But I digress!
The impetus for this new section is the simple fact that your phone sucks. No really, it does. Look at that piece of crap.
At least that’s what I can say based on the vast anecdotal evidence of weekly being asked what phone one should get. It’s not as simple as saying this is the best phone, of course, so I’ll break it down here into the categories of phone users, with updates coming hopefully every month. Which one are you?
Person 1: I’m not really sure what I want, except it should be like, really fast right? Oh, and a touchscreen. It should have a touchscreen.
Phone: Apple iPhone 4S
Price: $200 on contract, $649 off contract
Don’t pretend like you’re going to put much thought into this. Just buy the new iPhone. You’re probably worried you can’t type on the screen, to which I’d say find someone with an iPhone and play with it for ten minutes. Try typing horizontally and vertically. Just go ahead, experiment a little. Probably most of your friends have one anyway, so you’ll be able to seamlessly chat with them with the new messenging app. Plus, it’s now available on the three major US carriers (sorry, T-Mobile). It is also a world phone, should you ever need to travel with it abroad (unlike most Verizon and Sprint phones…all AT&T phones are world phones). Finally, it has an incredibly fast camera, so you can get away with not having a separate point-and-shoot camera. Oh, and there is some dumb voice assistant thing called Siri that pretty much everyone agrees is a novelty. You won’t use it.
Person 2: I am the invisible twin of Person 1, but I’m, err, a cheapo.
Phone: Apple iPhone 4
Price: $100 on contract, $549 off contract
The iPhone 4 is now available on the same carriers as the 4S (again, sorry T-Mobile) but of course a little cheaper. It has many of the same qualities as its newer cousin, but it is just barely slower and of course lacks the fancy new camera. Still, it is no slouch. I would avoid the iPhone 3GS because it’s pretty outdated at this point, and you can’t expect Apple to continue to support it for much longer.
Side Note: You can buy an unlocked iPhone and use it on T-Mobile, but because it lacks the AWS bands, it will never attain 3G speeds.
Person 3: I hate Apple, Steve Jobs, and the color white. Is there not a phone out there for me?
Phone: Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Price: unofficially $299 on contract (on Verizon), off contract price not announced yet
This one is a no-brainer and sort of a cheat, since this one isn’t technically out yet. Though it hasn’t officially launch per se (it was announced in Hong Kong on October 19), everyone is pretty confident it’ll first launch on Verizon on November with the other carriers following in a month or so. So what’s not to like? It has a huge gorgeous screen (in fact the first phone to support an HD resolution), a brand new redesigned Android OS (referred to as Ice Cream Sandwich…I am not shitting you), a camera faster than even the iPhone 4S (which already has a very nice camera), a thin and neutral design, true LTE 4G capabilities (on Verizon at least), and NFC. That last one probably won’t be useful for a while, but it will be good to have if you use your credit card a lot. Near Field Communications (NFC) is a technology that allows for low-power, nearby wireless communications. It’s used mostly to buy things with your phone (imagine the contactless dongles used on metros), but Google has also introduced a method of exchanging bits of information (like maps or web pages) between phones wirelessly and automatically. Sure, not many phones have this yet, but it doesn’t hurt to be one of the first.
Person 4: I have T-Mobile. What is this iFone I keep hearing about?
Price: $179 on contract for the Galaxy S II, $609 off contract / $199 on contract for the Amaze 4G, $639 off
Sadly, it’s highly probable that despite the FCC and the Justice Department’s objections, AT&T is going to acquire T-Mobile. They’ve already stated their intentions are to transfer the AWS bands (which are currently used by T-Mobile to offer 3G speeds) over for use with LTE (a 4G technology that Verizon has already put out). Thus, it would be silly to think that a phone you buy now on T-Mobile is going to last you longer than a year, much less 2. Nevertheless, T-Mobile actually has some of the most interesting and powerful Android phones. Among the newest and best available are the Samsung Galaxy S II and the HTC Amaze 4G. The S II has a huge but beautiful screen, yet it is very thin. It’s generally regarded as the best Android phone currently available. The Amaze is a newer phone from HTC with an emphasis on the camera. It has a slightly smaller screen. Each comes with its parent company’s different versions of the Android OS. Personally, I prefer Samsung’s approach (known as Touchwiz), although many prefer HTC’s (which is called Sense). Touchwiz keeps it simple and arguably copies some of the iPhone’s ideas, while Sense is a smorgasbord of fancy animations and flourishes. It’s a matter of taste, really. If I had to pick I’d go with the S II simply because the screen really is spectacular, and that’s what you’re going to be spending the most time with. On the other hand, Samsung has a trouble with sending out updates to the OS, whereas HTC is much better.
Person 5: I really cannot operate my phone without a keyboard.
Price:Varies, in the $200 realm, see each carrier for details.
Ugh, are you sure, though? I thought I was one of those people once. My first phone was a dinky little dude with a keyboard that had many problems, and for those various reasons I went to an iPhone 3GS. I love it of course, but typing was hard, so the next [and current] phone was the Samsung Epic 4G, complete with a sliding keyboard. I really like it, but I’ve realized the typing problem I had with the iPhone wasn’t the touchscreen interface, it was the physical size of the screen. 3.5 inches is just too small to comfortably type on for me, but 4 inches is somehow plenty big. I say all of this not to convince you that you are wrong; I am only suggesting you try other larger phones and confirm you need a physical keyboard. Going the keyboard route always results in a chunkier, less than state-of-the art phone. They just don’t make em like they used to.
The Sprint option is unfortunately the worst of the bunch. It happens to be my phone, and although I do love it, I would never buy it now that it is 1.5 years old. Sprint has no fancy keyboard phones on the horizon. Finally, this would be a good point to talk about Sprint’s 4G service. While Verizon, AT&T, and most of the rest of the world is going with LTE, Sprint chose a technology called WiMAX. They did this so that they could have a 1-2 year lead on the competition. Originally their 4G devices were very fast, but for whatever reason the service has not matured well, and Sprint has recently decided to switch to LTE. Thus, not only is your WiMAX phone not going to work properly (to be fair, several years from now) at some point, Sprint is also no longer upgrading the service and instead concentrating on LTE. This might be an acceptable limitation if it weren’t for the fact that WiMAX is just not a great wireless system. It’s prone to disconnect, and it basically doesn’t work indoors. I have problems simply walking down the street and maintaining a good connection. Sure, you won’t use it that much, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t work.
The T-Mobile option is also a bit old, but I’m less critical of it for the simple fact that it has an excellent camera.
Verizon has two options, the major difference being that the Droid 3 is a faster phone but doesn’t have 4G, whereas the Stratosphere is the reverse. That might not make sense, but basically the Droid is a faster computer while the Stratosphere is has a faster modem. The Stratosphere also arguably has a superior screen, though. The Droid 3 has a cleaner design. It’s subjective. Oh, and you might have noticed that the Stratosphere is extremely similar to the Epic 4G, and that would be because they come from the same family. Last but not least, the Droid 4 has already been spotted in leaks, so if you can wait a few months, you’ll probably see the Droid 3’s younger sibling out soon.
The AT&T option, the Captivate Slide, is essentially the same thing as the Stratosphere (and the Epic 4G) but has a faster processor. Don’t be fooled by AT&T’s (or T-Mobile’s for that matter) splattering of “4G” all over the place. Unlike Verizon and Sprint, they don’t actually have a 4G network. Instead they have sped up their older 3G network and changed its name.
Don’t talk to me about Blackberry. It’s a dying operating system with little to look forward to on the horizon. BBX (designed by The Astonishing Tribe and based on QNX, the powerful and efficient operating system RIM acquired two years ago) is supposedly the next big overhaul (which hilariously, is the second “major” overhaul in under a year), but it doesn’t even support BBM! Or corporate email! Or calendars! It’s insane, people! Why are you sticking with your Blackberries? Android has Google Talk, and iOS has iMessenge. GIVE UP.
Person 6: But I want a DROID!
Phone: Motorola Droid RAZR (Verizon)
Price: $299 on contract (on Verizon), $649 off contract
Ugh, you’re a tool. No, but seriously, all of the phones I’ve mentioned except the iPhone are obviously Android smartphones. “Droid” is just a marketing term. You realize that right? Oh, you don’t care. Oh, I’m a nerd? Damn, you’re right. OK…well, the best “DROID” out there is the new Motorola Droid RAZR for Verizon. They old naming befits this incredibly thin and well-designed phone. It looks chunkier in photos than in real life. It’s actually very chic in person. The back has a unique Kevlar surface, and the internal circuitry is splash-proof. This is the thinnest 4G phone in the world. It’s actually among the thinnest phones in the world. So yah, if you want those things, get this phone. My only reservation is that it’s not loaded with Ice Cream Sandwich, the new Android OS. Sure, it’ll probably get that update eventually. It also does not have the amazing screen of the Galaxy Nexus. Still, it’s an option.
Person 7: I don’t want a contract, and I don’t want to pay $500 for a phone.
Price: $229 / $249 (both on Boost Mobile)
Well, obviously you can’t get the latest greatest phone if you aren’t willing to sign a contract with a carrier. Those phones are cheaper because the carrier subsidizes most of the upfront cost of the phone, since obviously you’ll be paying them for 2 years. You’re basically leasing a phone. Anyway, so these phones are perfectly capable of serving as your go-to device for at least another year. They generally have last year’s processors and not the best screens, but on the other hand they’s cheaps. The Transform Ultra has and inferior screen but includes a keyboard. The Warp also has a better camera. Still, if you need a keyboard (see Person 4) this is your best bet.