May 26, 2012, 7:35 AM — Shopping for a new smartphone can be overwhelming.
So many good phones are available that upgraders may feel swamped with options. Never fear: I've picked the best ones on each of the four major carriers. And since the smartphone world moves incredibly fast, I'll also tell you about phones not yet out.
[ Free download: The mobile security survival guide ]
Worth noting are two upcoming phones I'm excited about but can't yet recommend, because we don't know enough about them. One, the Samsung Galaxy S III, will debut in Europe before arriving in the United States. Most carriers likely will get a version of the S III, though so far none of them have confirmed that they will. Another wild card is the fifth-generation iPhone, which hasn't even been announced yet but is eagerly anticipated.
In the meantime, here are the best smartphones for each of the big four carriers. (Find a summary of this roundup in the chart at the end of this article, on the second page.)
AT&T has a diverse lineup of phones, ranging from Windows Phones like the Nokia Lumia 900 to the iPhone 4S to a slew of powerful 4G LTE Android handsets. One of our favorites is the Samsung Galaxy Note ($300 with a new two-year contract), a one-of-a-kind smartphone that enables you to take notes and draw sketches using a stylus-like Wacom "S Pen."
As you might expect, the Galaxy Note also has built-in software and special gestures designed for the pen. One handy app, S Memo Lite, lets you jot down notes from pretty much anywhere in the phone. If you have another app open, the notepad appears on top of it, allowing you to switch back to the original app easily. You can open a fuller version of S Memo from the apps menu. In this fuller version, you can add color to your drawing or text, or insert pictures and shapes. In addition, the Wacom pen mimics its nondigital cousins: The harder you press down, the wider your lines will be.