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Monday, January 5, 2009

Battle of the Touch-Screen Smartphones

The iPhone may have started the touch-screen smartphone trend, but these days, there's no shortage of competition. Which handset is right for you?

After years of fiddly devices that required a stylus to operate, the time is finally right to buy a touch-screen smartphone. The tipping point came when Apple shook up the market with the finger-friendly iPhone. Since then, competitors have popped up all over the place.

Several early iPhone clones were nothing more than thinly disguised feature phones. The LG Dare, for example, is a slick and powerful touch option on Verizon, even though it sports a screen with lower resolution than that of the iPhone. Similarly, the Samsung Instinct is a solid, inexpensive choice for Sprint subscribers. And the Instinct is a better deal today for two reasons: It now works with the excellent Opera Mini 4.2 browser, and Sprint added over-the-air calendar sync with Microsoft Outlook and Exchange via the carrier's new Mobile Email WORK service.

The Dare and the Instinct aren't true smartphones, however, so they are of little consequence to someone looking for a handset that can support native third-party applications. If you want a touch-screen smartphone, though, you still have plenty of options. In addition to its touch screen, the T-Mobile G1, the first real Google Android smartphone, sports a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The BlackBerry Storm 9530, meanwhile, is the first touch-screen BlackBerry ever and offers a unique spin on the touch interface with its click-enabled LCD. Other companies have also followed suit, with touch-screen Windows Mobile handsets like the slider HTC Touch Pro and the iPhone-esque Samsung Omnia, both of which put a finger-friendly face on the notoriously finicky WM interface. Even Nokia has entered the fray after years of keyboarded smart devices with the Symbian-based 5800 XPressMusic.

See how the features on these touch-screen smartphones stack up side by side, or click through to the full reviews below.

Smartphones Featured in This Roundup

iPhone 3GApple iPhone 3G (AT&T)
Editors' Choice Logo
With the advent of the App Store, the iPhone 3G is now a full-fledged handheld computing platform. It's also a great iPod and—finally—a decent-sounding voice phone. This second-gen version adds high-speed data access, a true GPS radio, and an improved 3.5mm headphone jack. (It's also half the price of the original iPhone.)

BlackBerry Storm 9530 : FrontBlackBerry Storm 9530 (Verizon Wireless)

The Storm's innovative touch screen acts like one giant mouse button that clicks when you press it. That's good for some things, but typing sure feels weird; this one is definitely a try-before-you-buy handset. It's a genuine BlackBerry otherwise, with powerful push e-mail for up to ten accounts. Interface oddities and some bugs aside, the Storm is a gorgeous smartphone.

HTC Touch Pro HTC Touch Pro (Sprint)

The Touch Pro is probably the best example of HTC's TouchFLO-equipped smart devices. Its slick, five-row keyboard and full VGA screen are huge pluses. Unfortunately, its sluggish, obstinate Windows Mobile roots drag it down—even though the Touch Pro offers the same powerful document-editing and synchronization capabilities as other Microsoft-based handsets.

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic Contact HistoryNokia 5800 XPressMusic (Unlocked)
Nokia's first touch-screen smartphone offers some unique features, but like Research in Motion, Nokia didn't get everything right on its first outing. Still, the 5800 is a capable voice phone that works with Nokia's unique (and free) Comes With Music service. (Note: In the case of the 5800 XPressMusic, we reviewed a prerelease model; the final version is expected to hit stores within a few weeks.)

Samsung Omnia SCH-i910 (Verizon Wireless)Samsung Omnia SCH-i910 (Verizon Wireless)

Verizon's version of the Samsung Omnia is much better than the expensive, buggy, unlocked model we first reviewed in early fall. The Omnia's 5-megapixel camera, video-recording capabilities, and strong Opera Web browser mark it as a powerful multimedia phone—even if its interface isn't all that responsive.

T-Mobile G1 T-Mobile G1 (T-Mobile)

Android, Google's long-awaited open-source mobile OS, has finally hit the market in the guise of the T-Mobile G1, a slider smartphone that looks a lot like the carrier's popular Sidekick. The G1 features a solid Web browser, good call quality, and excellent integration with Google's various services. It needs more software on the multimedia side before it will catch the class leaders, though.