Cellular South announced today that it will be among the first carriers in the United States to offer the HTC Merge. Officially introduced back in late February, the Merge is HTC's first dual-mode CDMA/GSM handset to run Android.
Even without a full review, there's a lot to like about the Merge. It features HTC's Sense UI with Android 2.2, a full sliding QWERTY keyboard, a 3.8-inch touch screen, and a 5-megapixel camera capable of recording HD video. What's more, the HTC Merge will be the first device to launch with Amazon.com's new Android app store preloaded on the device.
Although the press release doesn't spell it out very clearly, the Merge also will offer the Android Market for apps and games. When reached for a comment, a representative of Cellular South told CNET that the carrier is giving customers access to both distribution models.
The carrier also points to Amazon's free paid app of the day and one-click purchases as features that should please consumers. While there is plenty of duplication between the two systems, each brings something unique to the table. No doubt seasoned Android users will favor the Market system that has been in place for a few years, since they've already paid for games and apps using the Google Checkout system. New smartphone buyers, on the other hand, might gravitate to the Amazon name and its excellent recommendation and discovery tools.
Cellular South currently offers six other Android smartphones, including the Galaxy S series Samsung Showcase. I'd anticipate that the carrier will begin to offer the Amazon App Store on as many devices as possible.
Until bigger players like Verizon and AT&T decide to preinstall the app, this could be a selling point for the privately owned communications provider. While pricing and specific availability are not known, Cellular South indicates an April release and a required two-year contract. Given the hardware of the Merge and the carrier's other handsets, I'd be surprised if it falls outside of the $149.99-to-$199.99 range.