Things have changed a lot for LTE fans over the past year or so. Back in the first days of LTE (a time when Verizon was the only LTE carrier in the US), the number of possible choices faced by a potential buyer was restricted to a couple of smartphones, period. But as it stands, given the fact that AT&T has already rolled out its LTE network in numerous markets, while Sprint will soon launch an LTE network of its own, those of you that plan to purchase an LTE smartphone throughout 2012 will also have to pay attention to the carrier you’re planning to spend your next 24 contractual months with, besides choosing the smartphone that seems right for you.
At this point, it should be noted that, although a recent study has showed that less than 7% of the smartphones purchased in the US during Q4 2011 use LTE technology, it is only obvious that by the end of 2012, that percentage will increase significantly, as US carriers expand their LTE coverage throughout the nation and more LTE-compatible smartphones get released.
Before we talk about the best LTE smartphones of 2012, it should be noted that Verizon and AT&T are the only carriers that currently provide 4G LTE coverage, although Sprint will soon enter the market as well. In a recent study by PCWorld, AT&T’s LTE network turned out to provide faster download speeds than Verizon's, while the latter allows for faster upload speeds (and is also available in many more cities).
Back in the times of the first LTE smartphones, many users found that LTE-connectivity was a huge power drainer, up to the point where the HTC Thunderbolt – the first LTE smartphone ever released – was reported to last as little as 3-4 hours with LTE on. This is exactly the issue addressed by the Verizon-Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx. Basically a Droid RAZR with a huge 3,300mAh battery, the RAZR Maxx is also only slightly thicker than the original Droid RAZR (measuring 8.99mm at its slimmest point), but it can last for more than 11 hours on LTE usage. Although the prolonged battery life is definitely what sets the RARZ Maxx apart from the other smartphones in this list, you’ll find that the Maxx doesn’t disappoint hardware-wise either, as the spec sheet below easily points out.
If you’re looking for a stock Android 4.0 ICS experience with LTE-connectivity, than you need not look further, as the third iteration in the Google Nexus line of smartphones is the closest thing to the perfect Android experience you'll find. Hardware-wise, its 4.65inch SAMOLED screen is one of the best smartphone displays out there (if not the best), while the inclusion of an NFC chip is also a welcomed addition. Buying a Nexus smartphone also means you’ll be among the first Android users to get future OS updates, which is a pretty big deal for many users (myself included). The LTE version of Galaxy Nexus is now available at both Sprint and Verizon, although Sprint hasn’t rolled out its LTE network yet.
Although AT&T’s LTE network facilitates the fastest download speeds out there, its LTE enabled smartphones are far from being on par with what Verizon currently has to offer, performance-wise. On the other hand, at the price of $99 with a two-year contract (if you buy via Amazon), the Galaxy S2 Skyrocket is a very appealing deal for a more-than-mid-range LTE smartphone. Unfortunately, the Skyrocket is a generation older than the Galaxy Nexus, and that shows in the quality of the display, among others. The spec sheet clearly denotes that the AT&T Skyrocket is a step above other mid-range smartphones, but it’s not exactly a flagship device these days either.
So there you have it folks, these are the best 3 LTE smartphones currently available on the market. Each one of them comes with their unique advantages and setbacks, but ultimately, it all boils down to choosing between 3 distinct directions:
Note: just in case you aren’t aware of it by now, Sprint has recently announced the HTC Evo 4G LTE for a May release while AT&T is expected to soon unveil the HTC One XL: a dual-core, LTE-enabled version of the recently launched HTC One X. When these smartphones become commercially available, we’ll update this article to reflect the changes in the LTE market.