By Phil Goldstein
The fourth quarter is here and the world's largest handset makers have spent the past several weeks unveiling the smartphones that they hope consumers will snap up during the holiday shopping season. Thus, it's worth taking a moment to make sense of what has been announced and to evaluate the key flagship phones that will be competing for the hearts (and wallets) of consumers.
After all, the holiday season is typically the most important selling season for smartphone manufacturers.
Nokia (NYSE:NOK) was the first to the party when on Sept. 5 it unveiled the Lumia 920 and 820, its first phones running Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone 8 software. Later that day Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Motorola Mobility unit announced three new phones in the Droid Razr line, bound exclusively for Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) in the United States.
Then Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) made headlines around the world a week later on Sept. 12 when it announced the iPhone 5, a taller, thinner, faster version of the iPhone, and Apple's first LTE smartphone.
HTC joined the party in mid-September when it announced, in partnership with Microsoft, the high-end Windows Phone 8X and the mid-range Windows Phone 8S. In something of a swipe at Microsoft partner Nokia, HTC noted it would jointly promote the phones with Microsoft, and they would be "signature" Windows Phone 8 devices. That led to a bit of sniping from Chris Weber, Nokia's head of sales and marketing, who said that "while others may choose to tactically re-brand their products, Nokia is driving an industry-leading smartphone franchise--that we call Lumia--exclusively around Windows Phone."
The stage is now set. Microsoft and its hardware vendors will continue to push Windows Phone in the hopes that the platform will catch on with consumers. Meantime, Google and its Android partners hope to maintain their momentum in the market with increasingly powerful and innovative Android smarpthones. And everyone will be trying to blunt the energy of Apple, which sold five million iPhone 5s in its first weekend of availability, one million more units than it sold of the iPhone 4S in that device's first weekend of availability last year.
With that in mind, here is a quick primer on the hottest smartphones for the fourth quarter. A few caveats: This list is obviously not exhaustive, but it's a representative sample of the high-end smartphones that are either on the market right now or soon will be. Additionally, the list contains only smartphones that have either be announced for the U.S. market or likely will be sold by carriers in the U.S. by year-end. We have broken down the major pros and cons for each device, primarily based around their positioning in the market.
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