Superphone Shootout, round 2: What’s the best smartphone for the summer?

It’s barely been a month since we rolled out the first Superphone Shootout but the smartphone market has become even better. We’ll take a look at the hottest devices on all the major carriers and break down the pros and cons and each.

Motorola Droid X
$199 on a new, two-year contract with Verizon Wireless (available July 15)

Specifications (Specs – sheet)

  • 4.3-inch WVGA (480×854) capacitive touchscreen
  • 1 GHz TI OMAP processor
  • 8-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash
  • 8 GB internal storage, comes with 16 GB microSD card, expandable
  • 720p HD video recording
  • WiFi (b/g)
  • GPS (aGPS)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Mobile Hotspot option (about a $20 monthly fee)
  • Three microphones for noise cancellation
  • Android 2.2 with 2.2 promised for late summer

The Good

  • Large display that makes browsing and typing a breeze
  • Clunky camera software but it can lead to some good pictures and videos
  • Pleasing design that looks stylish and feels good in the hand
  • HDMI-out port
  • Beefy internals mean it should be able to handle multiple future versions of Android
  • Excellent virtual keyboard

The Bad

  • Clunky camera software
  • Some of the physical buttons felt cheap
  • You have to remove battery to switch microSD card
  • Despite the improvements, MotoBlur is still kind of useless

The Motorola Droid X is crash-landing on Verizon July 15 and I get the feeling a lot of Big Red’s customers will be very pleased with this large, full-touch smartphone. The thing is much larger than the original Droid but you soon get over that because that 4.3-inch screen is a delight to use. Sure, it doesn’t quite blow you away like the Retina Display or Samsung’s Super AMOLED screens, but it does just fine for most users.

The handset rocks Android 2.1 with some MotoBlur flavoring (please don’t fight me on this one commenters, Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha said so). MotoBlur has been scaled back, so it’s not very obtrusive, but it’s still a bit useless. I can’t wait for the Motorola Droid X to get Android 2.2 for full Adobe Flash support and better overall performance.

The device has all the features you’d expect from a top-shelf smartphone including an 8-megapixel camera with HD video, WiFi, 3G, Bluetooth, GPS and more. Specs are one thing, but how does the Droid X work in real life? Check out our full review for a deep dive but the gist is:

Whatever sports metaphor you want to apply is appropriate for the Droid X, as Motorola hit a home run/slam dunked it/won the World Cup with this flagship handset from Verizon. It sports a lust-worthy design, has all the features you’d expect from a top-shelf smartphone, the software is really good and it’s relatively future proof for upcoming versions of Android. If you’re on Verizon and are eligible for an upgrade this year, there’s no reason to not buy the Droid X when it comes out July 15, even if you’re a fan of physical keyboards (the virtual one is just that good). It’s even good enough to lure Apple iPhone owners over to the dark side.

Motorola Droid X Review

Apple iPhone 4
$199 on a new, two-year contract with AT&T

Specifications (Specs – sheet)

  • 3.5-inch Retina Display (960×640) capacitive touchscreen
  • Custom A4 CPU
  • 5-megapixel camera with LED flash
  • 16 GB or 32 GB internal storage
  • Quad-band 3G data connectivity
  • WiFi (b/g/n)
  • GPS (aGPS)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Front-facing camera for video calls
  • Second microphone for noise cancellation
  • Internal gyroscope offers six-axis motion controls

The Good

  • Display makes text, videos and pictures vibrant and clear
  • The A4 is also in the iPad and that runs blazing fast
  • FaceTime, video calling, works well and is pretty easy to use
  • Thinnest smartphone on the market
  • Gyroscope opens door for innovative games, apps
  • iOS 4 adds multiple features like multitasking

The Bad

  • Reception issues due to antenna design
  • No microSD slot for expandable storage
  • Locked into iTunes ecosystem (good or bad depending on your preference)
  • New AT&T data plans may limit usefulness of mobile data, apps
  • Screen is beautiful but not as big as some of the competitor

The Apple iPhone 4 has been on the market for a few weeks and it has been a blessing and a curse for Apple. The handset has been a massive seller (Apple can’t keep up with demand) but it has also been plagued with reception issues that have some comparing it to Toyota and demanding a recall.

The way Apple has handled the antenna situation is deplorable and I think it will eventually have to hand out those bumpers for free. With that said, the IntoMobile team with iPhone 4 handsets would still recommend the device to friends and readers for a variety of reasons. The 3.5-inch Retina Display is absolutely gorgeous and it really makes photos, videos and text pop out.

The camera has also received a much-needed boost, as you now have a 5-megapixel shooter with an LED flash. There’s also a front-facing camera that can be used with Apple’s FaceTime for two-way video chatting. You can also record 720p HD videos that can be edited on the handset and uploaded to sites like YouTube, and there’s also a new iMovie for iPhone which will give you the ability to add titles, transitions and more.

The 1 GHz Snapdragon processor is becoming a standard in most high-end devices but Apple is sticking with its custom A4 chip for the iPhone 4. This is the same CPU that powers the iPad and it provides some strong horsepower. The iPhone 4 has performed admirably in our time with it and we’ve yet to see significant slowdown and the battery life has been pretty darn good too. There’s also an internal gyroscope which gives developers the ability to create apps that utilize six-axis motion controls.

Beyond the hardware, the next iPhone will rock iOS 4 (previously iPhone OS 4.0). This plugs most of the major holes in the platform by including multitasking, iAd, a social-gaming network and more.

Check out our hands-on video of the iPhone in the video below for a closer look at Apple’s latest smartphone.

$199 on new, two-year contract with Sprint

Specifications (Specs – sheet)

  • 4.3-inch WVGA (800×480) capacitive touchscreen
  • 1Ghz Snapdragon CPU
  • 8-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash
  • 512MB RAM, 1GB ROM
  • 3G and 4G data connectivity
  • WiFi (b/g)
  • GPS (aGPS)
  • microSD
  • HDMI-out port
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Front-facing camera for video calls
  • Mobile Hotspot feature
  • kickstand

The Good

  • Flagrantly large 4.3-inch capacitive touchscreen display
  • Integrated kickstand. Yes, it has a kickstand.
  • HDMI-out port
  • 4G for high speed data (where available)
  • Mobile Hotspot feature
  • Red-colored accents add stylish touch
  • Multitouch support

The Bad

  • Battery life
  • MicroSD under the battery
  • Non-standard HDMI port
  • Battery life (or lack thereof. Did we mention that already?)
  • No simultaneous voice and data in 3G-only areas
  • Big for small hands and tight pockets

If bigger is better, than HTC’s EVO 4G on Sprint is the best of the bunch. The handset packs a large, 4.3-inch display that works well in sunlight and it makes browsing the web and watching videos on the go a pleasant experience. It’s still a big phone but it has slim profile and it doesn’t weigh too much.

It rocks a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, an 8-megapixel camera that takes pretty good shots, a front-facing camera that can do two-way video chats, HDMI-out port, and all the connections you want from a smartphone. It runs Android 2.1 with HTC’s Sense UI layered on top, and the company has promised users will get 2.2 by the end of the year.

Beyond the form factor and features, the most compelling thing about this is the ability to tap into Sprint’s expanding 4G network for home broadband-like speeds on the go. You’ll have to pay a price for that though, as EVO users are required to pay a $10 monthly premium on top of voice and data, even if you’re not in a 4G area. You’ll also be able to use this 4G connection as a mobile hotspot for up to eight devices, but this will cost $30 a month.

We put the handset through its paces in our full review. How did it fare?

So, does Evo live up to its striking good looks, killer feature-set, and the promise of a multimedia dream come true? Well, in case you haven’t been paying attention. Damn skippy. Evo’s huge screen just oozes sex appeal to any gadget geek – at the very least, it will draw the attention of just about anyone you happen to be near when you start playing with Evo.

HTC EVO 4G Review

Droid Incredible
Available for $199 on a new, two-year contract with Verizon Wireless

Specifications (Specs – sheet)

  • 1Ghz Snapdragon CPU
  • 3.7-inch AMOLED capacitive touchscreen display @ WVGA resolution
  • 8 megapixel camera with dual-LED flash
  • 3G data
  • WiFi
  • GPS
  • microSD
  • Bluetooth (Stereo (A2DP), Handsfree, Headset, Phonebook Access)
  • Android 2.1 OS with HTC Sense

The Good

  • Huge 3.7-inch AMOLED capacitive touchscreen display with WVGA resolution.
  • Slim form-factor
  • Dual-LED camera flash
  • 8 megapixel camera
  • 8 GB internal storage for apps, music, video
  • Hot-swappable microSD card

The Bad

  • Android Market still lacking the app diversity and breadth of Apple’s iPhone App Store
  • No simultaneous voice and data service
  • Questionable battery cover design
  • Good luck getting one, it’s been back ordered for a while

The Droid Incredible has been flying off the shelves at such a fast rate that Verizon can’t keep up with demand. There’s a good reason for that, as the device does seem to live up to its name. According to our thorough review:

Overall, the Verizon Droid Incredible is a great Android phone. It’s got the hardware chops to take on the best of the best. It’s light on its feet and handles most tasks – UI, maps, apps, videos – with ease. HTC Sense makes everything better. We like the design. We like the specs. Despite it’s drawbacks, we really like the Incredible.

It sports a good-sized 3.7-inch AMOLED capacitive touchscreen with a WVGA resolution. It ditches a physical keyboard to maintain a slim profile, but some may not like the grooves on the back of the phone. Inside, there’s a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, 8-megapixel camera with a dual-LED flash, and a microSD slot. It runs Android 2.1 with HTC’s Sense UI, which does add some needed visual panache.

Is the Droid Incredible better than Motorola’s Droid X? It all depends on how much you like HTC Sense. Of course, you probably won’t be able to get an Incredible because AMOLED shortages have led to painful delays. Ah well, at least you can be close to it by watching the video below.

HTC Droid Incredible Review

Samsung Galaxy S
About $200 on the top six U.S. mobile operators (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, Cellular South)

Specifications (Specs – sheet)

  • 4-inch Super AMOLED (800×480) capacitive touchscreen
  • 1 Ghz Hummingbird CPU
  • 5-megapixel camera with 720p HD video
  • Front-facing camera for video chat (Epic only)
  • Android 2.1 with Samsung UI tweaks
  • 3G and 4G data (Epic only) connectivity
  • WiFi (b/g/n)
  • GPS (aGPS)
  • microSD
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Front-facing camera for video calls (Epic only)

The Good

  • Stunning Super AMOLED display
  • Sleek designs
  • The GPU has the graphical horsepower of any Android device on the market
  • 4G for high speed data (Epic only)
  • Available on all the major carriers

The Bad

  • Some of the versions felt a little lighter than we like
  • Samsung’s Android tweaks aren’t super useful
  • Camera struggles with far and low-light shots
  • Navigation buttons sometimes lag
  • Not much differentiation beyond the Epic 4G

During the last Superphone Shootout, I mentioned how the Samsung Galaxy S lineup may be the wild card of the summer for T-Mobile and I was kind of right. Not only did Samsung bring out a stellar Android-powered handset for T-Mobile, it also brought a variant of the device to five other major mobile operators.

If you want some Android Super AMOLED goodness, Samsung has your back on nearly any carrier. There’s the Captivate for AT&T, Fascinate for Verizon, Vibrant for T-Mobile, Epic 4G for Sprint, and straight up Galaxy S units for U.S. Cellular and Cellular South. There will be minor differences but each will rock a 1 GHz processor, 4-inch Super AMOLED screen (these are brilliant), 5-megapixel camera and Android 2.1 with some UI tweaks.

The Epic 4G stands out from the pack because it rocks a full, slide-out QWERTY keyboard and it can take advantage of Sprint’s next-generation mobile data network. It also rocks a front-facing camera to do video calls. Take that FaceTime!

We’ve been able to thoroughly test the AT&T Captivate and the T-Mobile Vibrant and both were well-received. Check out the full reviews below.
AT&T Samsung Captivate Review
T-Mobile Samsung Vibrant Review

When we first came up with this list, I thought we would have these devices duke it out to find out which is the best. The truth is, all of these smartphones are stellar devices with its own positives and negatives. We’ll give you information and our take and then let you decide for yourself.

With the ways things are going, we’ll probably have to do a round three in a few weeks. By then the Nokia N8 could finally launch, BlackBerry 6 devices should be interesting and maybe LG will finally get it’s act together. Regardless, let us know what you think in the comments and tell us your experiences with one of the devices above.

  • Andreas (evil TwiN)

    I hate apple so I won't even take the "brand new" iPhone into consideration. Shoo, shoo 😀
    I like the Samsung design and specs buuuuuuuuuuuut… I kinda happen to have issues with all Samsung products, so, naaah.
    HTC looks nice, WILL try out that one despite the battery thing.
    And now that I think about it, Motorola wins my money this time. Hopefully it will arrive in the EU sometime soon.

  • andref1989

    Why do I have to sign a contract to buy a phone? 😐
    What if I just want to……. buy it?

    • Anonymous

      then you have to go to europe 😛
      droid 350€
      internet flatrate 10€ per month

    • CrashCore

      You can buy phones without contracts, but they're expensive (top-of-the-line devices are usually $500-600). Carriers are essentially paying for part of the phone, and you pay them back throughout your 1-2 years on their plan.

  • vasra

    You didn't differentiate the phones at all by their "under the hood" speed.

    Galaxy S variants and iPhone 4 are clearly a step above the Snapdragon variants in speed.

    In 3D Galaxy S reigns supreme and is up to three times as fast as the slowest Snapdragon (+ ATI?) based HTC variants.

    Droid X with TI OMAP is still bit of a black horse in this regard.

    Also, for battery life time Galaxy S beats all the HTC phones hands down.

    No data yet on how Droid X and iPhone 4 do against it and each other.

  • Brett

    On the “bad” section in the iPhone 4 part, you put “bad reception due to antenna design”… It has clearly been discovered this is for a very tiny fraction of the users and only in bad signal areas, and also occurs with pretty much every phone. I don’t see it as a design flaw but the way future phones will be designed. As for which is choose I’d go with either the Samsung or Apple.

    • Ron

      Just because Steve Jobs said it doesn't necessarily make it true. That percentage he came up with has been seriously put into question, and how he said it happens to all smartphones- i've never even heard of the problem before the iphone 4, again not true… so it sounds like he's just trying to reduce the temperature of the hot water his company is boiling in. And as if AT&T's coverage couldn't get any worse, Apple compounds the issue with "bad reception due to antenna design"… smooth move.

      In this debate, I'm going with the Samsung Galaxy S- smooth look, hardcore hardware, android OS, and the real kicker for me is the Super Amoled display. Might have to wait for the S2 to come out though- heard it might have a 2 ghz processor and android's new 3.0 OS.

    • CrashCore

      Wrong, Brett. It is most definitely a design flaw. When held in a completely normal way, a user's hand can bridge the antenna and severely reduce reception because the human body is a conductor. It doesn't matter what the signal strength is, it will go down quite a bit when the antenna area comes in contact with your hand. All phones see SOME signal reduction (not much) when a user's hand or body is between the antenna and the tower, but other phones have a shield between the antenna and your hand (it's called the case), so the difference is very slight compared to the iPhone 4.

  • Travis

    Returned my iPhone 4 last week because of bad reception from home. First 4 calls were dropped and/or had very poor call quality. Never had that issue with my BB Bold. Got the Galaxy Captivate and am trying it out this week. So far call quaitly is great, no dropped calls so my previous bad calls had to be the iPhone 4 and not ATT's network. Two bad things so far with the Captivate is the GPS is very slow to come up and sometimes the OS is sluggish when going from an app or navigating around.


    DRIOD X is the best based on the reviews I see here. I have one and its outstanding.

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