SMART BUYING


4 Big-Screen Smart Phones Worth a Look

So you thought the iPhone's 3.5-inch screen was big? The latest big-screen phones make Apple's handset look stunted. If you feel cramped when texting, surfing, and viewing photos and other media on your current phone, you may want to upgrade to something larger.

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Samsung leads the big-phone brigade with its Galaxy Note ($300 with a two-year AT&T contract), a handset that walks the line between smart phone and tablet. Featuring a 5.3-inch, high-resolution display, the Galaxy Note is the widest and longest mobile phone available. And it's not noticeably thicker than smaller devices—it's slim enough to slide inside some pants pockets. Another plus: The Note uses AT&T's 4G network, which can be blazingly fast.

The Galaxy Note is rare among smart phones in that it comes with a stylus, or "S Pen," which fits inside a slot at the bottom of the phone when not in use—which is most of the time. The stylus is handy for drawing and note-taking, but finger taps and swipes are better for everyday tasks.

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The Galaxy Note has a few drawbacks. Its plastic rear panel is flimsy and pulls off too easily. The phone runs an old version of the Android operating system rather than the newer Android 4.0, which has more features and is better sorted out. And AT&T stuffs the Note with a slew of junk apps.

Then there's the doofus factor. You may feel silly holding such a massive thing to your ear in public. Personally, I like the jumbo dimensions, particularly because most of my mobile phone use involves apps, e-mail and Web browsing.

The HTC Titan II boasts a 4.7-inch display, which ranks among the largest. The Titan II ($200 with a two-year AT&T contract) is among the first smart phones to run Microsoft's Windows Phone software, a lesser-known alternative to iPhone and Android that’s trying to gain a foothold in the U.S. market. The Titan II's display isn't as sharp as the other screens tested, but it is bright and colorful.

Windows Phone's home screen features "Live Tiles" that display personalized information, such as the current weather, the number of messages in your in-box or the status of a flight you're boarding. It’s a new approach that differs markedly from the icon-based iPhone and Android software.

The stylish Galaxy Nexus from Samsung doesn't feel massive, despite its sizable 4.65-inch display. Subtly curved at the edges, the Nexus is slim and sleek without the awkwardness of the Note. It also runs the easier-to-navigate Android 4.0. Example: To jump to an open app, you simply tap a button in the lower-right corner of the screen and scroll through thumbnails of programs that are running. This feature may seem insignificant, but you’ll find it handy.

Priced at $200 (with a two-year contract from either Sprint or Verizon Wireless), the Galaxy Nexus benefits from Verizon's fiercely fast 4G LTE service.

The Samsung Galaxy S II has varying screen sizes. For the largest display, choose the 4.52-inch version from T-Mobile ($230 with a two-year plan), Sprint ($200 with a two-year plan), or U.S. Cellular ($180, after rebate, with a two-year plan). Bargain hunters may prefer the 4.3-inch AT&T version ($100 with a two-year contract).

Though the Galaxy S II's screen is a bit smaller than those of its competitors, it's more vibrant, crisp, and colorful. It runs an older flavor of Android rather than version 4.0, although users in the U.S. should eventually be upgraded to 4.0. Samsung is set to launch the Galaxy S III, which will have a 4.8-inch display, in the U.S. this summer.

Obviously, Samsung is the reigning champ of big-screen phones, but that may soon change. LG's 5-inch Optimus Vu, currently unavailable in the U.S., could challenge the Galaxy Note. And Apple's next iPhone may arrive later this year with a 4-inch or larger display.

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