Is an Android smartphone all you really want for Christmas but can’t make up your mind as to what exactly to purchase? Thinking of playing secret Santa for mobile tech-loving friends and family?
Missed out on the multitude of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, yet know very well additional rounds of promotions are due sometime before December 25? Then you’re all in luck, as we’re about to do all the heavy lifting for you and recommend the best Android handhelds to buy this Christmas. And possibly, beyond.
We have something for everybody, no matter the budget, carrier of choice, size or specifications. Show time:
Top pick for under $200: Motorola Moto G
The Moto G is hands down the best budget-conscious option around and basically the only fault you can find with the 4.5-incher is its meager built-in storage, combined with a lack of expansion options. I personally couldn’t imagine making do with a measly 8 gigs of space, so you should probably ignore the model slapped with a $180 price tag for the 16 GB-er, costing an even $200.
Don’t forget about cloud storage when deciding to go for the G or pass it and also remember there’s no CDMA version landing earlier than January 2014. Therefore, if you’re unable to part ways with Verizon or Sprint, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere or give it time.
Top pick for between $200 and $300: Samsung Galaxy S3
Currently available for well north of $300 in a truly unlocked form, the oldie but goldie GS3 can be had for $250 with Virgin Mobile prepaid plans and $290 on a similar deal via Boost. Besides, it’s high time the 4.8-incher got a serious unlocked discount, so fingers crossed to see it at $300 or less come Christmas time.
But how come I’m recommending a device released in May 2012 for a December 2013 purchase? Simple, true excellence doesn’t depend (solely) on age, so while the Galaxy S3 is no bottle of wine and thus not better as it grows old, it’s darn solid and snazzy, what with its spacious 720p panel, sturdy battery, 1 GB RAM and imminent Android 4.4 KitKat update.
Top picks for $300 to $400: Moto X, HTC One mini, Galaxy S4 mini
None of these three bad boys go for a penny under 400 clams at the time of this writing, however they should all lower the bar as we near “the season to be jolly”. The Moto X will actually be $350 on December 4 and 9 following the Cyber Monday debacle, the One mini can be had at $430 give or take and the S4 mini is $400-$420.
Now, provided they’ll be valued at around the same price, which should you get? That very much depends on personal preferences, as the X is bigger, customizable and already on KitKat, the One mini aluminum-clad and thus sturdy and reliable, and the S4 mini compact, light and sleek.
Top pick for $400-$500: Google Nexus 5
I know, I know, Google and LG’s latest-gen Nexus is technically up for grabs starting at $350. But with inventory running low basically from the day after it launched, scoring one this time of the year via Big G’s Play Store could prove problematic.
So ultimately, you’ll probably crack and get it from Sprint or another third-party retailer for $400 or $450. Which is still a fantastic deal, mind you, as the 5-incher sports Full HD resolution, quad-core Snapdragon 800 power, 2 GB RAM and Android 4.4 KitKat out the box.
Top picks for $500+: Galaxy S4, LG G2, Sony Xperia Z1, HTC One
Money’s no problem but settling for anything less than the absolute best is? Then you’re faced with a nearly impossible decision. All the four candidates are awesome, blazing fast, super-elegant and pack outstanding batteries and cameras, but at the same time they all have their little flaws.
In terms of raw speed, the $550 G2 and $600 Xperia Z1 have the edge, being newer and coming with Snapdragon 800 CPUs in tow. However, the $580 HTC One is the most visually striking, being also more compact and pocket-friendly.
And then there’s Samsung’s $560 GS4, which possibly maybe provides the most competitive balance between processing performance, looks, autonomy, camera capabilities and software support. Too bad it doesn’t truly excel in any of the departments.
Top phablet picks: Galaxy Note 3, HTC One max, Xperia Z Ultra
As much as I dig the exterior of the One max and Z Ultra’s slimness, the Note 3 comes out on top rather easily. It’s not incredibly pricey, at $650 or so, comes with S Pen support in tow, an unrivaled 3 GB of RAM, plus top-shelf specs all around.
Meanwhile, the $700 One max is not bad, but packs now dated Snapdragon 600 speed, and the $550 Z Ultra is, well, too darn big. Even for a phablet.
Top on-contract picks
If you thought choosing a $500+ SIM-free phone was hard, then wait until you hear your options here. Options that essentially include all the above, save for the Moto G, Sony Xperia Z1 and Z Ultra. Also, the GS3, S4 mini, HTC One mini and Moto X are not worth tying yourselves up for 24 months to one carrier, since they’re pretty cheap outright. The N5 too… if you can find it on the Play Store.
Hence, you are left with the S4, LG G2, HTC One, Galaxy Note 3 and One Max. Of the bunch, the first three went for free with pacts for Black Friday and Cyber Monday and are destined for Christmas repeats. The One max is mighty expensive and will remain that way for a while, so ultimately you can forget about it, whereas the Note 3 won’t probably go for a penny under $100, which still makes it a top pick.
Whichever of these top dogs you end up splashing the cash on, enjoy your purchases, gifts and holidays. You deserve it.