On one hand, Apple's iPhone 5 (from $199 on 2-year plan) doesn't mess what made its predecessors so sought after — it's still a sleek, all-touch device with an intuitive interface, countless apps and smooth synchronization with services like iTunes and iCloud — but along with a redesigned body and larger screen, Apple has bumped up the specs just enough to get fan boys (and girls) drooling. Click here if you haven't read what iPhone 5 offers, out Sept. 21.
As popular as iPhone is — selling more than 25 million handsets worldwide last quarter alone (and iPhone 5 pre-orders topping 2 million in its first 24 hours) — they're not the only game in town. In fact, many of today's Android phones can outperform iPhone 5, feature for feature, plus Google's mobile platform is far less restrictive than Apple's iOS. Microsoft and Research in Motion are also cooking up some compelling iPhone alternatives with its Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10 OS smartphones, respectively.
Another consideration: not everyone can buy an iPhone even if they want one, maybe because their carrier doesn't support it (T-Mobile, for one) or perhaps the cost of Apple's phone is prohibitive to some (just like their Macs).
And so the following is a look at a few competing smartphones that not only challenge iPhone 5 on a few fronts, but even outshine Apple's iconic device. Note: some of these smartphones aren't yet available at retail, but we've gotten our hands on 'em.
For the first time in iPhone's 5-year history, Apple has bumped up the screen size to 4-inches. It's a taller (not wider) display that now delivers a true widescreen presentation when held sideways (16:9 aspect ratio, like your HDTV, when held sideways).
The new 4-inch still employs Apple's "Retina" technology, which refers to the fact the human eye can't distinguish the millions of individual dots (pixels) that make up the text and images.
But those looking for a gorgeous screen might instead consider the upcoming Moto Droid Razr HD, an Android-powered phone unveiled on September 5.
Due out this fall on Verizon, this Droid boasts a 4.7-inch 720p HD screen with 1,280 x 720 resolution (iPhone 5's screen tops out at 1,136 x 640 resolution). The Razr HD's display also spans edge to edge, with just a little bit of bezel surrounding it.
As with the previous Razr, this new phone — measuring 131.9mm tall, 67.9 mm wide and a svelte 8.4mm thin -- can take a beating with its durable Kevlar fiber and Corning Gorilla glass.
OK, let's get the obvious out of the way: Microsoft and Nokia screwed up by using a doctored promo video to showcase the photography and video recording capabilities of its upcoming Lumia 920, a next-generation Windows Phone 8 device. But make no mistake — this camera rocks, if our hands-on time with it following the September 5 event in NYC is any indication.
On paper, it doesn't look vastly different than iPhone's iSight camera; both the Nokia Lumia 920 and iPhone 5 have an 8-megapixel real-facing camera (3264 x 2448 pixels) with autofocus and LED flash.
But the Lumia's PureView camera offers exceptional low-light performance (taking in up to 5 times more light than other smartphone cameras), optical (not digital) image stabilization and support for a number of filters, special effects and other fun things you can do with your photos while taking them (or afterwards). At Nokia's event, one live demo involved removing unwanted people in a scene so you can see the background unobstructed.
As awesome as the iPhone is, battery life remains its Achilles' heel. In other words, what's the point in being able to do so much if you're looking for an AC outlet by the mid-afternoon?
Hopefully the iPhone 5 will have a better battery (or better battery management) than the iPhone 4S, but if you want a smartphone today that can truly last all day, look no further than the Samsung Galaxy S III (from $199.99 on 2-year plan).
Apple says iPhone 5 can last 225 hours standby and delivers 8 hours talk time (on 3G). Claims were similar for iPhone 4S but I wasn't alone in saying I got nowhere near this amount of talk time, even by dimming the screen, turning off push mail and disabling some radios while not in use such as Bluetooth and GPS.
By comparison, Samsung Galaxy S III offers — get this — 790 hours of standby and 11:40 hours talk time (3G). Remarkably, this is with this Android's massive 4.8-inch screen, NFC (near field communications) radio and LTE 4G connectivity.
Oh, and unlike the iPhone, the Galaxy S III's massive 2,100 mAh battery is removable, too, just in case a serious traveler wants to keep a spare handy.
iPhone was born out of the iPod, and thus music is a big part of its heritage and current appeal -- including iTunes integration. But other smartphones rival against the iPhone in the sound department, including AT&T's HTC One X ($99 on 2-year term).
This Android phone rocks, in part, due to Beats Audio processing. Whether you're listening to your tunes the way they were downloaded, side-loaded or streamed onto the smartphone (including built-in apps like MOG and TuneIn Radio) or you've chosen to tweak the sound with various equalizer presets and settings, music sounds great with the bundled black earbuds -- or better yet, with pricier over-the-ear headphones. (For equalizer options, try the Sweetener profile for well-balanced lows, mids and highs.)
An HTC exclusive (HTC owns 51 percent of Beats, after all), the Beats Audio technology sounds impressive even when playing games, watching videos or listening to audiobooks or podcasts.
Heck, even phone calls seem loud and clear on the HTC One X, if anyone still talks on their smartphone these days.
It's no secret Sony is playing catch-up in the smartphone space as the company finds itself, but don't dismiss the impressive Xperia ion as a powerful and versatile Android phone for half the cost of iPhone 5.
On sale for $99.99 on a 2-year AT&T contract, Sony's first LTE phone delivers broadband-like speeds in select markets. Its 4.6-inch screen is more than a half-inch larger than iPhone 5 (and it's very purty, too) and unlike Apple's device you can expand its memory via up to 32GB microSD cards.
Other impressive features include a 12-megapixel camera (with 1080p video capture and 3D sweep panorama mode), 1900 mAh battery or up to 10 hours of talk time an exclusive media apps such as Sony's Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited.
OK, so its processor can't compare to iPhone 5 and it's an outdated Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) platform is a bit of a disappointment, but at least Xperia ion users can access to the Google Play store (formerly Android Market) and its more than 500,000 downloads.
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