Android this week: $29 smartphones; Droid Bionic arrives; Netflix updated

This week saw both a $29 and a $299 Android phone launch, showing the extreme range of handsets that run Google’s mobile platform; something that’s helping it grow smartphone market share. Although there’s a wide variance in the price between the two, both are capable of connecting consumers to fast mobile broadband networks, a large app store, and social networks. The difference is in the experience.

Huawei’s Impulse 4G for AT&T(s t) is aimed at current feature phone users looking to step up to the smartphone world. At $29 with contract, you wouldn’t expect much in the way of hardware, but the device has some hardware features that were standard on more expensive phones last year: A 3.8-inch 800×480 touchscreen, 5 megapixel camera with HD recording capability, and GPS to name a few. The 800 MHz processor won’t set any speed records, but should be good enough for most tasks on a first-time smartphone.

At the other end of the spectrum is Verizon’s new Droid Bionic, made by Motorola.(s mmi) For $299 with contract, the handset is generally considered to be cutting-edge; at least for a few months, given the fast paced mobile technology cycle, particularly with Android phones. The phone’s 4.3-inch display uses a 960×540 resolution display, is powered by a 1 GHz dual-core processor with a full gigabyte of memory, has 32 GB of storage out of the box and connects to Verizon’s(s vz) LTE network.

I’ve only spent a short time using a review unit of the Bionic, so I can only share some initial impressions for now. Overall, the phone is fast and responsive. The camera may be the best yet in Motorola smartphone. And so far, the Bionic handles network transitions reasonably well: it has switched between 3G and 4G networks (due to coverage) faster than other LTE devices I’ve used in the past.

The Bionic has a number of docking accessories, including the one that looks like a laptop but is powered by the phone, offering expansion options. I’ll have more thoughts in a detailed review soon, but for now, I’m generally impressed with the Bionic.

I’m also impressed with Netflix for Android, but the problem for many has been one of device support. When Netflix finally launched in May of this year for Android phones, it was only available for a half-dozen handsets. At that time, the company said it would have to test the software on each individual phone model.

That seems to have changed this past week as Netflix updated the application, saying it can now run on any Android 2.2 or 2.3 device. At last check, 81.9 percent of Android devices hitting the Android Market ran those two versions, meaning around 4 of every 5 current Android phones and small tablets can enjoy Netflix on the go.