Top 10 smartphones of 2011 ... for now

It was extremely difficult to come up with just a top 10 list for smartphones this year as the market explodes. Interestingly, seven of my top 10 are Android device. What is your favorite so far this year?
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

Now that CES, MWC, and CTIA are all wrapped up I thought it would be appropriate to go through what I think are the top 10 smartphones for the first half of 2011. My top 10 smartphones of 2010 article was very popular and readers seem to like these types of comparison articles. I will follow up in a month or so with an article listing some of the top smartphones per carrier. As I sat down to go through all of the amazing devices that were announced or released, my list started at about 20 so it was extremely difficult to pare my list down to just 10. When the devices were close, I gave a bit more credit to those that are available or that have more definite release dates for the US market.

It is likely that a new iPhone will be announced sometime this summer and there are sure to be many more Android devices released throughout 2011. As you will see, some of the top 10 I listed do not yet have pricing or solid release dates, but I trust that they will be released since the manufacturers and carriers providing them are reliable. You can check out several product photos of these top 10 devices in my image gallery, but I also highly recommend you visit your carrier store or local electronics retailer to get some hands-on time with a device before you make a huge monthly commitment.

Image Gallery: Check out photos of my top 10 smartphones of 2011… for now.
Image Gallery: Galaxy S II
Image Gallery: Droid Bionic

The prices you will see in this article are from the carrier, when available. If you are new to a carrier or adding another line you will find excellent prices on Amazon.com and other online vendors like Wirefly. So you know where my personal perspective is coming from I am a long time (about 10 years) T-Mobile subscriber with five phones on a family plan and just signed up for a Verizon account with the HTC Thunderbolt. I had an AT&T account (mainly used only with data) for a couple of years and was a Sprint subscriber for about a year with devices like the HTC EVO 4G. I do have some experiences with each of the four major US wireless carriers and have also been purchasing SIM-unlocked smartphones for over 6 years. I personally will switch and pay the ETF to get a new device and jump to a carrier that offers me more for my money, but will most likely never try leaving T-Mobile with my family plan again (AT&T failed me big time when I tried that and my wife almost killed me due to the constant dropped calls).

Each carrier is different for all of us and is highly dependent on where you live, work, and play. I recommend you figure out which carrier works best for you before buying a device you won't be happy with because of the carrier. There are many excellent smartphone options today and you honestly can't really go wrong with any of the available choices. Like carriers, different smartphone operating systems work for different people because of their different strengths and weaknesses, 3rd party applications, and available form factors.

Enough about the disclaimers and warnings, let's take a look at my list of Top 10 Smartphones of 2011 … for now.

Number 1: Samsung Galaxy S II

The Samsung Galaxy S line of smartphones had variants on all four major US wireless carriers, and on several regional carriers, and is an extremely successful line. The Samsung Galaxy S II takes the best of the Galaxy S line and improves it with an amazing 4.3 inch Super AMOLED Plus display, dual-core 1 GHz processor, 8.49mm form factor, 21 Mbps HSPA+ support, Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) OS, 8 megapixel camera, integrated memory and microSD card, 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 3.0, and more.

The amazing Samsung display itself might be a reason to buy this device and if it comes to T-Mobile then I will likely be buying one for myself. You won't have to worry about an OS upgrade since the Galaxy S II launches with Gingerbread already loaded too.

Number 2: Motorola Droid Bionic on Verizon

Verizon's LTE network is the only network in the US that can seriously be considered a 4G network and the upcoming Droid Bionic may just be the best smartphone on the nation's fastest network. The Droid Bionic sports a high resolution (540x960 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.

The device is scheduled to launch this quarter for an undisclosed price. It will likely launch with Android 2.2, but hopefully gets an update to 2.3 (Gingerbread) soon after release.

Number 3: T-Mobile LG G2X

LG really hasn't focused on the high end Android smartphone market, but this year they will be offering several compelling candidates. One of the first ones that we should see will launch on T-Mobile as the LG G2x. This is the US model of the LG Optimus 2X and is a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor smartphone running Android 2.2 with support for T-Mobile's fast HSPA+ network. It will include an 8 megapixel camera, 4 inch display, enhanced audio technologies, front facing 1.3 megapixel camera, and 1080p recording capability.

T-Mobile has a high powered lineup of Android devices and the G2X looks to be at the top of the heap.

Let's check out numbers 4 through 7 »

Number 4: Apple iPhone 4

The iPhone 4 is now available on both AT&T and Verizon. The iPhone 4 is one of the only smartphones available that you can trust will get you through the day on a single charge and this may be vitally important to some people while others are fine with carrying a second battery to pop in their Android device. Apple does a great job with industrial design and the iPhone 4 feels great in your hand. The display has amazing clarity with the 3.5 inch 960x640 pixel resolution. If apps are important to you then the iPhone 4 also rules in that department.

The iPhone 4 is a 3G device with no capability for the faster AT&T or Verizon networks. The display is a bit small for my tastes at 3.5 inches while I do love the look and feel of it. I want Apple to update iOS since it is getting a bit long in the tooth and needs better notification and home screen widget support.

You can buy the iPhone 4 for $199 (16GB) or $299 (32GB) from AT&T or Verizon with a two-year contract.

Number 5: HTC EVO 3D

I selected the HTC EVO 4G as my top smartphone two times last year and still think it is a fantastic device. The upcoming HTC EVO 3D takes the familiar EVO 4G form factor and improves several aspects with things such as a 4.3 inch 540x960 3D touch screen display, 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, a 1730 mAh battery, Bluetooth 3.0, dual 5 megapixel cameras for 3D photo and video capture, and a 1.3 megapixel front facing camera.

It will launch with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and HTC Sense. It will support Sprint's WiMAX data network too. I honestly almost put this into my top three and it arguably could be placed there. This is one device that is causing me to evaluate my HTC Thunderbolt purchase decision.

Number 6: HTC ThunderBolt

You may have read that I purchased the HTC ThunderBolt on launch day last week. Again, this is a device that is similar to the HTC EVO 4G that I loved with some key improvements. It has a second generation Snapdragon single core processor, more included RAM and integrated flash memory and Bluetooth 3.0 support (via a coming update).

The MAJOR reason I purchased the ThunderBolt was the blazing LTE wireless data network support where I am seeing regular downloads from 13 to 20 Mbps and that is easily at least double any other carrier data network in the U.S. If speed is your need, the the ThunderBolt is the only current answer.

One reason it is up higher on my list than other devices with high specifications is the LTE network and the fact that you can go buy one of these now. The ThunderBolt is priced at

Number 7: Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

If gaming is your thing, then the SE Xperia Play may just be the smartphone you are looking for. It is fully optimized for gaming with a display that slides up to reveal full gaming controls. Sony Ericsson makes some high quality products and it will be very interesting to see what they do with the Play and PlayStation Android functionality.

The Xperia Play will launch as the first PlayStation certified Android smartphone with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), 854x480 pixel display, 5 megapixel camera and VGA front facing camera, 3G wireless radio, stereo speakers, and more. I would like to try one out, but I am not a heavy gamer so having controls dedicated to gaming is not for me.

We do not yet have full pricing or availability information.

Let's check out numbers 8 through 10 and my conclusion »

Number 8: Google Nexus S and 4G

Samsung was the maker of the second official Google development phone, known as the Nexus S. Google and Sprint recently announced the Nexus S 4G that has the same specs as the Nexus S with support for Sprint's WiMAX data network. The Nexus S/4G is a pure Google phone and is generally the first to receive any OS updates.

The internals of the Nexus S are what you could find in the Galaxy S line from last year with the addition of NFC. It is a solid smartphone, but the lack of 4G, lack of expandable storage memory, and last year's processor only make it a device to consider if you want a device that is easily upgradeable.

You can buy the Nexus S for $529.99 from Best Buy and if it had T-Mobile HSPA+ support I would seriously consider one. The Nexus S 4G is not yet available.

Number 9: HP Pre 3

HP purchased Palm last year and at a February event HP announced the HP Pre3 coming sometime this summer. While I think webOS is one of the slickest and most fun mobile operating systems to use, after two years they still have one of the lowest market share numbers of any smartphone maker and not having their new phones available for several months after announcing them does not instill much confidence in fans.

The Pre3 isn't a revolutionary device compared to the Pre Plus or Pre2 with the major differences being a larger 3.58 inch display, faster 1.4 GHz dual-core processor, and 5 megapixel camera. It has the same slide up display revealing a portrait QWERTY keyboard and the skipping stone look and feel.

There looks to be some cool integration with their upcoming webOS tablets, which may end up being a major bonus for those looking for a 2 device solution. Unfortunately, we have no pricing or availability information.

Number 10: Dell Venue Pro

I know that some readers will slam me for including a Windows Phone 7 device in my top 10 list, but I personally have had my T-Mobile SIM in a WP7 device since last July and honestly love using the slick operating system. My favorite WP7 device is the Dell Venue Pro as I clearly stated in my review. The Dell Venue Pro hardware is fantastic and the device has been rock solid for me since I purchased it and inserted my own 32GB microSD card.

I put it down at number 10 since the specifications are 2010-era like all of the other WP7 devices. However, the OS is fun to use and a breath of fresh air in the mobile space. I honestly almost put the Dell Venue Pro at number 5 in my list and maybe I should have because the OS really is THAT good.

You can buy the Dell Venue Pro for $449.99 (8GB) or $499.99 (16GB) as an unsubsidized device or just $99.99 or $149.99 with a 2-year T-Mobile contract. Here is a tip for you, you can buy it with a contract and cancel by paying just a $200 ETF to T-Mobile and still come out cheaper than an unsubsidized device.

Final thoughts on my top 10

It is clear that Android rules the smartphone world here in the US with carrier and device selection and as you can see in my list I have seven Android devices in there. To round out my top ten I have one iOS device, one Windows Phone 7 device, and one HP webOS device. Note that I have NO RIM BlackBerry or Nokia devices included this year. RIM hasn't announced any new significant smartphone as they appear to be focusing efforts on their PlayBook tablet device. Nokia released the E7, but IMHO the Nokia N8 from last year is a better device. However, neither really can stack up with the ten I have in my list and that is a statement coming from a Nokia N8 owner who actually like the device.

Six or seven other Android devices that I did not put into the top ten are also very good devices and they include the HTC Desire S, HTC Incredible S, LG Optimus 3D, LG Revolution, Motorola Atrix 4G, Samsung Infuse 4G, and T-Mobile Sidekick 4G.

I couldn't bring myself to select an AT&T 4G device because they have failed to really meet any kind of 4G standard and really have no evidence to show they should be advertising their network as 4G. Just take a look at Kevin's new GigaOM Mobile 4G speed test post that shows what a joke AT&T's 4G network is compared to the blazing Verizon LTE network and even the T-Mobile and Sprint networks.

I just purchased the HTC Thunderbolt and am likely to keep it since it is the only LTE smartphone currently available and the speeds are addicting. I use a Dell Venue Pro and HTC HD7 on T-Mobile, but am getting a bit frustrated with Microsoft and may find myself looking at one of their 4G offerings, like the LG G2X. I will also be keeping my eye on Apple and the likely iPhone 5 that should be announced this summer and if Apple can get proper notifications and some home screen customization support on iOS I may get an iPhone 5.

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