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4G Face-Off: Battle of the 4G Smartphones

By Louis Ramirez, dealnews senior feature writer

Forget 2011 being the year of the iPad 2, or even the iPhone 4, which is not, ironically, 4G. The year is really shaping up to be the year of the 4G network on Android, with practically every mobile carrier building an army of 4G smartphones. But how do these new phones stack up when compared? We take a quick look at some of the most anticipated models to find out.

4G Smartphones

Samsung Galaxy Indulge
HTC Thunderbolt
Motorola Atrix
HTC Evo Shift 4G
Samsung Galaxy S 4G
Not specified yet
Operating System
Android 2.2 (Froyo)
Android 2.2 (Froyo)
w/ HTC Sense 2.0
Android 2.2 (Froyo)
Android 2.2 (Froyo)
w/ HTC Sense
Android 2.2 (Froyo)
w/ TouchWiz
Verizon Wireless
1GHz Snapdragon
1GHz dual-core
5.35 ounces
5.78 ounces
4.8 ounces
5.9 ounces
4.2 ounces
Monthly Plans*
from $40/mo. w/ unlimited voice & data
$30/mo. for unlimited data
from $15/mo. for 200MB
from $80/mo. w/ unlimited voice & data
from $80/mo. w/ unlimited voice & data
3.5" 480x320
4.3" 800x480
4" 960x540
3.6" 800x480
4" 800x480
3.2MP (rear only)
8MP (rear)
1.3MP (front)
5MP (rear)
VGA (front)
5MP (rear only)
5MP (rear)
VGA (front)
4GB Iron Man microSD movie included
32GB microSD included
microSD (not included)
microSD (not included)
16GB Inception microSD included
720p video recording, Bluetooth, DLNA connectivity, QWERTY keyboard,
720p video recording, Bluetooth, DLNA connectivity, surround sound
720p video recording, Bluetooth, DLNA connectivity
720p video recording, Bluetooth, QWERTY keyboard
720p video recording, Bluetooth, DLNA connectivity
Rated Battery Life
3 hours talk,
300 hours standby
5 hours talk,
300 hours standby
9 hours talk,
240 hours standby
6 hours talk,
standby not specified
6.5 hours talk,
720 hours standby
*Prices listed are set by mobile carriers and subject to change.

Where you can find these phones:

MetroPCS was the second U.S. carrier to unveil a 4G smartphone, beating Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile to the punch. However, MetroPCS only offers two 4G phones: the Samsung Craft and the newer Samsung Galaxy Indulge (pictured in chart above). On paper, neither phone stacks up with the likes of the Motorola Atrix, but what makes MetroPCS' 4G offerings tempting are lack of contracts and low-priced unlimited data plans.

Verizon Wireless
When you think of 4G, it's hard not to think of Verizon. However, despite the company's 4G marketing campaign, Verizon has yet to offer any 4G smartphone. That will soon change when it ushers in the highly-anticipated HTC Thunderbolt (pictured in chart above) and Motorola Droid Bionic. The Thunderbolt gained lots of positive press at its unveiling at CES and continues to keep the entire Android community on its toes. The Droid Bionic is a dual-core beast of a smartphone running NVIDIA's 1GHz Tegra 2 processor. It's a distant relative of AT&T's Atrix (see below), with the exception being that the Bionic features only 512MB of memory. Lastly, Samsung and LG are also expected to debut 4G handsets for Verizon, although details on these sets are still scarce.

AT&T isn't expected to debut its 4G network until the end of this year, however the company is already slapping the 4G moniker on its HSPA+ network, which the International Telecommunications Union now recognizes as a 4G network. The star of AT&T's 4G network is the Motorola Atrix (pictured in chart above), a dual-core smartphone built around NVIDIA's 1GHz Tegra 2 processor. The phone boasts a 4" qHD 960x540 display and it'll even feature a separate dock that morphs the Atrix into a full-fledged laptop complete with an 11.6" display, three USB ports, HDMI, and more. CNET deemed the Atrix the top of AT&T's Android lineup, and from the looks of it, we agree. More importantly, it's the only phone in our roundup above that we've found deals on. Other 4G phones coming to AT&T include the HTC Inspire 4G, a close relative of Sprint's HTC Evo 4G, and the Samsung Infuse 4G, a Galaxy S smartphone that will play big brother to AT&T's current Samsung Captivate.

Back in June of 2010, Sprint became the first carrier to offer a 4G network and 4G smartphone when it released the HTC Evo 4G. The phone was a major hit and continues to hold up thanks to its 1GHz processor and massive 4.3" display. Since then, Sprint has added the Samsung Epic 4G and most recently the HTC Evo Shift 4G (pictured in chart above). The latter is a scaled back version of the Evo 4G, featuring an 800MHz processor (down from the Evo's 1GHz), and a smaller 3.6" display (down from the Evo's 4.3" display).

Like AT&T, T-Mobile's HSPA+ network has received an honorary 4G certification. So now, T-Mobile has three 4G smartphone offerings: the somewhat dated T-Mobile G2, the T-Mobile myTouch 4G, and the Samsung Galaxy S 4G (pictured in chart above). The latter is the company's only 2011 4G phone to date and it's essentially a newer version of T-Mobile's Samsung Vibrant. It's also the most promising of the trio (if you're a gadget hound looking for the best specs).

Our conclusion
As far as hardware is concerned, it's going to be difficult to beat a muscle phone such as the Motorola Atrix with its dual-core processor. However, HTC's Sense UI has proven to offer a better user experience than Motorola's MOTOBLUR. Likewise Verizon's networks have, in our experience, proved to be more reliable than AT&T's, which is why we're prone to give the HTC Thunderbolt our nod of approval.

Which phone do you think is the best?

A word on 4G
According to the International Telecommunication Union, an agency within the United Nations that designates wireless technologies, a 4G network must meet a set of specs known as IMT-Advanced. It must also deliver downloads speeds of 100Mbps. However, none of today's 4G networks come close to such speeds. Nevertheless, in December the ITU officially recognized that forerunners of these technologies (like Verizon's LTE and Sprint's WiMax networks) along with evolved 3G technologies (like T-Mobile's HSPA+ network) may be called "4G networks." Since then, every mobile carrier has been touting its 4G network as the fastest in the nation. However, it's important to keep in mind that no carrier has finished upgrading its network to 4G capacity and the chances of attaining advertised 4G speeds are pretty slim.

An avid gadget lover, Louis Ramirez has covered technology for Gizmodo, CNET, Laptop, and various other publications. Follow him on Twitter — @LouisRamirez. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.

DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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