Gift Guide: Smart phones for work and play

Navigating all the "smart" phones out there and picking one for yourself can be tricky, and purchasing one for someone else can be even more daunting. But with plenty of feature-packed options available this holiday season, ranging from the consumer-friendly iPhone to the more business-oriented BlackBerry Bold, chances are you can find a phone that's a better gift than a reindeer sweater.

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HTC G1 (T-Mobile, $179 with two-year contract)

The G1, the first phone powered by Google's Android operating system, has numerous flaws but is brimming with consumer-oriented features that may even lure iPhone fans. The face of the device has a large touch screen that is ideal for Web browsing and viewing photos and Google Maps. A slide-out QWERTY keyboard makes texting easy, and with access to the online Android Market you can download a variety of applications and games. A few big drawbacks: The G1 does not have a standard headphone jack, and for storing songs, photos and videos, you need to rely on the included 1 gigabyte microSD card or buy a larger one.

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Samsung Instinct (Sprint Nextel, $130 after rebate, with two-year contract)

The touch-screen Instinct may lack the cachet of the iPhone, but it's filled with features and surprisingly easy to use. It even one-ups the iPhone with turn-by-turn navigation, video recording and picture messaging. Its greatest drawbacks may be that it doesn't sense more than one finger at a time, has a smaller screen, and most of all, that there are no third-party applications. Still, if the recipient is already a Sprint customer, this is a fine reason to stay.

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Apple iPhone 3G (AT&T, $199-$299 with two-year contract)

With its simple, stylish design, crisp touch screen and wealth of features, the iPhone 3G is the current king of smart phones. The device combines the music, video and photo features of an iPod with all sorts of goodies like full Web browsing, Wi-Fi and GPS capabilities and visual voice mail, which lets you see a list of voice messages and check them in the order you choose. Rather than a physical QWERTY keyboard it has a virtual, on-screen one - something I found hard to use but does result in a skinnier device. One great feature is the "multi-touch" screen, which lets you do things like pinch photos to zoom in and out. There are also 10,000 applications to peruse at the on-phone app store, many of which can be downloaded for free. Unfortunately, the iPhone lacks a microSD card slot, so users can't add to its built-in memory. And there is no stereo Bluetooth, so don't bother buying wireless headphones to go with this gift.

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Research In Motion BlackBerry Bold (AT&T, $300 after rebate, with two-year contract)

Loaded with a full, spacious QWERTY keyboard, crystal-clear screen and bevy of wireless options, the Bold is a good smart phone for business and extracurricular pursuits. The device processes operations quickly, and it's easy to check e-mails, surf the Web or use the included GPS service to get directions. Music fans will be happy to see the Bold has stereo Bluetooth and a standard headphone jack, so there are both tethered and wireless listening options. Users can stream videos on the Bold and watch ones that have been saved to it or to a microSD memory card. Incidentally, a memory card might be a good add-on for this gift since the handset includes only 1 gigabyte of memory.

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Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 ($800, will work with AT&T or T-Mobile in the U.S.)

If price is no object, you may be interested in the Xperia X1. But because of its glut of options, I found the sleek smart phone slow and hard to navigate. It has lots of wireless options, a sharp touch screen, slide-out QWERTY keyboard and 3.2 megapixel camera. The X1 uses Windows Mobile 6.1 as its operating system, and includes a number of customized Sony Ericsson enhancements that run on top of it. Sometimes this is cool - there is a neat panel interface that lets you customize up to nine small rectangles for viewing different applications or media on the device. Other times this is bad - there are two ways to watch videos and music, which seems unnecessary. In general, the phone seemed fairly slow to open applications or complete actions, and it often takes several steps to complete a simple action like changing a panel icon.

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AP Technology Writer Peter Svensson contributed to this report.

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