A quick guide to "4G" phones

Figuring out what?s what with the oft-confusing "4G" labe

Now that every carrier is allowed to refer to their wireless network as "4G," we're being bombarded every day with "4G" phones. But as we've shown in the past not all "4G" networks are created equally, as Verizon's LTE network for the time being is delivering significantly faster speeds than the competition and will likely remain the fastest mobile data network until AT&T comes out with its own LTE network this summer. With that in mind, we've created this handy guide to 4G smartphones – all of which are based on the Android operating system right now – to help you look past the marketing rhetoric and learn what to really expect from these phones.

Motorola ATRIX 4G

Motorola ATRIX 4G
Carrier:
AT&T
Connectivity: HSPA+

Why it’s relevant: The Atrix's most interesting feature is its ability to integrate its screen, applications and capabilities to a desktop computer. AT&T offers the ATRIX along with a laptop dock to let users hook the smartphone up to a big-screen monitor and a physical keyboard.

Like all other "4G" devices on AT&T and T-Mobile, the ATRIX 4G uses HSPA+, an advanced version of the GSM-based 3G HSPA standard that delivers significantly higher speeds than its predecessor. Whereas older HSPA networks would typically deliver mobile download speeds of under 1Mbps, tests have generally delivered download speeds in the 2Mbps to 4Mbps range.

T-Mobile G2X

T-Mobile G2X
Carrier:
T-Mobile
Connectivity: HSPA+

Why it's relevant: The G2x features an NVIDIA Tegra 2 AP20H dual-core 1GHz processor that will give it serious power to runs apps and games. T-Mobile is billing it as a good phone for mobile gamers with its 3D graphics, its 32 GB of expandable memory and its 4-inch screen with an 800x400 pixel resolution. Other great specs include 1080p HD video capture, 720p video recording and an 8 megapixel camera.

HTC Thunderbolt

HTC Thunderbolt
Carrier:
Verizon
Connectivity: LTE

Why it's relevant: As Verizon's first-ever LTE phone, the Thunderbolt delivers quite a punch, routinely delivering average download speeds of 6Mbps or higher. But while Verizon's LTE network really does deliver the goods for speedy data, anyone buying an LTE phone right now should know that they're in for a big drop-off when their device goes out of 4G range and has to switch back to Verizon's 3G EV-DO Rev. A network, which delivers roughly one-tenth the speeds of its LTE service.

HTC EVO Shift 4G

HTC EVO Shift 4G
Carrier:
Sprint
Connectivity: WiMAX

Why it's relevant: The original EVO 4G, released by Sprint last year, was the first WiMAX-based phone in the U.S. and became a solid hit for the carrier. Sprint is trying to replicate that success this year with the EVO Shift model, which is much like the original but with the key addition of a slide-out keyboard added to the mix.

Although Sprint's WiMAX network isn't as speedy as Verizon's LTE network, it does deliver a solid download rate of between 3Mbps and 6Mbps. The long-term trouble for Sprint, however, is that device manufacturers will be more willing to make LTE devices in the future since Sprint is the only U.S. carrier to support WiMAX as its next-generation standard.

Samsung Infuse 4G

Samsung Infuse 4G
Carrier: AT&T
Connectivity: HSPA+

Why it's relevant: This is a solid all-around device as far as specs are concerned: A large 4.5-inch touchscreen with a 480x800 pixel resolution, an 8 megapixel camera and a single-core Hummingbird 1.2GHz processor. If that's not enough for you, Gizmodo's Matt Buchanan calls the device "the new blueprint for building an Android phone." Sounds good to us.

Nexus S 4G

Nexus S 4G
Carrier:
Sprint
Connectivity: WiMAX

Why it's relevant: The Nexus smartphone series – which is a joint project between Samsung and Google – hasn't exactly set the world on fire in terms of sales. That doesn't mean, however, that Nexus phones are slouches in any way and Sprint's Nexus S 4G is no exception. The device acts as a showcase for the future integration of Google applications into Sprint smartphones. Among other things, the phone comes preloaded with Google Voice, Google Earth, Google Calendar, Gmail and ... OK, you get the point. There's a lot of Google on this puppy.

Samsung Droid Charge

Samsung Droid Charge
Carrier:
Verizon
Connectivity: LTE

Why it's relevant: The Droid Charge is the second LTE-based Verizon phone and the first one manufactured by Samsung. There's nothing that really stands out about the device – as CNET notes, the Charge is "not the prettiest or most advanced smartphone, but the Samsung Droid Charge takes advantage of Verizon's great 4G data speeds, while offering decent battery life." And since LTE has a habit of being a power vampire on mobile devices, having a smartphone with a good battery is a big plus.

We want to hear from YOU! Do you have a favorite 4G phone? Or are you waiting for LTE phones to suck up less battery life? Let us know in the comments!

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