With the Consumer Electronics Show but a distant memory, it’s time to take another look at the current landscape of smartphones. Now’s an excellent time to shop for a new phone, for a variety of reasons:
1) We are at least several months away from the iPhone 5, or whatever it ends up being called.
2) Most of the major new phones were already announced this month, and the’re availability will trickle into reality over the next couple of weeks.
3) Obviously, there are no back-to-school or Christmas deals just around the corner.
4) And finally, Samsung has formally stated that they won’t be announcing the Galaxy S 3 — an update the Galaxy S 2 (the most popular Android phone of all time) — until March at the earliest.
In other words, these smartphones are all a safe bet. Per usual, I’m grouping everyone into a few distinct personality groups.
Person 1: I want to be apart of the mobile web, you know? I want to getta the emails, and I want to senda the emails. Suddenly I’m stereotypically Italian. I want websites to be designed to handle my phone, or more specifically, I don’t want to have to think about how websites are [or are not] designed, and I shouldn’t have to. I want there to be lots of — what’s that word? Oh yes, the word is apps! There should be lots of them. Apps everywhere. In short, I want a really cool and powerful smartphone, but I really don’t have the time nor desire to really think about alternatives. I think it’s called the yPhone.
Apple iPhone 4S (Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T)
As any nerd will tell you, Apple isn’t going to release the iPhone 5 for quite a while. We were all shocked last year when they skipped their usual June release date and opted instead for October. Thus, the iPhone 4S will still be the cutting edge for quite a while. It keeps the same excellent screen, camera, build quality of the iPhone 4 — not to mention the overall smooth and simple operating system the iPhone is known for — and adds a faster processor, faster camera, and a somewhat gimmicky voice-activated “assistant” you’ve probably heard of already called Siri. She’s more of a novelty, but hey, maybe you’ll find her comforting.
Person 2: Yah, I’ve tried that phone, but I’m just not into Apple. And/or maybe I don’t want what everyone else has. And/or I want something with a big screen, thin design, and just in general cutting-edge features.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile)
At long last, the new Nexus has arrived, and it’s as amazing as we all hoped. I’m currently using the Verizon variant, which comes with 32gb of storage and a 4G LTE modem. It’s fantastic. The browser is very smooth and handles any website I throw at it. The gmail, calendar, contacts, chat, and SMS apps are all seamless. The gmail integration in particular is perhaps the best on any phone (or tablet for that matter) yet. The 4G speeds are a nice bonus. I can download a podcast in a few seconds. One of the best parts, though, is definitely the large screen with its high pixel count. In simpler terms: more info can be seen on the screen and clearly to boot. It’s the difference between having 8 emails listed versus 5, or having an entire pane of a comic readable instead of needing to zoom. Pictures and videos are also clear, saturated, and bright. Though the new operating system (called “Ice Cream Sandwich” if you can believe it) does technically run all older apps, I have found a handful that are still a little wonky or just won’t run at all. App makers are quickly updating, though, so this shouldn’t be much of a problem in the future. If I had one complaint it would be the battery life. If you turn off 4G and keep the screen below 50% brightness — as well as obviously not use the thing all day long — you can make it through a full day without needing to recharge. I hate that behavior. I hate having to worry about my phone’s battery. I hate having to manage the various battery-draining features. Didn’t I buy a 4G phone to, you know, use the 4G? To cope I keep a charger at work and a charger at home and literally leave it plugged in with all settings left on. The only time I run low on battery is when I travel, and in that scenario I do have to manage things more (like for example, putting it into airplane mode).
Technically, this phone is not announced for AT&T or T-Mobile yet, however a “pentaband” version is for sale right now that will work on those networks. The major caveat is that you’d be buying it for full price. Since it’s “unlocked” you should be able to easily sell it on eBay when you move onto a new phone and still recoup much of the value. I’ve done this before.
Many rejoiced when the proposed merger between T-Mobile and AT&T fell through earlier this year, except for perhaps the straggling couple of million T-Mobile users hoping for new phones. Well, sucks to be you. What this means in the short term is that T-Mobile users don’t have much in the way of great phones to look forward to.
Although obviously not at all the same thing, Sprint has announced they’ll be moving away from the WiMax 4G standard and instead deploying the superior LTE 4G standard, which brings them in line with AT&T and Verizon. None of the Galaxy S 2 variants currently support 4G (the Nexus is considered a different device), though Sprint’s version does have WiMax. The result is you’ll be able to receive pretty good 4G speeds on that phone, but coverage is spotty.
Although I don’t consider the Galaxy S 2 (the Epic 4G Touch is just a name, it’s the same thing) a supremely inferior phone by any stretch of the imagination, it’s still half a year old, and in the gadget world that’s pushing it. It has a great screen, camera, and battery. It’s very thin, and it’s very fast. It’s not running the newest version of Android, but Samsung promises an update “soon.”
Person 4: Yah, yah, yah. Phones schmones. I need to upgrade my RAZR from 6 years ago, and I hate phones that include too many vowels. Extraneous consonants are appreciated (T.J. Maxx is, after all, my favorite store.) Isn’t there something for me?
Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX (Verizon)
I was going to leave this puppy off, because it’s almost getting a bit old in the tooth and never really was that cutting edge before. But! Motorola just released an updated version that maintains the svelte design but basically doubles the battery life. Considering the original Droid RAZR had a pretty good battery to begin with, this is quite a step up. The new battery will last you almost a full two days of heavy use, if you can believe it. The phone’s design certainly isn’t for everyone — personally, I think it looks awkward, and I’ve read that it’s hard to hold — but you can’t deny that it is indeed crazy thin. I wish it were running the newest version of Android (Ice Cream Sandwich, see Person 2 above), but Moto promises an update “soon.” Notice a theme here?
I’ll spare you the long backstory of how Nokia came to be making a phone running Windows on AT&T, but believe me when I say it’s somewhat surprising that it 1) is happening at all and 2) is resulting in a great phone. The Lumia 900 builds on the amazing design of the N8, throws in the snappy and pretty (if a bit niche and not incredibly full of apps) Windows Phone operating system of the Lumia 800, then ups the ante with a bigger screen, a camera for video chatting, and a 4G LTE modem to boot. If you’re unfamiliar with Windows Phone because you’re used to Android and/or iOS, this might not be the best choice for you, but if you’re upgrading from a phone that’s a few years old and aren’t sure what operating system you like, you might just like the simplicity and beautify of it. Plus, maybe you want a phone that comes in colors other than black or white.
There’s not much to say about the Skyrocket. It has a bizarre name, there’s that. It’s a great phone. It’s the Galaxy S 2 but with a 4G LTE modem and a faster processor. Nuff said.
If you’ve read past Your Phone Sucks posts you know that the market for excellent phones with physical keyboards is middling at best. Sprint is perhaps the worst because it still has the aging Samsung Epic 4G (though there are rumors of an upcoming Epic 4G 2). It’s so old I’m officially taking it off the list, so if you’re on Sprint and want a keyboard, get ready to wait. Verizon always has the Droid(s) I suppose, but the others never really put out keyboard phones that were also first in class in every way. The high end of the market has become dominated by keyboard-less slab phones, and that doesn’t seem to be changing. I am comfortable recommending the Glide and the myTouch because although they’re a little old, they have the specs (i.e., a dual-core processor) that should carry them through at least the end of this year, assuming they’re updated to…wait for it…Ice Cream Sandwich.
Public Service Announcement: Seriously folks, stop using Blackberries. You know RIM is most likely going to file for bankrupty protection and/or try to sell to another company, right? Oh you didn’t? Well surely you heard that the next version of the operating system (BB 10) isn’t coming out until the end of this year? That neither? Well, here’s a fun one: the next major Blackberry is…going to lack a keyboard (see image at right from Crackberry). Boom! Your mind is blown. Why are you supporting those phones still!?!?