Following the long-anticipated official announcement of the iPhone 4 on Verizon, it's certain that folks who have been longing for an iPhone and loathe AT&T will be among the first to reserve one beginning Feb. 3.
Before anyone takes the leap, however, it's important to understand the differences between the iPhones and their service plans. And you'll want to be aware of fees you could incur by switching providers.
Verizon vs. AT&T
Carriers bank on the clout of signature phones like the iPhone, which until now was only available at AT&T. The Verizon iPhone was built to be compatible with Verizon's CDMA network, as opposed to the AT&T iPhone that runs on a GSM network. Bottom line: You can't take an AT&T iPhone over to Verizon, or vice versa.
CDMA technology currently does not allow voice and data to be sent over the network simultaneously, which means you can't, for example, make a phone call while checking e-mail or using the maps app, but you can with a GSM AT&T iPhone.
Also, the ringer/mute button had to be slightly moved, which means the bumpers and cases available for the iPhone 4 (GSM) may not fit.
Verizon did not claim exclusivity for the CDMA iPhone 4 at its launch event on Tuesday, which leaves the door open for a Sprint version, since Sprint also uses CDMA.
As for the phones themselves, the Verizon iPhone can be used as a mobile hot spot so that multiple devices can share its Internet connection; the AT&T iPhone does not have this capability. Verizon's version can share a Net connection via Wi-Fi with up to five nearby devices, such as an iPad or laptop, for no additional fee.
It is likely that Verizon will offer its unlimited data plan with the iPhone, but the company declined to offer details or pricing at the press event. AT&T retired its unlimited data plan prior to the release of the iPhone 4 last June. AT&T now offers two options for the iPhone: $15 a month for 200-megabytes of data or $25 for 2GB of data. An iPhone usually requires the higher priced plan at AT&T.
Verizon's iPhone will download data at 3G speeds, not the faster 4G, or LTE speeds, which will become available later this year on other Verizon handsets. Verizon Wireless began rolling out its faster 4G service in early December. AT&T won't begin its rollout until mid-year.
Verizon policy changes
But there's more to buying a phone than the phone itself and the reliability of a provider's coverage.
Compare early termination fees, warranties, return windows and upgrade policies before you commit to a two-year contract with any provider.
Beginning Jan. 16, Verizon Wireless will make significant changes to its policies. First, early upgrades on two-year contracts will be eliminated. Customers will not be eligible for a discounted phone until they've fulfilled 20 months on a contract. Previously, customers could opt for an upgrade as early as 13 months into their contracts.
And what a difference a few months make. Buy an iPhone with an eligible upgrade and you'll pay $199 for the 16GB model, but without promotional pricing you'll pay the full price of $600.
Verizon will also cut its return policy from 30 days to 14 days and tighten up its warranty policy.
Under the new warranty, customers could be charged a fee of $150 to $300, depending on the handset, if there is physical damage to the returned phone -- including external scratches.
Most carriers charge about one-third of the full price of a smartphone to customers who sign up for a new two-year contract or are eligible for an upgrade. Instead of paying the full price up front, you are spreading the balance over the period of the contract. Early termination fees are as much as $325, with a deduction of $10 for each month of service.
If you're intent on switching providers before your contract expires, you can transfer the contract to a friend or relative. You'll need to go into the store together to make the switch. Alternately, there are online companies who can help with this process, such as CellSwapper.com and CellTradeUSA.com, but you will pay a fee between $15 and $20.
Another thing to remember if you're contemplating switching is that the iPhone 5 will most likely launch in June. It is rumored the new version will offer 3G-enabled Face Time and an improved processor.
Keep in mind, if you sign a contract with Verizon in February for an iPhone 4, you will not be able to upgrade to an iPhone 5 until September 2012 aiand by that time the iPhone 6 will be available.
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? E-mail Leslie Meredith at email@example.com.