If you haven’t realized by now that the best gifts for the 2012 holiday season are Android smartphones, this article aims to change the way you treat your friends and family.
Unfortunately for those of you with a tight budget, good Android smartphones aren’t exactly cheap, so you might have to dig deep in your pockets. But if you really want to impress someone special this holiday season, an Android smartphone is a great idea.
Android smartphones come in a dizzying variety of flavors, so we’ve decided to prepare this holiday shopping gift guide for Android smartphones.
We’ll walk you through the various smartphones that deserve your attention and outline a few reasons to buy (or not to buy) each one.
Samsung Galaxy S3: first choice
You’ll likely find the Samsung Galaxy S3 (read review) as part of numerous deals and promotions during the holiday frenzy. It’s the best-selling Android smartphone in history, and the only Android smartphone to sell more than the iPhone in a quarter.
One big advantage that the Samsung Galaxy S3 has over other Android smartphones (and exactly what makes it a safe smartphone to recommend as a gift) is the fact that it is available worldwide, on all major carriers (yes, there’s an LTE version that works with all North American 4G LTE carriers).
Battery life is satisfying by the most high-end standards, as is its 4.8 inch Super AMOLED display (it would have been great if it had not used the much criticized PenTile subpixel arrangement).
The Samsung Galaxy S3 can also work with microSD cards. That’s not what you’d normally call a feature, but it’s worrying to see an increasing number of Android flagships without card slots.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 also seems to be in the process of receiving its Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update. The international version (Exynos 4) is a bit faster than what is available in the US, Canada, and Japan (Snapdragon S4) versions. So, if you are a speed freak living in one of these countries, you might want to look at some of the other options.
No matter how you look at it, the Galaxy S3 is a great Android smartphone, without too many drawbacks. Still, other smartphones could be better for you.
What follows are some scenarios when you should consider other smartphones!
LG Google Nexus 4: the budget choice (if you can get it)
Previous Nexus smartphones were usually squarely aimed at Android enthusiasts, users that were looking to get the most out of the operating system. The Nexus 4 (read review)changes all that: it is the Android smartphone to recommend to any person interested in getting an Android smartphone. Quite a change in philosophy, don’t you think?
The 4.7 inch 720p IPS panel is amazing, as is the blazing fast Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC, not to mention that it is the only smartphone to use Android 4.2 Jelly Bean (and stock, at that). Future Android updates will reach the Nexus 4 with highest priority.
Although the Google Nexus 4 is both great looking and easily pocketable, the best thing about it is that it costs 300 USD/EUR in its 8GB version from the Google Play Store. Even if you’re tight on money, the Nexus 4 is a great phone to give as a gift, provided that you can actually buy it at the price Google is selling it.
One big drawback attached to the Nexus 4 (besides the lack of LTE) is that you cannot expand its internal storage via a microSD card. The 16 GB version costs 350 USD/EUR and partially solves the problem for some, but not all. Another disadvantage with the Nexus 4 is that the battery is not removable. Additionally, although not horrible, battery life could be better.
We believe that the Google Nexus 4 makes up for its minor flaws with its unique design (the holographic pattern on the back has drawn in lots of compliments from reviewers), price, and hardware specs. Did we mention it’s cheap ?
Droid DNA: eye candy galore
If the gift receiver is on Verizon, you might want to consider the recently launched Verizon HTC Droid DNA (read first impressions).
HTC’s device features the best display currently available on any Android device. We are talking about a 5-inch Super LCD display running at an impressive 1080p resolution (1920 by 1080 pixels). The record breaking 440ppi pixel density is just one part of the story, as the contrast level, color reproduction, and wide viewing angles have earned the Droid DNA glowing reviews.
Inside, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, the exact same SoC powering the Google Nexus 4, plus LTE connectivity on Verizon’s network. Unfortunately, the SoC in the DNA has to push roughly three times as many pixels, meaning that, while overall performance is great, frame rates will be noticeably lower than on the Nexus 4.
The Droid DNA lacks an SD card slot, and has a sealed and slightly underpowered battery. HTC’s latest flagship is also a bit bigger than your average smartphone, but without going overboard.
The Droid DNA is available for $200 on a two-year contract (with data plan) from Verizon or $599 out front. It’s kind of a mixed bag, but if you can handle its shortcomings, Verizon flagship is a wonderful smartphone.
RAZR HD Maxx: the power player
Another attractive high-end Android smartphone is the Motorola (Droid) RAZR HD Maxx.
The name is complicated, but the best thing about the phone really isn’t: this is the Android smartphone with the best battery life around. If the gift receiver plans to play a lot of games or use their smartphone intensively in other ways, the RAZR HD Maxx is probably the best solution. Its 3300 mAh battery will surely last through the day, even with intensive use on Verizon’s LTE network.
Inside there’s a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4, the same chip used by the US versions of the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3. The 4.7-inch Super AMOLED 720p display does its job beautifully without really stealing the show, but the design and the build quality of the RAZR HD Maxx are unmatched.
Although the battery is not removable, the Droid RAZR HD Maxx supports microSD cards up to 32GB in size.
Unfortunately, the Motorola Droid RAZR HD Maxx still runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. This situation is a bit curious given that Google owns the US-based manufacturer. Overall, the RAZR HD Maxx is probably the most robust Android smartphone you can buy.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2: when you want more
In spite of pundits dismissing it, people actually love the Note 2. The first selling point of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (read review) is its massive 5.55-inch Super AMOLED display running at a 720p resolution (non-Pentile). If you are OK with the large footprint, the advantages of a bigger display become quite obvious with the Galaxy Note 2. You can read more on why David thinks Android is better suited to larger displays here.
Another plus for the Galaxy Note 2 is the overclocked Exynos 4 Quad SoC that powers both the North American and the international version of Samsung’s second generation phablet.
Benchmarks show that the 1.6GHz quad-core processor is hard to beat in a multitude of tests. The Mali 400 MP GPU is also decent, although not as much of a champion in test results.
However, what really sets the Galaxy Note 2 apart is its unique accessory, the S-Pen, an evolved stylus that works closely with the integrated Wacom digitizer and a suite of S-Pen optimised apps to provide a unique experience.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 comes with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean preinstalled. So far, we have no word from Samsung on the imminent Android 4.2 update.
The suite of Smart Functions that the South Korean manufacturer has originally introduced with the Samsung Galaxy S3 is a plus, but it’s likely that you’ll be more impressed by the suite of software functions that are unique to the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (multi-windowing is a step forward in the Android ecosystem).
The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is available worldwide, and is likely to make it into numerous deals and offers during this holiday season.
We think that these five smartphones are the best the Android ecosystem has to offer for Christmas 2012. Other devices might shine in certain areas, some are cheaper or more easy to come by, but the five devices above are the all-around best phones you can give this holiday season.
We wish you happy holidays, good shopping, and a wonderful new year!