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What's the Best Android Phone on Each Carrier?

A reader writes: These Android smartphones look pretty hot. It seems they can do everything the iPhone does, but they come in more flavors, from more companies. So what's the best one to get?

Dear Reader: The Android operating system may be the first serious competitor to the iPhone platform -- with a slick interface and tons of cool applications. Unlike Apple's tightly policed Apps Store, Google's Android Market lets you download any program written by any developer.

Google Nexus One

With AT&T coming online in the next few months, Android models will be available from all of the big-four wireless carriers. If you have T-Mobile or Verizon, or are willing to switch, go for the Nexus One, our current favorite by far. It's the first phone sold directly by Google, which currently offers a version that runs on T-Mobile -- for $179 with a two-year contract -- or $529 a la carte. A Verizon model will be available sometime in spring, price unknown. Other good Android models include the Samsung Moment (Sprint), the Motorola Droid (Verizon), and the Backflip (likely AT&T).

When it came time to put its name on a phone, Google went all out. The .45-inch thick Nexus One is nearly all screen -- and what a gorgeous screen it is. The 800x480-pixel resolution shows more detail than a DVD and probably beats most HDTVs for quality, thanks to the use of OLED instead of the typical LCD technology. Colors, especially greens, are lush, and blacks are as dark as coal. All the better to show "Live Wallpapers", the gorgeous 3-D animated desktop patterns introduced in the new 2.1 version of the Android OS.

Eye candy aside, the high-res screen also comes in handy when reading long emails or jam-packed calendars, for example. The capacitive touchscreen on the OLED is very responsive and generally quite accurate. Driving the whole phone is the Snapdragon chipset that includes a one-gigahertz processor, 3-D graphics and HD video support. Translation: The Nexus One interface is extremely snappy.

Be warned, though: A few users have hit snags. In some cases, the touchscreen virtual keyboard misinterprets taps. In others, the phone pops off T-Mobile's 3G network and drops to a pokey EDGE connection. Google owns up to both glitches and has promised either software or hardware fixes. For T-Mobile subscribers, the Nexus One is worth the risk. None of its other Android phones come close in performance or design.

Android Smartphones


Other Options

Motorola Droid

If you're a Verizon customer and those Nexus One bugs spook you, or you can't wait for that vague "spring" availability, the Motorola Droid ($200 with two-year contract) is a great alternative. Its LCD is as big as the Nexus One's screen, at 3.7-inches, and has a marginally higher resolution (both beat the current iPhone LCD, which is 3.5 inches with 480 by 320 pixels). The Droid's screen, and the whole phone for that matter, is not as responsive as the Nexus One. But it isn't pokey, either. And Verizon's rock-solid network combines high-speed broadband with nearly ubiquitous coverage.

Motorola brags that the Droid is the thinnest smartphone with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Our take: Fatter would be better. The "keys" are simply painted on a stiff sheet of plastic, and the tiny grooves between them provide virtually no tactile feedback. Fortunately, the virtual keyboard works quite well -- especially when turned to wide "landscape" orientation.


Samsung Moment

If you're a dedicated Sprint customer, or a BlackBerry convert, who needs physical keys, the Moment is for you ($180 with two-year contract and after rebate). It feels a bit chubby at .63 inches, but the girth makes room for a real PC-style slide-out keyboard with up/down/left/right cursor buttons and a dedicated row of number keys. Typing on it is joyous. The Moment launched currently runs Android version 1.5, but Sprint has promised an upgrade to 2.1 in the next few months.

Motorola Backflip

AT&T finally announced plans for Android phones. Of the three models coming this spring, the Backflip is probably the right choice. We say "probably" because AT&T hasn't confirmed that it will carry this model. But its promise to deliver a new Motorola phone "with a unique form factor" leaves little doubt, as the Backflip has a truly funky design.

When closed, the chubby phone's 3.1-inch (480x320-pixel) LCD is on one side and a (disabled) physical keyboard is on the other. Opening the phone flips the screen all the way around to hover over the (now activated) keyboard -- so the phone looks a bit like a mini laptop. The keys are big and easy to press, and the screen-keyboard setup feels very familiar and natural. Bonus features include a touchpad behind the screen -- an odd but effective way to maneuver the cursor. The Backflip also runs Motorola's handy Motoblur software; which is a kind of dashboard that shows updates of all your communications -- texts and emails, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter feeds -- in one glance.

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Tags: android, droid eris, DroidEris, features, justtellmewhattoget, moto, motorola, motorola droid, MotorolaDroid, samsung moment, SamsungMoment, sprint, t-mobile, top, verizon

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