April 07, 2011, 9:57 AM — All four of the major wireless carriers are now selling the 4G phones that they had promised at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. The new phones are designed to take advantage of the faster data speeds offered by the next-generation networks the carriers have been spending megabucks to build (and advertise) over the past year.
In total, four such phones have come to market so far: the HTC ThunderBolt (the first phone designed to run on Verizon's 4G LTE network), the Samsung Galaxy S 4G from T-Mobile, the Motorola Atrix 4G from AT&T, and the HTC EVO Shift 4G from Sprint.
The phones have arrived with a considerable amount of hype from the companies selling them. Verizon, for instance, says that its ThunderBolt has "immense power, scorching speed." T-Mobile claims that its Galaxy S 4G is "the fastest phone running on America's largest 4G network." And Motorola, which makes the Atrix for AT&T, insists that its device is "the world's most powerful smartphone."
Naturally, we wanted to know how fast these phones really are, so we hit the road to speed-test them in five cities around the western United States: Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
In a nutshell: Verizon's ThunderBolt is in a league of its own, averaging 18.30 megabits per second for downloads and 7.39 mbps for uploads. T-Mobile's Samsung Galaxy S 4G turned in a solid performance, clocking average speeds that looked 4G-like (3.38 mbps for downloads, 1.13 mbps for uploads). AT&T's Motorola Atrix 4G, on the other hand, produced speeds that were consistently 3G-like, while Sprint's EVO Shift 4G seemed able to hook up with the carrier's 4G WiMax network all too infrequently.