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Hands-On: Sprint's First 4G LTE Devices, Including the Galaxy Nexus

LAS VEGAS - Sprint's 4G LTE network isn't even switched on yet, but that didn't stop us from getting some hands-on time with three of the company's first LTE-enabled devices here at CES. The biggest announcement Sprint has made in the past couple of days is, obviously, that the Samsung Galaxy Nexus would be headed to the carrier. And during our time with the device, it was every bit as elegant and easy to use as the unlocked and Verizon versions we previously reviewed.

Because the Galaxy Nexus is the first smartphone powered by Google's Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, Sprint, like Verizon, was prohibited from making any changes to the Android overlay, so everything you'll see on the device will be stock Android. You'll be hard pressed to find any difference between the two units from an aesthetic standpoint. Both Sprint and Verizon versions look identical with the exception of the carrier branding on the rear of the device. The phones also share the same internal components, right down to the 1.2-GHz dual-core TI OMAP4460 processor paired with 1GB of RAM.

One key difference between the Verizon Galaxy Nexus and the Sprint Galaxy Nexus is that the latter will support Google Wallet. As you'll recall, Verizon chose to block Google Wallet on the Galaxy Nexus because Verizon is a key investor in a rival NFC-powered payment system known as ISIS. But with Sprint, customers will be able to take full advantage of Google Wallet's integration with Ice Cream Sandwich.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to test the Galaxy Nexus's performance on Sprint's 4G LTE network; the carrier doesn't have an LTE infrastructure here in Las Vegas. In fact, the company has yet to switch on any of its 4G LTE starter cities, which include Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Atlanta. Sprint customers in those cities can expect to see the 4G LTE network come online in the first half of 2012.

In addition to checking out the Galaxy Nexus, we also got some quick hands-on time with Sprint's other 4G LTE-enabled phone, the 4-inch LG Viper. Equipped with a 1.2-GHz dual-core processor and powered by Android Gingerbread, the device is being presented as a mass market product for users who want 4G LTE service, but may not be interested in all of the bells and whistles of the Galaxy Nexus.

Like the Galaxy Nexus, the Viper will also include Google Wallet support. And while the device will launch with Gingerbread, Sprint said it will eventually get an over-the-air update to Ice Cream Sandwich. Overall, we liked the look and feel of the Viper (which is the coolest name for a phone we've heard in a long time). The phone's 1.2-GHz dual-core processor proved more than capable, ensuring that navigation between Android's various menus and applications was smooth and stutter-free.

The Viper's glossy 4-inch WVGA display is bordered by a silver metallic covering that gives way to a grey textured finish on the rear of the device, making it easy and comfortable to hold. Sprint also noted that the Viper was developed as an eco-friendly device, with 35 percent of the phone's casing coming from recycled plastics.

We were also able to get some hands-on time with Sprint's first 4G LTE hotspot. The Sierra Wireless Tri-Network Hotspot allows users to surf the web using Sprint's 4G LTE network, as well as the company's 4G WiMax and standard 3G networks. Up to eight people can use the hotspot at once and an included microSD card slot allows users to share files as they would with any other networked storage device. While small, the Sierra hotspot is also rather heavy when compared to other hotspots, a result of its massive 3,600mAh battery.

In general, we were impressed with Sprint's offerings. We will keep you updated on their performance when Sprint's 4G LTE network goes live and we can try out these device's surfing speeds.