Images Over the past few months we've been inundated
with new smartphones, culminating with the release of the iPhone 4 and
the announcement of the Motorola Droid X this past week. If you find
all this commotion a little confusing, and you're not sure what's right
for you, you're not alone. Hopefully this column will provide some
guidance.

Smartphones from all carriers

If your phone is a year old, you'll be surprised
by how much better these new models are. They're fast, have large,
multi-touch screens, and run thousands of new apps. They sync
wirelessly to your computer's calendar and contacts, ensuring you'll
have the most up-to-date information with you all the time.

They each send and retrieve e-mail using
on-screen keyboards, provide a great browsing experience, and do
everything from making dinner reservations to finding your way to a
destination. But they do require some learning; not everything is
obvious. The user manuals are sparse and often answers are easier to
find by Googling.

Some include wireless tethering that turns the
phone into a wireless hotspot for another $20 to $30 per month. Your
computer connects just as it does to any WiFi hotspot.

Excellent smartphones are available from all of
the carriers. While the iPhone was so far ahead than anything else when
it first came out, that's no longer the case.


What's changed all this is Google's Android,
which makes it much easier for phone manufacturers to bring iPhone-like
capabilities to their products, much like Microsoft did for personal
computers. And that's sparked competition among phone makers HTC,
Motorola, Samsung and LG to outdo one another.

What about Blackberries? They've improved, but
are still e-mail centric, have far fewer apps and poor browsing. But
with their thumb keyboards and e-mail shortcuts, they're still better
for e-mail than anything else.

Here's the lineup of the best smartphones from
each carrier, all of which I highly recommend. They all cost about $200
with a new or renewed contract.

Verizon
  • The HTC Incredible is currently Verizon's
    best smartphone. It's thin, light and fast. (Reviewed in a previous
    column). Combined with the best network, the Incredible, never dropped
    a call during my testing.
  • The new Motorola Droid X, just announced, and available July
    15, offers a larger 4.3-inch high-resolution screen, and an 8-megapixel
    camera. Advice: Choose the Droid X if you like a larger screen. Choose
    the Incredible if you prefer a phone that's smaller, lighter and
    slimmer.
  • For those who choose to wait, the rumors are strong that Verizon will have an iPhone before the end of the year.
  • Sprint
  • The HTC EVO 4G that I've been testing (more
    below) is similar to the Incredible and the Droid X, but with faster 4G
    data connectivity (where it exists), as well as the large screen, and
    tethering. 
  • T-Mobile
  • The Nexus One phone from Google is a
    terrific Android phone because it's been first to get the latest Google
    features and upgrades. Available from Google.
  • AT&T
  • The iPhone 4, the product all the others are
    gunning for, is still an AT&T exclusive, a pity considering how
    poorly its network performs for so many users.
    I've just started using an iPhone 4 and it still maintains an edge over
    the Android for features and ease of use. It's beautifully constructed
    like a precision instrument. It's slim, fast, and the easiest to learn
    to use. Its best new feature is FaceTalk, allowing you to make video
    calls over WiFi to other iPhone 4 users.
  • Its larger battery now gets me through the day
    instead of giving up at 2 p.m. in my case, and it has a dazzling new
    screen with double the resolution of others. One of the biggest
    advantages over Android phones it that it has iTunes, the easiest way
    to get music, TV programs and podcasts onto your phone.

    The biggest negative is AT&T. In my few days
    of use, I've experienced slightly improved service, but still get
    dropped calls, and the signal occasionally shows it has lost service.

    The phone has a few early bugs — sometimes, if
    your face touches the screen during your calls, it activates the
    buttons and creates a variety of negative effects, such as
    disconnecting your call.

    Which network?
    Today you have the choice of buying the best
    smart phone on one of the worst networks or Android phones on all the
    others. Verizon and Sprint have performed much better for me.
    Each of these phones costs about $200 and
    requires a new two-year contract that commits you to two years of
    service. Termination fees vary, with AT&T and Verizon now double
    the others at about $350. Cost of ownership over the two-year period
    for "unlimited" data costs $2839 from Sprint, $2449 from T-Mobile,
    $2959 from AT&T, and $3079 from Verizon. (Source: billshrink.com.)

    Sprint EVO 4G, last week's best phone
    I've been testing this new phone for three weeks
    and like it a lot. It's the best smartphone Sprint has to offer. The
    EVO 4G is a large, thin phone with a terrific display that does
    everything well. It's similar to the Incredible with its HTC enhanced
    user interface, fast 1 Mhz processor, smooth scrolling and excellent
    call quality. But the EVO has a larger 4.3-inch touch display, HD
    video, and two cameras, a 1.3 and 8 MP, the first for video calls.
    Videos can connect directly to a digital TV for easy playback. A
    built-in kickstand props up the phone when you watch movies on it. Its
    wireless tethering worked well everywhere I tried it. Its 4G data
    speeds can, in theory, download data 2 to 3 times faster. This service
    is slowly rolling out, but is not yet in San Diego.

    On the negative side I've encountered an
    annoying scrolling bug that jumps sideways to when scrolling down. And,
    not surprising, the battery barely gets through the day, much less if
    you use 4G or tethering. But this is a terrific phone that can hold its
    own against any other smartphone from any other carrier.