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Back to school shopping guide: best Android smartphones for students

Things just got real. The start of the new school year is less than a week away, so it’s high time you stopped daydreaming about the good old early days of summer. But September 4 doesn’t have to be a time of grief and sorrow.

smartphone students

Not entirely. You might as well embrace the beginning of the rest of your life, and make the most of it. And what better way than loading up on sizzling hot Android gear to ensure you’ll stand out from the crowd once that first bell rings?

Already stacked on tablets, convertibles, laptops and/or multi-purpose Android PCs? Then let’s get you a pocket-sized computer too, and kick the school year into gear in style. We’ve rounded up the best options for every budget, unlocked, on prepaid plans and with standard contracts, and without further ado, here they are in no particular order:

Motorola Moto E

We realize it’s cool to hate on your parents, and them getting you cheap, sub-par mobile equipment for back to school season is always a great pretext to let the rage flow. But would you cut them some slack? They probably work hard for every penny they earn, and besides gadgetry, they have to take care of feeding, clothing you and shipping you off on all those spring break vacations.

Moto E

Besides, say what you will about the Moto E, but Motorola’s budget champion is anything but sub-par. In fact, it offers one of the best bang for buck values around, it’s petite, decently punchy and up to date software-wise, plus the wet dream of any geeky stock Android aficionado. No reason to hide, we know you’re out there.

Motorola Moto G

Be honest, you don’t really need all the “premium” features high-end Androids accommodate. But maybe Moto E’s low-res display, dual-core chip and scanty 4 GB of internal storage space don’t entirely fulfil your needs either.

MOTO_G_4G

Enter the Moto G, the perfect low-cost, mid-range smartphone, with a perfectly sized, one-hand-friendly 4.5-inch 720p screen, beefy quad-core processor, 1 GB RAM, 8 gigs and up of on-board storage, plus microSD support and 4G LTE connectivity in a model available at a sensible $220. No strings attached and free of any and all contractual obligations.

HTC One M8

But mom, all the cool kids own these metal beauties called iPhones, and I want to show them off by getting an even more gorgeous, larger, zippier all-aluminum slab. Cheaper too. The answer to your iPhone slaying dilemmas is the One M8, and if your parents can afford it, don’t think about it, just buy, buy, buy.

HTC One M8

And the greatest advantage of the metallic design isn’t the visual effect and the envy it’ll breed in the schoolyard (although that’s nice too), but the robustness and durability of the chassis. Plus, the M8 is a selfie beast, courtesy of a 5 MP front-facing camera, and a battery champion.

LG G3

Where to even begin? The LG G3 is such a stunning little portable PC that it would honestly be easier to list the reasons it’s not the top choice for students. But let’s focus on the good and try to keep it short. First, the design. No metal, no deal? Think again, because the G3 ain’t a phone, it’s a fashion statement.

LG G3 Verizon

And then you have the state-of-the-art 5.5-inch Quad HD display, the explosive quad-core 2.5 GHz Snapdragon 801 CPU, massive 3,000 mAh battery, 3 GB RAM and beautiful 13 megapixel rear camera. This, my friends, is the textbook definition of a powerhouse, and at least until the Galaxy Note 4 drops, it’s the all-around best Android handheld. Besides, it’s really not that pricey either.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Active

So you want something a little more outdoorsy and capable of keeping up with the challenges of being young, always on the move, always ready for everything. But conventionally ruggedized devices feel bulky, look fugly and lack that certain je ne sais quoi in the performance department.

galaxy-s5-active

All hail Samsung then, which have finally brought rugged into the mainstream. Sure, the S5 Active can’t exactly take a bullet for you, but it can swim, it dismisses dust contact, rain, vibration, solar radiation and thermal shock like it’s nothing.

And the beauty of it is the 5.1 incher measures a measly 8.9 mm in thickness, tips the scales at 170 grams and packs (almost) everything that makes the standard GS5 so great, quad-core S801 SoC, 16 MP camera and heart rate monitor included.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Okay, guys, play is over, it’s time to look at an option good for the classroom too. The thing is the Note 3 is really the best of both worlds, supporting your creative and learning-thirsty side with S Pen support and offering bleeding edge specifications, from an outstanding 5.7-inch Super AMOLED Full HD screen to 3, yes, 3 gigs of RAM to a 3,200 mAh battery.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

And yes, we’re fully aware a drastically improved sequel is on the way, but this OG is available for free on carrier agreements and $520 outright, whereas the Note 4 will probably start at $300 and $800 respectively.

HTC Desire 816

Given the recent rise of prepaid carriers and plans, it’d have been a terrible shame to wrap up our little back to school shopping guide without offering an option for folks who are opposed to contracts, but also unwilling to drop a fortune on an unlocked, SIM-free gizmo.

And Virgin Mobile’s Desire 816 is a prepaid instant classic. Clearly targeted at budget-restricted phablet lovers, this Herculean fellow will no doubt cater to the needs of photo buffs as well, thanks to a 13 MP rear-facing snapper and, yes, a 5 megapixel front camera.

htc-desire-816

But that’s not all. The design is a winner too, despite the somewhat chintzy plastic, you get a generous 1.5 GB of RAM and, last but not least, Android 4.4 KitKat with Sense UI 6 on top.

That’s a wrap, boys and girls, and it’s now time for the tough decisions. Regardless of what you end up buying though, this is shaping up to be an epic school year. Keep at it.