The 10 Coolest Smartphones of 20104:00 PM EST Tue. Dec. 21, 2010
By the time July rolled around, there were already a number of terrific smartphones released in 2010, and as you'll see in the next few pages, many of them outlasted some smart competition in the second half of the year.
Yes, there are plenty of familiar faces on this list -- what, you were expecting the most obscure smartphones of the year? -- but it takes a lot to rise above the fickle, yet hypercompetitive smartphone pack and make a dent among consumers (and in many cases, enterprise) users. And the smartphone revolution is only just beginning; IDC recently predicted that smartphone shipments would hit 526.6 million by 2014.
How many hot-to-trot Android devices made our cut? Who is the most-represented manufacturer? And do we still have love left for Apple? (OK, yes we do.) Have a good look at our favorites from 2010.
The Droid X -- released in July as the next generation of Motorola's well-received Droid line -- is a sturdy, more-than-adequate smartphone for casual Android admirers, and for Android lovers, a showpiece: a 4.3-inch display, video capture for 720p video, HDMI output, a 1-Ghz processor, 8 GB of memory, 16-GB microSD card, 8-megapixel camera, no physical keyboard, Swype touch screen typing software, Android 2.2 and 3G Mobile Hotspot connectivity.
The Droid X has been a good story on other levels, too; when technical problems emerged for Droid X following its release, for example, both Verizon and Motorola moved quickly to acknowledge and fix them, without the drama of an Antennagate. And if Motorola plays its cards right, maybe the Droid lines' momentum will propel Droid toward the enterprise, too.
Spec-for-spec, the HTC EVO 4G is still one of the most technologically advanced smartphones available to consumers, and as showpiece Android devices go, it ranks with the best. It has a 4.3-inch, 480 x 800 pixel display, 1-Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, an 8-megapixel camera capable of 720p HD video capture, HDMI output, Android 2.2 with HTC Sense and integrated 4G wireless.
The EVO 4G's big distinction -- and a feather in the cap of carrier Sprint -- is that it can call itself the first 4G smartphone widely available to U.S. consumers. Not too shabby, HTC.
"S" marks the spot for Samsung, at least where the branding of two of its best and brightest smartphone lines are concerned, and with the Galaxy S line -- one of its most high-profile Android smartphone launches to date -- Samsung pulled out all the stops. When Galaxy S was announced, it was promised to no less than five U.S. carriers, including the big four, with different names and slight variations on features and functionality for each.
Common to each Galaxy S is a 4-inch AMOLED display, a 1-Ghz processor, a 5-megapixel camera, 2 GB of storage and support for Bluetooth, GPS and Wi-Fi. Each of the carrier versions has a different name, and if we had to pick one, we'll give the edge to Sprint's version, the Epic 4G. It adds a slide-out Qwerty keyboard and a front-facing camera to the Galaxy S's standard features, and also runs on Sprint's 4G network.
In a year where Samsung really took the Android ball and ran with it, the Nexus S is the phone that's now capturing the buzz. It's the first Android phone to come pre-loaded with Android version 2.3, code-named Gingerbread, and it has a 4-inch contour display that fits comfortably in the hand and against the side of a face. It sports a 1-Ghz Hummingbird processor, front- and rear-facing cameras, 16 GB of internal memory and hardware for near-field communication, as well as all the bells and whistles of the 2.3 Gingerbread update. What's not to like?
And here you thought we were going to snub Apple just because the circumstances of Antennagate -- a PR black-eye for Apple, no matter which way you slice it -- ended up overshadowing the iPhone 4 itself this year. And yes, Antennagate, and Apple's response to perceived design flaws on iPhone 4, was among the year's biggest stories, no question. But antenna issues aside, the iPhone 4 is marvelous: 9.3 mm (and 24 percent thinner than the iPhone 3GS), an ARM-based A4 processor (same as iPad's), a realtime video chatting application, FaceTime, a 5-megapixel camera with 720p HD video capture capability, a second, front-facing camera and a 3.5-inch, 960 x 460 display.
Behold the power of "plus": HTC G2, which is T-Mobile's HSPA+ successor to the original HTC G1. T-Mobile couldn't promise a 4G network in time for the G2's release, but it did promise an HSPA+ data network, which offers 4G-like speeds of up to 21 Mbps. Physically, it's a smart-looking smartphone, too: a modified hinge with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, Swype text entry software for its touch screen, an 800 Mhz Snapdragon processor, support for a 32-GB microSD card, and capability for Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth. It also has a 3.7-inch display, a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash and autofocus, and 720p HD video capability.
The current version includes Android 2.2 and a number of additional Google-centric features, including Voice Actions for Google Search and integrated access to Google Voice.
Sigh. If only more people had gotten their hands on the Palm Pre Plus -- a pumped-up version of the original Pre released through Verizon in January -- Palm might occupy a more prominent place in the smartphone pantheon. For you see, the Pre Plus is one lovely phone, even if its specs -- twice the internal memory of the Palm Pre, a 3.1-inch display, 480 x 320 resolution, a 3-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi hot spot capability, among other features -- don't by a longshot outgun its competition. It has its fans, and it's an accessible, affordable option for a discriminating user.
The critics loved the HTC Droid Incredible when it arrived in April, and that love hasn't exactly waned: the Droid Incredible has remained a showpiece smartphone for Android, for HTC, for Verizon and for the emerging family of Droid-branded devices. It has a 3.7-inch 480 x 800 WVGA AMOLED display, an 8-megapixel camera, Android 2.2 with HTC Sense, a 1-Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor (the first Verizon-carried phone to include one), and 8 GB of internal memory.
Ultimately, it wasn't even HTC's strongest or most advanced Android device release of the year, but still, a hot little number.
Microsoft's much-ballyhooed Windows Phone 7 launch in November brought the first nine WP7 smartphones to the market: four from HTC, two each from LG and Samsung and one from Dell. Of the phones that saw or will soon seen U.S. release, the HD7 -- a 4.3-inch toushcreen phone with a 1-Ghz Qualcomm QSD8250 processor and a 5-megapixel camera with dual LED flash and HD video with 720p capture -- is so far the coolest, especially for media lovers. It offers the first ever instance of T-Mobile Family Room, an application for families and small groups who want a one-touch app for messaging to each other and coordinating get-togethers. And how about that kickstand? Who says your smartphone can't be your own, private movie theater?
Research In Motion certainly had the buzz in its favor for the release of its BlackBerry Torch 9800, and while the reviews weren't uniformly stellar -- not enough to prompt proclamations that RIM is back in a big way, anyway -- the Torch was still one of the better smartphones of the year and one of the best RIM's come out with in some time.
RIM, for its part, played up the right things, including flexibility for touch-screen and physical keyboard users alike thanks to a slide-out physical keyboard and the strength of the BlackBerry OS 6.0 software release. RIM is losing ground to both Apple and Android -- and its opening BlackBerry Torch sales weren't off the charts -- but its BlackBerry shipments had also increased 41 percent year-over-year by the end of the second quarter of 2010. RIM's down, but far, far from out.