AT&T Whacks IPhone With Mutt & Jeff Options: Rich Jaroslovsky

When it comes to smartphones, one size doesn’t fit all. If you don’t believe me, check these out.

The Veer, from Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ), is sort of the iPod Nano of wireless handsets, so small you can hide it in your palm -- which is appropriate, since it comes from the company known as Palm before HP bought it.

At the other extreme is the Infuse from Samsung Electronics Co., whose relatively enormous 4.5-inch screen is its outstanding feature. Both go on sale next week from AT&T Inc. (T), which seems to be responding to the loss of its exclusive franchise on Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPhone with a flood of new devices.

The Veer, which costs $99.95 on a two-year contract, is the first new phone to reach the market carrying the HP brand since the Palm acquisition last year. It runs WebOS, the operating system also used on Palm’s Pre and Pixi smartphones, and on the forthcoming HP TouchPad tablet.

It’s hard to convey just how dinky the Veer is. At 3.3 inches tall by 2.15 inches wide, it’s more than 30 percent smaller than an iPhone 4, and at 3.6 ounces is 25 percent lighter. At the same time, it’s a good deal chunkier, thanks to a Munchkin-size, slide-out keyboard.

Finger-Flicking Good

I’ve long been a fan of the simple, elegant WebOS interface, which uses a card metaphor for scrolling through, launching and, with the flick of a finger, dismissing applications. Its biggest drawback has been the paucity of apps available for it. HP says there are now about 6,000 of them, which compares to more than 350,000 in Apple’s ITunes Store and more than 150,000 in the Android Market for phones running the Google Inc. (GOOG) operating system.

The company plans to bring WebOS to its line of personal computers, which should make writing for the operating system more attractive to developers. But there’s no telling how or when that will happen, or how successful the effort will be.

The Veer has some nice features, including a data and charging cable that attaches to the phone magnetically rather than requiring you to fiddle with a tiny jack, and an optional charging pad that allows you to juice up your phone just by laying it on top. A text-entry window called Just Type interprets your intentions based on context, figuring out from the first characters you type whether you want to start an e- mail message or search the phone’s contents.

Sausage Fingers

In the end, how comfortable you are using the Veer comes down to the size of your hands. With what my kids used to call my sausage fingers, typing on it was very slow. Having longer fingernails would have been a help. And I found myself grateful for the dots that appeared when I pressed an item on the touch screen: It provided a visual cue to reassure me I had hit the right spot. Smaller folks looking for an entry-level device might be much more comfortable using something this size, though I could imagine difficulties finding it at the bottom of a purse or backpack.

There’s little such danger with the Infuse. It’s gigantic, measuring 5.2 inches tall by 2.8 inches wide. At the same time, it’s barely a third of an inch thick, and it’s one of the lightest phones of its screen size out there -- 4.9 ounces, about the same as the much smaller iPhone 4.

It isn’t just the screen’s size that’s so striking: It’s what Samsung calls Super AMOLED Plus technology. For my money, Samsung makes the nicest displays around, with bright, vivid colors and deep, rich blacks. The Infuse comes preloaded with “Angry Birds,” and playing it is as nice a gaming experience as you can have on a smartphone.

Brighter and Dimmer

Or it would be, if not for the screen’s annoying tendency to brighten and darken during the game, part of the phone’s effort to adjust to surrounding lighting conditions. I eventually disabled the automatic brightness adjustment, and had no similar problems running a movie rented from Samsung’s Media Hub service, which comes pre-loaded on the Infuse. It was a pleasure to watch on that gorgeous screen.

The Infuse costs $199.95 on a two-year contract, $100 more than the Veer, and the extra dollars buy you a number of additional features, including a front-facing camera for video chatting and 16 gigabytes of storage for your music, movies and other data, twice the Veer’s capacity.

While both phones are labeled “4G,” they actually run on AT&T’s existing 3G network, which has been tweaked in some areas to offer faster performance. They’re likely to be surpassed in the speed arena later this year when the company starts to roll out a new network and devices based on a technology called LTE, which is already in use by rival Verizon Wireless.

Neither the Veer nor the Infuse will make anyone forget about the iPhone. But unless and until Apple comes up with new iPhone form factors -- which has been reported, but never confirmed -- it leaves the field open for products at either end of the scale.

(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Rich Jaroslovsky in San Francisco at rjaroslovsky@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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