The Verizon iPhone makes more calls

CNET tests the Verizon and AT&T iPhones to see which handset is more successful at making calls. Verizon won the majority of the time, but AT&T put up a fight.

Now that Verizon finally has the iPhone 4, we know that you have one question at top of mind. And it's not, "So what's the Wi-Fi hot spot like?"

Rather, you want to know how well Verizon's handset performs. And better yet, is it better than the AT&T iPhone 4? We don't blame you for asking either question, particularly in light of the widely held belief the AT&T iPhone experience is great until you need to make a call. I've never agreed with that theory completely, but CNET editors have endured their share of connectivity drama. So like you, we wondered if Verizon could do better. At the very least, it couldn't possibly be any worse.

After a few days of use, we can report that Rig Red's handset has the overall advantage. We've already told you about our data speed tests , but Verizon also beat AT&T in our tests for signal strength and connectivity. It didn't always win, and it didn't always win by a lot, but it usually connected first and offered more bars on the display. What's more, there were a couple of occasions where AT&T was unable to connect at all.

Methodology
To conduct the test I went to five trouble-prone locations in San Francisco to check the number of bars on the display to see if I could make a call. In each location I dialed the same phone number and timed the connection speed. I know I looked pretty silly holding two iPhones to my head, but stranger things have happened in San Francisco.

Before I get to the detailed results, there are a few caveats. Though the test wasn't entirely scientific, it mimics what real-world users will experience. Also, though the number of bars on the display is arbitrary and often unrepresentative of true signal strength, it is a measure on which most users rely (we would have used the Field Test app available on the AT&T handset, but Verizon appears to have left that feature out). Finally, we were using the Verizon iPhone during a period when just a few such handsets were in the wild. Yet, other Verizon smartphones were using its network, too.

Stop 1: Traffic jam

My first stop was an onramp of the Bay Bridge during the afternoon rush. Though I don't live in the East Bay, I know the traffic streaming onto the bridge can be horrendous. And as drivers inch along, many have nothing else to do than talk on the phone (hands-free, of course).

Verizon iPhone
Number of bars: 5
Connection time: 15 seconds


AT&T iPhone
Number of bars: 3
Connection time: Could not connect


Under the overpass

The next stop was a nearby pedestrian tunnel under a street. It's at ground level, but there was plenty of concrete above my head to act as a barrier.

Verizon iPhone
Number of bars: 5
Connection time: 5 seconds


AT&T iPhone
Number of bars: 3
Connection time: 7 seconds


In the box

I then tried calling from a closed elevator in CNET's offices. Though I've found our building to be wired fairly well, even the elevator (big metal boxes aren't great for a cellular signal) can be problematic.

Verizon iPhone
Number of bars: 4
Connection time: 3 seconds


AT&T iPhone
Number of bars: Never found a signal
Connection time: Could not connect


Riding on the metro

I used my commute home for the fourth location and stopped on the second level of the Montgomery Street transit station. Though the BART tunnels inside San Francisco can offer good coverage, signal strength in the tunnels for San Francisco's own metro trains is variable.

Verizon iPhone
Number of bars: 5
Connection time: 3 seconds


AT&T iPhone
Number of bars: 3
Connection time: Immediately


At home

The last stop was an interior hallway in my apartment building. Most of the time I can't pass through without my call cutting out temporarily.

Verizon iPhone
Number of bars: 3
Connection time: Immediately


AT&T iPhone
Number of bars: 2
Connection time: 4 seconds


So on the whole, the Verizon Wireless iPhone performed better than its AT&T counterpart. We had more success in making a call and the calls usually connected faster. We didn't experience dropped calls on either phone, though we know that's a sore spot for AT&T users. The Verizon iPhone also won the majority of our data speed tests , but comparing voice samples wasn't quite as clear. We invite you to listen for yourself and make your own decision. And of course, be sure to check out our full Verizon iPhone 4 review.

Lastly, I have to leave you with one word of caution. Though we enjoyed a better iPhone 4 on Verizon, your experience may be different. You're still using a cellular network that can vary widely by a number of factors. Also, as Verizon adds more iPhone users, performance will change. The key is to keep your hopes in check and not expect the Verizon iPhone to be without any problems. Big Red's network does have some advantages, but nothing is guaranteed.

 

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