There are several key factors to weigh before deciding on a smartphone: the mobile operating system, the handset maker, available apps and the way the underlying wireless network theoretically performs in areas where you live, work and travel. But all things being equal — and they rarely are — the display is what's critically important for many people.
Last week, AT&T unveiled two smartphones that, from the screen-size perspective, couldn't be more dissimilar. The Samsung Infuse 4G has a mammoth 4.5-inch touch-screen that is the largest I've seen on a U.S. smartphone. It's formidable for watching movies on the go.
By contrast, AT&T is going small with the petite Hewlett-Packard Veer 4G, a comfy little cutie with a 2.6-inch multitouch display. Side by side, that difference is ginormous, as if NBA legends Nate "Tiny" Archibald at 6-foot-1 went up against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who's more than a foot taller.
Size is relative, of course. While the overall design of the 4.6-ounce Infuse is much larger than the 3.6-ounce Veer, Samsung's device is actually thinner. Samsung claims that Infuse — a shade over one-third-inch thick — is the thinnest 4G smartphone on the market.
Veer is just a little bit chunky, mainly because of the hidden physical keyboard that is revealed when you slide up the touch-screen. You rely on that keyboard a lot, because Veer doesn't have a virtual keyboard equivalent. Infuse is just the opposite. It has a virtual keyboard but no physical keyboard.
There are other important distinctions. Infuse runs version 2.2 (Froyo) of Google's Android mobile platform, not the latest Gingerbread version that is coming to the device later. Veer runs the WebOS operating system that HP snapped up last year with its acquisition of Palm.
Infuse arrives in stores Sunday for $200 with a two-year contract. Veer hits the same day for $100 less with a two-year contract. Both can tap into what AT&T considers a 4G (fourth-generation) wireless network. Both function as mobile Wi-Fi hot spots (for up to five devices), with a $20 tethering plan on top of a $25 monthly data plan. A closer look:
Infuse. Several smartphones have cracked the 4-inch display barrier but none to the degree Samsung has with the Infuse. That pushes it close to small tablet territory. I'm reminded of the Dell Streak that emerged last summer. With its 5-inch screen, Streak was billed as a tablet, though it also functioned as an oversized smartphone.
Dell's size didn't quite measure up in my view, but Samsung's device feels as if it's within reasonable bounds. The handsome phone takes advantage of stunning screen technology called Super AMOLED. Infuse is preloaded with a version of the popular Angry Birds game from Rovio. The first 500,000 devices sold will also include a $25 voucher to download movies or TV shows through the Samsung Media Hub store app. And the supplied 2-gigabyte micoSD card is preloaded with summer movie trailers. (The device can accommodate up to a 32-GB microSD card.) I rented The Dilemma from Media Hub and watched it, among other videos. Infuse has a gorgeous screen with vivid colors and a wide viewing angle.
But I received low-battery indications faster than I'd have liked. I also had difficulty making the screen out in direct sunlight, despite Samsung's claims to the contrary. And good as the screen is for movies, the text on Web pages isn't at all crisp.
Infuse comes with a 1.2-gigahertz processor, 8-megapixel camera with flash that can shoot HD video, plus a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera.
Veer. As a fan of the original WebOS-based device, the Palm Pre, it's refreshing to see that elegant software platform live on in the Veer, a prelude to other WebOS devices promised from HP this summer, including an upcoming tablet and new version of the Pre.
As on its predecessors, you engage the WebOS screen interface through finger motions or gestures. Multiple apps can be opened at the same time, through a clever deck-of-cards-like screen metaphor.
The Palm Synergy feature lets you easily collect, coordinate and consolidate all your personal information from many Web sources, including your e-mail, contacts and calendar. I did encounter one snag — apparently because of subsequent software updates since I reviewed earlier WebOS devices — I couldn't populate Veer with all my information based on a so-called Palm Profile I had previously set up.
With only about 6,000 apps in HP's App Catalog store, the Veer badly trails Android (200,000-plus) and Apple (around 350,000).
The Veer battery (unlike Infuse's) is not removable, but at least it survived a full day of mixed use on a single charge. The qwerty keyboard is usable, but I'm not wild about its tiny keys.
And I can't imagine spending much time watching movies on the Veer. But the 320-by-400-pixel screen is decent for surfing the Web. The handset comes with 8 GB of internal user storage and a 5-megapixel camera.
WebOS is a big-time mobile operating system that in this case is trapped in a compact capsule of a phone.
THE BOTTOM LINE
AT&T HP Veer 4G
$100 (with two-year contract)
Three stars (out of four)
Pro. Petite phone is small and light. WebOS operating system.
Con. Small screen won't appeal to all. Ditto for physical keyboard. Weak on apps.
AT&T Samsung Infuse 4G
$200 (with two-year contract)
Three and a quarter stars
Pro. Stunningly large display is terrific for movies. Thin handset.
Con. Battery is so-so. Text for Web pages wasn't crisp.