Don’t get me wrong. I love my iPhone.
In fact, I just upgraded to a new 3GS and extended my AT&T contract for two more years. But the privilege of being an AT&T customer has worn out. This morning, I got a message from AT&T saying that my off-network data usage was violating the terms of my contract.
Apparently, my > $100 a month phone bill entitles me to *6 MB* of off-network data transfer. How is one to know when you are off-network? Well, if you haven’t yet been notified by AT&T, your signal strength indicator probably always says “AT&T”. Clearly this is done to fool you into thinking that AT&T’s coverage is expansive. It isn’t. In fact, it sucks. But at least now I know that. AT&T has now kindly changed my signal indicator so that it reads “Off” when I’m not on AT&Ts network.
If you’re thinking about an iPhone on AT&T, consider the following points:
1. AT&Ts coverage sucks
It’s bad. It’s really, really, really bad. Some people who live in major metropolitan areas will say their coverage is great. It’s not. It’s horrid.
I’ve traveled around the immediate vicinity of LA, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Salt Lake, Denver, Seattle, Dallas, etc, etc. More often than not I’d have shaky signal at best or none at all even while people on other carriers were happily chatting away. And don’t even get me started on the frequency of dropped calls. I suspect this poor coverage performance is due to AT&Ts low bandwidth partner carriers; still, with masking of the signal status to read “AT&T”, you can only assume it’s the fault of AT&T. For me: this isn’t a deal breaker since I hate talking on the phone anyways. But I still need voice capabilities periodically and AT&T can’t even provide that reliably.
2. International travel plans are expensive and underwhelming
A stock AT&T-issued iPhone performs poorly overseas (test countries: Japan, Germany, France, Mexico, England, etc). The travel plans are expensive and confusing. Forgot about data roaming unless your last name is Hilton. It ain’t happening. The global calling and data plans for Blackberries are far and away superior. Forget about swapping the SIM card, too.
3. AT&T moves at glacial speed
Expanding basic network coverage. Expanding 3G coverage. Rolling out MMS or tethering. What exactly is AT&T doing to improve their service? Nothing that is readily apparent.
4. AT&Ts iPhone bills are ridiculously long and incomprehensible
If you need to track phone usage for, say, invoicing purposes, you can’t rely on AT&Ts bill. Oftentimes it lists that I’ve calling MYSELF instead of the actual number. Odd. Not to mention the pages and pages of meaningless details. At least it’s delivered electronically.
5. Conditions, conditions, conditions
Take a browse through AT&Ts website. You will see nothing but conditions listed specifically for the iPhone. Conditions on usage. Conditions on upgrade pricing. Conditions on contracts. It’s clear what AT&T thinks about their iPhone customers – clearly second rate and second-tier.
In short, if you travel — often, either domestically or internationally — the iPhone/AT&T pair is a bust. It’s a sad state of affairs given what a joy to use the iPhone is, but the quality of AT&Ts network and customer service cripple the phone. I’ll miss OmniFocus and iTunes integration, but not AT&T. Good riddance.