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Two years later, AT&T realizes Android's potential

On the eve of losing iPhone exclusivity, AT&T begins to make its run at serious Android handsets. After kicking off the year with a bang, the carrier looks to have plenty on tap for 2011.

Android and 4G figure to play a huge role in AT&T coming year. Phandroid

After two years of lightly treading in the Android waters, AT&T is finally ready to start swimming for the deep end of the pool. And almost as if it were pure coincidence, the carrier's broader ambitions come into light as it prepares to lose exclusivity of the iPhone.

Looking ahead, AT&T has plenty of Android on the roadmap for 2011, confirmed by a recently leaked internal document. The details uncovered by Phandroid indicate that the carrier plans to offer at least 12 new devices in the coming year, including a pair of exclusive smartphones.

Looking at AT&T's current lineup of Android phones, it's hard to get very excited. Sure, the Captivate is a great device, but it doesn't stand out from the other Galaxy S models of its time. The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 is fantastic hardware, but it's hindered by the outdated software. The rest of the roster is a lesson in smartphone mediocrity with assorted handsets from HTC and Motorola.

The near future looks to take sharp turn for the positive, however, with three new phones deserving of your attention. Just as CES was kicking off in early January, the carrier unveiled the Motorola Atrix 4G, the HTC Inspire 4G, and Samsung Infuse 4G. A quick glance at their respective specs and it's obvious that AT&T is starting to "get" Android.

While any one of these would instantly rise to the top of their class, it's the Atrix 4G that really gets me excited. In fact, given its impressive hardware, I'd be willing to bet big money that this Atrix is one of the two exclusives that AT&T plans to get behind in 2011. Not only are we looking at a dual-core phone with laptop docking capabilities, but I'm also thinking it should carry a very attractive price point. A pair of recent sightings indicate the smartphone as carrying a $149 price tag once it arrives in late February or early March. And as for that laptop dock, Motorola may ask only $150 for it. So, for a shade under $300, you will be able to carry around an ultralight, yet powerful laptop, powered by Android.

Outside of the Atrix 4G, I might look for something out of Sony Ericsson. AT&T was the only provider to bring the Xperia X10 to the United States last year, so it seems fitting that they might offer the Xperia Arc. Sony Ericsson, much like AT&T, is looking for second chance at Android with its 2011 plans.

Of course, another possibility is the Xperia Play, aka the PlayStation phone, which is said to be right around the corner. Regardless of who makes the device or which particular one it might be, I have a renewed faith in AT&T. Let's hope the days of Backflips, Flipouts, and Flipsides truly are behind us.