The iPhone is no longer the undisputed sultan of the touchscreen kingdom, with worthy challengers arriving almost daily. HTC has it in a pincer movement with the HTC Desire HD, HTC HD7 and HTC 7 Mozart, while the Samsung Galaxy S and Nokia N8 are also taking a swing. Join us as we pit them against each other in a battle royale.
HTC Desire HD
What could be better than an HTC Desire? More of the same. The Desire is one of our favourite phones ever, thanks to its slick version of Android and wealth of features. We expect bigger and better things from the Desire HD.
The Desire HD runs the latest release of Android, version 2.2, and the software is getting better with every release. Although Android can be more confusing to use than the iPhone's OS, it's much more customisable, and you can build your own home screens using widgets that update with everything from Facebook messages to train times. It also supports Flash, which worked a treat in our tests on the Google Nexus One.
Android also supports zillions of great apps, although the Market feels like the Mos Eisley cantina when compared to the iPhone's App Store. There's all kinds of wretched dross in there, but sift through it and you'll find plenty of gems, too.
A huge, 4.3-inch display means this isn't a phone for people with small pockets. It's still a phone -- not a tablet like the Samsung Galaxy Tab -- but it's not the most portable handset out there.
The king-sized screen brings royal benefits though. Videos and Web pages look a treat, and there's a new ebook-reader app onboard too. If you're wondering whether this beast has a cheap plastic case that wobbles like a musical saw, don't. An aluminium body holds it all together in fine style.
The rest of the specs are similarly impressive, with an 8-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi and HSPA for fast Web surfing over 3G.
Good for: Customisation, Flash and experimental apps Bad for: Portability and ease of use
Just like the Desire HD, our favourite Windows Phone 7 handset won't drop for another couple of weeks. But, from what we've seen of the HD7 so far, it's the perfect vehicle for Microsoft's new operating system to blast into Dodge and start challenging other smart phones to a gunfight at dawn.
The huge, 4.3-inch screen is also reminiscent of the Desire HD, with similar touch-sensitive buttons underneath. A 5-megapixel camera doesn't quite live up to the one on the Desire HD, but the real surprise on the HD7 is its brand-spanking-new OS.
The user interface has large icons and is very finger-friendly, so, if you find Android phones fiddly, Windows Phone 7 could be a godsend. The HD7's fabulously responsive touchscreen also helps, and the on-screen keyboard is fast and easy to use.
If you're an Xbox Live fan, you can connect to your account, play with your friends and unlock achievements online. If you'd rather just sit quietly with some tunes, there's a Zune music store that will let you buy tracks or stream them directly to the phone with a £9 monthly subscription.
The gaping hole in Windows Phone 7's armour is likely to be the app store. Although Windows Phone 7 has the advantage of offering a development environment that's already familiar to most programmers, the app store is way behind its competitors. We've had our hearts broken with the Palm Pre before -- it was a great phone, but its lack of apps let it down and it never recovered. Let's hope Microsoft doesn't make the same mistakes.
Good for: Xbox gamers and those with sausage-like fingers Bad for: Apps and portability
Compared to the Desire HD and the HD7, which aren't even out yet, the iPhone 4 feels positively ancient. But we won't stop comparing it until you stop asking us to, and that's not likely to happen as long as it stays at the top of so many people's must-have lists.
The iPhone 4 definitely doesn't have the screen real estate of the other two, with only a 3.5-inch display. But, dear lord, the resolution. Packing 960x640 pixels into that space means text is so sharp you can cut yourself on it. Compare it to the HD7, which offers 800x480 pixels in a 4.3-inch screen, and you can see why.
The iPhone used to be known as much for its lack of features as its fantastic user interface -- the first model didn't have 3G or apps. But improvements on each release mean the iPhone 4 can hold its head up high at even the geekiest smart-phone party. Basic multitasking, video calling and other additions mean you're no longer sacrificing functionality in exchange for the finger-friendly fun of an iPhone.
The App Store is packed with offerings, and iTunes makes it easy to buy music for your phone. But developers report that Apple doesn't treat them with much respect, so its app dominance may not last forever.
Although the iPhone 4 is a fast and fabulous mobile computer, it's not very good at just being a phone. Antenna-gate rages on, with plenty of evidence that holding the phone in a certain way can cause the signal -- and the call, if you're on one -- to drop. The phone also tends to miss incoming calls, without ringing, even if you're not holding it. The iPhone has never been very good at being a phone, but the iPhone 4 is worse than ever.
Good for: Apps and screen sharpness Bad for: Being a phone
If you prefer taking photos to looking at them, have a gander at the HTC 7 Mozart. Like the HD7, the Mozart runs Windows Phone 7, so its user interface is exactly the same. It's also no slouch in the hardware department, with the same 1GHz processor, and Wi-Fi and HSPA connectivity onboard.
The big difference between the Mozart and the HD7 is the former's smaller screen -- although it's still a very respectable 3.7 inches -- and its higher-res camera. The Mozart has an 8-megapixel camera that can shoot 720p high-definition video, and it's accompanied by a rare xenon flash. The flash is very bright, but it's better suited to helping you shoot photos than video. That's because it flashes instantaneously, and can't be kept on like and LED photo light. That said, we rarely use LED lights on phones when shooting video -- they're harsh and almost useless. The Mozart's camera looks promising, although we'll have to take it for a full test drive before we can say whether the shots live up to the specs.
Windows Phone 7 doesn't support use of an external memory-card slot. Although the Mozart has a healthy 8GB of storage space built in, you could run out if you're a big fan of music, photos and video. Another downside is the Windows app store, which is just as empty on the Mozart and it is on the HD7.
The Mozart is much cheaper than the other phones in this punch-up. It will come free on a £35-per-month contract from Orange.
Good for: Camera and price Bad for: Apps and expandable memory
The N8 is the best Nokia touchscreen phone yet, with impressive specs, including a 12-megapixel camera. But Symbian feels old-fashioned compared to the competition.
If you consider yourself a phone trainspotter, the N8 will let you fill your little notebook with stats. The Symbian 3 OS is so mature that it can do almost anything you desire -- but the problem is that it shows its age. Although it's an improvement over Nokia's previous software for touchscreen phones, it doesn't have the good looks and ease of use that we see in competing handsets' software.
Nokia's Ovi app store is languishing behind its rivals too, although good apps are out there if you can be bothered to find them. Also, although the N8's touchscreen is responsive, the plethora of pop-up messages and the terrible on-screen keyboard make the phone feel slower than it is.
On the other hand, the N8's 12-megapixel camera is a true delight, even rivalling a decent compact camera in our tests. And, although the phone's aluminium case divides opinion, we think the N8 looks and feels like a classy piece of kit. Forget fragile plastic and cheesy cases -- the N8 feels like you could throw it against a wall and it'd still survive, although we're not going to try that out.
Good for: Funky looks, familiar software, camera Bad for: Usability and apps