2011 Smartphone Top 10 – Gift Guide

Summary: Apple’s  iOS and Google Android are the two clear leaders in the smartphone market here  in the U.S. so it was easy to pick the top two devices from these platforms.   The next eight were not as easy in such a competitive market.

The beginning  of the year always starts with a bang with smartphones being revealed at CES,  Mobile World Congress and CTIA. I have had hands-on time with many of the phones listed and my perspective has changed. Some have yet  to be released, but should be coming before the holidays so I included them as  well. There are some great devices coming in 2012, but since it is likely we  won’t see them this year I couldn’t include them in this list.

Google and Microsoft made major announcements just this month. It is getting a bit easier to pick top platforms as iOS and Android are the clear leaders with Windows Phone on the move up and BlackBerry on the way down. BlackBerry devices are still 3rd in  U.S. market share, but their OS is getting dated and we won’t see much excitement for the platform until QNX-based devices hit the streets. webOS is non-existent and out of the picture while Symbian is rare to find here in the U.S.

At Nokia World last week the Nokia 710 and 800 devices were shown and initially had the 800 planned for 3rd place, but since we are unlikely to see either of them here in the U.S. until early 2012 they were taken them off the list.

The prices you will see in this article are as advertised by each carrier, as available.  If you are new to a carrier or adding another line you will can find excellent prices or special deals on Amazon.com and other online vendors like Wifefly.   Each carrier is different for all of us and performance is highly dependent on where you live, work, and play.  Only you can be the judge of which carrier is right for you.  There are many excellent smartphone options today and its hard to worng with virtually any of the choices out there.  As with the carriers, different smartphone operating systems work for different people because of their different strengths and weaknesses, 3rd party applications, and available form factors – among many other attributes.

So lets get to it….

Number 1: Apple iPhone 4S
The ZDNet Great Debate for the Apple iPhone 4S happened, but readers overwhelmingly voted against it and many in the tech press stated it was not much of an upgrade. However, consumers responded in a big way and Apple had record opening weekend sales exceeding 4 million devices.

I am an Android owner, and personally see the iPhone as just catching up to the Android capabilities – right in time for Android to show off a new operating systems version.  Apple improved the internals with bumped up dual-core processor, updated antenna design, and 8 megapixel camera.  The Siri artificial intelligence utility is excellent what really sets the device apart.

The Apple iPhone 4S is available on AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint for $199 (16GB), $299 (32GB), and $399 (64GB) with a two-year contract. The unsubsidized, no-contract prices range from $649 (16GB) to $849 (64GB), depending on your carrier.

Number 2: Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Google rolled out the Nexus One back in January 2010 as their flagship device that supports the latest Android operating system. The Nexus S was released last year and just last week Google
and Samsung announced the Galaxy Nexus that will be coming to the U.S. with Verizon confirmed to get the device first before the end of this year.

Unlike the previous Nexus devices, there is really nothing missing in this latest device, including the latest wireless radios. The Galaxy Nexus sports a 4.65 inch 1280×720 Super AMOLED HD display, LTE and HSPA+ pentaband support, Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), NFC, barometer, 1080p HD video camera, 1750 mAh battery and more. Currently only Nokia provides a true world, but thanks new Galaxy Nexus, a pentaband phone, with support for the 21 Mbps HSPA+ data network.

There is no pricing or availability yet and it sounds like it will roll out in Europe and other countries first with a Verizon LTE model coming before the end of 2011. It’s not clear if we will see one launching on AT&T or T-Mobile here in the U.S.

Number 3: HTC Titan
I
was going to put one of the new Nokia Windows Phone devices here in 3rd, but none are coming to the U.S. this year so I am throwing in the HTC Titan that is coming to AT&T soon, likely in November.

The HTC Titan has a massive 4.7 inch Super LCD display at the same standard 800×480 resolution that still looks crisp and clear. It has a 1.5 GHz processor, 16GB integrated storage, 512MB RAM, 1600 mAh battery, HSPA+ radio (up to 14.4 Mbps downloads), and 8 megapixel camera. HTC had done work with their cameras and it is actually quite good.

There is no pricing yet for AT&T, but Microsoft recently showed it off and it is coming to the carrier soon.

Number 4: Motorola Droid RAZR
The Motorola RAZR was an iconic device that launched at quite a high price and still sold millions. Motorola’s original DROID put Android on the map and launched it to its current success. They decided to launch a new RAZR based on the Android OS and what sets it apart from their current offerings is that it is the thinnest LTE device, and one of the thinnest Android devices, available.

The Motorola Droid RAZR has all of the latest specifications, including LTE radio, Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread, 4.3 inch 540×960 Super AMOLED display, dual-core 1.2 GHz processor, 1780 mAh battery, Bluetooth 4.0, 8 megapixel camera, 16GB internal storage and microSD card slot.

The Motorola Droid RAZR will be available for $299.99 with a 2-year contract in November on Verizon Wireless.

Number 5: Nokia N9
The Nokia N9 is one of the saddest stories in the mobile world since the hardware and MeeGo operating system are fantastic and show a lot of promise, but the device is likely the last MeeGo device we will see from Nokia. If you check out all the other reviews online you will see that people love the Nokia N9. It is not available in very many countries and will not be sold by Nokia here in the U.S.

Specifications of the Nokia N9 include the MeeGo 1.2 (Harmattan) operating  system, pentaband 3G radio, 1 GHz Cortex A8 processor, 3.9 inch FWVGA 854×480 pixels AMOLED display with anti-glare polarizer and Gorilla Glass integration, 1 GB RAM, 16 and 64 GB internal memory options, 8 megapixel camera with dual-LED flash and Carl Zeiss optics, NFC, and more.

The Nokia N9 is only available in select countries, but can be found through importers from about $750 to $900 for the 16GB and 64GB models, respectively.

Number 6: HTC Amaze 4G
There is a lot of promotion and advertisement of the camera on the HTC Amaze 4G.  In addition to the great camera, it is one of the best designed HTC smartphones to date.

Specifications of the HTC Amaze 4G include Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread, HSPA+ on T-Mobile at 42.2 Mbps, 4.3 inch qHD 540×960 pixels Super LCD display, 8 megapixel camera with f/2.2 aperture
lens and 1080p video recording capability, NFC, DLNA and HDMI, 1730 mAh battery, Bluetooth 3.0, and much more.

The HTC Amaze 4G is available now for $259.99 with a minimum voice and data plan with 2-year contract after a $50 mail-in rebate. The full retail price is $559.99 with no contract.

Number 7: LG Thrill
One of the features shown off this year that seemed to be more gimmicky than anything is the glasses-free 3D display found on a few new smartphones. While it may seem a bit silly for
day-to-day usage, it is actually fun to use and when I tested out the EVO 3D, recording video in 3D was pretty cool.  The LG Thrill is not only one of the best 3D devices, it is also a solid high end Android device that competes with the best of them.

Specifications for the LG Thrill include a 4.3 inch glasses free 3D display, 1 GHz dual core processor, dual 5 megapixel cameras, 8GB integrated storage and microSD card, and HSPA+ support.

The LG Thrill is available now on AT&T for $99.99 with a 2-year contract. It is priced at $449.99 with no contract.

Number 8: Motorola Droid Bionic
The Motorola Droid Bionic is one of the best LTE devices on Verizon Wireless and Jason Perlow made a great case for the device in comparison to the Apple iPhone 4S.  The Droid Bionic sports a high resolution (540×960 pixels) 4.3 inch display, dual-core 1GHz processor, 8 megapixel camera, large capacity 1930 mAh battery, integrated 16GB of memory and microSD card slot, and support for the
LTE network.

It’s number 8 since it is a fairly typical Android device and thought the devices higher in this list offer more that is unique. The Droid Bionic was shown off at the beginning of the year and was delayed for a few months, but is still a device to consider.

It is available now for $299.99 with 2-year plan on Verizon Wireless and $589.99 with no plan or subsidy.

Number 9: Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G
The Samsung Galaxy S II was released several months ago in various countries and is just now making its way to the U.S. carriers.  It is a very successful device and I enjoyed my test time
with the Sprint version.  The Galaxy S II Epic 4G sports an amazing 4.5 inch Super AMOLED Plus display (4.52 inches on T-Mobile and Sprint), dual-core 1.2 GHz
processor, Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread) OS, 8 megapixel camera, integrated memory and microSD card, 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 3.0, and more.

The Galaxy S II is a large device, but it is light and thin. The quality feels better than any previous Samsung Galaxy device I tested and I know people will be purchasing it in
large numbers on the three U.S. carriers.

It is available on T-Mobile for $229.99 with a 2-year plan and $50 mail-in rebate ($529.99 with no contract) and on AT&T for Sprint’s model is known as Galaxy
S II Epic 4G Touch (what a crazy name, huh?) and comes with WiMAX, a 4.52 inch display, and 1.2 GHz processor with a contract price of $199.99 or $499.99 with no contract.

Number 10: BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930
I used to be a big Blackberry fan, but RIM needs to step it up in 2012 to be competitive with the other mobile platforms. I loved messing around with the BlackBerry PlayBook with QNX-based operating system and there is a lot of promise for smartphones running this OS in 2012.

Specifications for the BlackBerry Bold 9930 include a 2.8 inch touchscreen display, a 1.2 GHz single core processor, 5 megapixel camera with 720p HD video recording, 8GB onboard storage
with microSD card support up to 32GB, 768 MB RAM (something like 256MB is used for GPU), optical trackpad, promixity sensor, accelerometer, compass, and BlackBerry OS 7 that provides voice-activated universal search, new web browser, huge collection of pre-installed apps, and much more.

The Bold 9900/9930 has the BEST QWERTY keyboard ever on a device and if you are a hardware keyboard fan then you will enjoy using this device.  It is quite expensive for a BlackBerry smartphone though with a price of $299.99 with a $50 mail-in rebate on T-Mobile (full no contract price is $599.99), $199.99 with contract on Sprint ($499.99 full retail price), and $249.99 on Verizon with a contract ($509.99 full retail price).

Final thoughts on my top 10
There are plenty of other good Android and Windows Phone devices that were not included in this roundup.  One BlackBerry device was included because it really is a great device as long as you are happy with the BlackBerry platform and need a QWERTY keyboard.

While RIM’s BlackBerry still holds a large market share in the U.S., Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms are the clear leaders in the modern smartphone era.  It appears that these two are leveling out where they are no longer stealing customers from each other, but from other platforms.  There will always be those who will never switch between these two platforms and there is room for both to be excellent and have a large number of customers.  One will not kill off the other and they will co-exist and move forward for many years to come.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Motorola, Samsung and HTC in the Android space now that Google owns Motorola.  With Samsung making the new Galaxy Nexus I think all
three will continue to compete for Android customers with some excellent devices.

I believe that Windows Phone 7 will become the third major player in the smartphone market with RIM BlackBerry eventually falling to fourth.  Nokia has the chance to improve Windows
Phone 7 in the long term, but Microsoft is going to have to promote the operating system more to gain substantial market share.  RIM needs to move into the modern smartphone era and is planning to do this with their BBX platform, but that remains to be seen.

I can’t wait to see what 2012 holds for us all, and perhaps we’ll get a good glance at the 2012 CES convention in January.

Portions of this artical where taken from an article By Matthew Miller | November 1, 2011 | ZDNET

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