T-Mobile's G-Slate, G2x Bank on 4G, Shiny Hardware

T-Mobile's G2x smartphone and G-Slate tablet represent bets that consumers want muscular hardware bound to a speedy 4G network.

ORLANDO, Fla.-Whether or not T-Mobile eventually ends up absorbed by AT&T, the carrier is still pushing forward into the tablet and smartphone spaces.

At this year's CTIA conference here March 22, the company is showing off the results of its latest collaboration with LG Electronics: the G2x, an Android smartphone with a muscular dual-core processor, and the LG G-Slate, whose powerful hardware and Android 3.0 (code-named "Honeycomb") operating system beg comparisons to the Motorola Xoom and other high-end tablets.

T-Mobile is betting that both devices' 4G capability will give them an additional leg up over competition in a crowded marketplace. But "4G" has also become one of the loudest buzzwords at the conference, and the company's competitors seem determined to enter the market with ultra-speedy devices of their own.

At 8.9 inches, the G-Slate walks a middle ground between 7-inch tablets such as Research In Motion's upcoming PlayBook and the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the 9.7-inch iPad that currently dominates the tablet market. Again taking the middle road among its competitors, the tablet also holds 32GB of internal memory. Support for Adobe Flash is a given; in their collective bid to break the iPad's hold on the tablet market, all manufacturers of Android tablets seem duty-bound to hold up their device's Flash support, which allows for the displaying of much of the Web's rich content, as a crucial competitive differentiator.

T-Mobile representatives allowed eWEEK a few minutes to toy with the G-Slate, and its 1GHz Nvidia Tegra dual-core processor certainly makes it feel fast and responsive. More to the point, tablets running Android 3.0 feel like actual tablets, as opposed to oversized smartphones: Multitasking is emphasized, and the generously sized home screens practically demand you crowd them with every widget you can download. At roughly 1.5 pounds, the G-Slate also feels (relatively) light in the hand.

More questionable, at least for those users with no interest in becoming the amateur-movie version of James Cameron, is the G-Slate's pair of stereoscopic 3D cameras, located on the back of the device. You can dismiss it as a gimmick, but the same 3D bug that bit television makers right around the time "Avatar" hit movie theaters has now infected mobile designers: Sprint's upcoming HTC Evo 3D and HTC Evo View 4G also include the ability to shoot and view 3D footage.

The other new device in T-Mobile's portfolio, the G2x, skips a lot of the gimmicks in favor of a robust smartphone experience: the pairing of the aforementioned dual-core processor and 4-inch screen is designed to handle any and all multimedia demands, and the 8-megapixel rear-facing camera will likely please shutterbugs. A 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera offers the prospect of video conferencing. The G2x will initially come powered by Android 2.2, but T-Mobile executives suggested the smartphone will receive a software upgrade after its release.

The G2x includes 8GB of internal memory, with a microSD card slot for expanding that memory up to 32GB. It can record video at 1080p, and users can connect their smartphone to a high-definition TV or DLNA device for streaming video content. For business users, Android supports Microsoft Exchange email, contacts and calendar.

Predictably, T-Mobile representatives are declining to talk much about how the AT&T deal could affect the carrier in the longer term, although they seemed at pains to describe their short-term road map as essentially unchanged by the news.

On March 20, AT&T unveiled plans to acquire T-Mobile for $39 billion in cash and stock. That would make AT&T by far the largest carrier in the United States, but analysts feel the carrier will face substantial hurdles in getting the acquisition approved by government regulators.

During the CTIA's opening keynote March 22, CNBC's Jim Kramer questioned AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets President and CEO Ralph de la Vega about the T-Mobile acquisition.

De la Vega started off by suggesting that the "need for additional spectrum" helped drive the deal with T-Mobile. "Few things in life grow 8,000 percent over four years," he said, before adding that the potential acquisition "helps alleviate the crunch by allowing the networks to be combined and more efficiently utilize that spectrum."

He also moved to counter criticism that absorbing T-Mobile will ultimately prove a negative for consumers. "When you combine networks, it adds a denser grid, more capacity," he said.

Whether or not the deal goes through, though, T-Mobile seems determined for the moment to push its own vision of mobile devices.