Computerworld: Three iPhone alternatives

Editor’s Note: This story is excerpted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visit Computerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.

The iPhone is shipping and the wait, if not the hype, is over. So it’s a good time to collectively take a deep breath, gather ourselves and ask: Is the iPhone for everybody?

Most early reviews of the iPhone have been glowing; it truly is an innovative, highly desirable mobile device. But the reviews also point out shortcomings. For instance, the iPhone supports only AT&T’s slow EDGE cellular data network, not its faster 3G network. And it doesn’t handle streaming video or multimedia messaging.

And, of course, there’s the $500 price for the 4GB version , $600 for the 8GB version . Plus, you must use AT&T’s wireless service, so if you're not already an AT&T subscriber, you will likely incur early termination fees to get out of your current wireless contract.

So it’s not surprising that some people are resistant to iPhone fever and are saying things like: “I want a mobile phone that plays music but that doesn’t cost me my first born. Do I have any other choices?”

Here, then, is a brief sampler of three phones that will appeal to music lovers, one each from AT&T’s U.S. nationwide cellular competitors. None has the iPhone’s remarkable interface, let alone its near-mythical caché. Note that these aren’t the only music phones available from each carrier. Rather, they were selected as being typical of the available devices.

Each of these devices has some competitive advantage over the iPhone. For instance, two of these music phones work over 3G cellular networks that are faster than AT&T’s EDGE network. Plus, they’re much less expensive than the iPhone. Even after adding the cost of add-on storage, which you’ll need since these devices come with an insignificant amount of built-in memory. And each of these phones is far less expensive than the iPhone.

True, iPhone fanboys and girls may think you’re pond scum if you pull out any of these phones in their presence. And these devices don’t incorporate some of the iPhone’s advanced technology, such as the multitouch interface. But these phones make phone calls, play music and browse the Web. Plus, they’re all smaller and lighter than the iPhone. Is there really anything else you need?

Samsung UpStage SPH-M620 ( Sprint )

The UpStage is an innovatively designed two-sided “candy bar” phone. You make calls using one side and flip it over to use the device as a music player. Although it has a small screen, the UpStage is Web ready and operates over Sprint’s 1xEV-DO network, which is several times faster than AT&T’s EDGE network. You can also download music over the air from Sprint’s music service, and it handles streaming video, both feats the iPhone hasn’t yet mastered.

LG Chocolate LG VX8550 (Verizon Wireless)

This second iteration of LG’s Chocolate is slightly slimmer and a bit easier to navigate than the strong-selling first version. Like the Samsung UpStage offered by Sprint, the LG Chocolate can download music over the air, display streaming video and browse the Web at full 3G speeds, which are typically in the range of 500Kbit/sec.

Nokia 5300 XpressMusic ( T-Mobile )

This slider phone has been around since last fall and has a lot going for it. For one thing, while you can buy it directly from T-Mobile, you also can buy an unlocked version for use with any GSM cellular operator (AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S.). It has an FM radio and you can sync it with your desktop personal information. It also shares one shortcoming with the iPhone: It works only over EDGE cellular data networks.

David Haskin is a contributing editor for Computerworld specializing in mobile and wireless issues. ]

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