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Let's get one thing straight up front: Before Summer's end there may well be other phones worth throwing into the ring for the title of King of the Summer 2010 Blockbusters, but for now I've got four contenders on my short list for the biggest dogfight of the season. Two of these phones are shipping, and the other two have been launched and made their way into my paws in near-final form. Until I've had time with all four devices out in the wild I can't stage a proper dogfight, but I do think the time is ripe for a preview to get you ready for the Summer smartphone wars.

The Contenders (in order of ship date):

HTC Droid Incredible (Verizon)

$199 on contract, available now (back ordered)

Summary: This is the "superphone" for the masses. Incredible strikes a near-perfect balance of size, weight, screen size and performance that appeals to the new smartphone owner and hardcore Android geek alike. Incredible's suspect battery life, questionable back panel design and limited availability at Verizon stores are all drawbacks, but the phone offers a bright, roomy 3.7" AMOLED display, super-fast Snapdragon processing power, and the user-friendliness of HTC Sense.

Target User: The "I want a Verizon iPhone" crowd and the HTC/Android Aficionado crowd alike

Best Feature: Large screen and powerful performance but small and light enough for one-handed use

Worst Feature: Battery life issues abound (though my experience has been acceptable enough)

Dogfight Prediction: Incredible lacks a standout feature to separate it from the others, but it does everything so well it may win on overall balance

HTC EVO 4G (Sprint)

$199 on contract, available now (back ordered)

Summary: A spec sheet's dream come true, Evo is the first WiMax phone to hit a US carrier and arguably the most technologically advanced smartphone in the land. Snapdragon, Android/Sense, front and rear-facing cameras, and a massive 4.3" display make Evo 4G more like a pocket computer with a phone built-in than a mere smartphone. While Evo's performance has impressed and its roomy display makes typing and tapping a joy, Sprint's lack of 4G coverage areas and complaints about the phone's battery life (particularly if you're lucky enough to be in one of those 4G zones) have given some would-be buyers pause. Also, while Sprint hyped Evo's Qik-powered video chat feature before the phone shipped, Qik had to pull the app for a few days due to server overload. 

Target User: Bleeding-edge tech enthusiasts and those who value Sprint's low monthly charges

Best Feature: Massive display and speed (okay, that's two). Or, miles-long feature list (okay, that's three)

Worst Feature: The phone is just too big for some people

Dogfight Prediction: Evo 4G is stuffed to the gills with cutting edge features, and offers the lowest monthly cost of all competitors thus far, but will its size undermine it in daily use?

Apple iPhone 4 (AT&T)

$199 (16GB) or $299 (32 GB) on contract, available June 24

Summary: Apple's ubiquitous iPhone gets a face lift and a few new features for 2010, but is iPhone 4 really "revolutionary" or is it just "evolutionary"? The new iPhone is thinner and stronger feeling than the 3GS it replaces, and new features like FaceTime (video calling), HD video capture with iMovie editing, and a built-in Gyroscope for advanced gaming controls looked slick and smooth during my first hands-on. Apple's calling its 960 x 640 "Retinal Display" a major step forward for mobile devices, but its hard to tell if the average user will really notice all of those extra pixels packed into what, at 3.5", is the smallest physical display of this bunch. And is iOS 4.0 still state-of-the-art, or is Apple now playing catch up to Android 2.2?

Target User: The iPhone faithful who must upgrade, and a new crop of users enchanted by video chat and sophisticated mobile video possibilities

Best Feature: Build Quality? FaceTime video chat? The massive iTunes/iBooks/App Store ecosystem? Or - arguably - that crazy high-resolution screen

Worst Feature: AT&T or - arguably - Apple's "closed" stance on open-source platforms and developer protocols

 

Dogfight Prediction: I only had a few minutes with iPhone 4 at WWDC, so it's way too soon to tell. Three years ago Apple set a new standard for the smartphone user experience, but now Android and webOS are breathing down its neck. Is the new iPhone going to be enough to get Apple back to the top of the heap?

Samsung Galaxy S (Carriers Unknown)

Available later this Summer in the US, price TBA

Summary: You know what I said about Droid Incredible striking the perfect balance between screen size (big) and overall size (small and light)? Samsung might have done even better in the balance department with Galaxy S. The phone features a 4" display that's nice and roomy, but the overall form factor is still thin, light, and suitable for one-handed use - or at least more suitable than Evo 4G's widebody footprint. Samsung's new Super AMOLED display tech promises the vivid colors of AMOLED with better performance in direct sunlight, and its proprietary Hummingbird processor has been singing along in the hands-on demos I've been privy to thus far. Thing is, Samsung has a bad history of messing with Android by way of their own less than stellar custom UI/skin jobs, and Galaxy S' UI looks a lot like an iPhone rip-off in the eyes of some critics. 

Target User: Tech enthusiasts who want speed, power, and a form factor that strikes a balance between display size and overall sleekness. Rumor has it that Samsung is looking to get Galaxy S on all four major US carriers, which could prove a massive coup for them.

Best Feature: Potentially awesome balance between size, power, and the flexibility of Android

Worst Feature: Samsung's custom UI and features may leave some cold. Or, device lacks the luxurious build quality of Evo and iPhone

Dogfight Prediction: I seem to be more amped up for Galaxy S than some of my peers at other mobile tech publications. Does that mean I'm more open minded than they are, or dumber than they are? Only time will tell, I guess. I could see Galaxy S losing the dogfight because it's too vanilla in its look and feel, or lacks the "Luxury Sedan" industrial design of some of its competitors. But I could also see the S smoke the competition based on its all-around excellence.


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