Giving the gift of wireless: The 2011 guide to holiday smartphones from Tier 1 U.S. operators

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The holiday shopping season unofficially begins Nov. 25--Black Friday. In anticipation of the start of the season, FierceWireless assembled this holiday smartphone guide to provides details on the marketing and features for the top smartphones and tablets the Tier 1 wireless carriers will be promoting.

Every year the focus on smartphones and tablets (and their attendant data plans) has increased, which is why we have focused exclusively on these devices. This list is by no means exhaustive. (And don't forget to see how this year's holiday handsets stack up against last year's list.)

There are several themes that emerge when looking at the list. The most obvious is that three Tier 1 carriers--Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and now Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S)--are supporting Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone. T-Mobile USA, left out of the iPhone sweepstakes, is focusing much of its holiday marketing firepower on Android devices, which have accounted for the bulk of its device sales this year. At the same time, Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) is trying to make a splash with its BlackBerry 7 devices in advance of its BBX phones coming next year, and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is hoping its Windows Phone Mango devices can find traction in a crowded market.

It's going to be a busy holiday season, so here's a glance at how things stack up. --Phil

 

Click here for Verizon Wireless' holiday handsets.

Click here for AT&T Mobility's holiday handsets.

Click here for Sprint Nextel's holiday handsets.

Click here for T-Mobile USA's holiday handsets.

 

 


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Apple iPhone 4S

htc droid eris
pictures and specs

Price: $199.99 for the 16GB model, $299.99 for the 32GB model and $399.99 for the 64GB model, with a two-year contract.

Features: The iPhone 4S sports a dual-core Apple A5 processor, an 8-megapixel camera with advanced optics and full 1080p HD resolution video recording. The iPhone 4S also features Siri technology, which enables iOS device users to employ natural spoken language to access and perform device tasks like mobile search, messaging and contacts. The iPhone 4S will support both GSM and CDMA networks. However, only iPhones activated for Verizon and Sprint will have the CDMA capabilities turned on. Additionally, CDMA iPhone 4S users will not be able to have simultaneous voice and data access, but will be able to roam on GSM networks.

Positioning:Verizon’s marketing of the iPhone centers on an old standby for the carrier: its network quality. The device finally gives Verizon true parity with AT&T on the iPhone front since the iPhone 4S for Verizon supports both CDMA and GSM roaming, and Verizon and AT&T launched the device at the same time. The iPhone 4S might be more attractive to current Verizon customers than those thinking of switching to the carrier because of Verizon’s lack of support for HSDPA 14.4, which AT&T’s version has.

Apple iPad 2

pictures and specs

Price: $499 for the 16 GB version with Wi-Fi, $599 for the 32 GB version with Wi-Fi and $699 for 64 GB version with Wi-Fi (add $130 to those price points for 3G connectivity).

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Features: The iPad 2 features a dual-core A5 processor, which Apple claims provides nine times the graphics performance of the original iPad. The device also provides 10 hours of battery life, is 33 percent thinner than the original at 8.8 mm, and has front-facing and rear-facing cameras for capturing video and conducting FaceTime calls. It also sports a gyroscope.

Positioning: For Verizon, the iPad 2 represents another opportunity to compete with AT&T at parity. Last year when Verizon launched the original iPad it did not have built-in cellular connectivity as an option and came bundled with a MiFi product from Verizon.

HTC Rezound

htc imagio
pictures and specs

Price:$299.99 with a two-year contract

Features: The LTE-capable Rezound runs on Android Gingerbread but will be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich in early 2012. The device sports a 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 4.3-inch true HD 720p display, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of on-board storage with a 16 GB SD card pre-installed, HDMI and the ability to share an LTE connection with up to 10 Wi-Fi-enabled devices. The device also features the latest version of HTC's Sense UI, which supports a customizable active lockscreen experience as well as a new group messaging function.

Positioning: Verizon is pushing the Rezound as a high-end multimedia device, especially for music. The Rezound is the first U.S. phone featuring the Beats Audio technology in which HTC invested in August, and will support a high-end audio experience and come with new lightweight Beats headphones, created exclusively to integrate with the Beats' audio profile on the device.

Motorola Mobility Droid Razr

moto droid
pictures and specs

Price: $299.99 with a two-year contract

Features: The Droid Razr supports LTE and runs on Android's 2.3 Gingerbread software, has a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED qHD display, a dual-core 1.2 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, 8-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video recording and several enterprise features, including remote wipe, pin lock and government-grade encryption for email, calendar and contacts as well as voice and video chat conferencing. In keeping with the Razr's legacy, the device is quite thin at 7.1 mm and has a scratch and damage-resistant Gorilla Glass screen.

Positioning: Verizon and Motorola are updating the popular Razr brand and device from 2004 to the smartphone age by having it run on Google's Android platform. Additionally, Motorola specifically highlighted features that might appeal to enterprise users. The device supports Smart Actions, which allows users to proactively shut off unneeded applications and functionality more seamlessly, saving up to 30 percent battery life. Additionally, the Droid Razr features a new service called MotoCast, which allows users to create a personal, secure cloud via a PC client that can be installed from the phone. Users can connect the phone to a PC with a USB cable, create a secure account, and select the files they want to share.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus
storm
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Price: Unknown

Features: The Galaxy Nexus sports high-end hardware in addition to its bleeding-edge software (it is the first Android phone to run Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Android). The Galaxy Nexus runs a dual-core 1.2 GHz Texas Instruments OMAP processor, has a 4.65-inch HD Super AMOLED screen, 5-megapixel rear camera with zero shutter lag and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera and Wi-Fi and support for Near Field Communications.

Positioning: Verizon is putting itself at the head of the Android pack by supporting a lead “pure Google” device, which Google uses as a platform to highlight the best the software has to offer. Ice Cream Sandwich is designed to run on both smartphones and tablets and is intended to bridge the gap that was opened up with Android 3.0, or Honeycomb, which was specifically designed for tablets.



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Apple iPhone 4S

htc droid eris
pictures and specs

Price: $199.99 for the 16GB model, $299.99 for the 32GB model and $399.99 for the 64GB model, with a two-year contract. Features: The iPhone 4S sports a dual-core Apple A5 processor, an 8-megapixel camera with advanced optics and full 1080p HD resolution video recording. The iPhone 4S also features Siri technology, which enables iOS device users to employ natural spoken language to access and perform device tasks like mobile search, messaging and contacts. The iPhone 4S will support both GSM and CDMA networks. However, only iPhones activated for Verizon and Sprint will have the CDMA capabilities turned on. Additionally, CDMA iPhone 4S users will not be able to have simultaneous voice and data access, but will be able to roam on GSM networks.

Positioning: AT&T positioned itself as the premier iPhone carrier mainly because of its data network. AT&T’s HSPA network provides faster speeds than the CDMA EV-DO networks of Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and C Spire Wireless. AT&T’s iPhone also supports simultaneous calling and data.

Apple iPad 2
ipad 2
pictures and specs

Price: $499 for the 16 GB version with Wi-Fi, $599 for the 32 GB version with Wi-Fi and $699 for 64 GB version with Wi-Fi (add $130 to those price points for 3G connectivity).

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Features: The iPad 2 features a dual-core A5 processor, which Apple claims provides nine times the graphics performance of the original iPad. The device also provides 10 hours of battery life, is 33 percent thinner than the original at 8.8 mm, and has front-facing and rear-facing cameras for capturing video and conducting FaceTime calls. It also sports a gyroscope.

Positioning: Despite dozens of competitors, the iPad remains the most dominant tablet in the market, and AT&T continues to push it not only to get those data customers but to potentially feed more desire for other tablets in its lineup.

HTC Titan


pictures and specs

Price: $199.99 with a two-year contract

Features: The Titan runs on Windows Phone 7.5 Mango and sports a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Scorpion processor as well as a massive 4.7-inch screen with 480x800 resolution. The device also has an 8-megapixel camera that can capture 720p video as well as a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera. Positioning: The Titan is AT&T’s premier Windows Phone Mango device, and its expansive screen, which may be too big for some, is definitely geared toward multimedia and video. AT&T even jokes that its “probably bigger than the TV you have at home.”

HTC Vivid

htc tilt 2
pictures and specs

Price: $199.99 with a two-year contract

Features: The HTC Vivid runs on the Gingerbread version of Google's Android platform and sports a dual-core 1.2 GHz processor, 4.5-inch qHD display, enhanced 8-megapixel camera with f2.2 28mm wide-angle lens for low-light photos, 1080p HD video recording and 16 GB of internal memory with a microSD slot capable of holding up to 32 GB.

Positioning: The Vivid, along with the Samsung Skyrocket, is one of AT&T’s first two LTE smartphones. AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega has said that AT&T’s LTE smartphones will be thinner and more power-efficient than current LTE smartphones on the market, so the Vivid is one of AT&T’s chances to prove that out. AT&T’s LTE phones will be going head-to-head in some markets with Verizon Wireless’ LTE smartphones, though Verizon has far more expansive LTE coverage than AT&T does.  

Research In Motion BlackBerry Torch 9860

blackberry bold 9700
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Price: $99.99 with a two-year contract

Features: The device sports a 1.2 GHz  Qualcomm processor, support for AT&T’s HSPA+ network, a 3.7-inch display, 5-megapixel camera, HD video recording, 24-bit high resolution graphics and advanced sensors for augmented reality applications.

Positioning: The Torch 9860, an update to RIM’s flagship Torch model from 2010, is one of RIM’s flagship BlackBerry 7 devices, designed to be a bridge between now and when the company launches its BBX smartphones early next year. The new phones all run on a refreshed version of RIM's operating system software, BlackBerry 7, which RIM said is 40 percent faster than BlackBerry 6 and up to 100 percent faster than BlackBerry 5. Additionally, the all-touch Torch 9860 is AT&T's first all-touch BlackBerry smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket

blackberry bold 9700
pictures and specs

Price: $249.99 with a two-year contract

Features: The Skyrocket runs on Gingerbread and has a dual-core 1.5 GHz processor, 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus display, 8-megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, 1080p HD video recording and 16 GB of internal memory with a microSD slot capable of holding up to 32 GB.

Positioning: The Skyrocket, along with the HTC Vivid, is one of AT&T’s first two LTE smartphones. AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega has said that AT&T’s LTE smartphones will be thinner and more power-efficient than current LTE smartphones on the market, so the Skyrocket is one of AT&T’s chances to prove that out. AT&T’s LTE phones also will be going head-to-head in some markets with Verizon Wireless’ LTE smartphones, though Verizon has far more expansive LTE coverage than AT&T does. Interestingly, AT&T is trying to entice customers to snag the device by pairing it with the LTE-enabled Samsung GalaxyTab 8.9. When customers buy the tablet they will receive a free Skyrocket or HSPA+ Samsung Galaxy S II smartphone. Both require a two-year contract.


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Apple iPhone 4S

htc droid eris
pictures and specs

Price: $199.99 for the 16GB model, $299.99 for the 32GB model and $399.99 for the 64GB model, with a two-year contract. Features: The iPhone 4S sports a dual-core Apple A5 processor, an 8-megapixel camera with advanced optics and full 1080p HD resolution video recording. The iPhone 4S also features Siri technology, which enables iOS device users to employ natural spoken language to access and perform device tasks like mobile search, messaging and contacts. The iPhone 4S will support both GSM and CDMA networks. However, only iPhones activated for Verizon and Sprint will have the CDMA capabilities turned on. Additionally, CDMA iPhone 4S users will not be able to have simultaneous voice and data access, but will be able to roam on GSM networks. Positioning: The iPhone is unquestionably Sprint’s new hero device, and likely will be for some time. The company right now is positioning its iPhone as the only one that comes with a truly unlimited smartphone data plan. Although Sprint is investigating reports that some iPhone 4S customers on its network have been experiencing slower-than-expected data speeds, Sprint clearly hopes the device will have a monster holiday quarter; the company, did, after all, ink a four-year $15.5 billion deal with Apple for the gadget.

HTC Evo Design 4G

Palm Pixi
pictures and specs

Price: $99.99 with a two-year contract and $50 mail-in rebate

Features: The device is a slimmed down version of the original HCT Evo 4G, and is a world phone in addition to having access to Clearwire’s mobile WiMAX network. The device runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, has a 4-inch qHD display, 1.2 GHz processor, 5-megapixel camera and 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera and can also connect up to eight Wi-Fi-enabled devices with mobile hotspot functionality.

Positioning: The Evo Design is Sprint’s latest incarnation of the Evo brand and is also Sprint’s attempt to take the brand down market without compromising too much on specifications or user experience.  

HTC Evo View 4G
Palm Pre
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Price: $399.99 with a  two-year contract

Features: The Evo View tablet, first introduced to Sprint in March, runs on Android 2.4 and features a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 7-inch screen with 1024x600 resolution, 5-megapixel camera and 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera for video chatting, and 32 GB of internal storage. Both the Evo 3D and the Evo View have the ability to serve as mobile hotspots by sharing a WiMAX connection with up to 8
Wi-Fi-enabled devices.

Positioning: Although it’s getting a little long in the tooth, the Evo View is still Sprint’s premier tablet offering. One of the main selling points of the Flyer is HTC's Scribe technology. The tablet comes with a pen and has e-ink technology throughout the UI design, allowing users to write notes via their own handwriting. For instance, users can write on a web page and share that page with friends.

Motorola Mobility Photon 4G

Research In Motion BlackBerry Curve 8530
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Price: $199.99 with a two-year contract

Features: The Motorola Photon 4G supports Clearwire’s mobile WiMAX network and also sports a dual-core 1 GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor. The device runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and features a 4.3-inch qHD display, 16 GB of memory and webtop connectivity, similar to the Motorola Atrix from AT&T and Droid Bionic from Verizon Wireless.

Positioning: The Photon is the flagship product of Sprint and Motorola’s Android relationship, which was announced with much fanfare in June. The Photon is Motorola’s attempt to broaden its reach of “hero” devices beyond Verizon and AT&T and is also another way for Sprint to showcase its 4G device lineup.

Research In Motion BlackBerry Bold 9930

blackberry tour
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Price: $199.99 with a two-year contract (online)

Features: The Bold 9930 is another one of RIM’s flagship BlackBerry 7 devices. The super-thin device sports a 1.2GHz processor, Wi-Fi capability, built-in compass, Near Field Communication technology as well as HD video recording, 24-bit high resolution graphics and advanced sensors for augmented reality applications.

Positioning: For Sprint, the Bold 9930 is one of the most high-profile BlackBerry devices the carrier has launched in a while, and is also another avenue for RIM to show off its wares. The device is also a world phone, which should appeal to enterprise users.

Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch

Samsung Intrepid
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Price: $199.99 with a two-year contract

Features: The WiMAX variant of Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S II line, this device is 0.4-inches thick, runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, has a 4.52-inch Super AMOLED Plus display and a Samsung 1.2 GHz dual-core processor. 

Positioning: Samsung is positioning all of its Galaxy S II devices for the U.S. market as sleek, entertainment-focused powerhouses, and with Sprint adding a dash of “4G” the device is being touted as ideal for video and other HD multimedia.


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HTC Amaze 4GMotorola Cliq
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Price: $259.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in-rebate card Features: The Amaze 4G runs Android 2.3.4 and features a 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 4.3-inch qHD super LCD display and NFC capabilities. T-Mobile also boasted of the device's camera, which is equipped with an 8-megapixel resolution and 1080p HD video recorder, a backside illuminated sensor for improved low light performance, zero shutter lag and a dual LED flash.

Positioning: The Amaze 4G, along with the Samsung Galaxy S II, is one of T-Mobile’s first HSPA+ 42 devices, designed to take advantage of the fastest speeds possible on the company’s network. The device is also one of T-Mobile’s Android answers to the fact that it still does not offer Apple’s iPhone. T-Mobile has also gone out of its way to highlight the device’s camera.  

HTC Radar 4G

blackberry bold
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Price: $99.99 with a two-year contract and a $50 mail-in rebate

 

Features: This Windows Phone 7.5 Mango device has a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, support for T-Mobile’s HSPA+21 network, 5-megapixel rear camera and a front-facing camera for video chatting, the ability to record 720p HD video and access to T-Mobile TV.

Positioning: The Radar is
T-Mobile’s flagship Windows Phone Mango device and is Microsoft’s best chance at breaking into a very Android-dominated carrier. The good thing for Microsoft and HTC is that the Radar is positioned and priced as a mass-market smartphone, which could help lift sales.

Research In Motion BlackBerry Bold 9900 4G

Samsung Behold II
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Price: $299.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate

Features: The Bold 9900 is T-Mobile’s first BlackBerry to support HSPA+ network technology. The device features a 1.2 GHz processor, a 5-megapixel camera and can play and record 720p HD video. It also offers new “Liquid Graphics” and supports Near Field Communications technology.

Positioning: Another one of RIM’s BlackBerry 7 devices, the Bold 9900 can take advantage of T-Mobile’s fast network speeds. But it is being pushed at a carrier crowded with Android devices.

T-Mobile (Huawei) SpringBoard myTouch 3G Fender Limited Edition
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Price: $179.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate.

Features: The Huawei-made SpringBoard is powered by Android 3.2 Honeycomb, supports T-Mobile’s HSPA+21 network and T-Mobile TV, and runs a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor. It also has an SD card slot that accommodates up to 32 GB of expandable memory, a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and video recorder with 720p for HD video capture as well as a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera.

Positioning: One of a growing line of tablets at T-Mobile (which includes the LG G-Slate and Samsung GalaxyTab 10.1), the SpringBoard represents a mass-market tablet opportunity for T-Mobile because of its price point. It is also Huawei’s chance to break further into the U.S. device market with Tier 1 carriers, even though its brand is not being marketed.

Samsung Galaxy S II

myTouch 3G Fender Limited Edition
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Price: $229.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in-rebate card

Features: The device features a dual-core 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, sports a 4.52-inch Super AMOLED Plus touch screen, the largest screen available on a T-Mobile smartphone, and has DLNA compatibility and HDMI out capabilities, allowing users to view the phone's content on compatible HD TVs.

Positioning: The Galaxy s II, along with the HTC Amaze, is one of T-Mobile’s first HSPA+ 42 devices, designed to take advantage of the fastest speeds possible on the company’s network. The device is also one of T-Mobile’s Android answers to the fact that it still does not offer Apple’s iPhone. T-Mobile has highlighted the Galaxy s II’s entertainment-focused features, including access to Samsung Media Hub.