from the wireless router. And it’s not just laptops: iPads, iPod touches, Kindles – for an extra $20 a month, you’ll never have to worry about looking for another open network.

Disadvantages

1. Can I take it overseas?

Surprisingly, AT&T and Verizon use very different network technologies: AT&T uses the GSM standard, which is more popular internationally, while Verizon uses something called CDMA. Unfortunately, CDMA works in far fewer countries than GSM. Here’s a list of the countries where any Verizon phone will work. In some countries you can make calls and get data; in others, only voice service is available. While the list includes Mexico and Canada, most of Europe and South America are missing.

On the other hand, AT&T’s iPhone will receive full voice and data service in over 200 countries, including all of Europe. (You will still have to pay high roaming or international access charges, but the phones will work!)

2. Either voice or data, not both

The other big difference between the Verizon’s and AT&T iPhones is that Verizon users will not be able to make calls and send e-mail or surf the web at the same time. How much difference that will make to you depends on how you use your phone. If you are a habitual multi-tasker, then you may find the Verizon iPhone very restrictive. For most users, it probably won’t be an issue.

3. Time to buy a new case

The only other noticeable difference for existing iPhone users is a slight relocation of the volume switch. Without a case you would hardly notice it, but place your new Verizon iPhone in your old AT&T iPhone case and you won’t be able to access the switch.

Other considerations

For many existing AT&T iPhone customers, the most important consideration will be cost. In terms of service plans, both Verizon and AT&T are currently offering very similar deals. A Verizon unlimited calling, texting, and data plan will cost you around $120 a month, although Verizon has indicated that it will be moving to a tiered data structure in the very near future.

As stated above, there has been talk of Verizon incentives to help AT&T customers make the switch, but nothing has been announced. AT&T customers should first look into whether they are subject to early termination fees – which could run into hundreds of dollars – or whether it’s worth waiting until their existing agreement runs out.

And, as always with Apple, there is a question of whether you are buying outdated equipment. Apple has a history of introducing a new iPhone model every July, which could mean new subscribers would be using legacy equipment for almost 18 months of their two-year agreement. Consumer Reports issued a report in January blasting the Verizon iPhone for this very reason, calling it “middle-aged” and "likely to be very short-lived."

Whether existing iPhone customers decide to stick with AT&T, wait a few more months, or jump ship immediately will depend on their current user experience and their individual means. But iPhone fans everywhere can rejoice that, after 4 long years, they finally have a choice!



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