There’s much to like about Apple’s newly unveiled iPhone 4, notably its front-facing camera for video calls, high-resolution Retina Display screen and thin form factor housed in glass and stainless steel. But not everyone wants an iPhone, either due to the lock-in to Apple’s software ecosystem, issues with AT&T’s network or some other reason. Spec for spec, no two phones are exactly alike, but below are eight (two from each major U.S. carrier) of the best iPhone alternatives either currently or soon to be available. While they may fall short by comparison in some areas, they rival or exceed in others.
HTC Incredible ($199) — This is the current flagship phone for Verizon, and with good reason. The 3.7-inch, 800×480 touchscreen is slightly bigger than that of the iPhone 4 and while it doesn’t offer a high-resolution Retina Display, it’s still stunning thanks to OLED technology. The Incredible comes with 8 GB of internal memory but can also use memory cards containing up to 32 GB. It also sports an FM radio — a feature that iPhone 4 lacks. HTC included a beefy 8-megapixel camera with auto-focus and dual flash, so stills or video are a snap, although it can’t yet do full 720p video like the iPhone 4. One negative: that OLED screen is difficult to see in direct sunlight.
Palm Pre Plus ($49.99) — At $50, you’re paying a lot less than you would for an iPhone 4, but you get a solid smartphone experience. Pre Plus offers a touchscreen with the same resolution as prior iPhones but also includes a slide-out keyboard for text entry. The device runs on the webOS platform, an interface that rivals or exceeds that of Apple. And long before the iPhone gained multitasking — it’s arriving in a limited form with the new iPhone — the Pre Plus multitasks with ease; programs run as “cards” that can be swapped around or flicked off the screen to close an app. The phone also provides a notification system like the iPhone for incoming messages and upcoming appointments, but it’s far less intrusive. Another huge plus: Verizon includes a free mobile hotspot service with 5 GB of data included, allowing you to share the 3G connection with five Wi-Fi devices. One downside to this phone is a vastly smaller number of software titles available — a few thousand as compared to the 250,000 in Apple’s iTunes App Store.
HTC HD2 ($179) — One of the first phones to use a peppy 1 GHz Qualcomm processor, the HD2 is thin and all screen — the 800×480 touchscreen is a whopping 4.3 inches. HTC developed a touch-friendly interface called HTC Sense for the HD2, which runs atop Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system. That opens up the device to a large number of third-party applications and great integration with other Microsoft products such as Office, but Windows Mobile is in need of an overhaul. Still, when paired with HTC Sense on a big screen and a fast processor under the hood, this is a contender, as shown in our hands-on video overview. And it’s one of the first Windows Mobile devices to use a capacitive display, not a resistive one, like the iPhone. Although Microsoft is releasing the new Windows Phone 7 operating system later this year, the HD2 is not slated at this time to receive an upgrade to the new platform.
myTouch 3G Slide ($179) — The latest Android 2.1 handset to arrive on T-Mo looks like last year’s model model with a keyboard and optical trackpad added, but it’s much more. Three software features take it beyond the iPhone in some ways: extensive voice control, social network updates from favorite contacts and multiple phone themes that automatically switch based on time or location. The phone has access to more than 50,000 applications in the Android Market and T-Mobile offers its own App Pack for the device. Although the Slide has a full 3.4-inch touchscreen, the 4-row QWERTY keyboard is highly usable for those that prefer a hardware keyboard. Like the HD2, this phone has the Sense user interface, which hides some of Android’s blandness. The myTouch 3G Slide doesn’t run on the fastest available phone processor, but it keeps up quite admirably in everyday use and can use T-Mobile’s speedy HSPA+ network.
HTC EVO 4G ($199) — The EVO offers something that no iPhone has, or will likely have for at least a full year: access to a fast, next-generation network. This 4G phone connects to Sprint’s WiMAX network, offering real-world speeds that are roughly three times greater than today’s 3G phones. Like the HD2, the EVO has a generous 4.3-inch display and like the iPhone, can record 720p video thanks to the 8-megapixel camera and speedy processor. Like many other Android phones built by HTC, the EVO offers the pretty Sense interface. A front-facing camera for video calling and the ability to use the device as a 3G or 4G mobile hotspot are key advantages, but be forewarned: Using the device on 4G eats up the battery far quicker than most would like. See our recent review for more details about the EVO.
HTC TouchPro 2 ($199) — This handset is a bit long in the tooth, but it’s one of the better Windows Mobile touchscreen devices on the market, plus it offers a stellar, 5-row slide-out keyboard and the best speakerphone I’ve ever used. It comes with Microsoft Office Mobile for productivity, but can still play your favorite audio and video clips when it’s time for fun. Even though it’s an older model, it does have a high-resolution, 3.6-inch display and 3.2-megapixel camera. I especially like how the 800×480 screen tilts forward, so you don’t need a stand when watching media. The biggest downside is that this phone is unlikely to see any future upgrades from Microsoft and given that, it’s priced high compared to newer, more powerful handsets.
Dell Streak (TBD) — This tablet-like phone is due out for a late summer launch and could be worth waiting for. The Streak is big, with a 5-inch touchscreen display, but that size brings a better experience for reading, browsing or watching media. Like many other manufacturers today, Dell opts to use Google’s Android platform for the phone, but also created an in-house, finger-friendly shell for it. The Streak also offers two cameras: 5 megapixels in the back and a lower-quality sensor for the front, to be used for video chatting. The Streak also supports the fastest AT&T 3G speeds currently available, just like iPhone 4. Unfortunately, Dell is planning to ship the Streak with Android 1.6, which is already outdated. The device can still access most software in the Android Market and with the user interface shell, it may not matter much. The question now is: Will you want to hold a 5-inch phone to your ear or rely on a Bluetooth headset for all of your calls?
iPhone 3GS ($149 -$199) — What’s this? Last year’s iPhone is an alternative to this year’s iPhone? For those who want to save some up-front money when purchasing an iPhone it is. The iPhone 3GS is still an excellent device and will actually gain many features of the iPhone 4 thanks to an Apple software upgrade expected later this month. That upgrade will teach the old iPhone to do new tricks like running multiple applications at one time or in the background, organizing apps with folders and creating music playlists. Most all of the iPhone 4 software features will work on the older iPhone, the only exceptions being where there’s a hardware limitation. If a higher-resolution display and front-facing camera aren’t on your “must have” list, for example, the less expensive iPhone 3GS just might work for you this year — especially if you expect next year’s iPhone to run on a faster network.
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