CNET's Best of CTIA 2011

Our cell phone reviews team picks the top cell phone, tablet, and service from CTIA 2011.

ORLANDO, Fla.--If you asked us a week ago whether CTIA 2011 would be hectic, we would have said "probably not." But then last Sunday, two days before the show began, the news of a certain merger broke and we knew the week would be a wild ride. Indeed, CTIA delivered a fresh crop of phones and tablets, and like CES and Mobile World Congress, Android loomed large. So, as the bright Florida sun sets for the last time on CTIA, CNET takes stock to pick our favorite products form the show.

Best phone: LG G2X
Despite the 3D presence at CTIA with the LG Thrill 4G and the HTC Evo 3D , we gave the top award to the T-Mobile G2X . It has regular old 2D technology, and we're quite happy with that, thank you. With its beautiful 4-inch WVGA display, 8-megapixel rear camera, plentiful multimedia support, and more, the G2X impresses us enough as it is. As the U.S. version of the LG Optimus 2X , the G2X is bursting with speed, thanks to its 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 dual core processor. To sweeten the deal, it also has support for T-Mobile's "4G" HSPA+ network. Though we know T-Mobile is playing fast and loose with its definition of 4G, the G2X could achieve theoretical download speeds of 14.4Mbps. And with the proposed AT&T merger still a couple of years away from completion--that is, if the Feds give approval--the carrier should boost download speeds to as fast as 42Mbps.

But more importantly to Android fans, the T-Mobile G2X ships with stock Android--no fancy skins or overlays; just native Android at its purest. This means the G2X ships with Android 2.2 Froyo. Though that's not our ideal scenario, LG says it will be upgradable to 2.3 Gingerbread and has the potential for easier upgrades down the road.

Best tablet(s): Samsung Galaxy Tabs
Like Mobile World Congress, CTIA is becoming a big tablet show. And Samsung took that theme particularly seriously. Unlike in past years when the company introduced multiple phones, Sammy skipped handsets completely this week and just gave us the Samsung Galaxy 8.9 and 10.1 tablets. The tale of these devices began in early March, when a Samsung executive reportedly said the company needed to improve parts of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the wake of the iPad 2 announcement. Judging from the new Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Galaxy Tab 8.9 that debuted at CTIA 2011, we'd say the company was pretty successful.

At just 8.6 millimeters thick, the ultrasleek tablets are barely thinner than the iPad 2 (8.8 millimeters), making them the "world's thinnest tablets." We were certainly impressed by the tablets' thin profiles, but we also welcome the fresh, premium design--a huge improvement over the plasticky 7-inch Galaxy Tabs. The dual-core Honeycomb tablets will also run Samsung's new TouchWiz UX user interface . From what we saw, the customized UI goes a long way toward making the Android 3.0 OS more user-friendly.

Best service: Sprint's Google Voice integration
Just a day after AT&T and T-Mobile proposed their epic merger, Google and Sprint teamed up to offer Google Voice's add-on calling services to all Sprint subscribers (well, except for corporate and prepaid accounts). The partnership brings an impressive ease to using Google Voice's features--including call forwarding to multiple phone numbers and visual voicemail transcription that you can read on the phone or online--on top of your regular Sprint number, no porting fee applied. Google gets extra credit for automatically connecting international calls for rates as low as 2 cents per minute, just by dialing the number from the Sprint phone, without any special codes or apps needed. Best yet, the integration works for all phones, from the unassuming flip phone to the highest-end smartphone.

Honorable mention: HTC Evo 3D
Though the G2X won our top praise, we still think the budding 3D technology in smartphones is cool enough to make this list. As mentioned, CTIA gave us two 3D phones to sample, but one stood out. Sprint's HTC Evo 3D is the newest member of the Evo family. We like the signature HTC styling, bright display, and Gingerbread OS, but the real story, of course, is its ability to shoot 3D still photos and record 3D video. You may pooh-pooh 3D video, but this is a technology you have to see in person. Granted, the experience is not the same as what you'd expect from a 3D movie, as the images float off the screen rather than poking you in the face. It's subtle, definitely, but absolutely nifty and fun. We can't imagine using it a lot, but it would be great for vacation clips and parties.

LG also offered a 3D handset with the LG Thrill 4G for AT&T, which is the U.S. version of the LG Optimus 3D . It's cool as well-- we liked the Optimus 3D when we saw it at Mobile World Congress--but the AT&T version we saw wasn't fully baked. We'll save our judgment.

So there you have CNET's picks for the Best of CTIA 2011. See you next year in New Orleans!

 

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