Holiday Gift Guide 2010: Smartphones

This year's holiday season will have some of the hottest smartphones ever. Here are two picks from each of the four major U.S. carriers.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

Welcome to the third annual Holiday Gift Guide here on the ZDNet Smartphones and Cell Phones blog. Each year we see the area of smartphones changing and this year is no different as a couple of the newer smartphone operating systems gain in popularity, a brand new OS launches just in time for the holidays, and some older players grow a bit stale.

The smartphone selection on every major US wireless carrier is extensive and we cannot cover all of them here in the Holiday Gift Guide. Our Guide this year will feature two of our recommended smartphone choices from each of the four major US wireless carriers and one SIM-unlocked smartphone that is available in the United States.

I am blessed to be able to try out most of these phones for a few weeks, but since you are not writing about mobile technology I highly recommend you visit your local carrier's retail store to get a bit of hands-on time with devices you are interested in since that is the best way to tell if it is going to work for you.

The new standard high end price for smartphones is now established at a fairly consistent $199.99 with a 2-year contract and minimum data/voice plan. Non-subsidized prices range from $450 to $699 and few US customers ever pay this much for their smartphones.


iPhone 4

You can count on Apple releasing a new piece of iPhone hardware at the end of each summer and this year we have the Apple iPhone 4. The white model still hasn't launched so you have a single color choice in black. Standout features of this year's model include a 960x640 pixel resolution "Retina display" running at 326 dpi, 5 megapixel camera with 720p video recording support, and latest iOS 4 operating system. It supports thousands of applications and is a device that appeals to millions.

Apple's iOS is very application driven, but there are so many new applications that you can find just about everything you need from a smartphone on a single device. The iPhone 4 is still only an AT&T product, but it is likely that this exclusion will be ending in 2011 so we may not see the iPhone 4 here in the 2011 Guide.

Price: $199 for 16GB with 2-year contract and $299 for 32GB with 2-year contract

[Check out the ZDNet Reviews pages for the Black 32GB, Black 16GB models.]

Samsung Focus

The hottest phones this holiday season for a couple of carriers will be the new Microsoft Windows Phone 7 devices and based on my own hands-on experiences the Samsung Focus is the top dog of the three phones launching on AT&T on November 8th. You will see a Samsung Galaxy S on another carrier in this Guide, but that runs the Android OS. The Samsung Focus looks to be a Galaxy S device with Windows Phone 7 thanks to its large and brilliant 4 inch Super AMOLED display, 5 megapixel camera with 720p video recording capability, 8GB on board memory, Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, and FM radio. The Focus feels great in your hand and even though it is large, the amazing display makes sacrificing for size worth it.

The new Windows Phone 7 operating system brings Bing search, Microsoft Office with SharePoint, Xbox LIVE, and Zune to a new and unique user interface. It is a breath of fresh air in the smartphone space and shows that Microsoft has learned from both Google and Apple over the last couple of years.

Price: $199 with 2-year contract

What do we have from Sprint? »



Even though the HTC EVO 4G launched back in May of this year, it still reigns as one of the best Android devices available with everything but the kitchen sink thrown into this large 4.3 inch display device. It sports an 8 megapixel camera, front facing 1.3 megapixel camera, Android 2.2, HTC Sense, HDMI port, kickstand, WiMAX radio with support to share that with 8 devices, 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, and more. The great thing about Sprint is that they throw in some great services with the monthly data fee, including Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV, and NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile.

There is a $10 fee for premium data services, but this does give you truly unlimited data on 3G and 4G while other carriers are starting to impose 2GB caps.

I bought this phone in May and even though I have tried a number of Android devices since then I have stuck with it because it is so good.

Price: $199.99 with 2-year contract and rebate/discount

[Read my review and check out the ZDNet Reviews page for more info.]

Samsung Epic 4G

The Samsung Epic 4G launched on August 31st and I almost purchased it to replace my EVO 4G, but found I preferred the HTC Sense user interface. The Samsung Epic 4G is one of the Samsung Galaxy S devices, but with a full hardware QWERTY keyboard. The Epic 4G has that same Galaxy S 4" Super AMOLED display, fast 1 GHz Hummingbird processor, WiMAX radio for 4G connectivity, ability to WiFi tether with up to 5 devices, Android 2.1 OS (2.2 update should be coming soon), 5 megapixel camera, and more.

There is a front facing camera with support for video calling, the same as with the EVO 4G. The full QWERTY keyboard is the major differentiator here, along with the Samsung TouchWIZ user interface elements and widgets. It is more focused on media and gaming than the EVO 4G and is a worthy choice on the Sprint network.

Price: $249.99 with 2-year contract and rebate/discount

[Read my review and check out the ZDNet Reviews page for more info.]

What does T-Mobile have for us this holiday season? »


T-Mobile HTC HD7

I am a long-time T-Mobile customer and think that this holiday season T-Mobile may have one of the most exciting lineups available. It turns out that T-Mobile may just have secured the two best Windows Phone 7 devices available at launch in the United States. The new Dell Venue Pro runs on the T-Mobile 3G network, but is sold only through Dell and not at T-Mobile. From T-Mobile directly we have the HTC HD7 which looks a lot like an updated HTC HD2 with a new version of the operating system. You will find the HD7 has a huge 4.3 inch display, 16GB integrated memory, kickstand around the 5 megapixel camera, 1 Ghz processor, and more.

After playing with a Windows Phone 7 device for a few days, my wife looks to finally be willing to enter the large touch screen smartphone space and we are planning to pick up his and hers HTC HD7 devices as soon as they launch in mid-November.

Price: $199.99 with 2-year contract and rebate/discount

[Check out the hands-on gallery for more info.]

T-Mobile G2

The T-Mobile G2 is the Android successor to the T-Mobile G1 that launched two years ago and achieves another first for T-Mobile with its support for HSPA+. This fast wireless technology gives the G2 something like 7 to 9 Mbps download speeds, which is much faster than the 3 Mbps I see with WiMAX on the EVO 4G.

The T-Mobile G2 is a Google flavored Android device even though it is made by HTC. It has an awesome QWERTY keyboard that is revealed via a very cool hinge mechanism and is one of the best landscape QWERTY keyboards I have ever tried. The G2 is fast, the display looks great, and may be added to my own collection soon. If you are looking for an Android device on T-Mobile then I recommend the G2 over the Vibrant.

Price: $199.99 with 2-year contract and rebate/discount

[Check out the ZDNet Reviews page for more info.]

Let's see what Verizon has to offer »

Verizon Wireless

Motorola Droid X

Like the HTC EVO 4G, the Motorola Droid X has been available for several months. However, it is still one of the largest and best smartphones available with a 4.3" WVGA display, 8 megapixel camera, 1 GHz processor, 8GB internal memory, and much more. Even though it has a large display, it also is quite thin and feels great in your hand. It is loaded with the latest Android 2.2 operating system and is a compelling product.

The Droid X captures good photos and video in 720p quality. It supports the 3G mobile hotspot functionality so you can turn it into a mobile router for all of your devices. Skype Mobile is included and will help you make calls through the Skype network and reduce necessary call minutes.

Price: $199.99 with 2-year contract and rebate/discount

[Check out my review and the ZDNet Reviews page for more info.]

Samsung Fascinate

The Motorola Droid 2 or Droid R2D2 are also very good choices for Android smartphones as Verizon is focused on Android at the high end of its product line. However, I think the Samsung Fascinate may appeal to more people with its sleek all touch form factor and high end media support. This is another of the Samsung Galaxy S devices with the beautiful 4 inch Super AMOLED display, 1 GHz Hummingbird processor, 5 megapixel camera, Swype keyboard, 3G mobile hotspot capability, 2GB internal memory and 16GB microSD card, and much more.

There are several typical Verizon services available for the Fascinate, but you can also load up apps from the thousands available in the Android Market.

Price: $199.99 with 2-year contract and rebate/discount

[Check out the ZDNet Reviews page for more info.]

SIM-unlocked choice has a new operating system too »

GSM SIM-unlocked

Nokia N8

Nokia rolled out its latest Symbian^3 operating system on the Nokia N8 and while the software is not as polished as the latest iOS, Android, or Windows Phone 7 operating systems it still has quite a bit of functionality and utility. In typical fashion, the Nokia N8 hardware is fantastic and IMHO is the best Nokia device ever created. It has some very unique features not seen in ANY other smartphone in the world, including the penta-band 3G data support so you can use it with either T-Mobile or AT&T in the US and get 3G speeds while also using it in most places around the world. You will also find a top notch 12 megapixel camera with incredible 720p video recording that even has excellent zooming capabilities.

The Nokia N8 has a capacitive touchscreen display, integrated 16GB flash with microSD expansion card, HDMI out, USB on-the-go support, Bluetooth 3.0 radio, and more. The USB on-the-go lets you connect the N8 to a USB hard drive or flash drive for additional memory access or even to other accessories.

The price may look high, but this is a full unlocked, no contract device so you can pick it up to use with your preferred carrier with no carrier obligation. The N8 comes in dark gray, silver, blue, green, and orange and the colors are quite nice with aluminum casing to boot.

Price: $549 from online retailers with no contract or rebates

[Check out my hands-on first impressions and the ZDNet Reviews page for the Nokia N8]

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