HTC Evo, Apple iPhone 4 Hype Stokes Smartphone Chaos

No matter how you look at it, the smartphone market is in disarray. There are so many smartphone models claiming to have so many features and technological advantages that it's difficult to sort out the hype from the hard facts.

If you believe the hype from Apple, the June 7 introduction of the iPhone 4 was roughly equivalent to the Second Coming. Steve Jobs, the high priest of technology, stood on the dais and presented his latest gift to the faithful. He explained to all who would listen just how cool it was, and then, for whatever reason, couldn't get a signal.

The iPhone 4's WiFi issues aside, it was a big deal because it comes from Apple. Until the iPhone 4 introduction, the iPhone had been passed on all sides by a number of competitors that managed to present devices that were faster and better, and had larger screens, higher download speeds and a set of their own believers.

In May it was the Sprint HTC Evo, a device that was the dream of the Android set. It has a screen larger than the one on the iPhone, and it has access to a 4G network, which theoretically means you can download stuff more quickly.

Before that, the darling was the Verizon Droid Incredible, which was designed to take on its older Droid stablemate and provide better operations, better hardware and some nicer features. But the reality is more complex than that. In addition to perceived coolness, carriers and phone makers are trying a number of approaches to creating a smartphone that will be the Next Big Thing with a wide range of customers.

Sprint's HTC Evo launch contributed to the smartphone feature war with its introduction of the Android-based Evo that has a 4.3-inch screen, supports HD video and uses the company's 4G network. It got a lot of hype, but how does it compare with T-Mobile's HD2 device, which also has a 4.3-inch screen that does HD video and uses T-Mobile's HSPA network that is theoretically faster than Sprint's 4G?

Before you start sending comments about speeds, Sprint claims its 4G network is theoretically better than 10 megabits per second. T-Mobile is saying its HSPA network is theoretically capable of 14M bps. Yes, I know that HSPA is supposed to be 3G, not 4G. Meanwhile, T-Mobile is building out its HSPA+ network that is theoretically capable of about 21M bps. Where does all of this leave the iPhone 4, running on the decidedly non-4G network at AT&T?

Well, not nearly as badly off as you might think. The 7.2M-bps speed of the AT&T 3G network is also theoretical. The reality of all of these networks is that they don't ever, and won't ever, approach their respective theoretical speeds. The reality is that in a really good situation, with clean signals, few other users competing for bandwidth and your device in a good location, you might get 20 to 25 percent of the theoretical speed. In the real world it won't be that good. And note that this isn't just true of cell phone data signals-it's true for nearly any wireless communications, including WiFi.

Based on these facts, it's clear that the 3G versus 4G hype is almost certainly overstated. What else is there? Everything out there supports video, and three of the devices mentioned above support HD video.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...