Why I Returned My iPhone 4

Earlier this week, I handed in my iPhone 4. I’m back on my iPhone 3G at the moment. I’ll move to Android soon. I loved my iPhone 4 in many ways, and I’ll share my thoughts about it below. But the most important feature, the AT&T network it ran on, sucked.

Getting Out Of My Contract

Apple and AT&T couldn’t have been nicer about the return. I’d returned my phone 32 days after having it, 2 days outside the return policy. I’d been on vacation and didn’t have a chance to easily get in.

Apple Store managers apparently have discretion to take back a phone. The manager I dealt with did this without hesitation. Everyone at the Apple Store totally got my frustration with AT&T. They didn’t try to pressure me to stay. The person I worked with actually has a Nexus One with T-Mobile, because he was on his family’s plan. That surprised me. I assumed Apple would ensure all their employees had the iPhone somehow. But no matter. We had a good talk about how the iPhone measured up to Android. It was such a nice, pleasant experience that I felt bad about leaving the iPhone and wanted to stay.

With AT&T, I had to talk with a supervisor. That was all very polite. They decided to do what’s called a “no activate,” which meant the phone supervisor had to call to a retail store near me, to see if the manager there would approve that. Seemed weird, but it worked. I had to take the receipt for my iPhone 4 refund in, and that was it. I was back to my original contract — which at this point is now month-to-month.

Life Back With The iPhone 3G, For Now

It was kind of funny to have my iPhone 3G back. All my settings and apps were still on it, so it was a simple transition. What’s most remarkable is that I’m not thinking that I’m missing anything. The iPhone 4 was super fast when I got it, in loading apps. The screen was amazing. And yet, I’m back on my iPhone 3G and not really feeling like I’m missing much.

I find that kind of reassuring, because I felt really anxious about returning the iPhone 4. I’ve loved the iPhone, but returning the iPhone 4 was the first step toward leaving the iPhone altogether. Leaving the iPhone family. The security of knowing there will be a billion cases to chose from (except, of course, right now when the iPhone antenna issue has caused cases to be out of stock everywhere). The security of feeling like I had what the bulk of people are using.

Then again, I have an iPad, which is just a giant iPhone, more or less. I’m still in the iPhone family!

More important, Android is growing. And Android’s all I feel I’ve got, if I want a smart phone that’s iPhone-like but with Verizon. If Verizon had the iPhone, I’d have probably gone right to that. But they don’t. Apple’s decision that it had to be buddies exclusively with AT&T has ultimately cost them a customer. I doubt they’ll notice I’m gone. But maybe I won’t be alone.

My Real Life Review

I liked Walt Mossberg’s “real usage” review that came out yesterday about the iPhone 4 (he said it’s the best smart phone, if you can stand AT&T). Over the past two weeks, I’ve read enough phone reviews to go blind, most of which focus on the specs rather than what we really do with our phones. This has front flash. This has a front camera. This has 5 megapixels, while that has only 8.

Who really cares about this stuff? In the end, what makes a phone right for you is if it does the things you need it to do and does them well. So this is my review of how the iPhone 4 did for me. Disagree? That’s fine. You might be absolutely right, for yourself. That’s what’s important, so don’t worry if someone tells you that you have the “wrong” phone.

A Beautiful Camera

The iPhone took great pictures, much better quality to me than my old iPhone 3G. That was nice. Want to see one? OK, here:

That’s from what I uploaded to yFrog. Here’s the same scene from my Droid X, that I uploaded to Twitpic:

Personally, I think the Droid X colors are a little nicer. But you know, it’s not that big of a deal.

Look, most of the pictures I take with my phone get uploaded to photo sharing services, where they’re going to be compressed. Worrying about small differences in picture quality is like worrying about whether your MP3 file would sound better if it was a larger sampling, when you’re playing it through low-quality earphones to begin with

I’ll probably look at some of my pictures on my computer. A few I might use for a news articles. The quality with any of the smartphones I’ve used has generally been good enough.

What’s more important to me is ease of use. The iPhone camera is a dream to use. The touch screen interface is intuitive. You can easily zoom and snap a photo, even with one hand. That’s important to someone who shoots a lot of sunset photos while in the middle of an evening rollerblade.

I love having a zoom, and it’s one reason why I won’t stay with the iPhone 3G. There are times I want to get closer.

I also love having video, something the iPhone 3G lacked. Too many times, I’ve wanted to video something. I know there’s an app that will bring video recording to my iPhone 3G, but I need to leave it because of AT&T, anyway.

A Great Keyboard

Like my iPhone 3G, the iPhone 4 keyboard was wonderful. I could quickly type, even while walking, just using my thumb. I don’t do that much typing on my phone. But when I do, to answer a quick email or to tweet, I want a keyboard that doesn’t make me constantly have to override auto-correction or that mistakenly gets the wrong letter. That’s been one of my big issues with Android. That might go away as I get more used to Android. But typing on the iPhone was easy.

A Nice OS

I love the cleanness of the iPhone OS, especially how iOS 4 allows you to group apps into their own folders. I especially like how I didn’t have to decrapify the iPhone compared to how carriers feel they’re pimping up their various Android handsets with widgets I don’t want and wish I didn’t have to uninstall.

iOS 4 allow allows you to task swap in most cases — go back to an application where you left off — which is very nice. In a few cases, you can even actually multitask, have one app keep running while using another (like Pandora will keep playing, I believe).

Android has long had task swapping and some multitasking, so I’m not losing much by leaving the iPhone. But I still feel like I am leaving an operating system that lets me do more with fewer clicks.

A Beautiful Screen

The iPhone 4 screen is the sharpest screen of any smartphone I’ve ever used. In fact, I though that would be a deal breaker for me, leaving that screen for another phone.

You know what? In the end, I found that most of the time I was zooming pages in my browser to read them more easily anyway. My eyes are getting older, so I didn’t want to try and focus on the smaller type, even if it was sharp type. And once you zoom in, other phones like the Droid X or the Sprint EVO have pretty good screens, too.

Meanwhile, in some apps like email, having a great screen wasn’t that big of a deal.

Maybe I Do Want Flash

I’m not fan of Flash. It’s often used when unnecessary, and I want to scream at designers who I believe use it as a lazy crutch in these cases.

Part of me thought maybe Steve Jobs, in refusing to support Flash on the iPad or the iPhone, would get people away from it.

But no. I still encounter sites that use it, on my mobile devices. So knowing that Android has some support, and support that will get better, is a plus.

Easy Music

I never thought I’d use iTunes much on my phone. Then I discovered it was handy to have tunes there for when I was at the gym, or out rollerblading or in the car. iTunes on my computer makes it easy to sync selected playlists to my iPhone. All types of devices seem to have support for the iPhone, too, like a watch I have that lets me control my music selection on the iPhone with a little remote plugged into it.

Apparently, dealing with music on the Android isn’t much fun. But that’s not a deal breaker for me, so off I go.


I’m really, really sick of stories talking about the number of apps that each platform has, as if the numbers mean anything. It’s not sheer number of apps but specific apps that are important.

I use Twitter and Foursquare the most. Both exist on Android. There, I’m done. Sadly, the official Twitter app for Android is nowhere near as good as for the iPhone. I’ll survive. Foursquare is about the same.

There are a variety of other apps that I use from time-to-time, such as BoxScore or TheBike. I’m pretty sure I’ll find Android version of these and others. If not, nothing on my iPhone is a killer app that’s keeping me there.

In contrast, Android has a killer app that is pulling me in: GPS. I’ve used this many times when I’ve been traveling and didn’t have my regular dedicated GPS unit. It’s handy.

Forget Facetime

Ah, but isn’t FaceTime a killer app for the iPhone? I’ve used it once, to test how it works.

Here’s my pet theory on video calling. We don’t really want it. It’s not like the technology for regular phones to do video calling hasn’t been out for ages. So why don’t our regular phones have it?

Well, I haven’t had a shower yet today. Ooooh! My hair’s a mess, I haven’t shaven and I’m not really wanting to video call with anyone, even if I could.

Voice has been and will continue to be fine. FaceTime’s nice to have, and when I was traveling more and my kids were younger, I probably would have loved it as a better solution that the web cams I tried. But now they’re older, and it’s enough to get them just to talk in voice, you know?

For me, FaceTime wasn’t a killer feature. If it does become popular, I’m pretty sure a system that’s not dependent on two people having exactly the same device will come along.

The Browser & Email

Two of my biggest activities on my phone are browsing the web and reading email. It’s a nice experience doing both on the iPhone. In Android, browsing feels about the same. The double-click to zoom often is useful, too. The email client isn’t as nice to me as with the iPhone, but it’s good enough.

Battery Life

I never had a problem with battery life on my old iPhone or my iPhone 4. I keep things off so it wasn’t constantly polling the network to download data. I’d always keep my phone plugged in, when I had the opportunity. I religiously shut off my screen, when I wasn’t using it.

As for Android, it depends on the phone. I’ve had some like the EVO that are power hogs. But I expect to learn the best power management options for whatever phone I do ultimately end up with. And unlike the iPhone, I can always change the battery.

The Network: AT&T Sucks

I saved the worst for last. The most important feature of my iPhone is its ability to connect me with the world. That’s the point of the phone. And it constantly lets me down.

The antenna issue was a non-issue for me. In fact, I find it infuriating that so much focus goes into that aspect. Look, I can take two iPhones, put them side-by-side, and have different signals on them, no “death grip” involved. What the hell is that?

More important, I can’t get coverage or get only poor coverage in many places I go. On my vacation, I went through the Southwest: Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Zion National Park. I had 3G Verizon coverage in all these places. Sure, I was on vacation, and I really didn’t need to be connected. But my iPhone had only basic coverage or sometimes no coverage.

When I go to large events like a baseball game or a concert, I’ve consistently had my iPhone be unable to send data or make phone calls. But on occasions when I’ve had another phone with another network, that’s been OK.

I just can’t have a nice shiny phone that doesn’t do the basic thing the phone is supposed to do, connect me with stuff. So I’m moving to Verizon. Verizon isn’t perfect, but I know from experience in using my broadband card that I often have coverage where the iPhone doesn’t.

And yeah, maybe if everyone goes to Verizon, then it will have network problems. Fine. I doubt that will suddenly make AT&T better. More important, I’m just fed up with holding out hope for AT&T.

More Posts To Come

That’s about it for the iPhone 4. But I’m not done with posts coming out of my experience in leaving it. I’ve got a whole series coming, because I need some type of cathartic release.

I carry my phone around with me more than my children! More than my wallet. It’s almost always with me, for better in some cases, for worse in others. But there’s no denying it’s a big part of my life. So committing to a phone for two years, at least for me, is a huge decision beyond price point.

I’ll have more about this in a future post, frustration with carriers trying to lock us in to phones for two years in a way we’d never be locked in with our computers. I know, just pay the full price for your phone. Sure, but unlike a computer, that phone is basically locked to that carrier. A brick you can’t use elsewhere easily.

I’ll also do a post shortly about life with the Droid X, which I picked up two weeks ago, to see how Android has changed since I last looked at it earlier this year. Answer? Much better, enough that I’ll make the jump comfortably. But I won’t be keeping the Droid X. It’s just too large for me. (This is now up, see Life With The Droid X & Do We Need Super Sized Phones?)

Instead, I’ll probably go to the HTC Incredible or the Samsung Galaxy S — the Fascinate, as it is known when it comes to Verizon. The Incredible is out of stock. When it finally comes back in mid-August, the Samsung may arrive. I’m tempted by the Samsung because it looks so iPhone-like, plus because it will be newer than the Incredible. Mossberg is among several reviewers who liked it. I also played with the AT&T version and was impressed by the keyboard. But more on all that later.

Ultimately, I’ve got an entire post coming where I’m going to take Apple and Google to task for selling out what should have been the smartphone revolution in order to make sweet cell phone love with the carriers. I think that’ll be fun. Stay tuned.

Below, some of my past posts about the iPhone and Android:


  1. says

    Just a reminder, when griping about AT&T: Verizon was approached first by Apple and Verizon turned them down.

    The other thing to remember: There are still areas of the US where AT&T has no coverage. So we get NO iPhone at all. At least you have the option to put up with the network or not. We don’t.

  2. Flopsy says

    Interesting article, and very informative. Your reasons for switching were pretty much identical to mine. I actually had an old iPhone 2G which I really liked, but the failure of AT&T’s network when I moved to a new city was more than enough to make me switch to Verizon. I don’t even use the ‘phone’ part of my phone that much, but missing important calls because of a poor network was the last straw for me.

    I find Android fine. It’s growing on me. It certainly has it quirks and lacks the polish of iOS, but I’m slowly realizing that over time, it may actually be getting better than iOS. Widgets are one example, integration with Google services and free navigation is another. A great Verizon network and 3G everywhere ensures that Android, despite its faults, is actually more effective than an arguably beautiful phone (with beautiful usability) that just doesn’t work as well as it should. And that’s a shame really… like you, I probably wouldn’t have switched if it were not for the network issues.

    I miss some of my polished iPhone apps, but there’s some good ones in the Android Market, and whether one has 100,000 and the other 50,000 makes no difference when 95% of them are dross. I think Android apps will continue to improve, but I also think that Apple is by no means in trouble, and if the fiasco we’ve seen with Apple over antennas passes, and they learn from their mistakes, the next breed of iPhone could be even better… and possibly on Verizon!

    Would I switch back? Possibly. But admittedly, Android is doing well and some of its functionality is an improvement on Apple, and when a phone just works (which it should do, and is the reason both of us probably switched from one device to another), there’s no reason to change it.

  3. says

    Hey Danny,

    I’ve been following your trials & tribulations with cell phones for some time now…always interesting to hear about real-life experiences with the phones and the networks that – like you said – the reviews rarely touch on.

    There’s a ‘latest & greatest’ phone being released practically every month now, and while things are a little different up here in the great white North, there’s enough similarity to commiserate. Phone releases are typically delayed a little behind the US (we’re getting the iPhone 4 tomorrow), but network issues remain a huge concern here as well. The big three here (Rogers, Bell, Telus) have been accused of running an oligopoly, and their service ranges from dismal to absurd. Contracts are typically 3-year deals, and I agree with you, are ridiculous. No contracts are required for landlines, cable, internet; why mobile?

    I decided to pass on the iPhone 4 as well, and this week picked up a Samsung Galaxy S i9000 (the Captivate in the US I believe). It’s very iPhone-ish, and while only a few days old, I’m loving it so far. I’d definitely recommend giving it some consideration over the Droid X. If not, wait a few weeks; I’m sure the next best phone will be released pretty shortly!


  4. Alex de Soto says

    It’s all relative my friends.
    I travel to Puerto Rico and had pretty bad service there when I had a Verizon phone. Verizon is served in Puerto Rico by the Claro network (owned by AMX).
    Switching to AT&T and the iPhone 3GS was a good move for me.
    I also get good service here in Philly and can actually get a 3G signal in my office and in the deep corners of the Hospital of the University of PA where Verizon used to fail.

  5. Kyle Moore says

    I would be interested to hear how are you dealing with multiple cell phone numbers and contracts. Did you switch your number from AT&T to Verizon? Are you putting your AT&T contract on hold while you are on Verizon? Just curious how “you people” handle these things.

  6. says

    Kyle, my number is still with AT&T. I opened a new Verizon line about 2 weeks ago with a different number. So I’m paying twice, but I figured it was worth it to try out the new phone. With Verizon, you can return within 30 days. When I settle on the phone I want, I’ll move my number over to Verizon and let my AT&T contract end.

  7. Oliver says

    Interesting post Danny.

    I’ve just ordered by iPhone 4, but being from the UK I have a range of networks I can choose from, so I seriously hope I won’t have the issues you’ve had with AT&T.

    I’m also going from Android to iPhone (for the first time), so it seems we’re going in opposite ways.

    Hope it works out for you :)

  8. says

    My biggest gripe about the iPhone 4 is the ambient light sensor – it doesn’t adjust until after the screen is unlocked. So when I am outside in bright daylight, I cannot look at the screen to see who is calling until I swipe my finger; I can’t even check the time without swiping. This is a huge issue and I am surprised no one really complains about it.

    Next, the screen is too sensitive; I have to consciously turn off the device before placing it in my pocket or who knows what will happen.

    And yes, the software driving the proximity sensor needs adjustment; I hate it when my conversation changes to my headset while holding it to my face (or a number of other problems).

    And I have been noticing that it is more sensitive to bumps in the road while listening to music. If I go over a rough section of road, the iPod app will switch to another song. Good grief!

  9. says

    So THAT’S why my music sometimes skips! Rick, I had no idea the touch sensitivity my react to bumps. Occasionally, I’d use my iPhone when rollerblading, and on the odd occasion it would just start skipping songs, driving me crazy.

    And yes, I forgot to mention what I’d written earlier in another short review, that the screen doesn’t turn on as easily if I hover over it during a call. But then other times, it switches on and lets my ear do the dialing, or disconnecting, when I didn’t expect it.

    Apple mentioned this during their recent antenna press conference, and I gather a software fix is on the way.

  10. says

    And it always happens while listening to a great 80’s song I haven’t heard in a while and just as I am really getting into it…bump. And of course, this afternoon after writing this and updating my blog to post a similar article, I’m on the phone about a potential job and the phone cuts over to my headset (in another room) during the middle of a critical sentence. Coincidence – I think not. It’s either Apple added Murphy to the payroll or there is an additional (undocumented) sensor that is capable of stress/tension detection.

  11. says

    Every word is true.
    I am an apple addict, I’ve got every single gadget these guys ever produced.

    I hot the iPhone 4 a week ago. And it broke my heart. Such a great device with so many great features but the main thing it’s supposed to do is NOT working.
    I, too, have both Verizon and AT&T accounts and yes I pay double every month for both carriers: to use my iPhone with AT&T and TO MAKE AND RECEIVE calls I use Verizon.
    Very simple: I’m a performer (check out my website :-) and I travel ALL the time.
    I barely have service with AT&T. I ALWAYS have service with Verizon. Simple as that.
    Choosing AT&T as the service provider was apples biggest mistake ever. BIGGEST mistake!

    I wish I could live with it but I can’t. Since I got the new iPhone every second call I make is being dropped. And the reception is awful. So if I could live with it back on my 3GS – I’m sorry, but I can’t take it on the iPhone 4.
    So I’ll return it as soon as I’ll finish my shows and be back in NYC next week.

    *** if anyone is reading this and is still thinking whether to get the new iPhone or not – here’s an advise from someone who travels the country back and forth and KNOWS the iPhone and AT&T in and out: DON’T do it! Or get the older 3GS version. You’ll barely feel the difference inversions but at least ur reception will be better. And (I can’t believe I’m saying it) maybe it’s time to move on and go with verizons droid. There will come a time that the competitors will HAVE to match apples features and I have a strong feeling the time is now. ***

    So a lot of people aren’t replying to posts such as this (I usually don’t) but I just had to agree with you on the AT&T issue and I know at least 10 other friends and colleagues who returned their devices as well. So maybe people don’t write about it but apple are now facing the consequences of choosing to work with the worst network out there.


  12. Neil says

    Hey, I did the same thing you did.
    ATT was a faster and larger network than Sprint is, but I no longer drop 50% of my calls. I also no longer think about data/minutes usage.
    Maybe my wife and I had the rare iphone4s that really had horrible antennas. They were horribly awful though. 50% drops is no exaggeration–and this is Cincinnati which has lots of towers.
    Sprint is 99% reliable, though slower. It also has no conditions on their (reasonably-priced) everything plan. I was always worried about usage with ATT.
    Don’t feel bad for abandoning Apple. I hated the elitism and HAVING to jailbreak to get a useful phone–and after that, it was a pain to upgrade the OS.
    I am more impressed with my Epic 4g every day (though the battery life is awful and the screen is not as nice as the iphone4). The applications are ingenious, useful, and allow me a sense of actually owning the device. Best of all it can reliably make voice calls!

  13. Don says


    I have to say I’ve been using the Galaxy S with Swype for the last few weeks and it is really intuitive to use once you learn the shortcuts (took me a few minutes of trying it out to learn). Having moved from a blackberry the battery is a constant gripe of mine since I used to go for days without needing a charge; BUT given that the Galaxy is going to 2.2 soon (end of September woohoo) I think that will improve.

    One small note which wasn’t advertised anywhere when I bought the Galaxy – it has Gorilla Glass! Scratching it is a fairly hard thing to accomplish even when putting keys into your pocket with it, so try not to add a screen shield if you can avoid it.

  14. LoneRngr says

    I have the iphone 4 and i’m seriously considering going back to blackberry. i just can’t stand typing on the iphone, which is a shame because there are many great features. if only there were a smartphone that had everything! :-)

  15. says

    I’ve got the 3GS and have felt absolutely no need to upgrade to the 4. I’m with you on Android Danny. It has made huge leaps in a short time and my personal feeling is it will surpass the usability of the iPhone very quickly now. As I’ve got a family plan with ATT and their coverage is pretty good in my area, I don’t want to switch to another provider so I’m patiently waiting for an Android phone to come to ATT that I want.

  16. Rosemary says

    I had long coveted the iPhone. You cannot imagine how horribly dissappointing it was to realize that my former Android was a better fit. I travel by bike and bus and I live in a godforsaken suburb of LA. Without Flash, I’m forced to manually plan a trip, just to find out when the next bus arrives. Yes, iPhone is pretty, but it’s also pretty useless if it doesn’t meet the needs of the owner. My other beef is that I still haven’t figured out how to resize the web and it’s killing my eyes. I’m really frustrated with researching google and iPhone apps for every little thing. I have other issues with it, but they are not as important and Android wasn’t perfect either. It was just perfect for me as I can resolve the issues that I have with it more conveniently. I will need to buy a portable phone charger, but its now obviously worth it! Apple comes out with great ideas, but it’s like a Jeep, its fun and does lots of cool things, but it’s for people
    who love manuals transmissions and don’t need the perks of a luxury vehicle. Thank you for trying to give me what I’ve been begging for, Verizon, sorry that I didn’t I already had it!

  17. says

    Well, it’s a year later. What do you think of Android now?

    I picked up an iPhone 4 in July 2010 and still don’t quite understand all the complaining about AT&T. The service might not be the best in the world, but it’s worked well enough.

    Regardless, my next network will be determined by which one offers the best Android unit with a mechanical keyboard. The Achilles’ heel of the iPhone — in my view — has never been AT&T. It has, rather, been the fact that Apple uses a “one size fits all” philosophy. If you don’t like the hardware configuration of the current iPhone, well that’s just tough.

    That’s not the case with Android. In fact, there are so many hardware configurations that quite a bit of research is in order before buying one. Still, it’s not hard to see why Android is growing — it is possible to pick the phone that almost completely suits one’s needs. Android will likely continue to grow.

  18. says

    I use an Android Droid Charge as my main phone. It’s pretty good, though there are still times I go back to my iPhone and feel more relaxed. This explains more about that:


    If you really want a keyboard, you should consider the Droid 2.

    The main reason the Droid Charge is so much better than the iPhone, however, is that it uses Verizon’s 4G network. It really is that much faster.