Though its first four LTE market launches are still a few months away, Sprint decided to do a little advance planning by showing its first LTE-compatible devices here at CES 2012: the midrange LG Viper, the Sierra Wireless Tri-Network Hotspot, and — of course — the Galaxy Nexus.
Starting with the Galaxy Nexus, there's not a lot to say here: it feels like it's exactly the same thickness as Verizon's version, and Sprint says that it is. That makes sense since they've got essentially the same radio specifications (there's no WiMAX support on Sprint's model). Everything about the phone feels the same as the Galaxy Nexus I'm already accustomed to — the display, camera, textured back, so on — right down to the software, which didn't feel any speedier to me despite the rumored presence of a slightly uptuned 1.5GHz OMAP 4, 300MHz better than the Verizon and GSM models. That's not to say you won't feel it once you load it up with software and start multitasking, but you'd be hard pressed to notice the difference out of the box on a clean, stock device.
Moving on, the LG Viper is an unusual offering — historically, new network introductions have been met first by data devices (USB sticks and hotspots) followed by high-end phones before moving downmarket, but Sprint's starting in the midrange from day one. Admittedly, it's difficult to get excited about an Android 2.3 handset at this point — much less a skinned one — but Sprint says that an ICS upgrade is already in the works. For what it is, the Viper's physical design isn't bad at all, and the company points out that it should make a good upgrade for legacy Optimus S owners looking to get into 4G. If it launches much above $50 on contract, though, the hardware is difficult to recommend — it's got a vaguely cheap feel to it, as many LGs do, and the screen feels like it's covered either in plastic or unusually low-grade glass. Pricing is absolutely critical here.
Finally, the Tri-Network Hotspot is awesome for one very simple reason: Sprint will be selling it with a standard 3,600mAh battery, which means that it should almost certainly last all day even with heavy LTE use. The underlying design is the same Sierra Wireless-sourced hardware that AT&T is using for its Elevate 4G, but the Tri-Network Hotspot is a good deal thicker since the Elevate comes bundled with a battery half as capacious. With mobile hotspots, physical beauty is secondary — I like Sprint's decision to throw caution to the wind and make this thing huge in exchange for all-day battery life. As the name implies, this device will work on LTE, WiMAX, and CDMA alike, so you'll be getting Sprint's fastest speeds regardless of where you are (no GSM global roaming, though).
Unfortunately, Sprint doesn't have a test LTE signal live in Vegas for the duration of the show, so I wasn't able to test it — that'll have to wait for later this year.