Smartphones: Good Buys and Nice Tries

Yesterday, I posted about some of the latest and greatest tablets out there. Today, I wanted to take some time to write about smartphones. This is not an easy task. Unlike smartphones, most tablets come in a Wi-Fi only model. With Wi-Fi only models, you don't have to worry about the hassle of choosing a wireless carriers and their two year contracts. A few of the tablets also come in 3G/4G models that can be purchased through a carrier. There are four main carriers and several regional carriers. Each carrier has a different line-up of phones which makes it that much harder to choose. Even a phone like the Samsung Galaxy SIII (which will be carried by all of the major carriers), has different specs depending on which carrier you buy it from.

Besides the carrier complications, smartphones are also a different beast because there are so many options. There a entry-level, inexpensive smartphones, all the way up to the top of the line iPhones and Android devices. The main smartphone platforms in the U.S. include Android, Blackberry, iOS, and Windows Phone. Android and iOS are the dominant players for now. Blackberry has been in decline for some time now. Microsoft has been trying to gain market share with it's Windows Phone OS, but has not been very successful. Windows Phone may make some traction with the addition of its new line of tablets called Microsoft Surface. 

I'm going to offer up my thought on just a fraction of the smartphones that are currently on the market. I will not get into great detail about each phone but I will give my thoughts on why I like or don't like the device. My opinions aside, when it is time to purchase a new phone, it is up to the user to 1) decide which carrier is best for them, 2) consider how they will use a smartphone to help find the right phone, and 3) determine their budget for the phone and the monthly data and voice plan. 


Samsung Galaxy Nexus: Good Buy 

This is the phone that I currently own. It was released late last year. Even though this phone is a few months old, I believe it is still one of the top Android phones available today (if not still the top Android phone). The phone has nice specs and has a large 4.65" screen (which some people may not like). The Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE models are available on Verizon Wireless and Sprint. An HSPA+ model is available in the Google Play Store for AT&T and international use. The Galaxy Nexus is a pure Google Android phone with no manufacturer overlays. It usually gets updates from Google quickly, while most other phones wait months to get an update (if at all). Whether you are an average user or someone who likes to root/ROM your device, the Galaxy Nexus is a solid choice.  

Samsung Galaxy SIII and Samsung Galaxy Note: Good Buy

I like Samsung devices in general. The Galaxy SIII is their latest and greatest release and is available at all of the main carriers. It has the best specs of any Android Smartphone but loses points because of the TouchWiz interface. TouchWiz is Samsung's version of their customized Android OS. The Galaxy Note has a large 5.3" screen and is like a small tablet (also coined a "phablet"). I would definitely buy one of these phones if I didn't have a Galaxy Nexus. I would probably buy the GSIII because I am a Verizon customer. I cannot buy the Note because it is only available on AT&T, but rumored to be coming to T-Mobile. These are premium devices and carry a premium price tag. For the average user, these devices provide the closest experience similar to an iPhone. For that reason, Apple is suing Samsung over patent infringement (and because Samsung is by far their greatest competition right now). If you are an average user, I don't think you can wrong with either of these devices. If you like to customize your device, both of these devices can be rooted for custom ROM installs.

HTC One X: Nice Try

The HTC One X is available on AT&T. There are similar models on Verizon (Droid Incredible 4G LTE) and Sprint (HTC EVO 4G LTE). The specs of this phone tell me it should be a pretty decent phone. For some it may be, but I dislike the HTC Sense customization to Android. Many users may disagree, but the experience is not as nice as pure Android. The fact that this phone does not have a removable battery is a deal breaker for me. If you love music, you may love that the phone is equipped with Beats Audio. I don't hate this phone, but if I owned it, I would probably root and ROM it to run a pure Android 4.0 ROM. I like the CyanogenMOD ROMS, but that is another blog post. 

Motorola Droid Razor Maxx: Nice Try

Motorola makes decent hardware, but the customized version of Android they use is awful. I hope it will improve now that Google has purchased Motorola. This phone is an update to the Droid Razor that adds a bigger battery to the device, making it thicker than the original version. The device originally shipped with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), but Verizon has recently released an update to 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Like the HTC One X, the Razor Maxx does not have a removable battery, but it has the largest battery of any other smartphone. It is reported to have great battery life as a result. Unless battery life is your only purchasing criteria, at $299 for a two year contract, the phone is over priced for what you get. 


All Blackberry Devices: Nice Try

Just say NO! Don't buy one and hope you don't get stuck with one from your company. If you do, you will probably be carrying around two phones (not fun). Blackberry has a long way to come before they can compete. The Blackberry OS needs a refresh, but is probably too late to the game. What about Android on a Blackberry phone? That might be interesting.


iPhone 4/4S: Good Buy, but WAIT!

Even though I prefer an Android device, I have no problem at all recommending the iPhone. It is a solid device and has a mature operating system that is only getting better (thanks to competition from Android).  I would recommend the iPhone to most average users unless cost is an issue. You can buy a cheaper older model, like a 3GS, but I don't recommend that. If you like to customize your phone or side load apps, the iPhone is not a good choice unless you plan on jailbreaking your device. Apple only allows apps from its App Store to be added to the device, unless you jailbreak of course. One of the biggest flaws with the iPhone 4/4S is the glass on both sides of the phone. Unless you have a very protective case, the chances are good the glass will break if you drop the device. If you like having the latest and greatest phone, you already know the iPhone 5 will be released sometime later this year. It is rumored to have a larger 4" screen and a redesigned look. I would wait for the iPhone 5 if you plan on purchasing a new iPhone in the coming months.


Nokia Lumia 900 and all other Current Windows Phones: Nice Try

The Lumia 900 is an awesome device but it already has an outdated OS. Microsoft will be releasing Windows Phone 8 later this year. Current Windows Phone 7.5 models will not be upgradeable to the newest operating system, including the Lumia 900. I really like the Windows Phone OS. Along with the new Surface Tablet, Microsoft may finally have a hit on its hands with the updated ecosystem. Don't buy now, wait until later in the year. I highly recommend Windows Phone for first time smartphone buyers, especially if they have Microsoft Windows PC experience. If you don't care about the newest OS, at $49 the Lumia is the best hardware out there for the money. 


If there is a phone you think I should have covered or you want my opinion of a phone, email me at roger [at] forestgeek [dot] com. You can also comment on this post below  using Facebook or send me a Tweet at @ForestGeek on Twitter.  


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