Who doesn’t like freebies? Actually, scratch that, who doesn’t love freebies? The thing is nothing in life is really free, so more often than not what you may be offered for no cost comes with strings attached. Strings that can annoy the heck out of you or make you pay through the nose in the long run.
Case in point, on-contract phones. There are oodles of gadgets that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or US Cellular “sell” for no upfront expense, yet in nine out of ten cases you’ll find yourselves six, nine or twelve months after purchasing said device asking what the fudge were you thinking in the first place.
Not only are you paying a premium each month to your “generous” carrier, but you’re also stuck with a phone that’s probably dated by now. And you still have a long way to go until getting rid of the customary 24-month contract.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not always. And not if you pick one of the following recommended devices, which are available free with contracts and are guaranteed to be cool 12, 16 and maybe even 24 months from now. Plus, did I mention they’re free? Yeah, you’ll pay a lot in two years, but if you don’t have 6 or 700 bucks just lying around this is your only choice.
Without further ado then, these are the five best Android smartphones available for free with US contracts:
5. LG Escape – AT&T
I’m not so sure if this fellow would have made the top five were I not keen to recommend you at least one device from each major US network. After all, it’s never been in the spotlight much. And it’s only been updated to Jelly Bean a couple of months ago.
But it does run Jelly Bean, which is ultimately what matters. And for a 4.3-incher, it packs a decently sized 2,150 mAh battery. Plus, you get 4G LTE speeds and a dual-core 1.2 GHz processor that’s not sooo bad. Still, a 960 x 540 pix res panel? Pretty nasty!
4. Motorola Droid Razr M – Verizon
Razr M’s biggest inconvenience is also the underwhelming 960 x 540 4.3-inch display, but other than that this is a sizzling hot mid-ranger. It’s sleek, compact, rocks super-slim bezels, but at the same time robust, with an aluminum frame, Kevlar backing and splash resistant chassis.
It also runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean for a while and, given it’s a Motorola, it’s probably due for a 4.2 and even a 5.0 update soon. The dual-core 1.5 GHz processor is also pretty hot, as is the 8 MP rear camera. On the flipside, the 2,000 mAh battery will not win any reliability awards, but hey, you can’t have it all and still pay nothing. Or can you?
3. Pantech Perception – Verizon
Well, maybe not all, but you can get close. Basically, the only downside I can see in owning a Perception is it doesn’t come from a big name in the industry. Pantech however is very big in Korea, so unless you’re extremely shallow and think it’s only cool to have a Samsung or HTC, the Perception can be a very solid deal.
Running 4.1 Jelly Bean starting a couple of days ago, the 4.8-incher looks distinguished, elegant and sports an HD screen. Quite a step up from 960 x 540 pixels, don’t you think? But those are not this baby’s only strong points, with LTE, NFC, 8 MP cam, dual-core 1.5 GHz SoC and 16 GB of storage also qualifying. In one word, it’s a steal.
2. LG Optimus G – Sprint
It’s no longer the steed in LG’s stable (that honor goes to the G Pro), but the first-gen Optimus G has sure aged nicely. The HD IPS 4.7-inch display is stunning, the quad-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC is explosively fast, the 2 gigs of RAM ensure multitasking is a breeze, while the 13 MP camera is… well, still top-notch, even with eight months having passed since G’s release.
What else? Oh, yeah, you get 4G LTE speeds, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean (for now), a decent 2,100 mAh battery and a winning design. Literally, since it won LG a few awards back in the day.
1. Samsung Galaxy S3 – Sprint, US Cellular
Honored as the best of the best until a couple of months ago, it’s a huge honor to welcome the Galaxy S3 in the “free smartphone” club. And, of course, the only medal we can award it is gold. But, before mentioning what makes it great (as if there’s someone who doesn’t know), a small side note – USC technically sells the S3 for $100, money which you then get back as a MasterCard Debit Card.
Sprint’s S3 also has a small catch (like the Optimus G, actually), going for free only after a $50 mail-in rebate and a “bring your number” discount of 100 bucks.
With all that out of the way, I’m going to be short. The Galaxy S3 is not the world champion anymore, but it is a champion. It runs Android 4.1 with TouchWiz on top, packs a dual-core 1.5 GHz processor, 2 GB of RAM and a stupendous 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED screen.
I could go on, but I’ll wrap it up by saying this: there’s no way you’re going to be ashamed with this beast one, two or three years from now, no matter what kind of supernatural gizmos will come out in the meantime.
P.S.: The ranking is subjective and shall be regarded as such.
P.P.S.: Only in-stock smartphones on the four carriers’ websites at the time of the writing have been taken into consideration. Some of the above may be part of limited-time promos and could have their prices bumped up in the near future.