Tech Made Simple

Hot Topics: Holiday Shopping & Gifts | Deep Web: Surfing the Dark SIde | GIVEAWAY: Win an HTC One! | Apple iPhone 6

Choose It

Smartphone Buying Guide

posted on January 31, 2011 in Phones and Mobile, Phone Accessories, Cell Phones, Guides & Reviews :: 18 comments

Smartphones are ebook readers, portable gaming machines organizers navigation system and a phone, all packaged in a bundle small enough to fit in your pocket. They can do so much, it almost doesn't make sense to buy a regular cell phone anymore. But the choices can be overwhelming, and new smartphones are coming out all the time. So which is the best smartphone for you?

Before you buy your smartphone, you'll first need to make some important choices about which operating system—iOS, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone 7—and which features are right for you. This buying guide will walk you through those decisions and help you find the perfect smartphone.

Important Choices

Apple iOS vs Android vs BlackBerry vs Window Phone 7?
The biggest choice here is between Apple's iOS and Android. Unless you're a BlackBerry Messenger user or need BlackBerry for work, there isn't a compelling reason to go with BlackBerry. The operating system is outdated, the phones choices are limited and the app store pales in comparison with Apple and Android. And while we believe Windows Phone 7 has a lot of potential, it isn't quite there yet.

Apple's iOS has a lot going for it. Like all Apple products, iOS has a clean, easy-to-use interface. Finding apps is easy using either the App Store on your phone or iTunes on your desktop. And there are more apps for iOS than Android.

The biggest drawback is that there's just one device, the iPhone 4. Not that the iPhone 4 isn't a great phone (it is), but there is no 4G version, it has a relatively small screen compared to many of the Android phones and Android free Google Nav is better than the iPhone version. Not to mention iPhone's history of dropped calls in many major metropolitan areas.

But the iPhone 4 makes up for these failings with its best-of-show camera, super-high resolution display and overall design.

Android has a lot more choice when it comes to devices–different size displays, 3G and 4G networks, physical keyboards. And Android phones also tend to be less expensive, often on sale for just a penny.

There are plenty of apps available for Android now, though it's still missing some key ones, such as Netflix and Skype video chat. And the Android app marketplace still feels pieced together compared to Apple's app store.

The Android OS is a little rougher around the edges than Apple's iOS, though it's improving quickly. Even the latest devices don't all run the same version of Android and, if they do, often the manufacturers layer their own software on top of Android—HTC Sense, Motorola Blur, Samsung Touch Wiz—for better or worse.

The Techlicious staff uses both Android and Apple phones, At the end of the day, you could be happy with either.

Do you need a 3G or 4G data network?
3G is the current generation of cellular data networks that provides broadband-like speeds for watching videos, streaming music and browsing the Web. Actual 3G speed varies significantly by carrier and location, but you can expect speeds between around 400kbps (worst case) up to about 5mbps (best case).

4G is the newest generation of data networks, with speeds (at least theoretically) far faster than 3G. The term 4G has a specific technical definition, but it is quickly being obscured by the T-Mobile and AT&T marketing departments who are using it to describe their faster 3G networks. No matter, what 's important for you to know is that the phones advertised as "4G" will have real world download speeds that are likely to be much higher, up to 12mbps or more as the new networks get rolled out.

To see what speed you are likely to get in your area for a given carrier, ask a friend who uses a smartphone on that carrier to download an app called "speedtest" to their phone (or go to a store and do it) and see what speed they're getting.

So which should you get?

If you plan to stream movies or use your phone as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, 4G is probably the way to go. And If you want to make calls while simultaneously using your data connection, AT&T and T-Mobile will let you do that. Placing a call on Verizon or Sprint's 3G networks will disconnect you from the data network—their 4G networks don't have this limitation.

Keep in mind that carriers may charge extra on your monthly plan for using a 4G phone, so be sure to check.

Using your phone as a mobile hotspot
Many—but not all—of the new smartphones let you create a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot so you can use your smartphone's data connection for your laptop or iPad. It's a great feature, but comes at a cost. Namely, the extra fees the carriers charge for the privilege. Check with your carrier for rates and any usage limitations.

AT&T

With the iPhone 4 arriving on Verizon, AT&T is finally fleshing out its Android line-up. This spring AT&T got the HTC Inspire and the Motorola Atrix 4G ,with its super-fast dual-core processor, and the Samsung Infuse 4G is on the way with a huge 4.5-inch next-gen display.

Samsung CaptivateSamsung Captivate
The Samsung Captivate is one of the best phones available on AT&T. While other phones offer features the Captivate does not, the overall combination of slim form factor, beautiful 4-inch screen, decent camera and cheap price make it a winner.
Price: Free with new account, $30 with 2-year extension on Wirefly.com

Apple iPhone 4Apple iPhone 4 (read review)
With its high resolution display, the best camera on a smartphone, support for video chat and tons of apps, the iPhone 4 is a great choice—as long as you're not in an area (like New York City) where the iPhone is notorious for dropped calls. The next model is expected in late June, so prices on the iPhone 4 should drop around that time. We recommend waiting.
Price: $199 (16GB), $299 (32GB) on ATTWireless.com

BlackBerry TorchRIM BlackBerry Torch 9800 (read review)
If you are a BlackBerry fan, this is the phone for you. You get both a physical keyboard and a capacitive touchscreen, the ability to do real web browsing and integration with your social networks. And you’ll love its ability to sync your music wirelessly through your home Wi‐Fi network. But BlackBerry is way behind Android and Apple on the app front.
Price: $0.01 with new account, $50 with 2-year extension on AmazonWireless.com

Samsung FocusSamsung Focus (read review)
If you’re looking for a Windows Phone 7 device that can compete with the other smartphones on the market, the Samsung Focus delivers. It’s sleek, light, has a great display, feels comfortable in your hand and is dirt cheap. Plus it has a scratch-resistant display, which makes those screen protectors a thing of the past.
Price: $0.01 with new account or 2-year extension on AmazonWireless.com

HTC InspireHTC Inspire (read review)
The HTC Inspire 4G is a great phone for AT&T customers at a good price. It offers most of what you’d want in an Android phone, a 4.3-inch display, high-quality 8MP camera and mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. The drawbacks are a very slow 4G experience, no front-facing camera and it's above average in weight (5.8 oz).
Price: $60 with new account. $70 with 2-year extension on AmazonWireless.com
 

Important AT&T Phones

  3G/4G Operating
System
Display Weight Input Camera Wi-Fi Hotspot Recommendation
Samsung Captivate 3G Android 2.1 4" Super AMOLED 4.5 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: None
No Recommended
Apple iPhone 4 3G iOS 4 3.5" LCD 4.8 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: 0.3MP
No Recommended
BlackBerry Torch 3G BlackBerry 6 3.2" LCD 5.7 oz Slider
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: None
No Recommended
Samsung Focus 3G Windows Phone 7 4" Super AMOLED 4.2 oz Slider
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: None
No Neutral
HTC Inspire 4G Android 2.2 4.3" LCD 5.8 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 8MP
Front: None
Yes Recommended
 

Sprint

Sprint is due for another round of phone announcements, with new phones expected late spring. Stay tuned.

Samsung Epic 4GSamsung Epic 4G (read review)
The Samsung Epic 4G is one of the most full-featured smartphones on the market. It throws just about everything you could possibly want into its slightly chunky body—fast processor; large, bright display; physical keyboard; mobile Wi-Fi hotspot; front-facing camera; and 4G.
Price: $100 with new account, $200 with 2-year extension on AmazonWireless.com

HTC EVO 4GHTC EVO 4G (read review)
The phone that set the bar for smartphones last year, the HTC EVO, is still a great choice for media junkies. It has a front-facing camera for video chat, 4G connectivity, a large 4.3-inch display, and mobile W-Fi hotspot. Plus it has a sleek design and feels good in the hand.
Price: $100 with new account, $180 with 2-year extension on AmazonWireless.com

 

HTC EVO ShiftHTC EVO Shift 4G (read review)
Like an Epic 4G in a more compact package, the HTC EVO Shift 4G has a front-facing camera for video chat, 4G connectivity, and mobile Wi-Fi hotspot for up to eight devices. But the smaller display and extra weight are disappointing, and battery life and call quality during our testing was poor.
Price: $100 with new account, $150 with 2-year extension on Wirefly.com

BlackBerry Bold 9650RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650 International
This is the current best-in-class BlackBerry for Sprint. It runs the new BlackBerry OS 6, which delivers a decent browsing experience and better multimedia capabilities. Plus it has 512MB RAM, a 3.2MP camera, calling over Wi-Fi and works on GSM networks in Europe and Asia. But BlackBerry is way behind Android and Apple on the app front.
Price: $150 with new account or 2-year extension on Wirefly.com

Important Sprint Phones

  3G/4G Operating
System
Display Weight Input Camera Wi-Fi Hotspot Recommendation
Samsung Epic 4G 4G Android 2.1 4" Super AMOLED 5.45 oz Slider
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: 0.3MP
Yes Recommended
HTC EVO 4G 4G Android 2.2 4.3" LCD 6 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 8MP
Front: 1.3MP
Yes Recommended
HTC EVO Shift 4G 4G Android 2.2 3.6" LCD 5.9 oz Slider
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: None
Yes Neutral
BlackBerry Bold 9650 3G BlackBerry 6 2.4" LCD 4.8 oz Keyboard Rear: 3.2MP
Front: None
No Recommended
 

T-Mobile

T-Mobile has had a pretty steady stream of announcements, most recently the Samsung Galaxy S 4G, which replaces the Vibrant and gives the HTC MyTouch 4G plenty of competition on T-Mobile.

myTouch 4GT-Mobile MyTouch 4G (read review)
The MyTouch 4G looks great and feels solid in your hand. As you go down the feature checklist, it has almost everything you could want—large 3.8-inch display, high-speed "4G" network access, mobile W-Fi hotspot support, front-facing camera, etc.—in a slim, compact design.
Price: $50 with a new account, $90 with 2-year extension on Wirefly.com

Google Nexus SGoogle Nexus S (read review)
Sleek and light with a beautiful 4-inch Super AMOLED (480 x 800) display, the Nexus S picks up where our former favorite, the Samsung Vibrant left off. It has a front facing camera for video chat, mobile Wi-Fi hotspot and a number of smaller usability changes thanks to its new Android 2.3 operating system. But why oh why is it only 3G?
Price: $200 with new account or 2-year extension on BestBuy.com

BlackBerry Bold 9780RIM BlackBerry Bold 9780
This is the current best-in-class BlackBerry. It runs the new BlackBerry OS 6, which delivers a decent browsing experience and better multimedia capabilities. Plus it has 512MB RAM, double that of its predecessor the BlackBerry Bold 9700, a 5MP camera and calling over Wi-Fi. But BlackBerry is way behind Android and Apple on the app front.
Price: $100 with new account, $150 with 2-year extension on Wirefly.com

HTC HD7HTC HD7 (read review)
The HTC HD7 stands out for its large 4.3-inch display, kickstand and classy build quality. You should seriously consider the HD7 if you’re looking for a Windows Phone 7 device that will function heavily as a media player. But we recommend waiting on Windows Phone 7.
Price: $90 with new account, $120 with 2-year extension on Wirefly.com

Motorola DefyMotorola Defy (read review)
The Motorola Defy is a very good phone. It's light weight, small and has a long battery life (at least by smartphone standards). And parents will especially appreciated its durability and water-resistance.On the downside, the display is average, and it's still running Android 2.1, which means no Flash video. But Android 2.2 is happening soon, so go for it.
Price: $30 with new account or 2-year extension on AmazonWireless.com

Samsung Galaxy S 4GSamsung Galaxy S 4G (read review)
The Samsung Galaxy S 4G is one of the best phones on T-Mobile. It offers almost every feature you would expect, in a slim form factor. It doesn't contain a dual-core processor, which is found in many of the new phones that arrived this spring, but most users won't need that extra power.
Price: $99 with new account, $150 with 2-year extension on AmazonWireless.com 

Important T-Mobile Phones

  3G/4G Operating
System
Display Weight Input Camera Wi-Fi Hotspot Recommendation
T-Mobile MyTouch 4G 4G Android 2.2 3.8" LCD 5 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: 0.3MP
Yes Highly Recommended
Google Nexus S 3G Android 2.3 4" Super AMOLED 4.55 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: 0.3MP
Yes Neutral
Samsung Galaxy S 4G 4G Android 2.2 4" Super AMOLED 4.2 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: 0.3MP
Yes Highly Recommended
Motorola Defy 3G Android 2.1 3.7" LCD 4.2 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: None
No Highly Recommended
HTC HD 7 3G Windows Phone 7 4.3" LCD 5.7 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: None
No Neutral
BlackBerry Bold 9780 3G BlackBerry 6 2.4" LCD 4.3 oz Keyboard Rear: 3.2MP
Front: None
No Recommended
 

Verizon

Verizon's most exciting new additions are the iPhone 4 and the first 4G phone, the HTC Thunderbolt. Also look for a few more interesting Android phones to hit soon, including the Samsung 4G LTE with it's improved Super AMOLED plus display and the powerful dual-core Motorola Droid Bionic.

Motorola Droid 2 GlobalMotorola Droid 2 Global
If you’re an international traveler, you’ll want a phone that can work on the GSM networks in Europe and Asia. This is your phone. It has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, a 5MP camera, mobile Wi-Fi hotspot—everything you need.
Price: $30 with new account, $50 with 2-year extension on AmazonWireless.com

Motorola Droid XMotorola Droid X (read review)
The Droid X is one of the best things going on Verizon right now. If you're looking for an Android phone that maximizes your video watching and browsing experience, the Droid X is a great choice. Buy now, with its low price, or wait for the Droid Bionic.
Price: $30 with new account, $80 with 2-year extension on AmazonWireless.com

BlackBerry Bold 9650RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650
This is the current best-in-class BlackBerry for Verizon. It runs the new BlackBerry OS 6, which delivers a decent browsing experience and better multimedia capabilities. Plus it has 512MB RAM, a 3.2MP camera and calling over Wi-Fi. Too bad BlackBerry is so far behind Apple and Android with apps.
Price: $0.01 with new account or 2-year extension on AmazonWireless.com

Apple iPhone 4Apple iPhone 4 (read review)
With its high resolution display, the best camera on a smart phone, support for video chat, and tons of apps, the iPhone 4 is a great choice. Will it have the same call quality issues as it does on AT&T? Time will tell.
Price: $200 on VerizonWireless.com.

Important Verizon Phones

  3G/4G Operating
System
Display Weight Input Camera Wi-Fi Hotspot Recommendation
Motorola Droid 2 Global 3G Android 2.2 3.7" LCD 5.45 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: None
Yes Recommended
Motorola Droid X 3G Android 2.2 4.3" LCD 5.47 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 8MP
Front: None
No Recommended
HTC Thunderbolt 4G Android 2.2 4.3" LCD 6.23 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 8MP
Front: 1.3MP
Yes Recommended
Samsung Fascinate 3G Android 2.1 4" Super AMOLED 4.16 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: None 
Yes Neutral
BlackBerry Bold 9650 3G BlackBerry 6 2.4" LCD 4.8 oz Keyboard  Rear: 3.2MP
Front: None
No Recommended
Apple iPhone 4 3G iOS 4 3.5" LCD 4.8 oz Onscreen
Keyboard
Rear: 5MP
Front: 0.3MP
No Highly
Recommended

 

Subscribe to the Techlicious Daily Email!

Get the Techlicious Guide to Great Photography as your FREE gift!

Discussion loading

gravatar

choosing the right phone

From susan on February 02, 2011 :: 8:05 pm

I’m looking to upgrade family phones with ATT.  I don’t know if a smartphone is the way to go.  I keep a calendar on my phone that I would like to sync to my husbands phone, is there a phone that can do that?  (high wish)
Is there a phone that I can sync computer files to phone that could be accessed away from home?
Make calls to that we could see other? (more so for my 4yr to see daddy)  I’ve asked these questions to a supposed expert but they were not sure.

Reply

avatar

Most smartphones can sync with

From Suzanne Kantra on February 03, 2011 :: 12:01 am

Most smartphones can sync with more than one calendar, so you’d just have to have your husband add your calendar.

I’d need to know more about what types of files you need to bring with you and whether you need to edit them or just view them.

Smartphones with a forward facing camera should be able to run the Fring video chat app for mobile to mobile calls. For iPhone, you can use Skype video chat with any device that runs Skype with support for video.

Reply

gravatar

I wanted to scan

From susan on February 03, 2011 :: 8:58 am

I wanted to scan daughter’s doctors reports and medical info to computer and be able to access on phone.  We have macbook and a pc. 

listened to replay on living today… I learning from you, liking the look of the new site too.

Reply

avatar

I use a program called

From Suzanne Kantra on February 03, 2011 :: 9:31 am

I use a program called Dropbox (dropbox.com) to back up my files online. You get 2 GB free and you can view any documents backed up on Dropbox using an app on iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices.

gravatar

Susan, If you are wishing

From Bryan on July 06, 2011 :: 12:07 pm

Susan, If you are wishing for a phone that does all that, I would recommend the iPhone 4. The iPhone 4 can sync your calendar and iWork files now that iOS got Pages. It is also, i belive, the only phone that can vid chat on ATT. Wait for Fall when the price will drop immensely.

Reply

gravatar

What about Canadians? Speakerphone Capability?

From Salma on April 07, 2011 :: 10:10 pm

Great list, unfortunately I live in Canada. Is there a list for Canadian users?

Also, can you tell me which one has the best/loudest speaker for talking on speakerphone? I use that everyday.

Reply

avatar

Canadian options should be very similar

From Josh Kirschner on April 11, 2011 :: 8:11 pm

Your options in Canada should be very similar to what’s available in the U.S., though pricing may be somewhat different.

Almost all of the phones we’ve reviewed have acceptable speakerphone. Unless our review specifically says the speakerphone is inadequate, you can assume it’s fine (though it won’t knock your socks off).

Josh Kirschner
Founder, Techlicious

Reply

gravatar

One fact that consumers should

From Greg Baumgartner on April 19, 2011 :: 10:05 am

One fact that consumers should not overlook is the network. I have had Verizon and AT&T and there is no doubt that Verizon’s network is much better. I’m sure there are areas where AT&T’s service is adequate however I am very frustrated with AT&T’s dropped calls.

There are many different factors in selecting a carrier and a phone but if you depend on your phone as a phone consider passing on AT&T.

In any case try it for 30 days with a friend phone to see if you can use the service before locking yourself into a two-year deal.

Reply

gravatar

Aww..

From Rick Michael on July 06, 2011 :: 1:55 pm

They always forgets the webOS. D:

Reply

gravatar

FOJC

From mmagnolia on July 26, 2011 :: 5:07 pm

Greetings!
Am shopping4 lightweight cell2use re…phone, camera, scanner [i.e., mag code], browse [i.e.,wifi/mapquest—navigator]?
Does such exist! [Pantech PursuitII seems nifty!]
Thanks…4Feedback!

Reply

gravatar

Looking for new family plan

From carri on July 27, 2011 :: 11:50 am

I have been with T mobile forever and my husband is with AT&T for business. His iphone always drops calls and butt dials is a daily occurance. I have a very outdated phone and my contract is up. I do need a reliable phone that i can do business on, and get my emails and take some nice photos. He need fun apps when we go shopping and he is bored. We are both out of contract and we are looking for the best deals now. (today). Any advice?

Reply

avatar

First, figure out which carrier

From Josh Kirschner on July 28, 2011 :: 12:15 am

First, figure out which carrier makes the most sense in your area based on coverage and performance. Obviously, AT&T isn’t working well for you. T-Mobile doesn’t have the best coverage, but if it works well in your area and you don’t do a lot of traveling, they have the best selection of Android phones. Verizon has the best coverage and their 4G LTE network is by far the fastest available, but their 3G network is slow compared to AT&T and T-Mobile. Sprint is the only carrier left with a true unlimited data offering.

I would definitely look at AmazonWireless and Wirefly to purchase your phones. You can save up to $100 versus buying in the carrier’s store. You can get some great Android phones for free with new data contracts on most of the carriers.

Hope that helps! Let us know if you have more specific questions.

Reply

gravatar

EUREKA!

From mmagnolia on July 27, 2011 :: 3:22 pm

KreweDears,
...No duplicates of my older Nokia Surge exist;  androidy types feel cumbersome. 
YesYes, we’re at a ‘smartphone’ guide sector, but Pantech Pursuit II can hold as nextBest. 
BTW…many techfolks have confidence that future ‘smarter’ models mustB lighter; will wait!
Ms. “Carri on”,
50 years of experience = ATT really is Best on-executive customer-caring, IF problem arrives.
Cheers2..Smart+Wise!

Reply

gravatar

....and,Billshrink dot com does great&fast;

From mmagnolia on July 28, 2011 :: 10:39 pm

....and,

Billshrink dot com does great&fast; comparisons, not only in terms of ‘dollars’;

also…ATT is merging[?] w/T-Mob!

Reply

gravatar

We have the family plan

From Shelly Sbuy kindelien on August 17, 2011 :: 10:09 pm

We have the family plan with Verizon but are currently on expired contracts and are going to buy new phones. I have seen AmazonWireless has several smartphones at almost half the price of Verizon’s store, but does AmazonWireless become my carrier? How does that work if my husband wants to stay with Verizon? Thanks!

Reply

avatar

Verizon is still your carrier

From Josh Kirschner on August 17, 2011 :: 11:03 pm

It makes no difference in terms of your carrier relationship whether you renew your contract with Verizon or AnazonWireless, you’re still a Verizon customer. As you noticed, phones are often much cheaper on AmazonWireless, so we recommend that you check there before you renew.

AmazonWireless is able to offer lower prices because they receive commissions/pricing discounts from Verizon for acting as a sales agent. They pass a portion of this through to customers as discounts.

Wirefly is another service we recommend, similar to AmazonWireless. Sometimes Wirefly is slightly cheaper than AmazonWireless or vice versa.

Reply

gravatar

SPRINT EVO

From TERESA on November 24, 2011 :: 3:07 pm

What about the EVO, Will it scan items and then tell you were the cheapest store is to purchase.

Reply

gravatar

Yes, it will.

From Josh Kirschner on November 25, 2011 :: 12:09 am

All of the Android phones will run the same apps (though some apps will have rare compatibility issues with certain devices). You can read about some of the price scanning apps for Android in our shopping app story: http://www.techlicious.com/guide/3-ways-shopping-apps-will-save-you-money/

Reply

© 2014 Techlicious LLC. :: Home | About | Meet the Team | Sponsorship Opportunities | Newsletter Archive | Contact Us :: Terms of Use | Privacy Policy

site design: Juxtaprose