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The best smartphone deals for the holiday season

by Marty Gabel

Thinking about buying a new smartphone for yourself or as a gift this holiday season? Most cellular carriers are offering great deals on top-of-the-line smartphones right now. It pays to pay attention.

Note that some of these offers can change on a moment’s notice, and others could vary by location. Potential customers should always read the fine print in case there are hidden fees. As well, many of these deals require a new two-year contract and may come with various data charges. But that’s the case with most smartphones, so you may as well take advantage of the holiday deals when you can.

Big Red Santa (Verizon Wireless)

Verizon Wireless offers a special online holiday deals section, and there are many tempting offers available. Consumers interested in Google’s Android or BlackBerry smartphones in particular have a lot of choices.

The Motorola Droid Pro is a powerful device that offers both a QWERTY keyboard and touchscreen typing options. It can also be had for free with a two-year contract. Arguably the best Android phone available for business users, the Motorola Droid Pro is equipped with corporate-level information security capabilities and a large touchscreen display. The Droid Pro also provides less-than-professional fun in the form of tens of thousands of great apps and games.

The Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY is an Android device which also doubles as a very capable games machine due to its slide-out gamepad. Just a few months ago this phone was $199. Now it’s available for free. Score!  Capable of running apps and games from the Android Market, as well as certain Sony PlayStation games, the Experia PLAY is a bargain for game-focused consumers who are OK with signing a two-year contract.

Potential buyers should note that neither of these free Android phones offer connectivity to Verizon’s super-speedy 4G-LTE network. If you want that on your smartphone, you’re going to need to pony-up some extra cash.

If you’re more of a BlackBerry lover, there are two devices manufactured by Research in Motion on sale from Verizon. The Blackberry Curve 3G 9330 is good for social networking fans, pre-loaded with Twitter and Facebook. It might be a good choice for people who work at offices where the corporate network only allows secure RIM BlackBerry devices. For $99, the BlackBerry Torch 9850 is another good deal with its touchscreen capabilities and a more powerful processor.

Ma Jingle Bells (AT&T)

AT&T’s wireless homepage doesn’t scream with seasonal cheer just yet, but there are still a few bargains to be had if you look closely, and they’re offering 50 percent off select 4G devices.

For Apple fans, despite the dominance of the new iPhone 4S, there are great deals on older iPhone models. The iPhone 4 is still a very capable device and is available now for a reasonable $99.99. You still get access to a huge amount of apps and games that take advantage of the many great features of Apple’s most recent iOS 5 mobile software. Refurbished iPhone 4s (with more storage) are also offered from $99.99 to $149.99, while the still-popular 8GB iPhone 3GS can be had for as little as $0.99. All of these will require data plans and a new two-year contract, and it should be noted that the $99 iPhone 4 is also available on Sprint and Verizon.

In the Android camp, the 4G-capable Motorola Atrix is available refurbished for a mere penny, providing you sign-up for a new two-year contract. Buy it online, and you will also get free shipping. The Atrix is a capable device boasting a high-resolution display, 5-megapixel camera, a powerful battery and a dual-core processor. You can also plug it into a dock to run apps and videos from your phone on larger screens.

If you still hold a torch for Palm and its endangered although still very capable webOS software, the Palm Pixi Plus is available for free from AT&T. With its compact dimensions, full keyboard, voice-guided GPS and full HTML browser, it’s a great alternative for customers who don’t want to jump into the Android, iOS or BlackBerry camp just yet.

Sprinter Wonderland (Sprint)

There's still time to get your hands on the former Google flagship smartphone, the Samsung Nexus S 4G on Sprint. And what's more, it's totally free with free activation and shipping. However, you'll need to hurry, because this offer ends on Dec 20. The Nexus S 4G is a speedy, slim device with a 1GHz processor, 16GB of built-in memory and a beautiful 4-inch super AMOLED display. Running on Sprint's swift 4G network and offering a 'pure' Android experience, it's a great bargain.

If you are interested in picking up a smartphone powered by Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7, Sprint is offering the HTC Arrive for $99.99 with a new, two-year contract. With its 3.6-inch capacitive touchscreen, a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and up to 25GB of storage on Windows Live SkyDrive, this smartphone is good for folks who need to easily sync with Microsoft Office, but can also turn on the fun with its Xbox LIVE integration.

Misel-T-Mobile (T-Mobile)

T-Mobile’s online store is hardly bursting with festive cheer, but the nation’s No. 4 carrier always boasts low prices anyway. So there are some good deals to be had.

T-Mobile mainly seems to be promoting its unlimited family plans, which over the life of a contract could save you more money than a free smartphone. For instance, T-Mobile is offering plans for its top 4G smartphones like the the Samsung Galaxy SII and HTC Amaze 4G with two lines for just $49.99 per month. This includes unlimited data, talk and text.

And there is always T-Mobile’s perennial Free Cell Phone Deals section, offering a range of older, less powerful Android smartphones which can still do a fine job of running apps and games.

Smaller carriers and retailers

The smaller carriers continue to offer great deals on smartphones, particularly if you are looking for an Android device. Further, a lot of these are available without contracts. You may have to fork out a hundred bucks or more initially, but without being tied-down to a long-running contract, you may at the end of the day find yourself saving some cash.

Switch to US Cellular, for example, and the carrier will let you have not just one, but two free phones. Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile are offering some discounts on popular Android devices too. Cricket will guarantee delivery by December 24th (and offers free shipping on its smartphones) so you can be sure to get any new devices wrapped up and under the tree before Christmas Day itself.

Meanwhile, many online retailers are offering competitive smartphone specials this holiday season. Most of them will also help you port your number too, providing you are willing to sign your life away with a new two-year contract. Wirefly is currently offering the Verizon Motorola Droid X2 as well as the T-Mobile myTouch. Both of these Android smartphones can be had for free.

At the AmazonWireless site, there are still some 1 cent Android smartphone offers available including the Samsung Conquer 4G and the LG Marquee on Sprint (the former runs on Sprint's fast 4G WiMax network), as well as the HTC Droid Incredible 2 on Verizon, with its world-phone capabilities and large, 4-inch display.

Dial into these smartphone deals before it's too late!