Holiday Gift Guide 2012: Best of the Android Phones
Picking out an Android gift is tricky business.
Many phone makers use Android, and each like to put their own twist on the software, which results in often vastly different experiences -- just tell that to app developers who have to deal with fragmentation. By contrast, Apple runs iOS only on the iPhone, so there's no confusion. But don't despair -- with a variety of styles and prices, you can find an Android phone to fit your taste, just as long as you know where to look.
Holiday Gift Guide points you to the most appropriate phone picks for every lovely person in your life.
Best Overall Android
The Google Nexus 4 is the only option for true-blue Android fans who want the purest, latest and greatest form of Android. Since Google had a hand in developing the Nexus, working closely with LG, the handset isn't hobbled with pesky customizations. Instead, you'll enjoy the smooth functionality of unadulterated Jelly Bean, upgraded to work more intuitively. Google's Project Butter removes any hint of lag, and the interface is clean and fun to maneuver.
In addition, the Nexus gets points for a high-quality camera perfect for catching spontaneous moments and equipped with top-notch editing equipment. And it has a sleek design, so the hardware is just as beautiful as the software.
There are two downsides: it's not a cheap phone, and if you're looking for an unlocked version, you'll have to pay more. And it doesn't run on 4G, so you won't get lightning-fast downloads. However, the Nexus is the alpha phone for Android fans, and the best way to enjoy the operating system, since the Jelly Bean experience is utterly pure.
Best Budget Android Experience
Finding a phone that will keep you happy without breaking the bank sounds hard, especially if you're looking for device with Android 4.1 or 4.2, the latest version of the OS. But if you're satisfied with Ice Cream Sandwich, or ICS, the previous variant, the Sprint Flash is a decent choice. It's a mid-tier device with a top-tier camera and a beautiful 4.5-inch HD screen.
In both looks and function, it works like a much more expensive phone. The 12-megapixel shooter takes phenomenally bright and detailed photos.
The ICS software isn't as exciting as Jelly Bean, but Sprint left the interface largely vanilla, so it doesn't have an annoying skin or lots of bloatware, making it much more appealing.
For another option, it's hard to really go wrong giving someone Samsung's Galaxy S3. The S3 is in line for a Jelly Bean update, and unlike other handsets, the overhaul is actually expected to roll out in the near future. With an update coming, you'll get the power of an already-proven handset with the improvements of a platform of the future.
The S3 is one of the crown jewels of the Android family, although some of its thunder was stolen by the iPhone 5. Released in the summer, the S3 is a few months old, but you'll have peace of mind knowing bugs are largely worked out. The screen is vibrant and sharp, perfect for streaming movies, the 8-megapixel camera is accurate so photos are well-represented, and the price is competitive now that it's been out a few months, so it won't deplete your savings.
Best Handset for the Hacker
If you're into the idea of rooting your phone, you'll want to look for a Google developer phone.
Since developers receive Google phones to work on their products, you'll be able to find tutorials about how to customize and hack the phone earlier than you would other handsets. Now, we don't want to sound like a broken record and tell you to buy the Google Nexus again, but you can't really go wrong.
However, if you like to meddle, you can also appreciate an older version, so we also recommend picking up Samsung's Galaxy Nexus from Sprint, or unlocked. The Galaxy Nexus isn't as cutting-edge as the Nexus 4, but you'll save a few bucks. There's a bigger roster of resources if you're looking to experiment with rooting your phone, and a perfect gift for the frugal hacker to customize. Just be warned: if an experiment goes horribly awry, you're on your own.
Best Combination Phone/Tablet
If you're debating between a handset and a tablet, why not go for both in one and try the Galaxy Note 2? It's a phone that's big enough to rival smaller tablets in functionality, and there's a ton to love: it's one of the first gadgets shipped with Jelly Bean, so the software has much of the kinks worked out. It's also equipped with a powerful processor, so it runs at blazing speeds.
The hardware is just as impressive as the software, with a large and clear 5.5-inch touch screen, a gigantic canvas for watching movies, browsing the Web or reading e-books. Samsung's S Pen takes some getting used to, but it's fun for doodling.
The Galaxy Note 2 isn't alone at the top of the jumbo-sized Android category; the HTC Droid DNA is worthy of consideration, too. It runs on Jelly Bean, but HTC's Sense interface dampens the overall appeal of Android. You'll forgive the Sense snafu once you look at the screen, though, since it's an absolutely crystal-clear, top-of-the-line masterpiece. The display is better than anything on the market today, so if you love both Android and incredibly large pixel counts, the DNA is your winner.
Best Android Battery
The Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD boasts, by far, the most impressive battery on an Android device, and it just got the green light for Jelly Bean. That means it's an ideal gift if you hate plugs.
A long-lasting battery sets the Razr Maxx HD apart from the crowd, but it also packs a vibrant Super AMOLED screen with extremely wide viewing angles, so it's great for taking on a trip, since you can watch it in an odd position for hours without worrying about charging. If you like curling up and watching movies on big bus or car rides, the Maxx HD is your Holy Grail of phones.
Once the Maxx HD gets its Jelly Bean update, it will be a pleasure. ICS is already smooth and minimal bloatware and an unobtrusive skin means it's not far off from the intended Android experience.
Best of the Rest
The HTC One X+ is another strong Android contender, and if you're consider a high-end device, it's one phone you should be looking at: unlike its predecessor, the One X, the X+ ships with Jelly Bean. The beautiful ultra-matte design will set hearts aflutter, and although HTC added its Sense interface again, the experience looks and feels much like vanilla Android. The X+ is a great buy if you're interested in music, since the Beats Audio music feature provides full-bodied sound.
If you don't have a lot of money to spend, ICS is still a good option with the Kyocera Rise. It's a budget phone with a decent package of features at a very affordable price. Yes, it won't blow your mind away with its dense body and generally mediocre hardware, but its vanilla ICS software is unhindered by manufacturer or carrier changes.
The landscape of Android products is vast. And picking the right phone can be a confusing ordeal. But with so many choices, you're bound to find the best one for you.
Agree or disagree? We'd love to hear your thoughts. Share your experience and leave a comment below. ♦
Categories: Gadgets & Gear