2011 Complete Guide to 4G Mobile Phones In the US: AT&T edition. HSPA+ and LTE for ATT, Motorola Atrix / Samsung Infuse

Introduction

This guide will discuss AT&T. Stay tuned for guides covering the other carriers, such as

Let's get started with America's Largest Network... But latest to the 4G game.

AT&T currently offers HSPA+21 as their "4G". AT&T is deploying LTE but thus have introduced no phones with LTE nor full announcements on which cities will get LTE.

EDIT: updated 09-SEP-2011, added Xperia Play 4G, Huawei Impulse 4G


AT&T logo
AT&T logo

What Is "4G" Any Way?

The word "4G" was brandied about by the major and minor mobile carriers in the US as if it is some sort of talisman to ward off competitors. Find out why the term 4G had been neutered and what it was supposed to mean.

AT&T: late to the game, weasel definition

AT&T was very slow in jumping into the 4G game, as it was playing the gentleman, refusing to buy into the T-Mobile lie: that HSPA+ is "4G". As a result, AT&T has no true 4G network. It is in the process of deploying LTE, but currently has no LTE phones.

Instead, AT&T is marketing HSPA+ as "4G", even though HSPA+ is a 3G technology, albeit tweaked to go quite a bit faster ("up to four times faster" as claimed on AT&T website). It decided to follow in T-Mobile's footsteps.

AT&T's HSPA+ coverage is severely limited to only some major metropolitan areas. Check their coverage map to make sure you are covered or else you will be wasting your money getting one of these, and not able to enjoy any speed gains.

AT&T says they may have LTE network up by 2012. However, it has not announced any LTE phones or devices, and according to recent news, AT&T's LTE will not be compatible with Verizon's LTE (no roaming for you).

Currently, the 4G phones (HSPA+ 21) available (or coming very soon) on AT&T are:

  • HTC Inspire 4G -- 1 GHz CPU 4.3 inch screen
  • Motorola Atrix 4G -- dual core 1GHz CPU, 1 GB of RAM, HDMI out
  • Samsung Infuse 4G --4.5 inch screen, ultra thin
  • HP Veer 4G (running WebOS) -- tiny screen, 320x200, webOS
  • LG Thrill 4G (a.k.a. LG Optimus 3D as HSPA+)
  • Sony-Ericsson Xperia Play 4G -- the Playstation Phone in HSPA+
  • Huawei Impulse 4G -- updated Ideos X5 with HSPA+ support


Samsung Infuse 4G, practically a small tablet at 4.5 inch diagonal screen
Samsung Infuse 4G, practically a small tablet at 4.5 inch diagonal screen

Samsung Infuse 4G

Features:

  • ultra thin, 0.35 inches
  • 4.5 inch diagonal screen, one of biggest screens available
  • Super AMOLED Plus screen
  • 1.2 GHz CPU (single core)
  • 8 MP back camera and 1.3 MP front camera
  • $199 with 2 year contract

Samsung Infuse is almost too big to be a phone, as the wide and thin body makes it very awkward to hold. While the screen had gotten bigger, the resolution is still 800x480. On the other hand, Super AMOLED Plus screen is absolutely gorgeous and can rival Apple's Retina Display in terms of color quality. The main problem with this phone is it is expensive ($199 with 2 year contract) and AT&T does not have much of a HSPA+ network to let the phone run at full speed. In most areas you're stuck with 1-2 Mbps 3G signal.

If you are in an area with AT&T HSPA+, and you need a large phone, then definitely look at the Infuse. Otherwise, you may be better off with some of the other AT&T 4G offerings: Motorola Atrix 4G, and HTC Inspire 4G.


Motorola Atrix 4G, in the laptop dock (unopened).
Motorola Atrix 4G, in the laptop dock (unopened).

Motorola Atrix 4G

Features

  • 4 inch screen with 960x540 resolution
  • Dual-core CPU at 1 GHz (each)
  • 5 MP back camera and VGA front camera
  • Laptop dock that turns phone into a laptop
  • Fingerprint reader
  • $99 with 2 year contract ($49 for refurbished phone)

Motorola Atrix 4G has a very neat trick: if you use it with the "laptop dock", it turns into sort of a laptop. However, it is a great phone as well. Its display is only second to iPhone 4's Retina Display in terms of sharpness. It is also blazingly fast with that dual core CPU and beautiful graphics due to the NVIDIA Tegra 2 core. The best part: AT&T has it for as low as $49.95 if you sign up for a 2 year plan (refurbished unit price, new is $99.99).

The main problem? Lousy camera for a 4G phone, software is buggy and crash prone, and the laptop dock and other accessories costs an arm and a leg... $500 if you want to buy it outright (or pay $300 and commit to extra $20 a month for 2 years, on top of your 2 year contract). And again, AT&T does not really have much of a HSPA+ network around the country, so the phone won't be able to run at full speed.

Overall, Motorola Atrix 4G is a great phone for people who don't need a huge screen size but instead want speed. The laptop dock is more of a gimmick that costs too much. If you have HSPA+ in your area, Atrix is probably a better deal than the Infuse.


HTC Inspire 4G, don't look that different, jack of all trades
HTC Inspire 4G, don't look that different, jack of all trades

HTC Inspire 4G

Features:

  • 4.3 inch screen
  • 1 GHz Snapdragon CPU
  • 8 MP back camera
  • $99 with 2 year contract ($49 for refurbished phone)

HTC Inspire 4G has no tricks to it. it is just a solid phone that has HSPA+ 21 so it can be called "4G". It is nice and fast for a single-core phone, and being HTC, the HTC Sense apps are nicely customized (though it annoys some Android purists). It is Jack of all trades, master of none, which makes it a better general purpose phone than either the "mini-tablet" Samsung Infuse or the "trick dock" Motorola Atrix.

Available as low as $49.99 (refurbished) or $99.99 (new), HTC Inspire is probably your best choice as AT&T's 4G phone.


HP Veer 4G, weird little phone that'll do 4G
HP Veer 4G, weird little phone that'll do 4G

HP Veer 4G

Features:

  • Small size and lightweight (only 3.5 Oz)
  • Physical pop-out keyboard
  • Multiple colors available
  • $99 with 2 year contract

At $99.99 for 2-year contract price, HP Veer 4G seems to be a weird entry when the Android phones in the same lineup offer so much more phone for the same price. The Veer has a very low resolution screen and tiny screen size compared to the other phones, and it runs WebOS, not iOS or Android. However, it does run HSPA+ 21, and it is 35% lighter than the other 3 phones in the AT&T lineup.

Again, the network coverage limits the phone. If you have HSPA+ coverage in your area, have apps in WebOS that you want to use (or you don't care which OS you use at all), and prefer a lighter / smaller phone, HP Veer 4G may be worth a look.


LG Thrill 4G (a.k.a. LG Optimus 3D)

Features:

  • dual 5MP back 3D Camera
  • 1 Ghz dual core CPU
  • $99 with 2 year contract

LG Thrill 4G was announced in May 2011 by AT&T, but since we haven't heard a peep out of AT&T or LG until formal announcement. It features similar specs to the HTC EVO 3D (on Sprint). 512MB of RAM, 1 GHz dual core, and yes, stereoscopic 5 MP camera in the back. And now, it's available for $100.

Here is Engadget's full announcement.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play 4G

Features:

  • 1 GHz CPU
  • PlayStation Network compatible (sort of)
  • Dock, Music Cable, and 7 preloaded games
  • Exclusive "Stealth Blue" color
  • $49.99 with 2 year contract

Xperia Play is coming to AT&T on September 18, 2011, with HSPA+ support, and the price, with 2 year contract, is a mere $50. AT&T adopters also gets a dock, a music cable, and 7 preloaded games for going with AT&T instead of their "Big Red" (Verizon) competitor...

Here's the Engadget announcement...

Huawei Impulse 4G

Features:

  • 800 Mhz CPU
  • HSPA+ 14.4
  • 3.8 inch display
  • $30 with 2 year contract

At a mere $30, you know this is not a top-end phone, but it had to be worth more than the Veer 4G... Basically, this is a rebadged Huawei Ideos X5, a phone that's widely available. Furthermore, it is BARELY 4G, as its HSPA+ is the slower 14.4 variant, instead of the HSPA+ 21 that all the other phones got. (Cincinatti Bell got a virtually indentical phone, see the other hub)

Q: Where's iPhone 4?
A: iPhone 4 is a 3G device, not 4G.

Comments and Conclusion

The best all-around choice among AT&T's 4G phones is a tie between Motorola Atrix 4G and HTC Inspire 4G. While Inspire has a better camera, Atrix has a better display and dual-core CPU. Considering that both is about the same price with contract, it is down to your personal preference.

In the meanwhile, check out the offerings on the other carriers below.



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2 comments

427CJ 5 years ago

I believe the HTC Inspire is only capable of HSPA+14 according to the HTC website. Here in southeast Michigan the network is capped at 7.2 Mb/s so no HSPA+21 here. Most of the time closer to the city the network speeds won't even reach 3 megs.


kschang profile image

kschang 5 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA Author

@427CJ -- I'll double check that. AT&T is going LTE any way, and these HSPA+ phones are just stopgap measures with limited lifespan.

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