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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Will the real Android flagship phone please stand up? (Ask Maggie)

But which new phone is Verizon's flagship device? In other words, which one is the cream of the crop on the carrier's 4G LTE network? In this week's Ask Maggie, I try to help one reader figure out which new Google Android smartphone is right for him. I also offer some advice to Verizon Wireless customers who are waiting for Microsoft's Windows Phone smartphones.

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

Which Verizon Android smartphone should I get?

Dear Maggie,
I have had an HTC Thunderbolt on Verizon Wireless. And I loved the lightning 4G speeds. But I thought the iPhone 4S looked good, so I used my upgrade for that. But I can't live without the 4G. So I returned it and pre-ordered the Motorola Droid Razr. But I just caught wind of the rumored HTC Rezound with Beats audio. Now I don't know which one to buy. Which phone to you think will be Verizon's Flagship smartphone?


Dear Shawn,
HTC is expected to announce the new Rezound 4G smartphone at an event in New York on Thursday. (I'll be there with the CNET crew and we'll be live-blogging the action, so be sure to tune in.) Verizon has already started printing up the marketing materials. Droid Life recieved photos from readers showing the in-store ads for the smartphone over the weekend.

Verizon begins touting the 4G LTE Rezound prior to an official announcement.

(Credit: Droid Life)

Here is what we know about the HTC Rezound so far. It's rumored to have a 4.3-inch 720p HD touch display, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, and an 8-megapixel camera. As noted in the invitation sent out last week, the phone will also offer Beats Audio integration. And it looks like it will also offer tangle-free earbuds, much like the HTC Rhyme.

The new smartphone is expected to go on sale November 14, which is just days after the Motorola Droid Razr is set to debut. And just a few days before, Samsung's Galaxy Nexus is expected to go on sale (November 17).

Your question is a good one, because Verizon Wireless keeps announcing one hot Google Android phone after another. And it seems like the Verizon salespeople in their stores may have a difficult time steering customers to one device or another.

There's no question that the Motorola Droid Razr, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and the HTC Rezound are high-end Android smartphones with some of the highest caliber specifications on the market. They each support Verizon's 4G LTE network, which will give you the performance you loved from the HTC Thunderbolt. They've all got nice big screens and dual-core processors for speedy processing. And the cameras are all pretty decent. (If you are wowed by megapixels, you may want to consider the HTC Rezound and Motorola Droid Razr over the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The Rezound and Droid Razr each have an 8-megapixel camera, while the Galaxy Nexus only sports a 5-megapixel camera.)

They each could be considered Verizon's "flagship" phone for the season. So which hot new Android is right for you? The answer to that question is going to come down to the details of each phone.

One thing that should be at the top of your list in making your decision is battery life. LTE radios notoriously suck the life out of smartphone batteries. So finding a device that has a longer battery life is important. Unfortunately, none of these phones have been released to the market yet, so it's hard to judge what the real-world battery life experience will be. But I suspect the Motorola Razr may have a slight edge since it uses a new app called Smart Actions that automates tasks and is supposed to optimize battery efficiency.

Each of these Android smartphones is also attempting to differentiate itself based on a couple of highlighted features. And these features could help you decide which phone is a better for you.

The HTC Rezound is a smartphone geared toward music lovers. The company has integrated the Beats Audio technology into the phone, and it's offering the phone with some high-end ear buds. The new audio technology comes from HTC's acquisition of Dr. Dre's Beats Electronics. There are already a couple of devices on the market that use the technology.

When Beats Audio is enabled, the sound of the audio is instantly louder, with a much deeper bass. It's hard to say if this feature really makes the music quality on the phone that much better than audio on other devices. And I probably wouldn't buy the phone solely for this differentiation, but nevertheless it is a differentiator that HTC will likely highlight in its marketing. You may find the quality to be really improved. So I'd suggest checking out the phone in the store and doing your own comparison.

Motorola Droid Razr (Verizon Wireless)

Motorola and Verizon Wireless have resurrected the Razr, but it's much more powerful than before.

The Motorola Droid Razr is the thinnest smartphone on the market and I'd say this device is geared more toward people who want to use their smartphone for both work and fun. It's actually surprising how Motorola was able to fit the 4G LTE technology into such a thin package. The phone has a width of only 7.1mm (0.28 inch) and a weight of 127 grams (4.5 ounces). And it still has a larger 4.3-inch Super AMOLED display.

In addition to the super-thin design, Motorola has also packed the device full of capabilities that will appeal to corporate types as well as those looking for a useful and fun smartphone. For example, it has the ability to stream HD video from Netflix. And it also offers some work-related functionality like access to Quickoffice for documents. It also comes with the Webtop application that turns the phone into a portable PC by docking it into a Lapdock 100 or HD Station. It has an HD front-facing camera that can be used for video conferencing, whether you're chatting with grandma in Idaho or business colleagues in San Francisco. All around it's a good device.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the latest in the Google-driven family of Android phones. And its geared toward the techie, who must have the latest and greatest in Google software. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the first device to get Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. So if you feel that you will need access to the latest and greatest from Google now and in the future, it's probably best to go with the Galaxy Nexus. Not only will it be the first device to offer Ice Cream Sandwich and all the functionality that comes with that software, but it also has a near-field communications or NFC chip embedded, so you'll be able to take advantage of Google's new Google Wallet and Google Offers applications that let you pay for things or redeem coupons or rewards at stores just by tapping your phone to a payment terminal.

One last thing you may want to consider when making your choice is the software "skin" that your phone uses, which is based on the manufacturer. For example, HTC smartphones use HTC Sense software. Motorola phones use MotoBlur . And Samsung phones use TouchWiz. This software is supposed to make each manufacturers devices distinctive. But some customers like some "skins" better than others. Since you've already been an HTC customer with the Thunderbolt, you may feel more comfortable with another HTC product. Or you may have hated the HTC Sense software and would rather try another device maker. The Galaxy Nexus will offer a true Google Android experience, and it likely won't have the Samsung TouchWiz software. So that might be an option if you don't like the added software.

I know that I didn't cover every tiny detail that sets each of these devices apart. But I tried to give you a sense of the big differentiators among them. The best way to know which phone you will like is to go to the store and try them out for yourself. Sometimes the best phone for you is what feels best in your hands.

Good luck!

Update 3:18 p.m. PT: A clarification was added to this story. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus will likely not run the Samsung TouchWiz software, since it is a Google Nexus device, which typically runs the pure Android software.

Will Verizon get more Microsoft Windows Phone smartphones?

Dear Maggie,
I anxiously waited for Nokia World to hear about possible phones coming to the U.S. only to learn that they are still several months away. I'm currently a Verizon Wireless subscriber and would really like a Windows Phone smartphone with a screen that is larger than 4 inches and has an AMOLED screen. Is the HTC Trophy the only phone that's going to be available for the carrier? All the upcoming phones I've heard about all seem to be GSM only.


Dear Anthony,
You are correct. Verizon Wireless is only offering one Microsoft Windows Phone right now, and that's the HTC Trophy. I don't expect the carrier to announce any other Windows Phone devices by the end of this year.

And here is why. Right now there aren't any Windows Phone smartphones that support 4G LTE. And that's a huge thing for Verizon Wireless. It has a huge head start with its 4G LTE network compared to competitors, such as AT&T or Sprint Nextel. So it will likely continue to push customers to sign up for this faster and more efficient service. And that means that from here on, it will likely only sell high-end smartphones that are 4G LTE enabled. (Apple's iPhone 4S is the only big exception.)

You're correct that Nokia's new Lumia phones won't come to the U.S. until next year. But the good news for you and other Verizon Wireless customers is that Nokia has promised that when it launches its Lumia Windows Phone devices in the U.S., that some will support CMDA and 4GS LTE. This means that it's likely going to offer these devices on Verizon Wireless's network. One Nokia executive told me last week at Nokia World in London that the company plans to launch devices next year on both AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

That said, I wouldn't' expect Verizon to jump onto the Windows Phone bandwagon with too many devices at first. Verizon has had a dodgy past with Microsoft. And the company hasn't been keen on launching new Microsoft devices. Instead, Verizon has focused much of its energy on launching Apple's iPhone and a slew of new Google Android devices. So I suspect that Verizon may add Windows Phone smartphones to its lineup a little more slowly than its competitors. My guess is that the company would like to see if Microsoft can make some headway in the market before it invests in a lot of retail shelf space and marketing to promote the new Windows Phone devices.

So if you have your heart set on a Windows Phone from Verizon, and you're looking for a better selection, you may want to sit tight until next year. The Consumer Electronics Show is in early January and there could be some news there.

Thanks for reading my column. And good luck!


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