What Matters More? A Carrier Or A Phone?

As a customer of virtually every major cell phone carrier over the last 15 years, I’m not going to dispute Verizon has always had the best call quality and fewest drops. I don’t need any stats or an engineering degree to know CDMA handles calls better, which should be Job One of a smart phone correct? The problem with Verizon was always an ultra-crappy selection of phones (yes, I still recall being the a Blackberry laggard with my oversized 7750 when everyone else had their light new 7100). But all that changed yesterday with the announcement the iPhone 4 is available on Verizon in early February. But should anyone outside of overloaded network nodes like San Francisco and NYC care?

It’s pretty straightforward if you boil it down to numbers. If you have a contract, AT&T likely has you by the short hairs after upping their smartphone cancellation fee from $175 to $325 last June in advance of their iPhone 4 launch. If you want an early look into how much it’ll cost you, check out this AT&T iPhone ETF cost widget at Wolfram Alpha. If you’re like me and have a family plan with three iPhones (two with contracts), then you ain’t going nowhere!

But even if you’re sitting with no contract, let’s look at the real-life implications of change. Here are the factors that should weigh on your decision:

1) Your call quality will improve with Verizon – PLUS

2) You can get an unlimited data plan (although pricing is still a mystery) – PLUS (but only if it’s under $40/mo)

3) You will have access to Verizon’s mobile hotspot features one month before AT&T – PUSH

4) You can’t tell a caller “Hang on, let me read that email you just sent.” – MINUS

5) You travel outside the US and want to take your Verizon iPhone – MINUS

6) You have a smartphone addiction problem, and bounce your SIM card across 3-4 devices a month – MINUS

7) You love your iPhone 4 bumper case – MINUS (the ringer mute switch has been moved slightly)

8) You think 3G is super-lame and want 4G now – MINUS (although in fairness, that means trading any iPhone for a USB modem as LTE phones are still 5-6 months out)

So unless you live in certain sections of San Francisco or New York where the iPhone is disturbingly close to a $500 brick, then the Verizon iPhone is probably not the smartest move right this minute. On the other hand, if you’ve stubbornly held out through many generations of craptabulous smartphones on Verizon, go drop the $299 for the 32GB version now! (Pro Tip: I have the 16GB and shoot enough video and carry enough pictures that I wish I’d ponied up the extra cash for the 32GB.)

And let’s not forget to add Verizon to the list of companies that are now complete revenue and market slaves to Apple’s product development schedule. I’ve already heard rumbles of AT&T users holding out until summer for the iPhone 5. In fact, most of fanboi users I know (and definitely the media) have turned iPhone upgrade watching into something close to an Olympic sport. The reality is Verizon just launched a long-in-the-proverbial-tooth smartphone, and didn’t even wire it up with their new LTE service – for 'design reasons', which is likely code-speak for battery issues.

So the question is simple: should you get a Verizon iPhone? If you’re already a Verizon subscriber, don’t use your cell phone for business, and also carry a Flip Video in your pocket or purse then go get one (yes the iPhone video is as good as a Flip Mino, and the 5MP HDR pictures rock). If you don’t match up with most of those attributes in a Venn diagram sense, then save your money for the iPhone 5. (It’ll be interesting to see how carrier wars will factor into new product availability in the post-iPhone 4 world!)

Plus, you’ll still have the AT&T service to blame when you physically drop the phone or just feel like hanging up on someone. Imagine the hours of conversation and thousands of blog posts that would be sacrificed if no one could complain about AT&T service…

And for the record, my answer is the phone.


0 # Knox Massey 2011-01-13 12:29
Great article, Dave. Was thinking the 16 GB, but might have to splurge for the 32 GB. I'm just waiting for February 3!
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0 # GFRRTDEFF 2011-01-13 16:30
Yep, I regularly hit less than 2GB free, even with all my music down-sampled to 128K. And maybe 10-20M more units in market will set fire to FaceTime, which feels like the coolest feature that's gone nowhere. I'll envy your call quality...
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0 # pfreet 2011-01-13 14:29
Terrific article. Quite fair and even comparison. Choice is wonderful and we should revel in it no matter which phone or carrier we prefer.
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0 # GFRRTDEFF 2011-01-13 16:42
A plus for consumer choice, and one hell of a new distribution channel for Apple (analysts predict between 9 and 13 million new Verizon iPhones in 2011). It'll be interesting to see how much pent-up demand exists inside the Verizon customer base. I'd think the value prop is a no-brainer if you've already made your carrier choice based on call quality.
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0 # omeezy4sheezy 2011-02-03 02:35
I personally don't think its that big of a deal, except:
1. You were a dissatisfied AT&T customer and can't wait for the iPhone 5 (for some reason).
2. Same situation, but a Verizon customer who can't wait for the iPhone 5.

The iPhone 5 will have some pretty significant fixes/features, so IMO, waiting would be worth it.
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