Android This Week: ThunderBolt Strikes; Wi-Fi Xoom; iPod Touch Rival

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The newest Android phone in the U.S., the HTC ThunderBolt, finally launched on Thursday after weeks of expected availability. The new handset is similar to prior Android devices from HTC with a 4.3-inch 800×480 display, 1GHz processor and HTC’s Sense interface atop Android 2.2. However, this phone is the first that can run on Verizon’s fast LTE mobile broadband network, which based on my tests, can offer download speeds up to 20 Mbps; faster than many home web connections.

The 4G speeds come at a price however: not in terms of the data plan, as Verizon has continued its $30 monthly plan, which is the same charge for a 3G handset. No, the price of fast connectivity comes in the form of a fast battery drain. The first reviews (ours is forthcoming next week) show the ThunderBolt’s battery running dry at little as three hours if used continuously on 4G speeds. And a few early tweets confirm similar battery drains.

Further challenging the issue is the lack of a toggle switch on the ThunderBolt to disable 4G for a fallback to 3G. Such a widget is available on Sprint’s 4G phones and I anticipate one appearing for the ThunderBolt in the very near future. For the time being, users can type in the following code on the phone’s dialer and then choose CDMA Auto to manually make the switch: *#*#4636#*#*

This week also saw the official announcement of Motorola releasing a Wi-Fi only model of its Xoom tablet. The contract-free device arrives later this month at a suggested retail price of $599, although it’s likely that retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Costco and others will discount the Android tablet. That may help boost sales of the Motorola Xoom as people are looking for a lower cost device that carriers no ties to 3G network operators. However, the Xoom still lacks in the applications department for tablet optimized software. At launch, only 16 tablet specific titles were available and at last count, that number is only up to 46 applications. For that reason, among others, the Xoom doesn’t yet appear to be a contender against Apple’s new iPad 2.

But Apple may face competition against its iPod touch in the new Samsung Galaxy Player devices: two new Android media players that double pocketable web browsers. The new 4- and 5-inch Players build off momentum from Samsung’s Galaxy S phone line and share many of the same features. Both have large touchscreen displays, dual cameras, fast processors and access to the Android Market. Without a cellular radio, these handhelds use Wi-Fi for connectivity, which limits where they can be used, but also eliminates carrier contracts and monthly service bills. Samsung is even challenging Apple’s iTunes ecosystem with its own digital stores for music, video and e-book content, all of which make the Galaxy Player a potential alternative to the iPod touch.

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