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MetroPCS' Samsung Galaxy Indulge snags a 4G LTE 'first'--sort of

The Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Indulge could be the first commercially available 4G LTE phone.

Samsung Galaxy Indulge for MetroPCS
MetroPCS introduces its first Android 4G LTE smartphone.

For a second-tier carrier in just 14 markets, MetroPCS has been grabbing some top-tier headlines. The latest is this morning's revelation that Metro will be the first to make commercially available a 4G LTE Android smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Indulge.

Like its cohorts in the Galaxy range, the Indulge is an Android 2.2 (Froyo) slider phone with the Samsung TouchWiz interface and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. It features a 3.5-inch HVGA resolution (800x480 pixels), 3-megapixel camera, and 32GB microSD card slot, and it runs on a 1GHz Hummingbird processor. The Indulge will cost $399 without a contract. MetroPCS is offering its unlimited rate plan (talk, text, Web) with 1GB data for $50 per month of service, or a $60 monthly plan that gets you unlimited talk, text, Web, and data.

MetroPCS plans to stock the Indulge in retail stores this Thursday or Friday. It should be upgradable to Android 2.3 down the line.

A 'first,' with qualifications

The carrier raised some eyebrows last fall when it launched the first 4G LTE phone. However, the Samsung Craft is a feature phone in an industry in which high-end smartphones are the ones that turn heads.

Getting noticed is Metro's goal in introducing Samsung's latest extension to its Galaxy smartphone line. The operator claims that the Indulge is the "first" Android 4G LTE smartphone, which is so far true in terms of phones you can actually hold in your hands. We certainly saw more LTE phones at CES, including the HTC Thunderbolt and the Samsung 4G LTE smartphone.

Although the Thunderbolt is currently available for preorder through Best Buy, units won't ship until the middle of the month. In that sense, MetroPCS looks like it'll win this round.

4G is 'a necessity'

Despite Metro's stealth mode in choosing not to showcase the Samsung Galaxy Indulge during CES, 4G is critical to the carrier's strategy. CNET spoke to MetroPCS Director of Handset Product Management Tony Lau. We asked what motivated MetroPCS to clock "firsts" against the four major U.S. carriers. Lau responded:

I think it is through necessity, to be quite honest. One of the reasons we're transitioning to LTE is because of capacity and because that's where the industry is heading. Our core is 1xRT and we haven't really invested in EV-DO. There's an increase in consumer demand...we're trying as fast as we can to transition our handset profile and our network.

Lau also told CNET that 4G LTE is "critical" to the carrier's growth plan. MetroPCS hasn't added new markets in the last two years (although it did expand in existing areas,) and doesn't have any current plans to do so in 2011.

MetroPCS has activated 4G LTE in all its markets except Tampa, Fla., which it plans to launch "very soon." In addition to new 4G-capable phones, customers can also look forward to Metro's voice-over-LTE trial later this year.