How to Pick the Right AT&T Android Phone

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When it comes to Android, AT&T isn't exactly the carrier of choice.

Okay, let me rephrase that: When it comes to any phone, AT&T isn't exactly the carrier of choice. But with Android in particular, the network is known for locking down its devices in a way that goes against the platform's open nature, making it a tough company to recommend for anyone seeking the full Android experience.

That said, factors like work and family can make it impossible for some people to jump from one carrier to another. The good news: If you're set on AT&T and are thinking about switching to Android, you do have a couple of decent options.

Here's a device-by-device breakdown of AT&T's Android phones and how they compare.

[This story is from the new Android Power blog at Computerworld. Follow @AndroidPower on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

AT&T Android Phone #1: The Samsung Captivate

AT&T Android Phones: Samsung Captivate
AT&T's newest Android offering is without question its most powerful to date. The Samsung Captivate, part of Samsung's recently debuted Galaxy S line of devices, is built to compete with top-of-the-line Android phones like Sprint's HTC EVO 4G. And it's a fairly solid contender.

The Captivate, available for $200 with a two-year contract, boasts a 4-inch, 800-by-480 Super AMOLED display -- slightly smaller than the 4.3-inch screens you'll find on the EVO or the Motorola Droid X -- and runs on a speedy 1GHz processor. It has a 5-megapixel camera with 720p HD video capture. Unlike Sprint's take on the Galaxy S, however, the Samsung Captivate does not feature a secondary, front-facing camera for video chat purposes.

The Captivate ships with Android 2.1. It is expected to receive the Android 2.2 upgrade at some point in the future, though no specific date has been announced so far.

• The bottom line: The Captivate's Galaxy S sister phones on other networks will give you the same performance with extra perks -- a front-facing camera and 4G access on Sprint, for example -- and without AT&T's Android-oriented restrictions. If you're going to get an Android device on AT&T, though, the Samsung Captivate is generally the best choice you can make.

AT&T Android Phone #2: The HTC Aria

AT&T Android Phones: HTC Aria
The HTC Aria isn't in the same league as the Captivate, but when it comes to midrange Android options, it's a reasonable enough device.

The Aria, available for $130 with a two-year contract, has a 3.2-inch, 480-by-320 HVGA display. That's noticeably smaller than the displays you'll find on many other Android devices -- even older models like the Motorola Droid, which has a 3.7-inch screen. But depending upon what you want, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

Size aside, the HTC Aria is also somewhat slower than its Android contemporaries: It runs on a 600MHz processor, compared to the 1GHz chip found in most of the higher-end phones being released these days. The Aria has a single 5-megapixel camera.

As for software, the HTC Aria currently runs Android 2.1. Given its relatively recent release date, one would imagine it'll eventually be bumped up to Android 2.2 -- but thus far, neither AT&T nor HTC has officially confirmed any plans for an upgrade.

• The bottom line: If you want a smaller Android phone for AT&T, the Aria might be an okay fit for you. You'd get far more bang for your buck, however, by paying the extra 70 bones and springing for the Captivate instead.

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