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In less than a year 4G technology has matured from a cool add-on to have on your handheld to a must-have feature for any smartphone. Consumers are embracing the technology so rapidly that 4G handsets grabbed 35% of the smartphone market in the fourth quarter, according to the latest NPD Group study. (That's up 6% from last year). The growth comes as no surprise as every carrier is aggressively marketing their 4G network making 3G-based phones a thing of the past.
But with so many models on the market, how do you know which phone is right for you or which model offers the best value? Below, we've hand-picked five of today's best-rated (or most anticipated) 4G smartphones, several of which we've already seen deals on. So whether you're purchasing your first 4G phone or upgrading to a newer model, here are our top picks.
Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX 4G Smartphone for Verizon Wireless
Current Deal: $199.99 with free shipping at Amazon Wireless
Best Price We've Seen: $199.99 with free shipping at Verizon Wireless in February
Why You Want It: Proving that 4G technology doesn't always zap battery life, the DROID RAZR MAXX is one of the most impressive 4G phones on the market today. It has won accolades from the likes of CNET and Engadget, a feat few phones have accomplished. And while we're big fans of its thin frame and gorgeous display, it's the phone's super-charged battery that makes this a must-have phone. The phone lasted 11 hours and 25 minutes during Engadget's video rundown test (with LTE turned on) and charged on for a whopping 16.5 hours when substituting 4G with 3G.
Features include a 4.3" Super AMOLED Advanced Display with qHD 960x540 resolution, dual-core 1.2GHz CPU with 1GB RAM, Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread), front (1.3MP) and rear (8MP) cameras, 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0, and a 16GB microSD card.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus 4G Android Phone for Verizon
Current Deal: $99.99 with free shipping at Amazon Wireless
Best Price We've Seen: $99.99 with free shipping at Amazon Wireless in March
Why You Want It: Don't want your phone bogged down with bloatware or customized skins? The Samsung Galaxy Nexus runs a vanilla (non-customized) version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, making it the flagship Android phone for Android loyalists. The phone has also won high praise from CNET, which called it a "sleek and powerful smartphone that soars on Verizon's network."
Features include a 4.65" Super AMOLED 1280x720 display, dual-core 1.2GHz CPU with 1GB RAM, Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), front (1.3MP) and rear (5MP) cameras, 802.11n, Bluetooth 3.0, and 16GB storage.
Why You Want It: With Android and iOS dominating the smartphone industry, Nokia has a lot of catching up to do if it wants to remain relevant. Enter the Lumia 900. Available on April 8, this do-or-die phone will pack every feature imaginable in order to win consumers over. For starters, the flagship phone will be the first Windows Phone to run on AT&T's LTE network. It will also be aggressively priced at just $99.99 (with contract).
Other features include a 4.3" AMOLED 800x480 display, 1.4GHz CPU with 512MB RAM, Windows Phone 7.5, front (1MP) and rear (8MP) cameras, 802.11n, Bluetooth 2.1, and a 16GB internal memory.
Why You Want It: Providing the most bang for your buck, this budget Android phone is available with contract or on a prepaid basis. And despite its budget DNA, the Exhibit II offers what PC Mag calls a "good balance of features and speed for the price."
Features include a 3.7" AMOLED 800x480 display, 1GHz CPU with 512MB RAM, Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread), front (640x480) and rear (3MP) cameras, 802.11n, Bluetooth 2.1, and a microSD card slot.
Why You Want It: The Samsung Epic 4G is a smartphone that lives up to its name. In fact, Laptop magazine awarded this phone it's coveted Editors' Choice award claiming it to be "Sprint's top phone." Just make sure you're ok with its bigger-than-average size, as this phone boasts a 4.5" display.
Features include a 4.5" Super AMOLED 800x480 display, 1.2GHz dual-core CPU with 1GB RAM, Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread), front (2MP) and rear (8MP) cameras, 802.11n, Bluetooth, 16GB storage, and a microSD card slot.
The 4G landscape is constantly changing. Today's must-have phone can quickly become yesterday's old news. While that doesn't bode well if you're trying to stay abreast of the latest and greatest, it's good news for bargain hunters as it means newer phones will receive discounts at a much faster pace than we've seen before. The Motorola DROID RAZR 4G (not the MAXX) is a prime example of this as it dropped to one cent a mere two weeks after its release.
And while there's a never-ending list of 4G Android phones to choose from, iOS fans will have to wait for a 4G iteration of the iPhone. Although technically the iPhone 4S for AT&T is a 4G phone (it runs on AT&T's HSPA+ network, which is considered a 4G network by the International Telecommunications Union), there isn't an LTE-based version for Verizon. But that could change as soon as this June when Apple kicks off its Worldwide Developer's Conference.
Where do you stand on 4G smartphones? Sound off in the comments below and let us know which 4G handset is your favorite or most anticipated.