The first wave of smartphones for Verizon’s LTE 4G network will include entries from HTC, Motorola and Samsung, judging from the rash of early hardware photos hitting gadget sites over the past few days.

We’ve known for some time that Android manufacturers were working on LTE 4G phones, but the photos in the wild tell us that they’re closer to release than we’ve previously thought. Manufacturers are most likely gearing up to finalize their hardware to show off at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in two weeks.

In fact, it’s pretty certain that HTC will show off its Verizon LTE phone at CES, and that it will be the first manufacturer to do so. A few days ago, the company launched a site which teases that it will be “the first to 4G, again” — a reference to the Evo 4G and G2, the first 4G phones on Sprint and T-Mobile respectively. Prior to that, several gadget sites received leaked photos of the company’s upcoming “Mecha” device, which may land on Verizon as the “Incredible HD.”

A few days ago, Samsung’s LTE 4G entry was leaked to Gizmodo, and the Wall Street Journal reported that Motorola was officially working on a LTE phone for Verizon (not that there was ever any connection).

Verizon launched its supposedly super-fast LTE 4G network on December 5, but at the moment only a few 4G USB modems can take advantage of it. Obviously, the carrier needs 4G handsets as soon as possible to compete with flagship models from Sprint and T-Mobile.

AT&T is still mum on its LTE 4G network, and Sprint’s WiMAX 4G network (a competing standard to LTE) has been online for a few years. T-Mobile has dubbed its HSPA+ network 4G, even though AT&T currently regards that technology as a stop-gap between 3G and 4G.

Image via Gizmodo