iPhone 4s vs. iPhone 4s – AT&T vs. Verizon – a real extended comparison
by Troy Saxton-Getty
(Org Published 8/24/2011 – Updated to include iPhone S model comparisons after two months of additional testing/use)
People who know me often ask me why I usually have two iPhone 4s’ with me most of the time. The answer is, one is AT&T and the other is Verizon.
As a long time fan of AT&T I was in line the night before the first iPhone was released and have picked up the new model each time it was released all the way to and including the second Verizon iPhone 4s model a few months ago.
The most frequent question obviously is which phone or carrier service is better…. ??
Better is such a subjective word… better how? It has taken a number of months of testing in-the-real-world to get to the hard and accurate facts.
The test environment: Hundreds of conference calls a month, sometimes calls lasting 5-8 hours, some with stock headphones, Dr. Dre Studio Beats, some without headphones, many linked to one of four car Bluetooth systems and quite a few with multiple Bluetooth headsets. (Jawbone, Bose and Motorola HS-10HD). Testing/use is primarily in three AT&T/Verizon markets – San Francisco, Silicon Valley, occasional east coast trips and San Diego (with several trips to various US markets as well as a few trips to Singapore and India). When on a conference call, generally, it is split between four different services giving a wide variety of volume and background noise levels and last, the same exact case on both phones, the basic bumper from Apple.
The past two months (and subsequent 6 months on non-S models from both carriers) represents extremely heavy use equally divided between both AT&T and Verizon and here is what we have found.
Equally, the phones have a very close battery consumption and battery standby power usage, neither will make it a full day of hard core use without some supplemental charging, quite often we utilize any one of the battery charger products tested here at dropSKIP (see other articles on several battery charging and extending options). If you are a casual / normal non-business user, you can expect the batteries on either phone to make it most of the day. Voice calling is by far the toughest demand on either phone’s battery, on average vs. our entire suite of Android phones, the iPhone4s wins on battery longevity and speed of charging from empty. Our T-Mobile HTC HD7 comes very close in casual use but not on heavy voice calling days.. Winner? iPhone 4s perfect tie.
This measurement isn’t the same as reliability (dropping calls, time to connect to dial and seamless transitions while in motion are all not about voice quality)
This measurement is about audio sound quality of voice reception and transmission only, hands down AT&T has a much richer voice dynamic range, the voice quality is noticeably better on the AT&T phone for both listening and talking. The Verizon iPhone sound for both listening and talking is clearly less robust, most users will call the difference “tinnier” when compared (Look up the word if it doesn’t make sense to you). If we give you both phones on the same conference call, one in each ear, you will immediately hear the difference. Winner? AT&T iPhone 4s
Voice Reliability/Availability (Averaging all markets):
This is the golden measurement, dropped calls, signal enough to make and sustain a call. I went six months of using both phones equally to be damn sure of how I felt, due to availability of signal, often I would have only one clear choice and most of the time that was Verizon.
Verizon on the iPhone 4s is vastly superior to AT&T on call reliability. Most of us know the annoying spots that our iPhone drops a call if we take the same route repeatedly, like commuting to and from work. On a regular morning staff meeting one of our guys says ok, the AT&T iPhone is going to drop me right about “click” and we all laugh about it because it is part of the AT&T experience. Just to share some idea of the magnitude of the difference: on my typical morning commute of a bit more than 50 miles, The iPhone will drop me 3-7 times per drive (no less than 3 from Midtown SF to northeast San Jose. What is even funnier (ok, frustrating) is it happens constantly on the I-280 in the Bay area right by Apple’s HQ and Stanford, I often wonder how pissed off Apple employees are about this since a gazillion of them drive this way every day. Using the Verizon iPhone4s, over 6 months, same time of day, same commute, I’ve been dropped 3 times in 6 months… You do the math… Verizon, did I mention I love you for this? Each time I am on the AT&T iPhone for this commute and I am on critical business calls, the phone drops me at the most important or critical portion of the call, almost like it is just plain mocking me. AT&T, really? Did I mention the reason I am writing this article is because you have dropped me on my commute for the last time, in the immortal words of Steve Martin, I break with thee, I break with thee, I break with thee.
I have talked on a 6 hour conference call from Southern California to Northern California (non-stop) using the Verizon iPhone 4s and not drop the call, not even once. In fact, in the rare times that a call on the Verizon iPhone does drop, I am almost floored. Same 6 hour call on AT&T, I can expect a drop every 15-45 minutes and sometimes it drops over and over again right after you connect back to the conference call adding to the extreme frustration of everyone, including the “Troy has LEFT the call” Then, “Troy has JOINED the call.”
Verizon, you are the winner, hands down…although the passed 2 months using both S models, Verizon has dropped a few more calls then non-S models, this shouldn’t be the case, the S model’s have better antennas.
Data Speed(3G): (We don’t see that much of an improvement on data performance with the newer S models, they are faster but not even close to 4G speeds). Upon release, Apple showed improvements in AT&T’s 3G speed with the new S model but in-the-real-world, we aren’t seeing much of it.
According to Gizmodo’s Jesus Diaz
“The new iPhone4s (on AT&T only) can download at a theoretical maximum speed of 14.4Mbps, as opposed to the previous 7.2Mbps. That’s because it’s using HSPA+… on AT&T. (Key caveat, of course: That’s atheoretical max speed, and if your AT&T service is terrible now, don’t expect it to be magically a million times better and faster.)”
The full article from Gizmodo’s Jesus Diaz is below:
Although Verizon has better data coverage, it’s common to get wildly different results just based on your distance from the transmission point (the tower). Verizon offers the fastest consistent speed on the non-S model, AT&T tends to offer the fastest throughput if you get all the conditions right and only in a much more limited location choice. Both fall back to slower speeds using the previous technology and usually Verizon wins again on the slower fall back speeds. Data quality feel is more robust on the AT&T phone, as long as you have fairly high signal whereas Verizon wins overall for having consistent speed more of the time. Our only beef here, is Verizon data is not available while on a voice call, this might not seem like much of a big deal but more and more it’s a huge annoyance when you are on a voice call and someone asks you, “did you get the email I just sent with the presentation?” and if you are on Verizon, you didn’t. (This will change with 4G LTE on Verizon, but the iPhone 4s on Verizon is CDMA data). Even more frustrating is being on a call with the Verizon phone and you need to use Google maps, or something critical to your current mission of travel and it flat doesn’t work. I have to say, I am really frustrated with this. The longer you are on the call the longer it takes the phone to catch up on the data when you get off the call. I am talking about the pseudo lethargic response the Verizon iPhone 4s has right after you get off a multi-hour call and it’s busy catching up on the truck load of email that’s spooling up waiting for data to return to the Verizon iPhone.
Winner: AT&T iPhone 4s, love the data, love it more when it works when we are talking on the Phone.
Availability means – Consistent data access in more places, more reliably and with reasonable speed. IMHO, Verizon wins when it comes to having data access in more places than AT&T. (in the domestic US Only) AT&T will often make you think you have data due to the icon representation of bars and 3G, but when you go to use it, often times it struggles. On the Verizon iPhone 4s, the indicators are much more reliable and so is the data availability. Looking at the two month (and subsequent 6 months with non-S models) average in all markets, road trips, airports, freeways and private plane flight – Verizon domestically smokes AT&T.
Winner: Verizon iPhone 4s
CDMA is not a world standard, Verizon is limited to the US Market and a few other countries where CDMA is used, AT&T uses GSM which is the global standard with over 85% global market share. All bets are off with 4G LTE, which allows Verizon to overcome the CDMA issue.
If you travel, you almost always can get AT&T voice and most of the time data access worldwide. However, it comes at at cost that is sometimes staggering. AT&T offers some help here, they have global partners who have roaming agreements and if you pick a plan in advance for voice, text and data, you can save a wad of dough vs hoping for the best and paying the full freight. We have some amazing horror stories here, 10k phone bills for a few weeks of travel and use without pre-authorizing a plan with AT&T.
If you are in a country often, you are better to get an in-country phone, they can be rented from a group of providers who offer very reasonable plans. However, you won’t have your personal phone number and whatever you do, don’t call forward your mobile to the international number of your in-country phone.
Winner? AT&T Clearly the only international option.
If you talk a bunch and you are in a strong AT&T market, you might be just fine with AT&T. But, if you move about, travel domestically and/or are on conference calls a bunch for work, Verizon is clearly the hands down winner. If you are spending money for some form of HotSpot, both AT&T and Verizon offer this via the iPhone 4s, and both are pretty reliable, however Verizon wins in our extended testing. If you talk on the phone and need to check email, use an app that requires data like Google Maps, the web browser or email, AT&T is your only option on the iPhone 4s.
Siri is fantastic on both carrier models, however it goof’s up just about equally on both carrier models as well, in our use, maybe a tiny bit more on Verizon.
iMessage, new to ios5 works equally well but we noticed something fun and revealing due to Verizon’s inability to send data when on a voice call. iMessage uses data mode for message sending/receiving, when both iOS devices have iOS5 or newer, the color of the message bubble is blue, if you send the message as text and not iMessage format it is green (like all iPhone text previous to iMessage). If you are having a conversation on iMessage with someone and the text is blue and all of the sudden the next message is green (text mode) they have Verizon as a carrier and they are now on the phone in voice mode.
I noticed this when texting via iMessage to a friend who has a new iphone, all of the sudden messages from a certain point forward were sent as text and were green, She confirmed that was the time she answered a voice call in her car. Some further testing shows this theory to be perfectly accurate. iMessage will try to send the message via data, if it fails a press on the failed message will get the iPhone to prompt you to “send as text?”, this is by design however it does show you if a person you are texting with has Verizon and if they are on the phone via voice or not..
Personally I have arrived at the conclusion I need both a Verizon and an AT&T iPhone 4s, in the testing of both of these amazing mobile phones, I’ve grown used to having both and don’t know if I would be happy giving one or the other up, it’s a perfect duo. Another nice thing to having both, you can look something up on one, for example, a conference call number and ID code buried in a calendar item while using the other phone to make the call, often you can’t cut and paste the calendar data so it becomes a pain in the butt to flip to the calendar, only to get back to the phone app and forget the dialing information.
I know, this isn’t reasonable and it’s down right ridiculous to have both, yea, I get it. If I had to pick it comes down to this, what do you do more of, talking or typing? If you talk a bunch, Verizon is your choice, if you text and use data more and talk less, AT&T is your choice. All of this assuming you have both options for signal at your house and work locations.
The voice difference is significantly better on Verizon when it comes to not getting pissed off from continuous dropped calls, it used to be funny and now I am really a Verizon fan regarding the iPhone 4s.