This morning's announcement of the long-awaited Verizon iPhone 4 is possibly the most anti-climactic and disappointing product arrivals of all time. I strongly urge you – even current AT&T iPhone customers sick of AT&T's awful service whose contracts are coincidentally up – NOT to buy this phone.
Verizon's iPhone 4 is already old technology, and it will seem positively ancient in about six months.
Before you ascribe and dismiss this rant as coming from another senseless Apple hater, you should know I'm one of Steve Jobs' biggest fans and customers. I bought my first Mac back in 1985 and my current PC is a 27-inch iMac. Each year since 2007 I have stood in the first day line to buy a new iPhone (my wife gets my previous one). I am writing this on a MacBook (I'm not yet back from the Consumer Electronics Show), and most of the copy I wrote from CES last week was written on an iPad.
Verizon iPhone details
In case you've just come in from shoveling your walk and driveway (if you live in the Southeast) or from sprinkling salt on your walk and driveway in preparation of tonight's blizzard (if you live in the Northeast) or are just rolling into the office (Midwesteners) or just rubbing the sleep from your eyes (Westerners), this morning Verizon unveiled its long-rumored version of the iPhone 4, which will be available Feb. 10 (you'll be able to pre-order on Feb. 3) at $199 for the 16GB version and $299 for the 32GB model, with the usual signed-in-blood two-year contract.
That's right. The Apple iPhone 4. All these rumors, all this anticipation – and, with one major exception, it's the same damn iPhone except it'll work on Verizon's network now.
Okay, the iPhone 4 is a great phone – it's my phone – but…
Last year's tech this year
Why am I disappointed, frustrated – nay, angry – with the Verizon iPhone? Okay, I admit it. I'm frustrated because I want to break my contract with AT&T, but that'd be ridiculously expensive (CNN has done an excellent job of calculating the cost of breaking your iPhone AT&T deal here.) That leaves disappointment and anger.
Last week in Las Vegas, Verizon hosted an enormously glitzy event heralding the arrival of four handsets running Google's iPhone-like Android operating system and connecting to the carrier's shiny new 4G LTE network, which provides data speeds – Web surfing, email attachments, pictures you send or receive, videos you download – up to 10 times faster than 3G phones (the "g" stands for "generation," periodic cell phone network improvements that leap beyond the previous generation).
Each of these four LTE 4G handsets – the Motorola Bionic, the LG Revolution, an unnamed Samsung, and the HTC Thunderbolt – are, from a pure specifications POV, superior to the Verizon iPhone 4, over and above speedy 4G reception.
Screen size and WiFi
First, an acknowledgement. Verizon's iPhone improves on its AT&T cousin by offering mobile hotspot capabilities, similar to two of Verizon's LTE phones, the HTC Thunderbolt and the LG Revolution. A mobile hotspot means the phone converts the cell signal into WiFi to supply up to nearby devices with a wireless internet connection.
But Verizon iPhone's uses the 3G network to create its WiFi connection for up to five devices, while the LTE phones use LTE to create connections for up to eight devices. I've used both 3G and 4G mobile hotspots – I've been using Sprint's mobile WiMAX 4G WiFi hotspot in the carrier's Samsung Galaxy S Epic smart phone to connect me to the internet during CES, as well as to upload this story – and 4G is wa-a-a-a-a-ay faster. ("Wa-a-a-a-a-ay" being the scientific term, of course.)
But Verizon iPhone giveth and taketh away. Unlike AT&T's iPhone, you can't look up something on the Web while chatting simultaneously like you can on AT&T's iPhone (or should be able to – I'm lucky to maintain a connection of any kind on my iPhone).
All four new Verizon 4G handsets, the first of which (we're not sure yet which) will go on sale in March, boast 4.3-inch screens, nearly a full inch larger than iPhone's 3.5-inch display.
Over at AT&T, meanwhile, a month after the Verizon iPhone goes on sale, the Motorola Atrix will offer not only a 4.3-inch screen and mobile hotspot capabilities, but a dual core processor – essentially two processors in one phone. The processor is a phone's, or any computer's or any gadget's, engine. iPhone, along with most current smart phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S phones, uses a 1 GHz processor, until now the most powerful processor found in smart phones.
Atrix will have TWO 1 GHz processors. Today's mini netbook PCs powered by Intel's Atom processor have less oomph than these cell phones. Atrix has enough processing power, in fact to transform itself into a serviceable laptop PC.
Atrix also has 1 GB of system memory (RAM), twice as much as most phones including the iPhone, which means Atrix can do more things at the same time, such as running one app up front while downloading a large file in the background. More system memory also allows Atrix to run more powerful programs, such as a full desktop PC Web browser such as Firefox, rather than a truncated mobile version.
Atrix also will run on AT&T's early version of ur-"4G," HSPA Plus, the same "4G" technology T-Mobile uses.
Verizon's iPhone lacks 4G connectivity, lacks the Atrix' dual processor, lacks Atrix's system memory, lacks a bigger screen, lacks the ability to chat and Web surf simultaneously – and it lacks and lags behind the other coming Verizon LTE phones.
So if you're thinking of switching your iPhone from AT&T, or you want a state-of-the-art Verizon handset, wait until March when the first Verizon LTE phones or Atrix go on sale.
Bu wait, there's more.
But I HATE AT&T!
AT&T subscribers who switch to Verizon's iPhone may help those of us who don't. Their departure may help unclog AT&T's stuffed-up network.
Think of a cell phone system as a freeway. The speed limit is 65, 70, maybe even 75 miles an hour. You can go real fast – maybe exceed the speed limit if you're sure you won't get pulled over – if no one else is on the road, especially if you're driving an iPhone, the Ferrari of cell phones.
But you've no doubt you've been stuck in rush hour traffic when that freeway turns into a parkway (or a driveway – park on a driveway, drive on a parkway – in either event, you're stopped). Sure, the speed limit may be 75, but with so many phones…er, cars on the road, even your Ferrari/iPhone can only creep along. Thank goodness you at least have a good sound system.
AT&T's iPhone-heavy network is that freeway at rush hour – millions of Ferraris jockeying for position and getting nowhere.
But if enough current iPhone users get off at the Verizon 4G exit, those of us still tooling along on AT&T's 3G freeway may see traffic lighten up a bit. And there's no guarantee that as the AT&T 3G traffic lane gets shorter, the Verizon 3G lane won't get longer.
For us long-suffering AT&T iPhone users, AT&T will launch its version of LTE this summer. Both Verizon's and AT&T's LTE networks operate in shiny new roomy 700 MHz frequencies (the ones recovered from the analog TV turnoff two years ago) completely devoid of users – think moving from a local 30 MPH local street to an empty eight-lane Autobahn. Zoom zoom will have a whole new meaning.
Apple refreshes its AT&T iPhone every June. This year, that June timing just about works itself out right with AT&T's launch of its LTE network. So I'm going to go out on a limb and say the next AT&T iPhone (iPhone 5? iPhone 4G?), will run on the just finished and completely empty AT&T LTE network.
If you buy a Verizon iPhone now, you'll have to sign a two-year contract – which, in six months, after the Motorola Atrix and the iPhone 5/4G from AT&T appear, you'll want to curse and burn.
So, again, I counsel patience. But this is going to be a long six months.
P.S. An ironic aside. I monitored the announcement of Verizon's iPhone 4, heretofore available only on AT&T, on an Engadget page sponsored by Sprint. True story.