Time for a battle royale.
CES 2011 was all about tablets. It was also all about 3D, green energy solutions, and bleeding edge superphones. Hey, it was a big damn show.
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Motorola's Atrix seems to have drawn the most love from the tech press- but I found myself a bit underwhelmed. It's certainly fast- and a solid PC replacement for Mr. Layman with the gorgeous dock set-up. But it also feels kind of cheap and plasticky compared to LG's Optimus 2X. I wasn't a fan of the design- and I know a few other attendees who echoed my feelings.
But most people seemed to really dig it. I'd recommend going into a store and playing with this thing in person, just to make sure it feels right in your hands. That's pretty much always good advice.
And then there's the HTC Thunderbolt. It doesn't pack a dual-core processor, but it is easily HTC's best phone yet. I met up with a rep from HTC and did an extensive demo of the new device and walked away suitably impressed. The new Snapdragon processor handles media way better than the one in my Evo. And HTC's new version of Sense actually has a few awesome features. Like the ability to see a side-scrolling menu of basic apps whenever you pull down the main Android menu.
This may be entirely apocryphal, but the HTC rep told me that a benchmarking test performed during CES put the Thunderbolt ahead of the Atrix in graphics performance and overall speed. I haven't independently confirmed that but, in the twenty or so minutes of use I logged on either device, I noticed no visible difference in power. Neither phone lagged during anything I did.
The Atrix definitely has an edge in RAM- 1 GB compared to 768 MB. It also has a larger battery (1930 mAH compared to 1400) but that will probably be offset by the increased power drain of the dual cores. We'll have to wait for the first stress tests before we can say anything conclusive. The Thunderbolt has better cameras- front and rear-facing- and a larger screen. But the Atrix has twice as much on-board storage (16 GB compared to 8 GB).
Connectivity: This is where we see the big difference between these three phones, from an end-user standpoint. The Atrix is chained to AT&T's HSPA+ network. Which is solid, but feels like wading through molasses compared to Verizon's LTE network. HSPA+ simply will not reliably see 6-11 Mbps speeds. So far, LTE does. In Conclusion...
From Joe Smartphone's standpoint, these phones won't feel wildly different. Both are the end-result of years worth of development from two of the finest manufacturers in the industry. You really cannot go wrong with either device.
Don't fall for the hype and buy online or pre-order. Wait for display models to hit your local Big Box store and then see which phone feels right. MotoBlur and Sense are different UIs, and both devices have contrasting design aesthetics. I'm convinced that the average consumer won't regret making either purchase...as long as he/she buys the handset that sits right in their hands.
Take your time- whichever phone you buy will be with you for the next two years. There's no cause to hurry.