iPhone wannabes or smart alternatives? You decide

iPhone madness is in high-gear, but there are other touch screen phones on the market.

CORRECTION July 9 at 10:48 a.m. PDT: This article misstated the BlackBerry Bold's display type. It does not have a touch screen. The story has been updated to reflect this change.

Apple's iPhone 3G hits store shelves on Friday, but if you haven't been struck with iPhone fever, don't fret. There are plenty of alternatives that offer similar style and features. And they may even be easier on your wallet in the long run.

To some Apple fans, phones such as the Samsung Instinct or the HTC Diamond are simply iPhone wannabes. But to others they are cool phones in their own right with unique features and capabilities. Below I've compiled a cheat-sheet that highlights key features and points out short-comings of seven possible iPhone alternatives. I've also thrown in pricing information, not only for the phone, but also for the service plans that go with them.

But before I dive deeply into these iPhone alternatives, let's take a look at what the new iPhone 3G offers and what it's still missing .

The biggest change to the iPhone in the new version is speed. As the name implies, the iPhone 3G will operate over AT&T's HSDPA 3G network. Today, that network can theoretically deliver download speeds of about 3.6Mbps. But in the real world, speeds are closer to 400Kbps to 700Kbps. Recently, AT&T's wireless chief said the network is being upgraded and will soon offer theoretical download speeds of 20Mbps and actual download speeds of between 4Mbps and 6.6Mbps.

Apple also added GPS to the iPhone 3G, allowing the device to take advantage of location-based applications and services. The company also opened up the device to third-party developers and will soon launch an Apps Store for new iPhone applications. The new iPhone will also support Microsoft Exchange server, which means subscribers will be able to get their work e-mail on the iPhone 3G. And finally the company has greatly improved the battery life of the device stating that it should get a solid five hours of 3G talk time.

But there are also plenty of features that Apple left out of the iPhone 3G, including support for multimedia messaging or MMS. This means users can't send or receive pictures taken on cell phones via the MMS messaging platform. The device also lacks video recording and voice command. And it only supports Bluetooth for headset voice calls, which means it won't allow Bluetooth file transfers to and from the iPhone.

These missing features could help give some phone manufacturers an edge with consumers looking for the perfect multimedia smartphone. But features aren't the only thing that consumers consider when buying a new phone. They also consider price. And even though AT&T is selling the 8GB model for the subsidized price of $200, the carrier still charges more than any other mobile phone operator for its bundle of services, making the iPhone 3G one of the most expensive to own phones on the market. For 450 minutes of talk time a month, unlimited data, which includes Web surfing and email, and text messaging, AT&T charges about $90 a month. Add unlimited voice and the price shoots up to $150.

Below is a list of seven alternatives to the iPhone 3G. Most of these phones have a touch-screen. All are 3G capable. All offer MMS messaging, which the iPhone doesn't offer. And all come with a full HTML browser. Some offer Wi-Fi, which even the original iPhone offers, and some have embedded GPS just like the iPhone 3G.

LG Voyager - $199

LG Voyager

Carrier: Verizon Wireless

Carrier service plan pricing: Verizon's premium smartphone service with all you-can-eat data and messaging starts at $79.99 per month for 450 minutes a month of talk time. Add unlimited voice, and the price is $139 per month.

What makes it cool? The LG Voyager, which has been on the market for nearly a year, supports Verizon's VCast Video service, which offers a slew of TV channels, including CBS Mobile, Comedy Central, ESPN Mobile TV, and NBC 2Go. It also offers VCast Music, which allows users to purchase music directly over the cell phone network. By contrast, the iPhone plays movies and TV shows purchased from its iTunes media store and doesn't allow for over-the-air music downloads. The Voyager also flips up to expose a full QWERTY keypad.

What are its shortcomings? The phone doesn't offer Wi-Fi, which means it can't access the Internet when not in cell phone range. The lack of Wi-Fi also means that users can't Web surf at super fast speeds when in a Wi-Fi hotspot. And lastly, it's not integrated with Microsoft Outlook, which means subscribers can't access work email. They can only get Web email.

LG Voyager CNET Review

LG Dare - $250

LG Dare

Carrier: Verizon Wireless

Carrier service plan pricing: Verizon's premium smartphone service with all you-can-eat data and messaging starts at $79.99 per month for 450 minutes a month of talk time. Add unlimited voice, and the price is $139 per month.

What makes it cool? The LG Dare has a touch screen that allows icons to be dragged and dropped so that it can be customized for shortcuts on the home screen. It offers a sketch pad that allows users to draw pictures that can be sent via MMS to friends. It also has a 3.2 megapixel camera with face detection, panorama photo stitching, and SmartPic technology designed for taking photos in low light. It offers an embedded camcorder. And like the Voyager, it can be used with Verizon's VCast Music and Video services.

What are its shortcomings? The Web browser and media player is not as good as the iPhone, according to CNET Reviews editor Nicole Lee. There's no Wi-Fi. And also no integration with Microsoft Outlook to access work email.

LG Dare CNET Review

Samsung Instinct - $129.00

Samsung Instinct

Carrier: Sprint Nextel

Carrier service plan pricing: Sprint's "Simply Everything" plan with 450 minutes of talk-time and unlimited messaging, data services that include email and Web surfing costs $69.99 per month. Add unlimited voice, and the service costs $99 a month.

What makes it cool? This is the "first cell phone we've seen that throws some direct competition Apple's way," CNET editor Kent German wrote in his review of this phone, which just hit the market last month. Physically, the Instinct looks a lot like the iPhone. It also has integrated GPS and works with Microsoft Outlook to allow people to get work email on the phone. But it also offers some unique features. Unlike the iPhone 3G, the Instinct offers Sprint's mobile TV service and has a built-in camcorder.

What are its shortcomings? The screen lacks multi-touch functionality. This means you can't pinch a page and blow it up like you can on the iPhone. It also offers much less memory than the iPhone. It doesn't support Wi-Fi or instant messaging. And German said he wasn't impressed with the email interface. And its call quality wasn't up to snuff to boot.

Samsung Instinct CNET Review

LG Vu -- $299

LG Vu

Carrier: AT&T

Carrier Plan pricing: Subscribers can get 450 minutes of talk time, unlimited mobile Web, texting, and live broadcast TV for $105 per month. Add unlimited voice, and the service is $165 per month.

What makes it cool? The coolest thing about the LG Vu is that it offers live broadcast TV. AT&T uses the MediaFlo network to deliver the service, which is operating in more than 55 markets in the U.S.

What are its shortcomings? The device lacks GPS and doesn't support Wi-Fi. The MediaFlo TV service isn't available everywhere yet. And the monthly charge for the live TV service along with the data and messaging service charges, makes this an expensive phone to own.

LG Vu CNET Review

BlackBerry Bold: $300 (estimated price)

BlackBerry Bold

Carrier: AT&T (expected later this summer.)

Carrier plan pricing: This phone hasn't officially launched on AT&T's network. But judging from AT&T's current BlackBerry service plans, subscribers can expect to pay $90 a month for 450 minutes of talk time, unlimited data and unlimited texting. With unlimited voice, that price jumps to $150 a month.

What makes it cool? This device doesn't have a touch screen. Instead, it sports a full QWERTY keypad. But it does have Wi-Fi, and it features an improved Web browser that allows the option of viewing pages in a full desktop HTML style or a mobile version. The phone also comes with an embedded camcorder and GPS for location-based services. Research in Motion is also working on something called the Blackberry Media Sync, which will allow BlackBerry devices to sync with Apple iTunes, so that BlackBerry users can listen to music from their iTunes library.

What are its shortcomings? The BlackBerry Bold doesn't have a touch screen. And it's not available yet. It is expected to hit AT&T stores later this summer and will likely be added to the other carriers' line-ups later in the year.

RIM is also rumored to be readying a new phone called the BlackBerry Thunder that will be the company's first touch screen device. The phone hasn't been announced yet, so this is all rumor. But it's expected to be released on Verizon Wireless and Vodafone networks in the third quarter of 2008, according to the blog The Boy Genius Report. It will likely be launched on other networks after that.

LG VU CNET Review

Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 -pricing not yet available

Sony Ericsson Experia X1

Carrier: This phone will be released mid-September. And a U.S. carrier hasn't been announced yet.

Carrier service plan pricing: Not available.

What makes it cool? This is the first Sony Ericsson phone to use Windows Mobile from Microsoft. It also has a very cool arc slider design. The phone has a touch screen on top and a full QWERTY keypad underneath. It has Wi-Fi and comes with a 3.2 megapixel camera, assisted-GPS, a multimedia player, 400MB of internal memory, and a microSD expansion slot.

What are its shortcomings?

It won't be available until mid-September and even then it could take a while before any U.S. operators pick it up.

Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 CNET Review

HTC Diamond --$700 for an unlocked phone without a subsidy

HTC Touch Diamond

U.S. Carrier:Not announced yet.

Carrier service plan pricing: Not available.

What makes it cool? The HTC Touch Diamond has a cool 3D interface and what CNET reviewer Bonnie Cha calls, "a beautiful touch screen." It uses Windows Mobile 6.1 and offers Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and a 3.2-megapixel camera. It also offers voice recognition for dialing and a pre-loaded YouTube application for viewing videos.

What are its shortcomings? The Touch Diamond won't be available in the U.S. for months. And the current version isn't optimized for the U.S. market. Cha also described it as sluggish and said the call quality is subpar." There's also no expansion slot for more memory.

HTC Diamond CNET Review

 

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