Buying guide: Best Android phones – USA, June 2013
Android is a seemingly ever growing mobile operating system, which currently dominates the smartphone market, and there is a good reason for that – choice. Android offers an enormous amount of choice compared to iOS, Windows Phone 8, or Blackberry.
Having options is very good, however, it can become confusing when too much choices are on the table. Samsung, HTC, Sony and various other smartphone manufacturers have created some amazing smartphones over the last couple of months, but which one is the best for you? Join us in taking a look at the best Android smartphones currently available in the US.
Best phones on contract: high-end
Samsung Galaxy S4/S4 Active
Samsung overtook Apple in becoming the world’s largest smartphone maker a couple of years ago, and since then, they have been pushing out a vast number of smartphones, all of them aimed at a different kind of market and consumer. Their most successful phones, however, are in the Galaxy S series, which are their most heavily marketed and hyped devices. Last year, the Galaxy S3 became an extremely popular device selling over 50 million units, and this year, Samsung is bouncing back into the game with the Galaxy S4.
The specs of the Galaxy S4 include a 1.9 GHz quad-core processor, a 5-inch 1920×1080 Super AMOLED display, a 13 megapixel camera, a 2600 mAh battery, Android 4.2.2 and 2 GB of RAM, which are certainly respectable specs in 2013. There are also a variety of software features such as “Air View”, “Smart Pause” and “Smart Stay” which aren’t necessarily needed but definitely add to the experience of the phone. One criticism of the Galaxy S4 is the plastic build, which does allow however for microSD card support, as well as enable the battery to be removed.
Samsung also released an “Active” version of the Galaxy S4, which mostly has the same specifications while adding a much more rugged build quality and IP57 waterproofing. You do however lose the thin and light form factor of the original.
Samsung Galaxy S4 review
Samsung Galaxy S4 availability and pricing
Verizon – available for $199 on a new plan starting May 30
AT&T – available for $199 on a new plan
Sprint – available for $249 on a new plan
T-Mobile – available for $149 down payment, $20 per month off contract
U.S. Cellular – available for $199 on a new plan
HTC is currently struggling through financial trouble, but the HTC One may be their savior. Last year, HTC introduced three flagship phones, all of which were on different carriers, which clearly hold their potential down. HTC started fresh this year and introduced one phone (no pun intended) which is available from three of the major carriers in the US.
The HTC One has a beautiful aluminum build, which rivals the best phones out there in terms of build quality. The choice of premium materials has made many customers choose the One over the Galaxy S4, with its plastic build. Other buying factors include the “UltraPixel” camera which takes extraordinarily clear low-light pictures and the “BoomSound” front facing speakers, which give more bass and a crisp sound. HTC also redid its Sense overlay for the HTC One by refining it and adding several software features, such as “BlinkFeed” which is a homescreen replacement similar to Flipboard, the popular news feed app.
The specs of the HTC One include a 1.7 GHz quad-core processor, 4.7-inch 1920×1080 Full HD display, 4 ultrapixel camera, 2300 mAh battery, Android 4.1.2, and 2 GB of RAM.
HTC One review
HTC One availability and pricing
AT&T – available for $199 on a new plan
Sprint – available for $199 on a new plan
T-Mobile – available for $99 down payment, $20 per month off contract
Verizon – Coming soon, price TBD
LG Optimus G Pro
LG is gradually working its way up to the top of the smartphone game, now ranking as the third largest smartphone manufacturer on the planet. After the lukewarm response to the Optimus G, LG has been working hard to deliver a phone that would catch the buyer’s eye in a retail store and it’s done just that with the Optimus G Pro, the latest addition to its high-end smartphone line.
The Optimus G Pro is LG’s second attempt at an oversized smartphone after the Optimus Vu, which was badly received. While there is nothing extremely remarkable about the Optimus G Pro, it is still an excellent all around phone with fantastic performance and battery life. LG’s Optimus UI added on top of Android 4.1.2 is, perhaps, not the best looking, but it still gets the job done and doesn’t affect the overall feel of the device.
The specs of the LG Optimus G Pro include a 1.7 GHz quad-core processor, a 5.5-inch 1920×1080 Full HD display, 13 megapixel camera, a 3140 mAh battery, Android 4.1.2, and 2 GB of RAM.
LG Optimus G Pro review
LG Optimus G Pro availability and pricing
AT&T – Available for $199 on a new plan
Best phones on contract: budget
Facebook and HTC finally revealed the long rumored Facebook phone in an event two months ago, and the result was the HTC First, a mid-range Android smartphone running Facebook Home, a launcher which incorporates Facebook into your handset. Facebook Home has, however, been heavily criticized for removing widget support and having an unintuitive UI.
Facebook Home can be turned off on the HTC First though. Without it, the First is running stock Android, which will appeal to many Android fans thanks to the clean and responsive interface.
Specs of the HTC First include a 1.4 GHz dual-core processor, 4.3-inch 1280×720 display, 5 megapixel camera, 2000 mAh battery, Android 4.1.2, and 1 GB of RAM.
HTC First review
HTC First availability and pricing
AT&T – Available for free on a new plan
Samsung Galaxy S3
Samsung’s 2012 flagship, the Galaxy S3 was the first truly successful Android handset and for a good reason, as it was recognized as the best smartphone of 2012 and still remains one the best phones available for the price. The Galaxy S3 is running Samsung’s TouchWiz over Android 4.1.2, and has a respectable amount of built-in software features.
Specs include a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, a 4.8-inch 1280×720 display, 8 megapixel camera, 2100 mAh battery, Android 4.1.2, and 2 GB of RAM. Compared to the specs of 2013’s top phones, the S3’s specs may look weak, but with a reduced price, the Galaxy S3 is an extremely worthy contender.
Samsung Galaxy S3 review
Samsung Galaxy S3 availability and pricing
Verizon – available for $99 on a new plan
AT&T – available for $99 on a new plan
Sprint – available for $99 on a new plan
T-Mobile – available for $69 down payment, $20 per month off contract
U.S. Cellular – available for $99 on a new plan
Motorola Droid Razr M
Since the original Motorola Droid, Verizon has continued to expand the Droid line and make sure is there an option at every level. The Droid Razr M serves as the budget member of the line and does the job in style with moderately high-end specs for a phone of its price and size. It also has an edge to edge display which allows for easy one handed use.
Motorola has opted to go with an almost stock Android experience, changing some fonts and icons, as well as adding several software features which are not available on stock Android.
The specs of the Droid Razr M include a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, a 4.3-inch 960×540 display, 8 megapixel camera, 2000 mAh battery, Android 4.1.1, and 1 GB of RAM. The specs, while no longer cutting edge, are still decent enough to keep the phone running smoothly.
Motorola Razr M promo video
Motorola Droid Razr M availability and pricing
Verizon – available for free on a new plan
Best phones off contract (SIM-free)
Oppo Find 5
Chinese smartphone companies are often dismissed for supposedly making low quality phones. Oppo however, is beginning to make a name for itself in the US market with the Find 5, a high-end phone with a tough build quality and good all round performance. Oppo has also added its own skin, which dramatically changes Android, adding iPhone-like icons and diminishing the app drawer. Like most Android phones though, the Find 5 can be rooted and used with a custom ROM.
Specs of the Oppo Find 5 include a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, 5-inch 1920×1080 Full HD display, 13 megapixel camera, 2500 mAh battery, Android 4.1.2 and 2 GB of RAM. The Find 5 is definitely a great start in the US market from Oppo, and certainly impressive considering it’s coming from a virtually unknown Chinese manufacturer.
Oppo Find 5 review
Oppo Find 5 availability and pricing
Oppo – available for $499 unlocked
LG is perhaps not the first company that comes to mind when you think of great smartphones, but they did a fine job with Google’s latest Nexus. The phone itself has a beautiful glass build, decent camera, and snappy performance, which is, for many, everything you’d want and need in a smartphone.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a Nexus device is a phone or tablet running pure stock Android instead of a company overlay. Stock Android has a cleaner, smoother interface, and also provides more hackability which will appeal to many geeks and enthusiasts.
The specs of the Nexus 4 include a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, 4.7-inch 1280×720 display, 8 megapixel camera, 2100 mAh battery, Android 4.2.2, and 2 GB of RAM. While not competing with the specs of 2013 smartphones, the Nexus 4 still runs smoothly and will continue to receive update support from Google for the foreseeable future.
Nexus 4 review
Nexus 4 availability and pricing
Google Play – available for $299 unlocked
T-Mobile – available $49 down payment, $20 per month off contract
“Google Edition” HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4
Instead of a introducing a new Nexus smartphone or tablet at Google I/O, Google opted to reveal a “Google Edition” of the Samsung Galaxy S4. A few weeks later a “Google Edition” of the HTC One was also revealed. But what exactly does it mean for a phone to be “Google Edition”? Well, most smartphone manufacturers choose to put their own skin on top of Android, so that their smartphone can be identified as one of their products. The “Google Edition” means that there is no company skin and the device is running pure stock Android, while retaining the same hardware.
Stock Android generally runs more smoothly than an overlay and also has a clean and intuitive interface. For example TouchWiz on the Galaxy S4 marginally slows down the handset, which is an annoyance for some people. Stock Android also allows the device to be hacked/rooted easily, which is a must-have for some Android fans.
HTC One Google Edition availability and pricing
Google Play – available for $599 starting June 26
Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Edition availability and pricing
Google Play – available for $649 starting June 26
There is no doubt that Android will continue to grow in popularity and dominate the mobile market space. Samsung, HTC, LG and even Oppo are contributing greatly to the Android market and helping secure Android’s place at the top. The amount of choices on the market give consumers and geeks a great amount of freedom in deciding what kind of smartphone they would like.
Given Google’s track record, it seems possible that a new Nexus phone will be appearing later this year, as well a new version of Android, Key Lime Pie perhaps?