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Explainer: The 10 best smartphones of the season

  • With access to games, reading material, personal assistants and thousands of apps, people are spending a lot of times with their phones nowadays. So why not give the gift that keeps on giving? Here are our top smartphone picks for the big four U.S. carriers so you can make sure that special someone has the ultimate handset.

  • iPhone 4s ($199)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    On the outside, the iPhone 4S looks identical to the iPhone 4, but it’s vastly improved on the inside. A dual-core A5 processor nearly doubles performance and lets you play eye-popping games that take advantage of the chip’s enhanced graphics. You also get a sharper 8-megapixel camera that takes brighter photos faster and records 1,080p video. But the most talked-about feature is Siri, a voice-controlled personal assistant. $199 (with two-year contract on AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless); www.apple.com

    Read Our Apple iPhone 4S AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Reviews

  • HTC ReZound ($299)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    Blazing fast dual-core performance, sensual beats audio and a 720p (1,280 x 720) resolution make the HTC ReZound a truly groundbreaking phone. Add in Verizon's industry-leading 4G LTE network, HTC's gorgeous sense UI and a robust camera and you have a truly winning handset.

    Read Our HTC Rezound Review

  • Samsung Galaxy S II ($799, unlocked; $199, on contract)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    Samsung’s most powerful smartphone yet is available on AT&T, Sprint and T-mobile, and it's sporting a vivid 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display and one of the fastest processors ever to grace an Android handset. The 8-MP photos and 1,080p videos they shoot with the Galaxy S II will look fantastic on the screen, as will the movies they download from Samsung’s Media Hub. All of this in a design that’s only 0.4 inches thin.

    Read Our Galaxy S II 4G (Sprint) Review

  • Samsung Exhibit II 4G ($49.99)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    Here’s a phone that proves you don’t have to spend big bucks to get advanced capabilities. The Samsung Exhibit II 4G runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, has a 3.7-inch touchscreen and links to T-Mobile’s 4G HSPA data network, all for less than $50. The device also has a 3-MP camera to take photos and video when your point-and-shoot isn’t handy. $49.99; www.t-mobile.com (with two-year contract; data plans starting at $39.99 per month)

    Read Our Exhibit II 4G Review

  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus (TBA)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    After months of speculation, Samsung and Google finally unveiled the highly anticipated Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the first smartphone to run Google’s Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, during a joint press conference in October. The phone features some impressive hardware, sporting a 4.65-inch HD display (1,280 x 720p), 4G LTE data support, a 1.2-GHz processor and a hyperskin backing that makes the rounded device easy to grip. But its the new Ice Cream Sandwich software that truly makes this superphone stand out. Price TBA; www.verizon.com

    Read Our Samsung Galaxy Nexus Review

  • HTC Amaze 4G ($259)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    As you might expect from T-Mobile’s flagship Android handset, the HTC Amaze 4G is packed to the gills with top-flight features. Under the hood is a dual-core 1.5-GHz processor that flies. A large 4.3-inch Super LCD screen with a sharp qHD (960 x 540) resolution shows off the Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS and HTC’s Sense UI. The Amaze 4G boasts a fast 8-MP camera that can shoot 1,080p HD video. Add in support for T-Mobile’s fastest 4G speeds and you have one serious powerhouse. $259; www.t-mobile.com (with two-year contract; data plans starting at $39.99 per month)

    Read Our HTC Amaze 4G Review

  • HTC Rhyme ($199)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    Designed with an eye for style and simplicity, the HTC Rhyme is about more than the phone itself. The package includes a dock that transforms the phone into an alarm clock, a set of tangle-free gym-friendly headphones, plus a unique charm dongle that flashes to alert users to incoming calls and messages. The phone’s 1-GHz CPU runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread smoothly, and HTC has enhanced its Sense software to give users more at-a-glance info on the home screen. $199; www.verizonwireless.com (with two-year contract; data plans starting at $30 per month)

    Read Our HTC Rhyme Review

  • Motorola Droid RAZR ($299)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    The Kevlar back and diamond cut finish on Motorola's upcoming superphone give it a sturdier and more premium look and feel, letting you know that this phone, the thinnest in the world, is the real deal. The Droid RAZR's Super AMOLED Enhanced screen is sharp and clean, and the Smart Actions software will make suggestions to help you save battery life on your phone. Performance is also very smooth on the RAZR’s1.2-GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM, making navigation easier than ever. It'll be available for Verizon in November. $299; www.verizonwireless.com

    Read Our Droid RAZR Hands-On

  • LG Thrill 4G ($99.99)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    Featuring a 4.3-inch glasses-free 3-D display, the LG Thrill 4G brings an extra dimension to the table for enjoying games such as Asphalt 6 and Let’s Golf. It also captures 3-D pictures and videos. But that’s not all this phone has to offer; it boasts quality audio and fast dual-core performance. Plus, the Thrill 4G rides on AT&T’s HSPA network, so you can expect swift page loads. $99.99; www.att.com (with two-year contract; data plans starting at $15 per month)

    Read Our LG Thrill 4G Review

  • Sony Ericsson Xperia Play 4G ($49.99)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    The Sony Xperia Play merges the fun of a mobile gaming device and the communication prowess of a full Android Gingerbread handset into one attractive smartphone. Already onboard are seven action-packed games, including Madden NFL 11 for your gridiron fix, Star Battalion to obliterate bad guys in space and The Sims 3 to create and control the lives of virtual people. Its brilliant display and precise controls will make you forget that the Xperia Play can make calls. $49.99; wireless.att.com (with two-year contract; data plans starting at $15 per month)

    Read Our Sony Xperia Play 4G Review

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