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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

February 2, 2011 at 6:07 PM

First reviews of Verizon iPhone out: Better, not perfect

The first reviews of iPhones running on Verizon are appearing.

Walt Mossberg — who has had lots of dropped calls on AT&T — said it’s a big improvement:

On the big question, I can say that, at least in the areas where I was using it, the Verizon model did much, much better with voice calls. In numerous tries over nine days, I had only three dropped calls on the Verizon unit, and those were all to one person who was using an AT&T iPhone in an especially bad area for AT&T: San Francisco. With the nearly identical AT&T model, I often get that many dropped calls in one day.

But data speeds were much slower on Verizon. Mossberg said his testing found downloads on AT&T were 46 percent faster. He also encountered a few glitches but it didn’t taint his experience:

Calls on the Verizon unit were mostly crisp and clear, including speakerphone calls and those made over my car’s Bluetooth connection. On my first full day of testing, I did have several Verizon calls that dropped out for a few seconds, before recovering. Apple attributed this to a very minor glitch I’d encountered in my initial setup of the phone and urged me to reboot it. I did and suffered no more momentary dropouts.

He also mentioned “some issues” with network handoffs:

I did have some issues with the Verizon model. In the D.C. area, long a coverage stronghold for Verizon, it kept switching briefly from 3G mode to slower 2G mode. This didn’t affect voice quality, and didn’t last long, but it slowed data downloads drastically for short periods. Also, on my first day of testing — after the setup glitch but before I rebooted — the Verizon phone showed poor battery life, and had trouble connecting to my car’s Bluetooth setup. After that, these problems disappeared. Bluetooth worked fine and I was able to make it through a day with the battery on both phones.

PC Magazine’s Lance Ulanoff , who lives in New York, a city notorioius for iPhone challenges on AT&T, also said it was an improvement to have the iPhone on his hometown carrier:

Call quality was consistently good, though not markedly better than the best AT&T connection. Those dual CDMA antennas that sit on either side of the phone (they’re part of the metal band that wraps around the edge of the handset) kept me connected during calls and data sessions through every location I tested. Yes, I did see the phone drop to 2G speeds once or twice. The phone indicated this with a small circle next to the bars.

David Pogue tried the phone in five cities and found the Verizon version dropped fewer calls:

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.

And, of course, there are regions where AT&T coverage is better than Verizon’s. But in general, my testing matches the conclusions of Consumer Reports and RootMetrics.com: the Verizon iPhone has more bars in more places.

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