10 Earth-Shaking Superphones of 2010


NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- One by one, the super-phones came marching in. Microsoft (Stock Quote: MSFT) made a grand reentry. Research In Motion (Stock Quote: RIMM) lit the BlackBerry Torch, Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) revamped the iPhone and Droids ran wild.

By October, three out of every 10 U.S. phone owners had tossed out their old phones and moved up to smartphones, according to Nielsen.

Here's our analysis of 2010 phones, and a breakdown of how the top 10 ranked.

No. 10: Nokia N8

nokia n8

Delayed from spring to fall, subsidized and sold by no U.S. carriers, and with early supplies limited, Nokia's (Stock Quote: NOK) N8 was a decent touchscreen phone. As it turned out, the handsome N8 was one of the last phones that will use the Symbian operating system and the final straw for Nokia management.

Symbian's days are numbered and Nokia executives were replaced.

Outstanding feature: Three years in the making, the N8 finally proved that Nokia can play in the same league as Apple. The 12-megapixel camera and Carl Zeiss lens set the N8 well apart from the pack, but at $450, Nokia's super-phone may be out of reach. Meanwhile, Nokia and its new chief, Steve Elop, have set the company's sights on MeeGo, the software foundation of Nokia's next smartphone empire.

Prediction: Nokia will be back in the game in 2012 or 2013.

blackberry curve 3g

No. 9: Research In Motion BlackBerry Curve

So how does an under-powered, non-touchscreen device with a 2-megapixel camera like RIM's BlackBerry Curve make the top 10 super-phone list of 2010? One reason: It sold like crazy.

Outstanding feature:The Curve, along with its diminutive sibling, the Pearl, have been around for nearly four years and they're become nearly as ubiquitous as Motorola's (Stock Quote: MOT) Razrs once were. After strong runs at AT&T (Stock Quote: T) and Verizon (Stock Quote: VZ), RIM saw the Curve take off at regional telcos like MetroPCS (Stock Quote: PCS).

The Curve also helped fuel RIM's international growth and in turn, saved RIM's financial performance this year amid the surging sales growth of Apple iPhones and Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) Android phones.

Prediction: The Curve has turned its last corner.

blackberry torch

No. 8: Research In Motion's BlackBerry Torch

RIM's third try at touchscreen phones finally cleared the bar. The success of Apple's iPhone and the dozens of Android phones proved that maybe people were a little interested in big screens that operate by touch. RIM's BlackBerry Storm, with its clickable screen, was not the solution people wanted. The Torch, with all its faults, was close enough.

Outstanding feature: While RIM skimped on the processor, using a 624-megahertz Marvell (Stock Quote: MRVL) chip at a time when peers opted for nearly twice-as-fast 1-gigahertz processors, the company did launch a new BlackBerry 6 OS, finally catching up with the rest of the smartphone market. The Torch offered enough of an upgrade to keep BlackBerry users happy and loyal to their favorite mobile e-mail service.

Prediction: The Torch could buy RIM enough time until it gets its new QNX-powered super-phones to the market by the middle of next year.

htc evo

No.7: Sprint's HTC EVO

It was a huge year for High Tech Computer, or HTC. The Taiwan tech shop spent most of the time buried under orders and unable to keep up with demand. Not a terrible problem, unless you consider that the shortages sent shoppers elsewhere.

Outstanding feature: The EVO's 4.3-inch screen, 8-megapixel camera, 1-gigahertz Qualcomm (Stock Quote: QCOM) Snapdragon processor and 4G WiMax technology briefly made the EVO the best superphone on the market, at least on paper.

Prediction: EVO's star burned bright, but now it's on a dimming path.

htc droid incredible

No. 6: HTC Incredible

Had the year ended in June, the HTC Incredible would have been crowned the super-phone champ. HTC did some decent work with the MyTouch and G1 at carriers like T-Mobile, but it wasn't until the Incredible hit Verizon that HTC arrived as a top-tier phone maker.

Outstanding feature: Compared with the Apple iPhone 3GS, the HTC Incredible screen was bigger and brighter, it ran faster and its 8-megapixel camera packed far more shooting power.

Prediction: HTC's nimble design talent will likely see it acquired by a bigger player, or packaged into an IPO for phone-hungry investors.

htc hd7

No.5: HTC HD7

Rounding out the HTC triple crown is the HD7 at T-Mobile. When old partner Microsoft went looking for manufacturers to build phones to run on its Windows 7 software, HTC gamely stepped up. It didn't hurt that the two companies had formed a wireless patent licensing agreement to perhaps help HTC defend against Apple's infringement lawsuit.

Outstanding feature: Microsoft Windows Phone 7. Microsoft's reentry in mobile isn't off to a great start. But given Microsoft's engineering depth, spending power and developer enticements, Windows 7 phones, like the HD7, have a shot at gaining a respectable piece of the growing superphone market.

Prediction: HTC will be a big beneficiary of Microsoft's mobile push.

motorola droid x

No.4: Motorola Droid X

Motorola's follow-up to the 2009 Droid was not a disappointment. It was superior to its predecessor and nearly an exact match to HTC's EVO with a 4.3-inch screen, 8-megapixel camera and a 1-gigahertz processor. The Droid X had some drawbacks -- poor battery life, plastic buttons, etc. -- but it was a solid phone overall.

Outstanding feature: Motorola's Droid X was quite simply Verizon's very successful answer to AT&T's Apple iPhone.

Prediction: The upcoming Motorola Olympus will be AT&T's answer to the Verizon iPhone.

samsung galaxy s fascinate

No.3: Samsung Galaxy S Fascinate

Samsung made its Android debut this summer. By the end of September, it had become the top-selling Android phone maker in the U.S., passing over HTC and Motorola to capture 32% of the U.S. Android phone market in the third quarter, according to Gartner. The move is a reflection on the world's No. 2 phone maker's manufacturing prowess and its well-choreographed launch of Galaxy phones at each of the four major carriers.

Outstanding feature: Unlike Nokia or Apple, Samsung caters to its telco partners' demands. What else explains VCast and Bing on the Verizon Fascinate? Samsung also builds many of its own parts including the 1-gigahertz Hummingbird processor and the eye-pleasing OLED display screen.

Prediction: Samsung will take Android to every price level on the road to its conquest of Nokia.

samsung nexus s

No.2: Samsung Nexus S

In tech, there's nothing quite as earth-shaking as the buzz of an approaching device. Earlier this week, Google, along with Samsung and Best Buy (Stock Quote: BBY), announced the Nexus S phone would go on sale Dec. 16 for $200 with a two-year contract at T-Mobile. The Nexus S is Google's second try at selling a phone made to its own specifications.

Outstanding feature: The Nexus S will be the first phone to run on Gingerbread, aka Android version 2.3. The phone also has a front-facing camera for video calls and near-field communications (NFC) for whatever bump transactions Google plans to deliver.

Prediction: Like the Nexus One, the Nexus S won't be a blockbuster in terms of sales, but it will help Google advance its mobile agenda. Look for Google Checkout to make a play in mobile payments.

apple iphone

No. 1: Apple's Verizon iPhone

It's still a month or more away, but the tremors of the upcoming Verizon iPhone have already begun to shake the superphone market. A higher than normal number of people have let their two-year service contracts expire without upgrading their phones, according to industry strategist Michael Cote of the Cote Collaborative. This is true not just at Verizon, but at the other carriers as well. Like a tsunami, when the buying tide recedes to unusually low levels, it usually signals that there's a surge of purchasing to follow.

Outstanding feature: Apple's iPhone has its flaws and critics, but it is still seen as the best phone available. Verizon's network, which serves 92 million subscribers, is far from perfect, but it's perceived as the nation's best. Add the iPhone to Verizon and you'll probably get a flood of buyers.

Prediction: Finally, an end to constant Verizon iPhone speculation. Unfortunately, that will be replaced the incessant reports of Verizon iPhone sales.

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