KEEPING UP WITH SMARTPHONES

nexusone

Back in the old days – say, six months ago – buying a smartphone meant signing up with AT&T for an iPhone (and sighing at AT&T’s shortcomings), or settling for something less capable from another carrier. Things are changing fast – here are a few random highlights.

Google’s Nexus One phone is only available online, sight unseen, for the unsubsidized price of $529, or a subsidized price of $179 through T-Mobile. It was just released in a version that can be used on AT&T’s network, and word is that a Verizon-compatible model will be delivered shortly. Click the buttons on the online demo! It’s very impressive.

Google sold 135,000 Nexus One phones in its first 75 days – the length of time it took Apple to sell a million iPhones – leading to a flurry of articles concluding that the phone was definitely either a failure or a success. I agree completely.

The Nexus One is manufactured by HTC, a Korean company that came out of nowhere to begin manufacturing an array of well-designed, appealing smartphones on both the Android and Windows Mobile platforms. I’m keeping my eye on the HTC Incredible, which reportedly will be announced as a Verizon phone any day now. It’s built on the Android platform but features a UI created by HTC for touchscreen phones that looks great and is said to be fast and likable.

It was HTC that was sued by Apple last week, by the way, for alleged patent infringements. Make no mistake, that was an attack aimed at Google and its Android operating system, with HTC standing in as the first proxy in what might turn into a drawn-out legal battle with other Android manufacturers and eventually a direct assault against Google.

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Meanwhile, T-Mobile will introduce the HTC HD2 next week, a hotly awaited phone built on Windows Mobile 6.5 but so well customized with the same HTC Sense UI that it has caught the fancy of gadget-watchers worldwide. It looks great but it has a problem: Microsoft is completely focused on Windows Mobile 7, the completely revamped replacement for the phone operating system, which will be incompatible in every conceivable way with the HD2. Windows Mobile 7 won’t be released until late this year, which is a lifetime in the phone world, so this is actually a phone to look very closely at right now.

Incidentally, if you want a good idea of where the world is headed, think about this. Microsoft presented its plans for Windows Mobile 7 to developers at a conference this week, with massive coverage from the Microsoft and gadget bloggers and news organizations. It was only in hindsight that an Engadget blogger realized that no one had actually seen a Windows 7 device make a phone call. (He asked for a demo. They make calls.) Phone calls are so incidental that it’s practically a coincidence that these little pocket computers can do them at all.

The latest scorecard for anyone with mail run by Exchange Server (businesses using Small Business Server or hosted Exchange accounts): your mail/calendar/contacts will sync with an iPhone, any Android phone, any Windows Mobile phone, and some Nokia phones. Or in other words, anything but Blackberry.

Happy shopping!