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4G Smartphones, Smartphone Displays
Smartphone Connectivity and Touchscreens
Data Networks.For the most part, you needn't worry about the technical underpinnings of the various network standards or their acronyms -- 3G, 4G, LTE. What you do need to know is that all the cheap smartphones we researched connect to 3G networks and our four top picks are 4G smartphones.
Most service providers have rolled out 4G networks across much of the country, but there are still areas with poor or no 4G network coverage. Sprint is still in the early stages of implementing its 4G LTE network, so far offering 4G LTE service in roughly three dozen cities. Cheap 4G phones are also compatible with 3G networks, so you can use them in areas where only 3G service is available.
The HTC Windows Phone 8X is a 4G smartphone available from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. The HTC Evo 4G LTE, on the other hand, is available only from Sprint, with its limited network. The Motorola Droid Razr M is confined to Verizon and you'll find the Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G smartphone at T-Mobile. The Kyocera Rise is a 3G-only phone offered by Sprint. The Google Nexus 4 is unlocked, meaning it's not tied to a specific provider, but that freedom comes at a price of about $300. Google's 4G smartphone is compatible with the AT&T and T-Mobile networks, although AT&T customers should note that this phone has no 4G LTE capability.
Wi-Fi.Connecting to Wi-Fi instead of a 3G or 4G network can help conserve precious megabytes if you're on an inexpensive plan that caps your data usage. When you're stuck at the airport or hanging out at a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi, just connect your smartphone to the wireless network and download videos or use apps. All of our picks support Wi-Fi connections.
Bluetooth.Bluetooth support is a standard feature today, even on the cheapest smartphones. Bluetooth is handy for connecting to a wireless headset for making and receiving calls hands-free or to stereo headphones for listening to music. All the models we discuss in this buying guide also have standard 3.5-millimeter headphone jacks for connecting wired headphones.
Messaging.If texting is one of your go-to methods of communication, you want a phone with a comfortable keyboard for quick and accurate typing. The keys should be large enough for your fingers, but the keyboard should also be compact. As smartphone screens get larger, physical keyboards are fast disappearing. Almost all new smartphones feature a touchscreen that covers nearly the entire face of the device and rely on a virtual keyboard displayed on the screen. The only phone on our list that uses a physical keyboard is the Kyocera Rise. A full QWERTY keyboard slides out from behind the display.
Smartphone Displays.Smartphone screens have improved so much in recent years that many act like mini-HDTVs. Photos, games, and other apps have become increasingly important to smartphone users. The best budget smartphones have large, vivid displays and high resolution to make videos pop and text easy to read, even in bright daylight.
Most smartphones we looked at have fairly large screens between 4 and 4.3 inches. The HTC Evo 4G LTE has an even larger 4.7-inch screen with HD-quality 720p resolution of 1280 x 720. Not surprisingly, a Wired reviewer says that display makes everything look good on the Evo 4G LTE. The Google Nexus 4 also has a massive 4.7-inch screen with HD-quality 1280 x 768 resolution. Reviewers from both Digital Trends and PC Mag admire the bright and crisp smartphone display. The other HTC phone we reviewed, the Windows Phone 8X, also has a 720p HD screen, although it measures a more compact 4.3 inches. An expert from Brighthand says it displays deep, vibrant colors.
The resolution on the 4.3-inch Motorola Droid Razr M is a bit lower, at 540 x 960 -- not quite HD quality. Still, a reviewer from CNET says the colors pop and a Laptop Mag expert calls the smartphone's display simply gorgeous. The Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G smartphone has a slightly smaller 4-inch screen, but a TechHive reviewer actually finds the phone's more compact design a welcome alternative to unwieldy handsets. She says colors look rich and vibrant on the 480 x 800 display but oversaturated -- they blend into each other. The Kyocera Rise has the smallest display among the phones we researched, at 3.5 inches. An expert from PC World says the phone's lower 480 x 320 resolution results in text that's not as sharp as on other smartphone displays, although it's still quite readable.
Nokia Lumia 810 Review
Google Nexus 4 Review
Kyocera Rise Review
Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G Review
HTC Evo 4G LTE Review
HTC Windows Phone 8X Review
Motorola Droid Razr M Review
Samsung Epic 4G
HTC Droid Incredible 2
BlackBerry Curve 3G
Apple iPhone 3GS 8GB
BlackBerry Bold 9780
T-Mobile myTouch 4G
Motorola Droid 2 Global
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