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Each of the four major U.S. network operators offers a different version of fourth generation--or 4G--wireless broadband. While the carriers may not adhere strictly to what the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) says is legitimate 4G, their 4G networks do offer faster data speeds than their 3G networks.
Looking to capitalize on the investments they've made in building these networks (we're talking tens of billions of dollars here), the operators are each rolling out the first wave of 4G smartphones.
Here are my picks for the best 4G smartphone from each carrier. They each share a number of desirable features, such as huge displays, fast processors, mobile hotspots, HD video capture, and a full suite of software.
AT&T: Samsung Infuse 4G
AT&T's 4G network is a juiced up version of HSPA+ right now. Later, it will graduate to Long Term Evolution 4G in a handful of markets. For now, it is marketing HSPA+ (with enhanced backhaul) as its 4G network.
The best phone available on this network is easily the Samsung Infuse 4G. It's a monster of a phone, with a 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus display and dual-core processor under the hood. Its display dazzles, and the attractive (and very thin!) form factor make it an easy phone to recommend. It offers good media tools, such as camera, music, and video players, and its speedy system performance means it can be used for some heavy lifting. About the only downside is its massive size, making it feel like a dinner plate when used to make phone calls. It costs $199.99 with a new two-year contract.
Sprint: Motorola Photon 4G
Sprint's flavor of 4G is WiMax, which it has been expanding across the country with partner Clearwire. While the future of WiMax is a bit uncertain, that's not stopping Sprint from rolling out solid WiMax hardware.
The Motorola Photon 4G, which hits Sprint this week, out-guns its WiMax peers to take the top WiMax spot. Motorola was able to trim some bulk from this handset and still keep a 4.3-inch display with qHD (540 x 960) resolution. The screen looks great, and it is running a 1-GHz dual-core Tegra 2 chipset, which delivers blazing performance. In addition to WiMax, the Photon 4G is a global handset, which means it can be used by the traveling professional in a number of European and Asian countries. This alone gives it a serious leg-up on the WiMax competition within Sprint's stable of smartphones. It costs $199.99 with a new two-year contract.
T-Mobile: HTC Sensation 4G
Similar to AT&T, T-Mobile is also marketing HSPA+ as 4G. T-Mobile is rolling out speed upgrades to its HSPA+ network at a regular clip, with many markets already upgraded to 21 Mbps and a handful to 42 Mbps. Along with the network upgrades, T-Mobile has steadily rolled out new phones to make use of those speeds.
Leading T-Mobile's HSPA+ pack right now is the HTC Sensation 4G. This powerful handset from HTC has a 4.3-inch qHD (540 x 960) Super LCD and a 1.2-GHz dual-core SnapDragon processor. Aiding the solid hardware is great software from HTC in its Sense 3.0 user interface overlay. HTC's software delivers a great experience and makes what would be a good phone a great phone. Wireless data speeds are fast, the camera works well, and it has top-notch construction and materials. It costs $199.99 with a new two-year contract.
Verizon Wireless: HTC Droid Thunderbolt
Verizon Wireless is deploying a nationwide Long Term Evolution 4G network as we speak. It is already available in 102 markets, and will reach 175 by the end of the year. It is blazing fast when it comes to broadband speeds, and will anchor Verizon's services for probably a decade or more.
Verizon is offering three LTE-equipped phones right now, and HTC's Droid Thunderbolt is the best. HTC did a commendable job in delivering Verizon's first LTE handset, which has a 4.3-inch display, 1-GHz processor, 8-megapixel camera, and solid 3G/4G data performance. This device also has HTC's Sense 3.0 user interface, which makes is a joy to use. Everything about the Thunderbolt is top notch. It costs $249.99 with a new two-year contract.
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