CES 2012: The Biggest Android Announcements on Day One

By Ryan Whitwam

Before the show floor is even fully open, Android is making a splash.

Yesterday in Vegas was a big day for Android, and CES hadn’t even officially gotten underway. There were thin smartphones, fast smartphones, and tablets of all shapes and sizes. If anything is clear from this lineup of announcements, the show is going to be overflowing with Android devices once it actually starts.

In the meantime, let’s go over the announcements we’ve seen thus far. If you’re eyeing a new phone or tablet, it might be time to put that wallet away.

AT&T Gets Big Phones

Galaxy Note

AT&T’s LTE network is still in its infancy, but that isn’t stopping Ma Bell from getting its 4G ducks in a row. There is the LTE-packing Sony Xperia Ion with a 4.6-inch screen at the now standard 720p resolution. This device has a 12MP camera, and 1.5GHz dual-core Snaprdragon inside. It’s running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, and no official word on ICS was available. There is an international phone very similar to this one called the Xperia S that will be a HSPA+ device. It should be out in March.

Also on the new LTE network will be the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket HD. This is basically just a tweaked version of the existing Skyrocket with a Super AMOLED HD screen at 4.65-inches (the same as the Galaxy Nexus). Samsung is also contributing the Exhilarate, which is a device made from 80% recycled materials. Samsung’s third LTE offering is the much awaited Galaxy Note. This is a massive phone with a 5.3-inch Super AMOLED HD screen. It uses a stylus for drawing input, and ships with Android 2.3 as well.

The Pantech Burst is a budget LTE smartphone to contrast with most of the offerings. This device will be out on January 22 for just $50 on contract. Not a bad deal if you need LTE on the cheap. Pantech is also making AT&T’s newest tablet, the Element. This one is a slightly ruggedized Android tablet that’s water resistant and clocks in at 8-inches. It will be $300 on contract on January 22, but it ships with Honeycomb.

Huawei Gets Noticed with Thinness

Most Android users have never head of, let alone know how to pronounce Huawei. This Chinese OEM has showed up at CES with what is being billed as the world’s thinnest smartphone, the Ascend P1. It has a 4.3-inch screen at 960x540, a very thin bezel, it’s about 6.5mm thick, and weighs 127g.

Unlike many of the Android devices being announced, this one does not yet have US carrier support. There is an LTE radio buried in there, so it’s possible that either AT&T or Verizon will pick it up. Although, with US availability not expected until summer 2012, even Sprint might have a shot at getting it on its LTE network.

Sprint Loves Google Wallet and Nexuses

Yes, the rumors were true; Sprint is indeed getting the Samsung Galaxy Nexus in its US LTE flavor. The announcement does not mention the supposed processor bump, nor is a realese date given. The device will only have 16GB of storage, unlike the 32GB Verizon edition. To make up for that storage drop, Google Wallet will be on-board at launch.

Sprint’s other device announcement comes from LG in the form of an NFC-packing phone called the LG Viper 4G LTE. This is a more mid-range choice with a 1.2GHz dual-core SoC, 4-inch WVGA screen, 5MP VGA camera array, and Android 2.3. This device will also have Google wallet, but no release date was offered here either. It’s likely that Sprint will wait for its LTE towers to go up before LTE devices start to really show up.

Verizon Sticks It to Razr Owners

Droid Razr Maxx

Verizon has some new Android devices coming out of CES, and existing customers might be a little miffed. The new Droid Razr is already getting an update with the Droid Razr Maxx. The Maxx has two improvements over the original that was released all the way back in November.

The Maxx comes with a larger built-in battery with enough juice to run for 21 hours. It has also seen a bump in the storage department to 32GB of included space. The Razr Maxx will show up in a month or two at $299.99 on contract. That probably means a price drop, or even end-of-life for the original Razr.

The Droid 4 is official for those that need a keyboard. The newest revision of the phone that set off the Android explosion has 4-inch qHD screen, 16GB of storage, 1GB of RAM, 4G LTE, 1.2GHz dual-core OMAP SoC, and enterprise-grade encryption. Big Red only said this one would get a real release date in a few weeks.

Also on Big Red's list are a 7.7-inch version of the Galaxy Tab running Android Honeycomb, and a LTE phone called the LG Spectrum. The Spectrum is basically Verizon's version of the Nitro HD with a 720p screen, dual-core Snapdragon, and Gingerbread. An ICS update is promised in the first half of 2012.

Verizon reiterated that the Droid Razr, Razr Maxx, Droid 4, and the Xyboard tablets will be getting an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update. All these devices currently run Gingerbread. Even users of the new, more lady-like Droid Razr in purple will get the update. As we all know, women will only buy purple things.

Nvidia and Asus are Best Friends Forever

Nvidia and Asus started slow with its press conference by talking again about Tegra 3. Nvidia is using a new technology called Direct Touch, or DT. This new system uses the fifth Companion Core in the Tegra 3 to sample touch input as much as three times more often. The result should be a more responsive UI. Nvidia and Asus then moved on to the Asus Transformer Prime. The highly-anticipated Android 4.0 update is going to be arriving a little early. In fact, Asus released the update just after the press conference. That’s great news for the few folks that dropped the cash on Asus’ Tegra 3 device.

The next announcement from Nvidia left us in some kind of giddy shock. After opining the hard-to-compete-with low price of devices like the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, Asus and Nvidia briefly showed off a 7-inch Tegra 3 tablet running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The kicker is the price: just $249. When you think about Barnes and Noble charging that much for the Nook tablet, we have to wonder what the catch is going to be. It’s hard to see how Asus could be making any money on the device at that price point.

Earlier in the day, Asus had a few interesting offerings in addition to the 7-inch tablet. There will be a new version of the Transformer Prime with some incredible specs. We’re looking at an insane 10.1-inch 1920x1200 IPS screen, 1.3GHz quad-core Tegra 3, Android 4.0.1 included, and a redesigned back to make GPS and Wi-Fi perform better. The MSPR is running $599-699, but those specs are incredible.

If this first day in Vegas is any indication, CES 2012 is going to be an amazing Android show. AT&T is going hard at LTE, and Verizon is trying to keep its lead. 720p screens are definitely the new standard for a high-end device, and thin is still in. Those Asus tablets could also be huge in the coming months if the price is right. What got you most excited at CES yesterday?