The Latest, Greatest Smart Phones


The Latest, Greatest Smart Phones

These palmtops are bigger, brighter and faster, but each has a hitch or two.

Despite a growing number of brawnier challengers, the Apple iPhone 4 is still the gold standard. The new, fourth-generation model is a major upgrade from its predecessor, with a gorgeous, higher-resolution display, a front-facing camera for video chats, and an improved, 5-megapixel rear camera with a flash for still shots. The slimmer design has scratch-resistant glass on the front and back and side edging of stainless steel. Plus, the online App Store carries more than 200,000 programs for the iPhone 4. (Carrier: AT&T. Price: $200 for 16 gigabytes of memory or $300 for 32GB with a new two-year contract.)

The phone isn't perfect, however. Its FaceTime video chat currently works only with other iPhone 4 handsets, and each unit must be connected to a Wi-Fi (not 3G) network. That may change in the future if competing devices add compatible video-chat apps.

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Another change on the horizon: The exclusive service agreement with AT&T may be ending. Reports say that Verizon may become a service provider next year.

4G energy hog. Big and bold, the HTC EVO 4G (Sprint, $200 with a two-year contract and a $100 mail-in rebate) is a trendsetter. It's the first smart phone to run on Sprint's new 4G (fourth-generation) wireless network, which promises data speeds up to ten times faster than the carrier's 3G system. The crisp, 4.3-inch display is gargantuan by cell-phone standards and is a boon to streaming-video fans, texting addicts and shutterbugs who make frequent use of the Evo's front and rear cameras. Alas, battery life is the phone's Achilles' heel. With regular use -- a few phone calls, casual Web surfing, Internet-radio streaming and a video or two -- the Evo will run out of juice before the day is done. Still, the neat features make the Evo a fine mobile choice.


Small genius. The MyTouch 3G Slide (T-Mobile, $180 with a two-year contract and a $50 Web discount) may lack the size and sizzle of its peers, but it's a top-notch invention and a breeze to use. Its Genius button, located in the right corner below the screen, is a particularly clever feature. Let's say you're driving in an unfamiliar town and need to refuel. Tap the Genius button, say "find gas station" aloud, and within seconds the MyTouch will display nearby stations on a map. The phone provides spoken directions, too. Competing devices support spoken commands as well, but the Genius button works best.

The MyTouch's slide-out qwerty keyboard is handy for folks who lack the patience for on-screen typing. If you're okay with touch screens, the included Swype program speeds up text entry. Rather than tap separate letters -- c-a-t -- you simply drag a finger from c to a to t. Swype recognizes the word cat and enters it.

Mobile monster. Like the Evo 4G, the Motorola Droid X (Verizon Wireless, $200 with a new two-year contract) is a supersize cell phone with a bright, 4.3-inch screen. Long and lean, albeit bearing an unsightly bump at the top for the rear-facing camera, the Droid X is slim enough to slide into a baggy pocket. The 8-megapixel camera shoots both high-definition video (720p) and quality stills, but there's no video-chat option. Swype is included for easier texting.

Like the Evo 4G and MyTouch 3G, the Droid X runs Google's Android software, which means the phone is highly customizable. The camera has far more shooting options than the iPhone 4. And the Droid X is expandable to 40GB of storage (8GB on the device, plus 32GB on a memory card in an expansion slot). The iPhone 4 comes with a generous 16GB or 32GB, but it lacks an expansion slot.