Verizon iPhone 4, Says Consumer Reports, Is 'Transitional,' 'Middle-Aged'

Consumer Reports, weighing in on the Verizon iPhone 4, says consumers may be better served to wait for a newer version of the smartphone.

The Verizon Wireless iPhone is nice enough, but if we were you, we'd hold off.

In short, that's the opinion being offered by trusted consumer watchdog publication Consumer Reports. In a Jan. 11 blog post, editors Paul Reynolds and Mike Gikas offered a summary of the "good, bad and unknown" about the device, which was years in the making and is scheduled to finally launch Feb. 10.

"The Verizon Wireless iPhone 4 has plenty in its favor, especially compared with its AT&T sibling," write the editors, "But it may be quickly replaced by a newer, cooler version more quickly than is customary even for the die-young life expectancy of most smartphones."

The post goes on to describe the not-yet-launched smartphone as "middle-aged" and a "retooling of the AT&T version." The editors reason that, with Apple likely to introduce a new version of the iPhone this summer-as it has each summer-it's a bit silly to sign on for a "transitional phone" that Apple threw together to "tide Verizon through until the summer."

The post points out that while Verizon launched its super-fast 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network Dec. 5, the Verizon iPhone 4 won't be able to take advantage of it. Plus, while the latest crop of smartphones features gorgeous 4-plus-inch displays, the iPhone 4 is still at 3.5 inches. And, jet-setters may be disappointed to find that the phone doesn't work in as many countries as its GSM counterpart (as GSM is the prevalent technology abroad).

Perhaps the biggest drawback of all, however, is that the phone "suffers CDMA's shortcomings," write the editors. The technology makes the phone incapable of being able to simultaneously place a call and access the Internet.

On the upside, the phone will be offered by Verizon, the carrier that has repeatedly earned the highest marks in customer satisfaction surveys (the same surveys in which AT&T has received the poorest ratings).

Also in its favor is its ability to act as a mobile hot spot for up to five devices-a capability that AT&T has never allowed.

As for the unknowns, there are two major questions hanging over the phone. The first is that, while Verizon has priced the handset at $200, like AT&T, it hasn't yet shared details about its data plans.

"We expect, however, that Verizon will use the phone's launch to make its promised switch from unlimited data plans to the tiered or metered plans now used by AT&T," write the editors.

The second question is how Verizon's network will hold up under the impact of a "boatload of iPhone users."

"If a lot of folks jump ship from AT&T, in addition to the new iPhone users who've held off from buying one till now, that could impact Verizon's service," write Reynolds and Gikas. "We'll be especially curious to note any change among our readers in Verizon's data performance, when we compile next year's cell-phone satisfaction survey."

More minor a question is the iPhone 4's antenna. When AT&T first began selling its version of the iPhone 4, Consumer Reports played a significant role in the "Antennagate" that followed. While Apple CEO Steve Jobs said it was a software issue, and later no issue at all, Consumer Reports wrote that it was unable to recommend the iPhone 4, following tests it had run in its lab. (Later, using bumpers-a solution Jobs also offered-it reached a happier conclusion.)

In the Jan. 11 post, the editors note, "There's reason to expect that the retooling of the iPhone 4 for CDMA has remedied the sign-loss problems we experienced under some conditions with the AT&T version of the phone." Still, they say they plan to test the phone to make sure.

To buy or not to buy? Bottom line, per Consumer Reports, is that if you've been "waiting breathlessly" for a Verizon iPhone; don't care about being left out of 4G, getting a bigger screen or having the ability to multitask; and aren't worried about paying an early termination fee to upgrade when the next version shows up, go for it.

However, the less iPhone-addicted consumer, write the editors, "may want to hold off for a newer version of the iPhone, before even considering whether to buy one."