Media who proclaimed carriers were keeping a low profile at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas were sorely mistaken.
AT&T (NYSE:T), Verizon Wireless and Sprint (NYSE:S) Jan. 9 all announced major handsets, most of which are based on Google's Android operating system. AT&T arguably made the loudest noise, unveiling five handsets and a 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) tablet as part of its 2012 Developer Summit.
Perhaps the most high-profile handset was the Samsung Galaxy Note "phablet," a phone with a 5.3-inch, HD Super AMOLED screen that provides some tablet-type real estate to work with for consumers and business types alike. The handset, which AT&T has not priced but will launch in the coming weeks, boasts the S Pen digital pen input technology and software to let users draw, sketch or just write.
Two more Samsung Android handsets are coming from AT&T in the coming months. First is the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket HD, a 4G LTE smartphone with a 4.65-inch HD Super AMOLED screen, powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor. This phone will run either Android 2.3 Gingerbread or Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS).
Second, AT&T will sell the Samsung Exhilarate, a so-called "green phone" with a 4-inch Super AMOLED screen composed of 80 percent recycled post-consumer materials and fitted with an eco calendar and calculator.
AT&T will also sell Sony's Xperia ion 4G LTE smartphone as the first smartphone to be sold under the Sony brand in the United States. Launching in the second quarter, the Xperia ion is based on Gingerbread, and has a 4.6-inch HD display and a 12-megapixel camera.
Pantech and AT&T will also sell the Pantech Burt 4G LTE Android smartphone, which has a 4-inch Super AMOLED screen, for $49.99 on a two-year contract, beginning Jan. 22, in titanium or ruby red.
On the same day, AT&T will sell the Pantech Element 4G LTE Android 3.2 Honeycomb tablet for $299.99 with a two-year data deal. This waterproof tablet and the Burst phone may be purchased together on contract for $249.99 for a limited time.
Not to be outdone at CES, Verizon reteamed with its first Android phone partner Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI) to debut the Motorola Droid 4 4G LTE QWERTY phone. The phone, which runs Gingerbread but will be upgraded to ICS this year, is half an inch thick and powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz processor and 1GB of RAM.
The phone's five-row QWERTY keyboard features edge-lit keys for fast typing, and the device includes enterprise capabilities, as well as the Webtop docking app and Smart Actions application to automate frequent daily tasks, such as switching to lower power at night or firing off alerts to users. The handset also has an 8-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video capture.
Next up, Verizon is expanding its Motorola Droid Razr line, offering the device in purple yes, purple to join the existing black and white models. Also, the Razr Maxx is fitted with a stronger battery to give users 21 hours of talk time on a single charge. It's thicker than the other 7-plus millimeter Razrs at 8.99 millimeters to accommodate the bigger battery.
The Droid 4, Razr and Maxx will also be available from Verizon in the coming weeks. The Droid 4 has not been priced, but shoppers can get the Razr in purple for $199.99 and the Maxx for $299.99 on contract. The Razrs will all get the bump to ICS this year.
Verizon also said it will roll out Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.7 Gingerbread tablet on its 4G LTE network. The Android 3.2 Honeycomb Tab 7.7 offers a Super AMOLED Plus touch display, powered by a 1.4GHz dual-core processor. It weighs only 12 ounces.
In addition, Verizon joined forces with LG Mobile today on the Spectrum Gingerbread 4G LTE phone, which boasts a 4.5-inch True HD In-Plane Switching (IPS) display, which TV enthusiasts may know as the same display technology used in LG HDTV sets.
The phone is powered by a Qualcomm 1.5GHz dual-core processor and includes an 8MP camera and front-facing 1.3MP shutter for video chat. The Spectrum will be available Jan. 19 for $199.99 on contract and will get the ICS flavor this year.
Last but not least, Sprint said it joined Verizon in selling the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the first ICS smartphone, and the Gingerbread-powered LG Viper 4G LTE.
The company introduced the handsets at CES to trumpet them as the first two devices powered by the carrier's long-anticipated 4G LTE network. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said the carrier will launch first in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio in the first half of 2012, and the company expects to launch 15 4G LTE handsets, tablets and data cards this year.
The Galaxy Nexus has a 4.65-inch HD Super AMOLED screen and is powered by a 1.5GHz processor. The LG Viper 4G LTE has a 4-inch WVGA display, is powered by a 1.2GHz dual core-processor, and both a 5MP rear shutter and a VGA front-facing camera.
Importantly, the Galaxy Nexus and LG Viper from Sprint mark the second and third smartphones to support the Google Wallet mobile payment service, which lets consumers tap and pay by phone at retailers such as Gap, Macy's and Toys R Us. Sprint will provide pricing and availability closer to each phone's launch date.