Cool stuff: Your 2010 holiday tech gift guide

Check out the best tablets, smartphones, HDTVs and other tech gifts to give and get this year

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Smartphones sizzle

Smartphones are still drawing the attention of consumers and business users alike; it sometimes seems as though there is a new and snazzier device being introduced every week.

Apple's iPhone is still a favorite. The latest version, the iPhone 4, has drawn widespread admiration and set sales records. But smartphones based on the Android operating system have been gaining popularity, to the point that Apple vs. Android battles have become a popular sport for many online pundits.

However, one basic fact hasn't changed since last year: The first thing you need to do before purchasing a smartphone as a gift is to find out what phone service your intended recipient prefers. Even with the advent of new high-performance 4G and HSPA+ networks, there are still many places that may work with one company's service but not another.

Incidentally, if your giftee is an Apple fan but has problems with AT&T's network, you may want to think about a gift certificate: The latest word has it that the iPhone will be available through Verizon sometime in early 2011. Stay tuned.

AT&T: Apple iPhone 4 (iOS 4.2)

AT&T's star player is still the iPhone -- and for good reason. Despite the that had Apple distributing free cases, Apple's iPhone 4 is beautifully designed, with a thin aluminum-and-glass shell that has made even contented iPhone 3G and 3GS owners want to line up for an upgrade.

Apple iPhone 4

Apple iPhone 4

The iPhone 4 has more than a pretty face, however. It comes with an enhanced 3.5-in. 960-by-640-pixel resolution display, up to 32MB of storage, a 5-megapixel back-facing camera and a new front-facing lens for video chats. The latest upgrade of the operating system, iOS 4.2, brings nifty features like Find My iPhone, which helps you locate that misplaced phone, and the ability to wirelessly stream media to an Apple TV or other device.

Computerworld reviewer Michael deAgonia says:

There are other smartphones out there with more features, but none that strikes the right balance of aesthetics, design, software, feature set and battery life. The iPhone isn't a collection of features; it's a well-thought-out multifunction device with features bound together by a drop-dead simple, drop-dead gorgeous operating system. Quite literally, it's more than the sum of its parts. (Read the full review.)

And if your giftee already has an iPhone, don't worry: It's easy to find things to buy for iPhone owners. There are multitudes of iPhone-related speakers, cases and other gadgets on the market today. With all of that, it's no wonder that the iPhone remains one of the most popular devices out there.

iPhone 4 from Apple Inc.

Price: $199 (16GB) or $299 (32GB) with a two-year AT&T contract and a data plan ($15/mo. for 200MB, $25/mo. for 2GB)

Tech Specs  |  Store Locator  |  Phone: (800) MY APPLE

Summary: Apple's iPhone remains one of the most popular smartphones out there, for good reason.

Sprint: Samsung Epic 4G (Android 2.1)

If you're a Sprint customer, there are actually two Android phones that run neck and neck as the best gift choice: the HTC EVO 4G and the Samsung Epic 4G. Which one you choose depends largely on what you want to do with your phone and how much you want to pay.

Samsung Epic 4G

Samsung Epic 4G

The EVO 4G features a fabulous 4.3-in. display and has both an 8-megapixel back-facing camera and an additional front-facing camera. The Epic 4G, part of Samsung's Galaxy S family of smartphones, has a hard slide-out keypad, front- and back-facing cameras and an excellent 4-in. Super AMOLED display. At $250 after a mail-in rebate, the Epic currently costs $50 more than the EVO.

Both can take advantage of Sprint's expanding 4G network, which pushes the speed envelope for smartphone data transfer. Check to see if your gift recipient lives in a city that offers 4G connections; the faster service costs an extra $10/mo.

After a great deal of back-and-forth, even though it costs $50 more than the EVO, we've chosen the Samsung Epic 4 for its choice of soft or hard keyboards, and its high-quality (if slightly smaller) display.

Other outstanding features include the Swype text input technology, which makes it easier for soft keyboard fans to get their message across; an excellent user interface employing HTC's Sense environment; and the ability to act as a Wi-Fi hot spot (for an extra $29/mo.).

PC World reviewer Ginny Miles agrees:

Out of the Galaxy phones I've tested, the Epic 4G is definitely the best, and it's certainly one of the top Android phones available. The nicely designed physical keyboard, paired with the 4G goodness and front-facing camera, makes it hard to beat. The real question is whether it's a better choice than the HTC EVO 4G. It's a close call, but the Epic 4G slightly edges out the EVO. (Read the full review.)

However, because determining which smartphone works for you can come down to a matter of individual taste, you might want to check out both carefully.

Epic 4 from Samsung

Price: $249 (after $100 mail-in rebate) with two-year contract and data plan ($10/mo. for unlimited data)

Tech Specs  |  Store Locator  |  Phone: (866) 866-7509

Summary: A superior display, comfortable hard keypad and front- and back-facing cameras make Samsung's Epic 4G an excellent smartphone choice.

T-Mobile: HTC myTouch 4G (Android 2.2)

If you're looking for a great all-around multimedia smartphone under the T-Mobile rubric, then the myTouch 4G is a good choice. It comes with Android 2.2, a 3.8-in. TFT LCD display, front- and back-facing cameras, and a good-looking and well-designed interface.

HTC myTouch 4G

HTC myTouch 4G

The software has been tweaked to provide maximum ease of use, especially for people who are unaccustomed to smartphones; for example, there's a "Genius" button that lets you easily use voice commands to make calls, enter text, send e-mails and so on.

The myTouch 4G runs on T-Mobile's 3G HSPA+ network, which (if you're within range) can vastly improve your network performance. And if you do a lot of traveling and you're willing to spend an extra $15 a month, you can use the myTouch to create a Wi-Fi hot spot so you can connect your laptop to the Internet anywhere.

In her review for PC World, Ginny Miles is enthusiastic:

T-Mobile and HTC definitely have a real winner here with the myTouch 4G. The powerful processing speeds paired with HSPA+ data speeds are hard to beat when it comes to watching videos and browsing the Web. (Read the full review.)

The performance boost, along with the hot spot capability and an overall great user interface, makes the myTouch 4G a real winner for T-Mobile subscribers.

myTouch 4G from HTC Corp.

Price: $200 (after $50 Web-only discount) with two-year contract and a data plan ($10/mo. for 200MB, $30/mo. for unlimited usage)

Tech Specs  |  Store Locator  |  Phone: (800) 866-2453

Summary: The myTouch 4G is a great overall phone that offers high performance and hot spot capabilities.

Verizon: Motorola Droid X (Android 2.1)

If you're looking for an Android phone, Verizon has been doing its best to make sure that you've got a range of selections. It introduced the original Droid last year, and now offers a group of new smartphones, including the Samsung Fascinate, the Droid 2 and most recently the Droid Pro, which gets a lot of kudos as a great smartphone for business users.

Motorola Droid X

Motorola Droid X

However, if you're looking for the best all-around multimedia phone, you'll probably go for the Droid X, featuring a fabulous 4.3-in. WVGA TFT display that offers crisp colors and a responsive touch interface (and is large enough so you won't need your reading glasses), an 8-megapixel camera with HD video capture and dual-LED flash, high-end video playback, and even a feature called "High Quality" (HQ) that makes sure that your favorite movie will take up the entire screen.

The phone comes with 8GB of onboard memory and a 16GB microSD card; it can handle up to a 32GB microSD card. (Note: Although both the Verizon and Motorola Web sites say that the Droid X ships with Android 2.1, an update to Android 2.2 was pushed to Droid X phones in September.)

The Droid X uses the MotoBlur front end, which offers a simple, structured interface for Android users. It also offers good call quality, fine performance, and multitouch technology; it's a great all-around multimedia device.

Droid X from Motorola Inc.

Price: $200 (after $100 mail-in rebate) with two-year contract and data plan ($10/mo. for 25MB; $30/mo. for 5GB)

Tech Specs  |  Store Locator  |  Phone: (800) 922-0204

Summary: With its sharp, large display, the Droid X works well as a multimedia device -- and it's a good phone, too.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

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