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Best Android-compatible fitness trackers money can buy: December 2015

Whether you prefer to call them fitness trackers, activity trackers, fitness bands or perhaps smart bands, these poor men’s smartwatches are spreading like wildfire. According to the International Data Corporation, three of the four wearable industry-leading manufacturers in Q3 2015 were specialized in such basic, low-cost gadgets, with Fitbits somehow managing to even beat the trendy Apple Watch.

Fitness-tracker-wrist

Down the line, analysts expect “iWatches”, Samsung Gears, Moto 360s, Pebbles et al to prevail over Mi Bands, Jawbones, Misfits, Vivofits and so on, but by the looks of things, there should be enough room under the sun for both similar yet radically distinct product categories.

It’s practically impossible to predict the long-term evolution of a market so far from maturity, but at least for the foreseeable future, some folks will want to spend chump change on minimalistic devices capable of reliably monitoring their active life and little else. Bottom line, you need to make a choice between the following, just like a separate audience had to pick a stylish, futuristic Apple Watch alternative.

Xiaomi Mi Band – $19.90

Xiaomi Mi Band

Our least expensive recommendation is obviously the most rudimentary gizmo of the bunch, and adding insult to injury, it’s also listed as out of stock at the Chinese OEM’s US Mi store. There’s reasonable doubt the item sold on Amazon may not be legit, but rather an even cheaper knockoff, so all in all, it’s probably wiser to avoid this one, and instead wait for the Pulse sequel to reach America.

That’s too bad, really, since you got plenty for your 20 bucks – month-long battery life, step counter, calories burned indicator, automatic sleep monitor (though not very reliable), vibrations for call alerts, and IP67 water resistance.

Misfit Flash – $19.99

Misfit Flash

Compatible with both Android and iOS, much like all its rivals indexed today, the Flash is an oldie, having also made our magnificent seven list from exactly a year ago, but doesn’t show its advanced age, featuring a winning sporty design, up to 6 months (!!!) autonomy, and up to 30 meter water protection.

It’s perfect for running, walking, cycling, as well as playing tennis, basketball or soccer, and it can be worn anywhere, from your wrist to the waist, sleeve, pocket, shoe, socks, lapel, shirt or key chain with a convenient clip-on mechanism. Okay, maybe “perfect” is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s decent and super-affordable.

Garmin Vivofit 2 – $70

Garmin Vivofit 2

That’s a pretty big price gap someone might want to cover, though the Vivofit 2 very much justifies it. The always-on backlit LCD screen alone is worth your $50 premium, not to mention a battery rated at one full year of endurance, and automatic synchronization to one of the best fitness apps around, Garmin Connect.

Now, you may find this a tad annoying, but the smart band tells you when it’s “time to move” in addition to the actual time, and proposes personalized daily goals to help you get the most out of every workout session. Talk about an intuitive UI, huh?

Fitbit Charge and Charge HR – $90 and $120 respectively

Fitbit Charge

If you can afford it, definitely buy the model with a built-in heart rate monitor. It’s a literal life-saver for people who may look to push themselves too far. The sub-$100, non-HR configuration ain’t half bad either, despite a somewhat awkward aesthetic sense and tiny OLED display.

Compared to the Vivofit 2, the Charge isn’t quite a battery powerhouse, lasting however north of a week before requiring extra juice, which is an unattainable feat for the likes of the Apple Watch. “Real progress in real time” is one of the activity tracker’s main claims to fame, alongside wirelessly stat synching across 120+ “leading smartphones” and your PC. Nothing special, you say? Over 20,000 happy Amazon customers beg to differ.

Withings Activite Pop – $120 and up

Withings Activite Pop

This one is sure an odd duck, not just because of its fancy name, but first and foremost as it touts a “timeless look” and yet focuses on the wearable basics rather than putting a smartphone on your wrist. It’s by far the world’s most fashionable fitness tracker, in a retro, always in vogue way, but amazingly keeps the lights on for more than eight months without needing a recharge or cell swap.

That’s obviously due to the screen not really being a power-hogging screen and showing anything else besides the time and an “analog feedback loop.” Quite the ingenious hybrid construction, and best of all, you don’t have to worry if you leave it on while swimming.

Jawbone Up3 – starting at $125

Jawbone Up3

When it comes to dependable bands capable of a little more than counting steps, Jawbone remains Fitbit’s primary rival. The Up3 builds on the success of its two predecessors, once again skipping the display, going instead for a low-profile design path, and an abundance of useful sensors meant to capture both your Resting Heart Rate and Passive Heart Rate for a “holistic view of your heart.”

Marketing mumbo-jumbo aside, this stands out with tailor-made workouts and custom Smart Coach guidance, as well as “advanced” automatic sleep auditing with detection of REM, Light and Deep stages.

Garmin Vivoactive – $170

Garmin Vivoactive

Another smartwatch lookalike, this time copying the first wave of Android Wear devices, the rectangular Vivoactive is GPS-enabled, and that says it all. Why is GPS important for sports nuts? Because the wearable piece knows at all times exactly where you are and what you do, even when away from your Android phone, showing you precious, detailed data like speed and cadence during an indoor run.

Garmin’s always stellar proprietary software also helps distinguish between run, bike, swim, walk and golf efforts, providing you with one of the most in-depth looks at your health money can buy. Oh, and even with the GPS continuously on, the Vivoactive lasts up to ten hours on a charge. 3 weeks when the feature is turned off.

Fitbit Surge – $200 and up

Fitbit Surge

The “fitness superwatch” is not a smartwatch per se either, looking, well, kind of ugly and cumbersome, though it’s not actually very heavy, at 80 grams or so. Superficial fashion characteristics aside, what’s truly relevant is the Surge packs GPS, a 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, digital compass, optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, ambient light sensor, and vibration motor.

Translation – it knows exactly what you’re up to, where and to what end, and it’s pretty decent for call and text notification displaying purposes too. It’s essentially the best of both worlds, and yes, it offers week-long battery stamina.

Microsoft Band 2 – $250

Microsoft Band 2

It feels odd to wrap up a roundup of Google-friendly devices with one produced by the “enemy”, but if Redmond forgot about petty arguments, why wouldn’t we follow suit? Especially given the Band 2 embraces Windows Phone, Android and iOS, greatly refining the clumsy build of its forefather, and further enriching the sensor slate.

Believe it or not, you can do better than the Fitbit Surge, with accelerometer and gyro, GPS and a barometer, ambient light and skin temperature, plus galvanic skin response, UV, a capacitive sensor, microphone, and haptic vibration motor. Have no idea what half of those do? Cool things, we assure you, equaling fit with fun.

Black Friday 2015 Android deals: Walmart, BJ’s Wholesale, Fred Meyer, and more

It’s undoubtedly stressful, time-consuming and outright annoying to devise a holiday shopping list nowadays, as so many retailers are struck with Thanksgiving, Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday deal fever. But that’s where we come in.

Black Friday

No more worrying you’ll miss the bargain of a lifetime by getting an extra hour or two of sleep after gobbling down some traditional stuffed turkey, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. Mmm, pie! Wait, where were we?

Right, we wanted to lift the weight of scouring the web, foraging through stores and chaotically filtering out the actual steals from the duds off your shoulders. All with a couple of weeks to spare before Turkey Day.

Black Friday crowd

Forget crappy clothes, tacky jewels, overpriced TVs, unneeded home appliances, and falsely advertised discounts in general. If you’re interested only in the hottest consumer electronics, specifically Android-powered and Android-compatible gadgets and accessories, we have you covered, with the top Black Friday 2015 deals from Best Buy, Target, Sam’s Club, Staples, Office Depot and OfficeMax, and now, Walmart, BJ’s Wholesale, Fred Meyer, Dell, Dollar General and Sears.

Black Friday Android promotions at Walmart

$150 savings and $100 gift cards on any AT&T or Verizon Samsung phone; additional free Bluetooth speaker ($99 value) for Galaxy S6

Fitbit Flex – $59

Fitbit Zip – $39

Fitbit Charge HR – $119

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Lite – $79

Nabi Nick Jr. kids’ tablet – $79

Straight Talk Samsung Galaxy S5 – $229

Walmart Black Friday

Straight Talk LG Sunset LTE – $76

Prepaid Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime – $49

Verizon LG Transpyre – $29

Kyocera Hydro Air for AT&T – $39

Pocket Juice 12,000 mAh portable charger – $14.88

Beats Pill wireless speaker – $149

Philips ShoqBox Mini wireless speaker – $19

JBL Flip 2 portable speaker – $59

Skullcandy Bluetooth Hesh headphones – $54

LG Tone Pro wireless Bluetooth headset – $32

JayBird BlueBuds X Premium wireless earbuds – $79

Jabra BT2046 Bluetooth headset – $14

Otterbox Defender case for Samsung Galaxy S4, S5, S6 – $29 a pop

Samsung Galaxy S5

Let’s start things off with a sincere “whoa!”. That’s a big list of items to be marked-down, and you can’t find any of the products at lower prices right now. Trust us, we’ve checked. You have tens of solid reasons therefore to visit a Walmart shop on November 26, and you may want to sit in line several hours ahead of the official Thanksgiving Day door opening at 6 PM.

Better yet, load up on caffeine, and just go online in the early AM on Thursday. As early as possible, with prepaid Galaxy S5s, for instance, likely to see their inventory depleted in no time. No-contract doesn’t mean unlocked here, but a completely no-commitment S5 costs $340 over on Amazon.

Speaking of commitments, you’ll want to sign up to a customary contract or payment plan, and score the amazing trio of S6 promos. There’s $150 bill credit to be had, a $100 coupon and a complimentary external speaker.

Don’t neglect wearables either, with the Flex going for roughly $90 at the moment, or other prepaid phones. Like the massive Galaxy Grand Prime, valued at $150+ unlocked.

Best BJ’s Wholesale Black Friday Android deals

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 9.7 – $220

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Lite – $78

BJ's Wholesale Black Friday

Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 – $110

Fitbit Charge with bonus charger – $90; Charge HR with bonus charger – $120

LG Tone Pro – $35

iDance Party Cube Bluetooth speaker with disco lights – $40

Ion Flash Cube Bluetooth speaker – $60

Skullcandy Hesh 2.0 wireless headphones – $50

Galaxy Tab 3 Lite

Not a member yet? You’d better hurry and join the club, if not for anything else but a series of super-cool and/or retro audio accessories at unrivaled prices. The archaic Tab 3 Lite also doesn’t sound half bad, typically fetching $110 or so, while the cheapest Fitbit Charge still sets you back $115, i.e. 25 bucks more than what BJ plans to demand on November 20. Yes, 20, with most deals slated to run through the 30th provided supplies last.

Fred Meyer

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 – $180 with free $10 gift card

Galaxy Tab A 9.7 – $230 (+$10 gift card)

Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 – $120 (and $10 gift card)

Fred Meyer Black Friday

Nabi 2S tablet – $80

Polaroid 9-inch quad-core tab – $48

Polaroid selfie stick – $7.49

Beats Solo 2 wireless headphones – $220

Fitbit Charge HR – $120 and $25 gift card

Pebble smartwatch – $100 + $25 gift card

iLive Bluetooth headphones or earbuds – $20

Galaxy Tab A 9.7

This is hardly the largest superstore chain stateside, with retail locations only in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, but the above collection of discounts looks surprisingly robust. The original Pebble is clearly too old and rudimentary to consider, the Nabi and Polaroid tabs are better off snubbed in favor of a $50 Amazon Fire 7, yet the two A tabs and 7-inch Tab 4 seem worth the effort of finding a Fred Meyer outlet near you with those bundled gift cards.

Keep in mind a Tab 4 normally costs $150, a smaller Tab A $230 and a larger model $300.

Dell Home & Home Office

Venue 10 5000 Series tablet – $149

Sony MDR ZX770BT wireless Bluetooth headset – $73 (50 percent off)

Bose SoundTrue in-ear headphones – $49.95

Dell Black Friday

Windows, Windows, more Windows, and finally, a $100 exempted 10-inch Android with pre-installed Lollipop software, Intel Atom inside, 2GB RAM, and up to 9-hour battery life. That’s Dell’s Black Friday flyer in a nutshell. Wait, those SoundTrues are pretty attractive themselves, slashing $80 off their “market value” and $50 off their real price.

6 PM EST on Thanksgiving Day is when “doorbusters” go live, with the blowout due to continue all day Friday from midnight.

Dollar General

Tracfone Alcatel OneTouch Pixi Glitz – $1

Net10 Alcatel OneTouch Pop Icon – $29

AT&T ZTE Maven prepaid – $19

ZTE Maven

What did you expect from the masters of ultra-low-cost merchandise? Galaxy Note 5s and LG G4s and LG Watch Urbanes? Sorry, but you’ll have to settle for a little known Maven handheld that Amazon charges $63 for. Or the cringe worthy 3.5-inch, 3G-limited, dual-core and 512MB RAM-powered Pixi Glitz. Or sit this one retailer out.

Sears

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 – $400 ($20 back in points for members)

Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 – $120 (+$20 in membership points)

samsung-galaxy-tab-s2-9.7

Come on, Sears, that’s honestly the best you can do for us Android fanatics after cashing in revenues of over $8 billion last year?! We’re immensely disappointed, and the Galaxy Tab S2’s much heftier $500 MSRP doesn’t entirely make up for the letdown. And to think the Black Friday pamphlet is a whopping 64 pages long…

Sources: Walmart, BJ’s Wholesale, BF Ads

This week’s best deals on phones, tabs, wearables and accessories: July 13 – 19

The Weather Channel is currently forecasting another adequately warm week on both the East and West Coast of the United States, with the occasional drizzle likely to interrupt your sunbathing enterprises from time to time.

hot-summer-deals

But it’s legitimately raining deals over at Amazon, and the emphasis mostly falls on Android gear that was already fairly affordable. Hence, you’ve got now a barrage of ultra-low-cost handhelds, slates, smartwatches, fitness bands and various mobile accessories to choose from, all excellent distractions for when clouds gather up and a beach timeout is obligatory.

This week’s top smartphone bargains

 

LG G Flex 2 – $360 unlocked international

LG G Flex 2

It truly boggles the mind why the perennial Korean underdog hasn’t been more aggressive in its efforts to make curvaceous gadgets appeal to the masses, particularly since the second-gen G Flex debuted back in February at a reasonable price point.

Following a series of discounts , the tag has dropped into “WTF” territory (in a decidedly good way), and the 5.5-inch banana phone can be had for half of Galaxy S6 Edge’s tariff. Granted, the latter is clearly handsomer, sharper and punchier, but the G Flex 2 doesn’t fall so far behind, with octa-core Snapdragon 810 muscle, 3 GB RAM, Lollipop software and 3,000 mAh battery juice.

Samsung Galaxy A5 – starting at $280

In a desperate attempt to improve their mid-end sales achievements, the overall Android kings but especially flagship dominators have taken a cool $120 off the all-metal A5’s original valuation. If this doesn’t work either, there really is a slump in the mobile tech landscape manufacturers need to deal with before it replicates the PC’s downward spiral.

Seriously, what more could Sammy possibly offer at $280 than a premium aluminum skeleton, 5-inch 720p Super AMOLED screen, 64-bit quad-core Snapdragon 410 SoC, 2 GB RAM, 13 MP LED flash rear cam, 5 MP selfie shooter and Android 5.0 Lollipop?

Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime – $170

Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime

Up to a point, the Grand Prime eerily resembles the A5. Both panels measure 5 inches in diagonal, both front cams sport 5 megapixel sensors, and the hardware shows are run by identical S410 processors. Obviously, the sub-$200 Android soldier needs to cut serious build quality corners (plastic red alert), as well as ditch a gig of memory, 5 rear cam MPs and close to 80 ppi.

On the bright side, the lower-res qHD display, backed by a larger 2,600 mAh cell, should produce higher endurance scores. Decent quality – cost ratio overall.

Samsung Galaxy J1 – $79.99 Verizon prepaid

We bet you weren’t aware this humble little guy was available with no-contract Big Red Plans and 4G LTE connectivity. No wonder, given the cringe worthy spec sheet… of the international model. Surprise, surprise, VZW actually picked up a revised variant, still low-res as hell, but at least quad-core-powered and endowed with 1 GB RAM.

Also, Android 5.0 Lollipop-running. Watch your back, second-gen Moto E!

Tablet deals and steals

 

Asus ZenPad Z170C-A1 – $99

Asus ZenPad Z170C

It’s not the best ZenPad Asus has in the pipeline, yet it’s extremely stylish… for the price. Slim bezels, 8.4 mm waist, tipping the scales at 265 grams, “ergonomically” curved at the edges, and leathery around the back.

Now, Amazon says the dirt-cheap 7 incher provides decrepit KitKat software, but that’s unlikely. Lollipop goodies all the way, claims the pad’s manufacturer, with 16 GB internal storage and quad-core Intel Atom x3 heat key selling points as well.

Asus ZenPad 10 Z300C-A1 – $179

Bigger, badder, (slightly) brighter, an amazing multitasker, courtesy of 2 GB RAM, and just as elegant. Too bad it’s backordered, with 2 to 4 weeks listed as the shipping estimate at the time of this writing.

Asus MeMo Pad 8 ME181C – $116 in light blue

This is turning into an Asus device blowout all of a sudden, with an OG 8 incher situated smack-dab in the middle of the two aforementioned newcomers on the totem pole. The ME181C is also slender and chic, and lets you save 500 GB of data in the cloud for free within your first two years of ownership. In addition to the 16 gigs of local space, that is.

Huawei MediaPad T1 – $184 4G unlocked

Huawei MediaPad T1

Compatible with T-Mobile and AT&T’s high-speed cellular networks, this aluminum-crafted 8 incher can be used as a ridiculously large phone. It makes and receives voice calls, that’s right, and “keeps going”, thanks to a 4,800 mAh battery.

Android-compatible wearables on the cheap

 

Alcatel OneTouch Watch – $129 size M/L

It’s not technically an Android Wear family member, and it welcomes iPhone synchronization (boo!), but it’s circular, can pull most of the fundamental notifications you allegedly want on your wrist, and withstands dust and water contact with grace.

Alcatel_OneTouch_Watch

Plus, it should last several days between charges, specifically because it relies on a simplified proprietary OS in lieu of Android W.

Pebble Time – $229.99 in white or black

It’s perhaps futile to underline the newest crowd-funded Pebble gizmo can’t be procured very widely or easily at the moment, so you may want to jump at the (limited) opportunity offered by third-party Amazon seller Chachi Toys.

Android and iOS-supporting, as always, the Time ups the display color ante, yet somehow easily exceeds all its rivals in autonomy. What else is new? The interface, as expected, overall device robustness, slimness and, apparently, activity tracking accuracy.

Microsoft Band – $178 large; $180 medium

Microsoft Band

For the first time in the history of our little promotion roundups, none of the week’s recommended wearables is a “fancy” Android Wear smartwatch and instead, all contraptions in this section work with Androids and iPhones.

The Microsoft Band further provides for Windows Phones (as if anyone cares), and stands out with a minimalistic design, decent battery life, 24-hour heart rate monitoring and built-in GPS functionality.

Best deals on mobile accessories

 

RAVPower 7,800 mAh power bank – $10.99

It’s become so easy (and cheap) to greatly extend your phone or tablet’s endurance, it’s almost ridiculous. Think about it, for only 11 bucks, you can add a full on-the-go charge to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5.

RAVPower power bank

TaoTronics Bluetooth car kit – $18.99

What does the kit include? “Just” a Bluetooth music receiver and USB car charger, with a built in microphone for easy, safe and, above all, legal calls while driving. Not to mention the sound quality rocks, by virtue of aptX coding.

The Friendly Swede universal capacitive touch screen stylus – $5.99 bundle of 6

The Friendly Swede universal stylus pack

We’ll be honest with you. These types of universal pens don’t work so amazing with all phones and slates. But if you keep your expectations low, in line with the outrageous price, you may end up as satisfied as the 881 Amazon customers that gave this stylus pack a phenomenal review average of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Samsung Galaxy S5 replacement battery – $11

So, after careful consideration, you decided to stick with the “ancient” GS5 and skip its sequel due to underwhelming battery capacity, no removal possibility, microSD support and lack of waterproofing. Clearly though, to get the most out of the 2015 flagship, you require a backup cell. At $11, why not purchase two… or ten?

2015 Premium Flexion selfie stick – $27.99

Flexion selfie stick

Don’t listen to Vladimir Putin’s extremist government. Selfies are tacky, but they’re not dangerous… if you’re not a complete moron. Selfie sticks, meanwhile, are even sillier, but still not hazardous to one’s health. This “premium” mobile accessory is adjustable, ultra-compact, simple to use and fully compatible with everything. Even a front-facing cam-equipped potato.

This week’s best deals on phones, tabs, wearables and accessories: June 22 – 28

Inclined to wait and see what the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, Note 5 and LG G4 Pro are all about before committing to a new daily driver device? Perhaps interested more in the looming third-gen Motorola Moto G?

hot-deals

Still convinced Android tablets have a thriving future, despite all the signs suggesting the exact opposite? Tempted by one of those fancy, fledgling smartwatches, but fascinated with the ways LG and Motorola could further refine the already exquisite designs of the Watch Urbane and Moto 360?

Our advice is to leave all hesitation related to current gadgets aside, stop obsessing over future breakthroughs and advancements, and start living for the day. Carpe diem and all that. Strike while the iron is… cheap. The (discounted) bird in the hand. You get the idea, so let’s just proceed:

This week’s best smartphone deals

LG G4 – $579 factory unlocked in leather brown; $583 metallic white; $589 leather black

LG G4

We can’t praise the dark leathery variant enough for pretty much matching the robustness and elegance of Samsung’s glass-and-metal GS6 duo, but the brown and aluminum-aping ivory flavors aren’t ugly either. Not to mention they’re incredibly cheap, all premium internals considered, and qualify for the free 32 GB microSD card + extra battery + charging cradle bundle redeemable here.

Only through June 30, so hurry up!

Motorola Moto E LTE for Verizon prepaid – $49.99

Moto E 2015 Verizon

Think tiny no-contract specialist Cricket Wireless is generous for letting you have the second-gen E at $80? Big Red and Amazon’s joint kindness goes even further, and the number one US carrier’s data plans cost as little as $45.

Phenomenal steal overall, with a large 4.5-inch IPS screen in the mix, near-stock Lollipop software, 64-bit quad-core Snapdragon 410 power and 2,390 mAh battery juice.

BLU Life 8 XL – $79 US GSM or global GSM unlocked ($50 off list price)

While Amazon stays mum on this, we’re fairly certain the promotional tag will go up to $129 in roughly a week. If supply lasts that long, which is never a guarantee with BLU merchandise available for around half the costs of comparable, competing gear.

Yes, the Life 8 XL, which technically rolls out on July 1, offers respectable mid-end features like a 5.5-inch HD display, octa-core 1.4 GHz MediaTek SoC, 1 GB RAM, 8 MP and 2 MP cameras.

Samsung Galaxy S6 – $565 factory unlocked in gold; $578 black

Galaxy S6

A staple of our weekly deal roundups already, the non-edgy “next big thing” has once again been trimmed, from $598 and up seven days ago to a tariff rapidly approaching $550. Could the imminence of the S6 Edge Plus be to “blame”?

Amazon Fire Phone 32 GB unlocked – $179 (down from $449)

We’re not going to lie, the 4.7-inch Fire is pretty crappy. The ecosystem feels rigid, there’s no Google Play access and, even if Lollipop was ever on the horizon, you probably wouldn’t recognize it, beneath all of Amazon’s cosmetic changes and forks.

Nonetheless, at sub-$200, you get a quad-core Snapdragon 800 chip, 2 GB RAM, loads of storage space and stellar albeit gimmicky 13 MP OIS rear camera.

Tablets on the cheap

 

Asus MeMo Pad 8 ME181C – $137 (47 percent off)

Asus MeMo Pad 8

Comfy, decently sharp 8-inch 1,280 x 800 IPS LCD screen. Android 4.4 KitKat, likely with Lollipop around the corner. Intel Atom inside (the quad-core kind), 16 GB ROM, 1 GB RAM, microSD support, 8.3 mm waist, 9-hour battery, 5 MP camera and “over $270 worth of content and services included.” We rest our case.

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 9.7 – $289

Literally just released this side of the pond, the low-cost Lollipop soldier is only discounted by $11, but between you and us, it’s a good deal even at three full Benjamins. The 4:3 display aspect ratio makes it stand out in the Android slate décor, the software is buttery smooth and up to date, and the hardware… not bad.

BLU Touchbook 8.0 3G – $135

BLU Touchbook 8.0

Many folks are under the impression BLU specializes in inexpensive smartphones only, but they’ve started to dabble in pads too, and for a cellular-enabled 8 incher, the Touchbook feels like a steal. Furthermore, the panel is HD, the processor quad-core, and the US network support very widespread.

XO-780 kids tablet – $67 ($82 off)

It fell short of our parent-recommended top ten a few weeks ago, but at less than $70, we must say we’re impressed with the rugged exterior, full Android support, easily accessible educational content and 7-hour autonomy.

Best budget wearable options

 

Motorola Moto 360 – $185 black leather; $190 stone grey; $230 light metal; $255 dark metal

Moto 360

Expired at Best Buy for a while now, the OG 360’s discounts (mostly) live on through Amazon, no doubt foreshadowing that highly anticipated sequel’s debut. Be honest though, aside from the “flat tire”, do you expect the “361” to upgrade anything else of importance? Battery life? Yeah, keep dreaming.

Basis Peak – $172

It’s nowhere near as stylish as the 360, and while it’s camouflaged as a smartwatch, it’s underneath it all a glorified pedometer. With calorie burn tracking functions, sleep monitoring and standalone heart rate features.

Samsung Gear S – $99 with AT&T contracts; $300 outright

Fun fact: the Tizen-powered, Android-compatible, voice call-initiating timepiece is squarely available directly from AT&T in “certified like-new” form… at $149.99 and up. Amazon sells it starting at a Benjamin, or for $30 less than Best Buy’s no-contract mark. Sweet!

Mobile accessories deals

 

Photive Silverbuds Pro wireless Bluetooth earbuds – $39.95 (69 percent savings)

Photive Silverbuds Pro

They’re minuscule, so not particularly powerful, but excellently isolated from exterior noise, water resistant and sweatproof, plus capable of up to 10 hours continuous play time. You know what they say, you can never have too many Bluetooth headphones.

Anker 2nd gen Astro E3 Ultra Compact 10,000 mAh power bank – $21.99

7,700+ customer reviews, 4.6 star average. 18-month warranty, almost four Galaxy S6 full charges, up to 3 amps speed. Enough said.

SoundBot SB571 Bluetooth wireless speaker – $26.99

SoundBot SB571

Okay, so perhaps you already own too many pairs of interchangeable earbuds. How about a pocketable little speaker with 10-hour autonomy, 6W + 6 W output, rich bass and 40mm premium drivers? If you won’t go to the party, the party must come to you.

LG G4 Spigen protective case – $19.99

Since the G4 is so affordable, you may be predisposed to spend a small fortune on accessories. But while, say, a wireless charger is pretty expensive, the obligatory shielding cover doesn’t have to be. Despite providing dual-layered protection, with a shock-absorbing TPU interior and polycarbonate exterior.

Multitasking champs: top Android smartphones available with at least 3 GB RAM

Some say 4 GB RAM is overkill for today’s smartphones. Others feel they don’t even need 3 gigs. After all, Android Lollipop was specifically optimized to work smoothly on 1 GB memory systems, right?

Android multitasking

Yeah, well, that didn’t quite go as planned, based on rampant recent reports of 5.0-induced memory bleeds, but nonetheless, you’ll hear many mobile consumers, including so-called power users, advocating for a more moderate technological progress.

They’ll argue you can’t multitask on a 5-inch screen as you do on 15 or 17 inches, and point at the vast majority of semi-affordable laptops which do just fine with 4 gigabytes of the good stuff. Surely therefore, their smaller, humbler “brothers” should handle everyday tasks using less memory.

4 GB RAM

While that may in part be currently true, it doesn’t mean it’ll be tomorrow as well. And overall, don’t you want your flagship devices to offer future-proofing? That’s the big challenge hardware manufacturers tackle with each high-end release, and we’re glad to see so many of them watching our backs.

No, 4 GB RAM handhelds aren’t standard yet, but the road has been paved, and here’s a lengthy list of readily available multitasking powerhouses with at least 3 gigs:  

Asus ZenFone 2 – $299

A pioneer and record breaker back in January, the world’s first 4 GB RAM phone has recently gone on sale via Amazon, ahead of both Xiaomi’s Mi Note Pro and Lenovo’s K80. Even more remarkable, it’s significantly cheaper than essentially all its 3 gig rivals.

Asus ZenFone 2

You’d think such a feat can only be possible with the adoption of a lackluster CPU, and while the Intel Atom Z3580 is no Snapdragon 810 contender, it delivers plenty of raw speed. Other stellar features? 1,080p 5.5-inch screen, 64 GB internal storage, LTE connectivity, 13 MP and 5 MP cameras, Android 5.0.

Samsung Galaxy S6 – $200 with Verizon or Sprint pacts; $0 with financing at AT&T; $615 unlocked

Samsung Galaxy S6

The non-curvy and the edgy S6 variants are equally muscular and very impressive activity jugglers, with a phenomenal Exynos 7420 SoC holding up the generous 3 GB memory. Why did we pick the “bland” S6 for today’s little listicle then? Simple – it’s far more affordable. Plus, fashionable in its own right.

LG G4 – no upfront charge for AT&T; $200 on-contract at Verizon and Sprint

Barely out for a few days stateside, the G4 can be purchased with a number of freebies, but its most precious assets are perhaps the controversial, always chilly hexa-core Snapdragon 808 chip and 3 GB RAM.

LG G4

Photo buffs will no doubt have a field day dabbling in the 16 MP “professional” camera’s advanced controls and post-processing effects, all of which however need copious amounts of memory to function properly and without a stutter.

LG G3 – $0.01 with Verizon or Sprint agreements

LG-G3

Watch out for the (suspiciously) inexpensive $333 factory unlocked international D855 model. There’s a good reason it’s so cheap. Unlike Big Red and the Now Network’s G3 editions, that one caps off at 16 GB storage space and – gasp – 2 GB RAM. Unacceptable, since Android M is nigh, and the platform’s memory thirst could well increase. Probably not, but you never know.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – starting at $230 for Verizon; $548 factory unlocked

Galaxy Note 4 Verizon

 

Why so expensive, Sammy?! Do you forget the GNote 4 is yesterday’s news, with quad-core Snapdragon 805 or octa-core Exynos 5433 inside? 3 gigs of RAM alongside the aging SoC(s), of course, but sooner or later, prices, especially with contracts, have to drop. Extensively.

Sony Xperia Z3 – $480 factory unlocked; $30 and up in Verizon-exclusive Z3v configuration

Sony Xperia Z3

Also yesterday’s news, the Z3/Z3v, which is not one and the same as the Z3+, packs an older Snapdragon family member, namely the 801. Needless to highlight general system performance stands decidedly behind the GS6 or LG G4, but on the plus side, $490 is no $650. Granted, it’s close, yet every penny counts when dealing with all-around similar hardware configurations.

HTC One M9 – $200 with Verizon or Sprint pacts; $649 factory unlocked

HTC One M9

Speaking of similar endowments, the M9 fails to shine on the display resolution or camera fronts, not really offering a lot to work with for hardcore photo or video editing multitaskers. For gaming, web browsing or 1,080p content consumption (or all at once), the octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor inside is ideal… when it doesn’t overheat.

Google/Motorola Nexus 6 – starting at $500

Nexus 6

Word of advice – grab it while it’s hot discounted. At $650 and up, it wasn’t worth the effort. At $500, it’s a bargain, the key downside remaining the finite local hoarding space. No microSD support for Nexus buyers, though the gargantuan, sharp 6-inch Quad HD panel, quad-core S805 CPU, 13 MP OIS camera, 3,220 mAh battery and, last but not least, 3 GB RAM should more than make up for the inconvenience.

Huawei Ascend Mate 7 – $505

Surprised to see the nichey, more or less Asian-exclusive Mate 7 in such outstanding, Western mainstream company? Importers are the best, particularly when they don’t get too greedy and sell premium flavors of exquisite China-made gadgets at (relatively) fair prices.

Huawei Ascend Mate 7

Don’t even think of going for this $445 Mate 7, equipped with a 16 GB ROM and 2 GB RAM. 60 bucks extra is surely not a lot to ask for double the storage space and a full gig of random-access memory more. Anything else you should be psyched about here? Of course – a nearly record-setting 77.6 percent screen-to-body ratio, fingerprint sensor, beautiful FHD 6-inch screen, 7.9 mm waist and octa-core heat.

Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro – $343

Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro

Another unpopular choice to wrap up a very popular list, the Z2 Pro ain’t easy to find on American shores, but if you follow our lead, you’ll get it at a highly lucrative price. Less than $350 for 3 GB RAM, 32 GB storage (non-expandable, unfortunately), 6-inch Quad HD glass, 16 MP dual-LED flash OIS rear cam, 5 MP selfie shooter and 4,000 mAh battery juice? This is madness! No, this is Lenovo looking for global fame.

This week’s best deals on phones, tabs, wearables and accessories: June 8 – 14

No better way to start off a new, long, tedious work week on the right foot than finding the perfect distraction at the best possible price.

Deal

Be honest, you all like to clear a few Candy Crush levels when the boss man isn’t watching, catch up on your favorite TV shows during lunch break on your ultra-high-res Android tablet, or get your jog on after eight hours of sitting on a chair and accurately measure distance covered or calories burned.

Fancy new smartphones, slightly older and/or lower-cost gear, big and small slates, all ideal for multimedia consumption, plus smartwatches and fitness trackers. They’re front and center in our latest Amazon promotion roundup, alongside the often overlooked but essential affordable mobile accessories.

Best handheld deals for the week

 

Motorola/Google Nexus 6 – $500 unlocked in 32 GB variant; $550 with 64 GB storage

Nexus 6

Triggered a while back, the $150 discount on both premium N6 configurations is still on, to our sincerest surprise. Boy, the market must really be tough for non-iPhone 6 Plus, non-Galaxy Note phablets if this Quad HD/Snapdragon 805/3,220 mAh beast has to permanently drop to iPhone 5s tariff levels to survive.

BLU Studio 7.0 – starting at $124

It’s a tablet. No, it’s a (freakishly large) phone, or at least that’s how BLU Products is advertising it, pushing the phablet limits to fairly outlandish heights. If only Lollipop treats would be on the horizon, as is the case with the more compact Studio X, X Plus, G, 6.0 HD and Energy.

BLU Studio 6.0 HD – $135 unlocked with 8 gigs of storage space

Speaking of other, soon-to-be-updated Studio family members, the 6.0 HD is a nice bargain as well, what with its 720p screen, quad-core processor, 8 MP LED Flash camera and 3,000 mAh battery. Be afraid, Motorola, be very afraid!

Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime – $175 factory unlocked ($125 off)

Galaxy Grand Prime

Okay, so this mixed bag was probably never worth three Benjamins. Less than two, though? Definitely, given the near-guaranteed Android 5.0 promotion, 64-bit quad-core Snapdragon 410 SoC, 8 MP and 5 MP cams. Besides, for a previous-generation (read non-metal) budget Android soldier, the Grand Prime looks dapper, with an 8.6 mm waist.

LG Optimus Exceed 2 – $40 on Verizon prepaid

The Optimus brand suggests you’re dealing with an archaic LG slab, and for the most part, the hardware upholds the antiquated sensation. But the Exceed 2 is really “only” a year old, so technically, it could score Lollipop before it slips into oblivion. Other (semi-) respectable features? KitKat software, for the time being, a 5 MP autofocus rear shooter and 2,100 mAh cell.

Tablet deals and steals

 

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (2013 edition) – starting at $349 in 32 GB config; $379 and up for 64 gigs

Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Nothing new under the sun for the frequently discounted Fire lineup, but the two year-old 8.9 incher remains a robust proposal to this day, thanks chiefly to the 2,560 x 1,600 pix res LCD panel, 2 GB RAM, up to 18-hour battery life and forever young Snapdragon 800 processor.

Fire HD 7 – $99

Newer, smaller and obviously humbler than the HDX 8.9, the HD 7 has itself been treated to a slew of cuts lately. This is hands down the deepest, and makes the quad-core bad boy irresistible, despite heated 7 to 8-inch sub-$100 competition.

Toshiba Excite Go – $50.37 (54 percent off)

Toshiba Excite Go

Can’t decide between the Excite Go and Fire HD 7? We say buy them both. You can save one as backup, or perhaps hold onto it and gift it to a little brother, nephew or niece come back to school season. They’ll love Toshiba’s ultra-portable, punchy quad-core Intel Atom “laptop replacement”, and you’ll keep expenses at a minimum. Win-win!

LG G Pad 10.1 – $199 ($51 savings)

Most likely signaling a sequel is on the horizon, LG’s largest but not fastest pad to date has lowered its ask dangerously close to 7 to 8-inch mid-range levels. Once again, the 10.1 incher may look the part, with nearly 70 percent screen-to-body ratio and 8.9 mm profile, but it’s by no means a high-ender.

On the plus side, it’s Android 5.0 upgradeable, quad-core Snapdragon 400-packing and endowed with 16 GB internal storage space in addition to microSD support.

Wearable bargains

 

Motorola Moto 360 – $180 in black leather; $235 dark metal

Moto 360

According to many, it’s the number one Android Wear device around. Others say it’s narrowly behind the LG G Watch R and far exceeded by the Watch Urbane in terms of premium construction, but at least the latter is ridiculously costly. Whether you place it in first, second or third, you can’t deny Moto 360’s greatness… and excellent bang for buck.

Sony SmartWatch 3 – $186 ($114 off)

Nowhere near as stylish as Motorola’s rookie smartwatch effort, Sony’s third (and best) intelligent timepiece stands out with built-in GPS connectivity, targeting sports nuts.

Fitbit Flex – $79.99 (two wristbands included)

Fitbit Flex

There’s a good reason why the Flex dominates Amazon fitness trackers, and Fitbit rules over the global wearable landscape. In a nutshell, these rudimentary-looking accessories get the job done effortlessly and unequivocally, offering stellar battery life and universal smartphone compatibility.

Accessories

 

Jarv Joggerz Pro Sports Bluetooth 4.1 headphones – $15.99 (77 percent off)

Even if you’re no frequent runner, we’re sure you can appreciate the value of a pair of malleable, HD sound-boasting wireless headphones sold at less than a quarter of their typical list price. In standard black or funkier black/green or black/grey color combos, with up to 20-hour battery life and a noise cancelling microphone.

RAVPower Qi wireless charging pad stand – $29.99 (down from $149.99)

RAVPower wireless charging pad

Fun fact – while a number of contemporary Android phones and tabs can technically be charged wirelessly via inductive electrical power transfer, very few bundle the actual pads needed to juice them up sans extra costs.

And, say, an original GS6/S6 Edge wireless charger costs roughly $40 after a $30 discount. Hence, you can no doubt see the utility of a cheaper, universal RAVPower product. Yes, this mundane-looking $30 stand is good to power up the S6, S5, S4, S3, Nexus 6, 5, 4, 7 second-gen, etc., etc.

RAVPower Luster 3,000 mAh mini portable charger – $8.99

It’s dirt-cheap, tiny and stylish (at least for the fair sex), yet it can provide a nice, full charge for many top-shelf smartphones. It’s the superlative shopping cart filler. Period.

HTC One M9 – Complete US availability and pricing guide

It all looks like a no-brainer. Essentially each and every Android power user in the market for a new “handheld PC” seems to be after Samsung’s Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge. The LG G3 is dated, although not by much, the G Flex 2 continues to keep an inexplicably low profile, while Sony’s Xperia Z3 started out obsolete last fall. No wonder carriers are already nixing it.

HTC One M9

But what about HTC’s One M9? Sure, the S6 pair prevailed in our head-to-head specs comparison, yet the all-aluminum, “dual-toned” HTC had a few things going for it. On paper. Now that it’s out, and the odds-on heavyweight title favorites as well, it’s time to further explore the make-or-break elements derived from reviews and whatnot.

There’s also the key question of availability and pricing, plus a detail we didn’t take into account up to this point. Without further ado, here’s why you should still consider the M9, why you shouldn’t, and every place, store and website you can pick it up from stateside.

Reasons to buy the HTC One M9

  • Uh-Oh protection plan

Face it, there’s no such thing as an unbreakable slab, no matter if it’s made of metal, glass, plastic or clay. So, why worry when you can get a free replacement in case of screen rupture or water damage? No catches, no strings attached.

  • Benchmarks

We’re well aware of the vexing performance gap reported by Geekbench back when both the S6 and M9 were in final stages of market preparation. But now GFX Bench, a just as reputable speed evaluator, puts the two fully polished devices on mostly equal grounds.

HTC One M9 vs Samsung Galaxy S6 benchmarks

HTC’s gold medal contender is actually better in “long term performance”, “battery lifetime”, plus T-Rex and Manhattan, two very trusted graphics inspections. Bottom line, the Snapdragon 810/Adreno 430 CPU/GPU combo looks at least as capable as the Exynos 7420/Mali-T760 MP8 dyad.

Why not to buy

  • Average cameras

If there’s one thing M9 reviewers agree on, it’s the 20.7 MP rear snapper’s mediocrity. Oh, so it wasn’t all the fault of Ultrapixel technology.

HTC-One-M9_camera

  • Overheating concerns

They’re gone, but they’re not. And for all we know, they could always make a comeback. After all, why would LG test the Snapdragon 808 waters for their soon-to-be G4?

  • Bland, way too familiar design

If HTC can’t tell the difference between an M8 and M9, how do they expect us to distinguish the two?

Where to buy

Amazon

HTC One M9 gold on silver

Best Buy

htc-one-m9-gunmetal

Verizon

verizon-htc-one-m9

  • Available April 10, up for pre-orders at the moment in silver gold or metal gray at $24.99 a month on Edge, $200 with carrier agreements, $599.99 full retail.

AT&T

HTC One M9 gunmetal gray

Sprint

  • $0 down, $20 for 24 payments with lease
  • $0 down, $30 for 12 payments with lease
  • $0 down, $27 a month with two-year Easy Pay
  • $199.99 with 24-month service agreements
  • $648 upfront
  • Two-five business day delivery promised
  • $50 off Harman/Kardon One speaker when paired with the HTC One M9

HTC One M9 music

T-Mobile

HTC online store

HTC_One_M9

  • In addition to all the above carrier possibilities, gathered here together, the M9 can also be bought unlocked or in a Developer-ready edition, aka with the bootloader unlocked out the box.
  • Developer version – $649 in gray or silver/gold, in stock
  • Unlocked model – $649, in stock, except for the amber gold flavor, listed as “coming soon”

Target

  • Backordered online, not yet available in physical stores, starting at $200 with Verizon, AT&T or Sprint pacts in gunmetal gray

 

Right, so clearly, if you’re just making a decision now, it’s easier to swiftly score the M9 than the hugely in-demand GS6 or S6 Edge. It’s worth emphasizing you’ll be eligible for Uh-Oh protection regardless of the retailer or carrier you choose to do business with.

Galaxy S6 vs HTC One M9

Also, if you’re holding off for the 64 GB variant, well, don’t. We’ve no idea when, or if, it’s headed to the US. But hey, 32 gigs of internal space is plenty when there’s a microSD slot endowed with up to 128 GB support.

Interestingly enough, T-Mobile’s free Netflix and Best Buy’s complimentary wireless charging pad GS6 promos have no equivalent in the M9 camp. Still, the new One is overall cheaper, and if you take good care of it, HTC will give you 100 bucks toward the purchase of a sequel.

HTC-One-M9-in-hand

Last but not least, it’s a little odd no smaller service providers have joined the launch party yet. No US Cellular, no MetroPCS, no nobody besides the “big four”. Point Samsung there, as USC sells the S6 along with Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mo.

At the end of the day, we don’t want to tell you what phone to buy and where from, but we strongly believe it’d be foolish to rule out the One M9 without proper consideration. 

Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge vs LG G3/G Flex 2 – Specs comparison

Before they actually start shipping via online retailers, and before they pop up in physical stores nationwide, Samsung’s newest mobile powerhouses still have one final hurdle to clear. Make that two. LG’s unsung hero pair.

Galaxy S6 vs LG G3

Yes, the aging continuously maturing G3 and grossly overlooked 2015 edition of the original “banana phone”, aka G Flex 2. Now, we know exactly what you’re thinking. Samsung has much bigger fish to fry than perennial Korean number two LG.

Technically, you’re right, and Apple is the one the Android kings are after. But you can never be too careful fending off rising underdogs, and on that note, Sammy’s domestic arch-rival is perhaps its most dangerous global adversary as well.

Galaxy S6 Edge vs G Flex 2

Historical sales numbers speak volumes about LG’s slow but steady mainstream surge, and G3 shipments alone likely circle 10 million units. Compare that to HTC’s paltry, shrinking figures, and these G-series flagships have as much right as the One M9 to challenge the heavyweight champion of the world. And so it begins:

Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge vs LG G3 and G Flex 2 – pricing and availability

Nowhere near as expensive as originally forecasted, the S6s are still twice as extravagant as a factory unlocked G3 on Amazon. Yes, a silky white, “international”, SIM-free D855 model, unfortunately with no US-valid warranty, costs only $362. Meanwhile, a “metallic black” version starts at $364, and a glitzy gold at $366.

LG G3

On-contract, you can have the 32 GB/3 GB configuration for no charge with AT&T, Verizon or Sprint, in black or white. The Now Network also carries the gold G3, which likewise it gives away for free, and a limited red variant is $360, no pact needed.

Of course, the newer, curvier G Flex 2 is considerably pricier, but it’s a better deal than both the S6 and S6 Edge nonetheless when purchased for Sprint use – $150 with, $600 without carrier agreements. Finally, the unlocked international version is a no-go, at an outlandish $725 caused by import taxes and importer greed.

Design and build quality comparison

So the LGs are more affordable for the most part, but do they have something else going for them? Yes, just not in the aesthetics and construction departments. Don’t get us wrong, we dig the rear physical buttons, uber-slim resulting bezels, compact form factors and, above all, G Flex 2’s subtle yet distinguished loop and that one-of-a-kind self-healing back panel coating.

Galaxy S6 Edge

At the end of the day, the S6 is obviously more elegant and “premium” than the G3, and S6 Edge’s curves make more sense than G Flex 2’s single concavity. Keep in mind that the LGs are “fantastic in plastic”, whereas the Samsungs beautifully combine aluminum with glass for virtually unbreakable exteriors.

Last but not least, the S6 and S6 Edge are around 7 mm thin, and their lesser contenders roughly 2 mm chunkier. Such a comfortable win for the odds-on favorites!

Display and cameras

It’s not over until the fat lady sings, or in this case, until we pit the four screens against one another. Three of these are Quad HD, which is a fancy way of saying they deliver overkill 2,560 x 1,440 pixels resolutions. The fourth, on the G Flex 2, “settles” for 1,920 x 1,080p.

lg-g-flex-2

You have to appreciate the diversity in LG’s camp, although sticking to the cold, often unjust numbers, we’re forced to give a second point to Samsung. Their smaller footprints stem superior pixel density – 577 vs 538 ppi. Then again, some of you may favor sheer size over extreme sharpness, in which case 5.5 exceeds 5.1 inches.

As far as photo competency goes, the on-paper facts allow the GS6 makers to essentially book an early overall victory. No way can LG recover the three-point gap generated by an easy 16/5 MP vs 13/2.1 MP triumph.

Galaxy-S6-Camera

Just for the record though, G3 and G Flex 2’s main 13 megapixel snappers aren’t bad, with optical image stabilization, laser autofocus and dual-LED flash in tow.

Processors, RAM and battery life

Sorry, G3, your on-board Snapdragon 801 is simply too old to hold its own when confronted with snazzy new octa-core 64-bit Exynos 7420 chips. The S810 inside the G Flex 2? Well, it’s octa-core and 64-bit-capable too, but it’s not particularly energy efficient and overheating is still a concern.

Snapdragon 810

In the memory arena, it’s actually the G Flex 2 that bows out first, offering a skimpy 2 GB stateside. The G3 is a perfect match for the S6 and S6 Edge, at 3 gigs of RAM, and the final verdict on autonomy isn’t in yet.

Much like a fine, expensive wine and Nicole Kidman, it’s as if the G3 is getting better with age, lasting a reported 20 hours or so between charges in continuous use. The G Flex 2 should rock similarly impressive endurance, if not better, courtesy of the lower-res screen, whereas the S6 and S6 Edge are unlikely to go a full day without croaking. Their cells are after all 400 mAh or so tinier.

Software, storage and others

With Android 5.0 Lollipop across the board, some would be quick to call the software battle a draw. That’s not inherently wrong, but it’s essential to understand the L firmwares are heavily influenced by proprietary customizations.

lg-g3-lollipop

Alas, it’s recently been confirmed TouchWiz UI is as bloated as ever. LG’s own set of “optimizations” is far from subtle, so whatever your choice, you’re in for heavily skinned Android.

Storage options? For once, LG cleanly puts one in the win column, thanks to microSD expansion on the G3, as well as the G Flex 2. Too bad they don’t go over 32 GB internal space, compared to the 128 gig top S6/S6 Edge configs.

LG G3 microSD

Nor does LG provide fingerprint authentication, heart rate monitoring or any unconventional method of standing out from the pack. No water resistance, no BoomSound speakers, no nothing. They do have Dolby mobile audio enhancements, which is simply too little for number one… or two.

Three and four is probably good enough ultimately, especially as the G4 and G4 Note should break cover soon and launch a stronger charge on gold.

Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge – Ultimate US availability and pricing guide

You’ve seen them pitted against HTC’s new hero device, a handy comparison highlighted the huge gap and copious upgrades operated on the disappointing Galaxy S5, and albeit it was an apple to orange correlation for the most part, we tried our best to match them up to the Note 4 and Note Edge for your convenience.

Samsung-Galaxy-S6-White

 

Meanwhile, although the embargo is probably not entirely lifted, a number of reputable tech publications broadcasted their near-comprehensive Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge reviews already, concluding these are hands down the best Androids in the world.

Only one thing left to do now, our power user friends and readers. Cash in on your aging flagships, and embrace the metal revolution. With or without curves, that’s completely up to you. Also wholly up to you – the carriers and retailers you want to do business with. The good news? The selection is plentiful, and incredibly enough, the premium phones are far from prohibitively priced.

Galaxy S6 Edge

The bad? Online pre-orders are live at the moment, with actual deliveries and physical store sales slated to begin April 10 nationwide. But it’s clearly wise to be prepared, especially when demand reportedly exceeds production capacity. So, here are all your on and off-contract purchase possibilities stateside:

Amazon

Standard Galaxy S6 32 GB – $199.99 with Sprint pacts; $699.99 free of contractual obligations in black sapphire

Galaxy S6 32 GB, white pearl – $199.99 and $684.99 with or without AT&T agreements respectively

Galaxy S6 black

Just to be clear, no one can promise pre-April 10 shipments. So, Amazon is doing the very best possible with the only two S6 configurations operators are able to spare for the time being. Yes, interest is that high. But worry not, Verizon SKUs should show up as well after April 1, and factory unlocked models, including of the S6 Edge, will likely be easiest to find here, as always. Remember, patience is a virtue.

Best Buy

Well, well, well, what have we here? Basically every single AT&T and Sprint variant ready for primetime, with or without seductive edges, coated in black or white, hoisting 32 to 128 GB native storage. Check that, 128 GB-ers are still listed as “coming soon”, as are gold platinum S6s and powerhouse phones meant for the number one network in the US.

Galaxy S6 wireless

If you’re okay settling for the silver or bronze medalists, it’s good to know BB throws in a free wireless charging pad ($59.99 value) to further incentivize prospective buyers. 32 GB S6s cost $199.99 with carrier agreements on both AT&T and Sprint, whereas S6 Edges offering the somewhat skimpy depository yield $299.99 expenses.

It’s almost needless to say therefore 64 GB versions are $299.99 and $399.99 respectively.

T-Mobile

Did your Netflix subscription run out before the new House of Cards season went live? Is it about to expire, and all you can think of is Piper Chapman and her orange-clad cronies? Don’t be so quick to renew the service, as Magenta offers one free year of full Netflix access for all GS6/S6 Edge shoppers.

Galaxy S6 Netflix

No tricky fine print, no strings attached, just a $100+ worth gift from the nation’s leading “Uncarrier.”

And no, their pricing isn’t artificially inflated either. It’s around $680 (full retail) for the “entry-level” S6, and $780 and up for the Edge. Split in monthly payments, that’s a sensible $28.33 and $32.49. Alas, 64 and 128 GB configs come with mandatory upfront fees of $100 and $200, and regular installments ranging from $27.50 to $31.66.

AT&T

Two storage options for each device, two colors, three Next purchase choices, plus on-contract and outright possibilities. There’s something for everyone here, unless you feel “gold is best”, or your digital hoarding illness is a little out of control.

Galaxy S6 back

32 GB Galaxy S6 – $685 on full retail; $200 with pacts; $22.84 on Next 24 with 30 monthly installments; $28.55 on Next 18 (24 months); $34.25 on Next 12 for 20 months

64 GB S6 – $785; $300; $26.17; $32.71; $39.25

32 GB S6 Edge – $815; $300; $27.17; $33.96; $40.75

64 GB Galaxy S6 Edge – $915; $400; $30.50; $38.13; $45.75

Sprint

The Now Network is fairly aggressively promoting its unique 12 and 24-month leases, the latter of which lets you have the 32 GB S6 for “free” with $80 monthly payments that include unlimited high-speed data, talk and text.

Samsung_Galaxy_S6_Edge

Not bad, but if you want to go for a more traditional purchase, you can always cough up $648 and choose your service plan separate. The 64 GB SKU is $768 outright or $300 on-contract. Of course, the 32 GB S6 is $200 with two-year Sprint pledges, and the S6 Edge starts at $300 and $768.

Easy Pay drops everything to $27 for the lesser GS6 config, or $32 if you’re into curvy gear.

Verizon

Just because they’re (un) fashionably late to the flagship pair’s US launch party (what’s new?), it doesn’t mean they’re not worth waiting for. Au contraire, given Big Red will cut you arguably the best no-contract deal before Amazon receives unlocked inventory.

Verizon Galaxy S6

Ready? $600, $700 and $800 for the 32, 64 and 128 GB Galaxy S6, and $700, $800 and $900 for the S6 Edge. That’s almost affordable. Which isn’t quite what we can say about Verizon’s 24-month-tied-to-the-network “special offer.”

Technically, they want $200 and up and $300 and up, just like everyone else. But you’ll have to pay them $250 and $350, and remember to ask them for rebates. Forget it!

US Cellular

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge-2

With all these popular, mainstream choices, we can’t imagine you’d ever go for a service provider covering a measly 23 states and less than 5 million people. But if you’re eccentric like that, USC has your back – $200 and $300 for S6 and S6 Edges with contracts, or $34 and $39.50 monthly fees, with no down payment.

Target

Again, why would anyone go to Target to buy an AT&T or Sprint-locked handheld is beyond us. Particularly as brick and mortar stock is unlikely to arrive before the two carriers themselves get the phones out in physical outlets.

Samsung Galaxy S6

Once again, purely for informative purposes, an S6 starts at $200 and an S6 Edge at $300 with Target. You can pre-order them in black or white, ready to hold 32 or 64 GB data.

That’s all she wrote… for now, but stay tuned for updates, more promotions, discounts and, first and foremost, elated deliveries and “exotic” variant spreads. We’re looking at you, golden S6s, and also gargantuan 128 GB-ers.

The ten best (and cheapest) Android gadgets to buy post-holidays

One of the most irritating, debated, often echoed and outright bogus myths of the 21st century retail world is the so-called post-holidays slump. Slump, slip, decline, recession, whatever, it’s just not real.

Android money

Yes, some people tighten the belt after excessively spending during the holidays, and some retailers avoid January price cuts after slimming down their profit margins for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc., etc.

But let’s get one thing straight. Nobody in the retail business, from Amazon to Best Buy to Walmart, sells anything at a loss. No matter how incredible a deal might feel, they’re always making money. In the short term, the long haul or, most of the times, both.

Android Lollipop

So there’s really no need for them to cut back on discounts. Meanwhile, unless you went over your credit limit and are starting to pay your bills in blood, you don’t want to stop shopping either. Reason number one – Valentine’s Day is approaching. No. 2 – CES came and went, and all the gear refreshed in Vegas has to clear out. No. 3 – MWC is nigh, and everything to be refreshed also has to go before it’s too late.

Last but not least, Amazon & co. are well aware of the inaccurate public perception regarding January, and going the extra mile to change your minds, and make you realize it is a smart idea to purchase post-holiday Android gear. Like these ten super-affordable items:

HTC One M7 – $330 unlocked in silver; $317 for the gold model

No typos there, although it’s almost two years old, we’re wholeheartedly recommending the original HTC One. Age is a valid deal-breaker squarely when it’s reflected in a gadget’s quality, and here, that’s simply not the case.

HTC One M7

Granted, the quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor is no match for 800, 801 or 805 units. And the 4 UltraPixel camera, I hope we can all agree, has been a bust from day one. On the bright side, the One (and only) has Lollipop decidedly on the way, a beautiful, forever young all-aluminum exterior, vibrant Full HD 4.7-inch screen, and 2 generous gigs of RAM under the hood.

And with the Hima, aka One M9, around the corner, how long do you think HTC will keep selling the phenomenal two-year-old?

LG G3 – $390 factory unlocked; $0.01 with Verizon, AT&T and Sprint contracts

It’s not a matter of the G3 possibly becoming extinct soon, or a rehash recently dropping. It’s just that we can’t hope for the 5.5 incher to be further discounted the next few months.

LG-G3

There’s nothing lower than zero on-contract, and outright, it’s already amazing you can cough up less than four Benjamins and score a slim-bezeled giant with Quad HD screen resolution, S801 punch, a 13 MP OIS cam, and before long, Android 5.0.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – $350 factory unlocked with no warranty

This power munchkin is barely a year old, and Amazon’s third-party partners are already confronting patchy availability. Keep in mind Sony never got US carrier backing for the S800-based 4.3 incher, and the thing could vanish into thin air like that. Poof!

Xperia Z1 Compact

LG G Flex – $280 unlocked; $1 with AT&T pacts; $50 on Sprint

Maybe you weren’t paying attention. $280 unlocked!!! That’s two hundred and eighty US dollars, for those of you having trouble reading numbers. Do you really need another reason to commit to the OG “banana phone” today?

LG-G-Flex

Fine, there it is – the G Flex 2 just debuted, and LG probably halted the original’s production, given it’s a time and money-consuming process to manufacture curved handhelds, and $280 barely covers the assembly costs.

Pink Samsung Galaxy Note 3 – $480 factory unlocked

You didn’t really think we forgot about you, lovely ladies, did you? Or men extremely in touch with their feminine sides. Or dudes looking to surprise their better halves this Valentine’s. Trust me, the pink-coated Note 3 is the textbook definition of a gift for two, as its hardware makes it perfect for a quick, manly gaming session… when nobody’s looking.

Galaxy Note 3 pink

Octa-core Exynos processing power, 3 GB RAM, S Pen support, Full HD Super AMOLED 5.7-inch panel, 13 MP camera, 3,200 mAh battery. Nope, those aren’t Note 4’s specs. They’re Note 3’s, and once again, the advanced age is irrelevant for the phone’s enduring greatness.

2013 Google Nexus 7 – $197 with 16 GB storage; $249 in 32 GB configuration

Yes, the second-gen N7 was at one point available for less for a short while. But let’s not dwell on the past, and focus on a very near future when the 7 incher will be MIA. Gone for good, in fact.

Nexus 7 2013

It could be a few months, or it could be weeks. Willing to take the chance? You might realize this is still the best compact, low-cost Android slate around, and possibly, the best iPad mini alternative, what with its FHD+ display res, Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC, and 2 GB RAM. It’s a classic.

Google/HTC Nexus 9 – $350 in 16 GB flavor; $430 for 32 GB storage

Again, we agree maybe the timing isn’t ideal to buy this stock Android-running (instant) classic. But be happy it’s easily procurable on Amazon, and consider it could be more than six months before prices drop further.

Nexus 9

Yes, further, because initially, the N9 was $400 and $480 respectively. And what if Amazon decides to up the ask instead of lowering it, realizing how handsome, strong and speedy the Nexus 9 truly is?

Asus Transformer Pad TF103C – $179 as a standalone tablet; $274 in a keyboard bundle

An (unappreciated) gift from the gods of quirky, original, forward-thinking gadgetry. That’s probably the best way to describe the Transformer Pad family in a nutshell, but we can’t know how long Asus plans to keep it around before pulling the plug by popular demand.

Asus Transformer Pad

That’s a huge mistake, if you ask us, but it feels unavoidable. Offering (almost) all the productivity of a traditional mini-laptop, this 2-in-1 device can seamlessly switch from tablet to notebook mode, and it’s shame so few people are down for that level of versatility. You’re in though, right?

Sony SmartWatch 3 – $240 in silicon band version

Even if it’s probably best to wait, we’re throwing this out there for you to remember in a few weeks. What happens then? The stainless steel model announced at CES rolls out, and this slightly less robust but extremely productive wearable should drop in the vicinity of $200. Most likely. Maybe. Hopefully. Ah, just go on and buy it now, it’s pretty good at $240 as well.

Sony SmartWatch 3

Motorola Moto 360 – $240 in stone leather

A $10 discount may sound minor, almost insulting for prospective Moto 360 buyers. But can anyone remember seeing the 360 lower than $240 since it first went up for sale? Exactly.

Moto 360

And that’s because you get what you pay for, and Motorola doesn’t need to incentivize early smartwatch adopters. This bad boy is the world’s current heavyweight wearable champ, and we highly doubt the Apple Watch can do anything about that. Maybe Samsung’s Gear R… if it comes sans Tizen.

The best accessories for the most popular Androids this holiday season

So you bought yourself a cool new phone, an inexpensive Android tablet and perhaps a cool, futuristic hybrid too. Got everyone you care about something special as well, yet it still feels there’s more to buy as long as retailers nationwide are having Christmas promos and yard sales.

Android Christmas present

But surely, there’s little left in the bank. After all, you also have to eat and living in a post-Christmas box isn’t the most enticing prospect. Good thing we’re around to give you the scoop on the hottest, cheapest possible Android stocking stuffers.

Accessories. Not smartwatch or activity tracker types, although those will work too. We mean cases, covers, external power banks, wireless chargers, screen protectors, car holders and so on and so forth. You know, the small but essential things mobile consumers tend to forget about until they actually need them.

Android Christmas ornaments

Well, we want you to be prepared for anything and everything, so we give you the best accessories money can buy this jolly holiday season for the best Android gadgets out and about:

Best Samsung Galaxy Note 4 accessories

First things first, we’re sorry to report Sammy keeps playing hardball with the phablet’s price – $734 unlocked, $270 on-contract at AT&T and Verizon. The good news is, if you know someone with a Note 4, chances are they couldn’t also afford a very wide array of appendages.

A solid Christmas gift idea would ergo be a 9-item accessory bundled kit from DigitalsOnDemand, typically available at $60, but slashed to $25 for the holidays. A couple of protective cases are included, a screen protector, stylus pen, car charger adapter, and travel pouch bag.

Galaxy Note 4 S View

Looking for something with a little extra pizazz? The S View Flip Cover is by far the safest bet. It’s slightly steeper, at $35 and up by itself, but man, it’s sleek and convenient. This $26 rugged protective cover is ideal for folks with slippery hands, and this $45 power bank not only comes with 5,000 mAh juice, but it also doubles as a media kickstand.

Samsung Galaxy S5

It may not be as sizzling hot as expected, and it clearly lost steam over time, but the S5 is today a more sensible purchase than ever, at $50 with Verizon, AT&T or Sprint pacts, or $518 in a factory unlocked flavor.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on accessories either, even the fanciest of them all going for just $79. That so-called Samsung GamePad is quite a unique little contraption, taking mobile game to unexpected heights of comfort.

Galaxy S5 case

A more traditional choice would probably be the $26 S View Flip Cover, a $30 wireless charging battery cover, or an extra-slim yet highly rugged $20 metal case from Verus. And let’s not forget wireless charger kits, available for as little as $35 (down from $100 back in the day), and spare battery chargers with OEM replacement cells, going for $31.

Feeling all warm inside as Christmas comes creeping in, and want to share your jolliness with the world? Then how about scoring yourself a $7 snowflake and Christmas tree-decorated case, or an $8 snowman-adorned cover from Head Case Designs? They’re cheesy, you say? Ah, we’ll allow it for one measly week a year.

LG G3 accessories

LG’s spearhead 2014 phone isn’t a must-buy just because it’s beautiful, powerful and large, it’s also amazingly cheap for what it has to offer. Namely, it can be had from Amazon at $405 free of contractual and carrier obligations, or one penny with Verizon, AT&T and Sprint pacts. You read that right, a penny. $0.01.

Now, accessories can never be as affordable, but incredibly enough, LG and Amazon sell one of those swanky Quick Circle window folio cases for $25. Much too sweet a deal to say no to, and the same goes for the $27 compatible wireless charging pad.

LG G3 Quick Circle case

What else? Well, you can always opt for a simpler, more straightforward, even cheaper $10 Supcase wallet leather case. Or the virtually unbreakable $18 heavy duty full-body rugged hybrid protective cover with a built-in screen shield and impact resistant bumper.

Last but not least, if you’re in a festive mood, this $8 Mr. Snowman snap-on hard back case cover is bound to put a smile on people’s faces. There’s also an $8 “Santa on His Sleigh” case, albeit it may be a little much.

HTC One M8

Much like with the Galaxy S5, time hasn’t been particularly kind on the once phenomenal M8. But the full-metal 5 incher is a bona fide steal these days, going for a penny with Verizon pacts, $30 on Sprint and AT&T, and $650 factory unlocked with a US warranty.

HTC One M8 Dot View

The accessory selection is almost too generous, and probably the all-around best-seller is the $9 Dot View Flip Case. A close second is this $20 Spigen drop and scratch-proof air cushioned cover in our book, and fitness enthusiasts can’t do better or cheaper than Shocksock’s $10 machine washable armband.

Clearly, a “smart wired” headset available at 7 bucks is hardly a top choice for pretentious audiophiles, but it’s so cheap it’s worth a try. And so is this $6 ArmorSuit MilitaryShield screen protector.

Google/HTC Nexus 9

The world’s trendiest Android tablet this holiday season has been a little hard to come by since it technically went up for sale, but it’s now in stock at Amazon both in 16 and 32 GB Wi-Fi only configurations, for the low, low prices of $350 and $430 respectively.

Nexus 9 magic cover

It almost goes without saying the best, smartest way to accessorize the Nexus 9 is by pairing it with a $130 keyboard folio that’s bizarrely “under review” on Amazon at the moment. If you hurry, you can grab it via HTC for 50 percent off, i.e. $65, or on Google Play at full retail.

Alternatively, the $35 magic cover is pretty neat too, although nowhere near as productive, while this $36 IVSO stylus pen-including ultra-thin keyboard portfolio case is fairly productive, but doesn’t quite “click” as HTC and Google’s official keyboard folio.

Motorola Moto G accessories

You didn’t really think we’d wrap this list up without showing some love for our most budget-constrained readers, did you? If you did, you were all kinds of wrong, as the Moto G and second-gen G continue to be amongst the Androids we really can’t recommend enough for Christmas presents.

The OG is $60 with no-contract Boost Mobile prepaid commitments on Amazon, and $72 for Verizon, whereas the 2014 edition costs $180 unlocked. The first-gen can be had unlocked too, at $160.

Moto G flip shell

$9 replacement shells in an assortment of snazzy colors are the easiest way of making the 2013 G feel personal, while Abacus24-7 lets you grab a leather wallet case for either the first or second-gen at just $7.

The $13 and up flip shells are exactly like their $9 counterparts, only they also cover up the display, and guard it against damage. Then you have extra-durable $14 grip shells, and a neat $7 combo pack consisting of a wall charger, car charger, micro USB cable and LED keychain light.

Power packs cost as little as $14 and can be paired with all Android devices, not just Motorolas, and the $145 Moto Hint is one of the most original takes on the wearable concept, breaking all-new ground for thus far rudimentary Bluetooth headsets.

Still can’t find the perfect accessory for your Android soldier of choice? Stay tuned on The Droid Guy, and we’ll be sure to update the roundup with more options for more smartphones and tablets. That’s a promise.

Best Android-compatible smartwatches available for Christmas

There’s no more denying it. Wearable devices are the next big thing in mobile tech, and it’s just a matter of time until they’ll start competing with “old-fashioned” smartphones for mainstream popularity.

Flinstone smartwatch

We still don’t expect them to have a similar impact on handheld sales as tablets hurt conventional computers, but they will take a bite out of their ancestors’ profitability. No question about it. Granted, for the time being, most smartwatches need phones to work together with them to make them half-productive.

Before long, independently operated timepieces could replace phones altogether and make us all look as cool as James Bond. Or at least as geeky. Never mind, we’re perfectly fine with that, as long as they can hold a charge for a couple of days, get cellular reception anywhere, and also allow us to browse the web with ease.

James Bond watch

Clearly, we’re not quite there yet, but just think how you’ll be able to brag in a few years you owned one of these pioneering gadgets before they were cool. With that in mind, here are the seven best Android-running and Android-compatible smartwatches money can buy today:

7. Samsung Gear Live – available for $199 in black or wine red on Amazon

Part of the first Android Wear wave, the Gear Live hasn’t exactly aged very gracefully and barely makes the top seven now after leading the ranks a measly four months back. That goes to show how rapidly evolving the market is, and how badly the Gear Live needs a discount to survive.

Gear Live

At $199, this thing is simply too ugly and unproductive to qualify for a smart Christmas buy. Put differently, I wouldn’t gift my biggest enemy the Gear Live. The square design is disgusting, the 1.63-inch 320 x 320 pix res screen just… meh, and the battery life underwhelming, at around a day of continuous use, give or take.

But Adrian, if it’s so bad, why is it on the recommended list, albeit in last place? The answer is Android Wear. Also, it’s a Samsung, and that has to count for something.

6. Pebble Steel – $199.99 in black matte or brushed stainless

Yes, we realize the Pebble Steel only slipped one spot since August, and now leads the Gear Live after trailing it by four places. And no, Pebble didn’t roll out a magic software update in the meantime to vastly improve basic functionality.

Pebble Steel

It’s just that, after careful (re) consideration, we’ve come to the conclusion apps aren’t everything. Great, retro, elegant looks and record-setting autonomy trump Android Wear, and a recent $30 price cut also helped the Steel become a steal (pun intended).

To be clear, no, Pebble’s second-gen contender doesn’t run Android Wear, or an OS resembling in any way Android. Still, it’s fully Android compatible, neatly displays notifications from your synched phone, and supports over 1,000 proprietary applications, most of which should come in handy for health nuts.

5. Asus ZenWatch

No one took Asus very seriously when they set out to revolutionize the fledgling smartwatch universe, and sadly, the Taiwanese seem to be treating the ZenWatch as a limited test run. If you can find this baby though at its list price of $200, don’t give it a second thought. Buy it before it’s too late.

ASUS-ZenWatch

It’s not round, but it’s extremely fashionable. It’s useless without a smartphone yet highly productive on the whole, thanks to Android Wear and, surprisingly enough, ZenUI tweaks and add-ons. It’s mostly ho-hum in the battery life department, but makes up for it with performance perfectly on par with the medal winners detailed below.

Overall, it’s the ideal stocking filler… if you can find it.

4. Sony SmartWatch 3 – $275 on Amazon; $250 via Google Play

Let’s say we understand why Asus has trouble building enough ZenWatch copies to go around. But et tu, Sony? You should be skilled in this niche, after all, you helped set it up back in 2012. But for whatever reason, the Sony SmartWatch 3 is really hard to come by.

Sony-Smartwatch-3

Which is a damn shame, because this is Sony’s first Android wearable effort and, while it’s not a looker, it’s packed with features you’re bound to find useful. Built-in GPS, amazing water protection, a design tailor-made for fitness enthusiasts and, oh, did we mention the built-in GPS?

Guess we did, but it’s worth underlining. Now lower the ask to $200, let Amazon and Best Buy sell it, Sony, and it’s game over for Samsung, LG, Motorola and perhaps even Apple. Too bad that’s never going to happen.

3. Samsung Gear S – $200 with AT&T contracts, $300 outright

Futuristic and fully independent, the Gear S is a big step in the right direction, but it’s still awkward to wear and just all-around unattractive. Curves are nice, Sammy, but what we really want are circles. Nope, a smartphone for our wrist won’t do, it’s a classic watch that can work as a smartphone we’re dreaming of.

samsung-gear-s

Adding insult to injury, the Gear S runs Tizen. Frigging, fugly, glitchy, limited Tizen. Obviously, it can pair up with an Android phone, or make and receive voice calls all by itself. The latter is really the only reason we’re (unenthusiastically) recommending the gizmo, which also feels a little pricey and doesn’t impress with stellar battery life.

2. LG G Watch R – starting at $285 on Amazon

This doesn’t happen often, but for once, LG’s architects have eclipsed Samsung’s designer team. By a landslide, the G Watch R is sleeker, more elegant and more… watch-like than the Gear S. In short, it’s not something to be ashamed with when wearing, and that was no easy feat to pull for this baby’s creators.

LG G Watch R

Also available directly from Google at $300, as well as on T-Mobile and AT&T, the G Watch R is highly dependent on third-party phones, like the vast majority of today’s smartwatches. On the bright side, the 1.3-inch P-OLED display is a stunner, the 410 mAh cell pretty solid for wearable standards, and you even get IP67 water and dust resistance.

1. Motorola Moto 360 – $250 in black leather; $300 in stone leather

This was probably the toughest call we’ve had to make since starting these listicles, but ultimately, the 360 (barely) edged out the G Watch R with affordability and a slightly more original sense of style. Aesthetics is perhaps a matter of personal preference, but we feel the 360 blends the retro feel of a conventional watch with the futuristic vibe of a smartwatch better than the G Watch R.

Moto 360

And yes, Moto 360’s battery performance is a little on the underwhelming side, as is overall speed and system smoothness. But the superior build materials also helped Motorola defeat LG, as did the numerous band and color options.

Mind you, the 360 can be picked up at Best Buy in “natural silver” with a metal strap for $300. Or in “dark metal”, also at $300. Or, you can purchase a separate $30 “cognac” leather band to keep things fresh and original. Now, let’s hear it for our champion and fill up those Christmas stockings with the best of the best in Android tech. Who’s with us?

Black Friday 2014 Android guide: what to expect from carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and more)

Black Friday 2014 is almost upon us, and we were this close to send y’all out for your holiday Android shopping without consideration for carrier deals. Rookie mistake on our part, and we apologize for it, although in our defense, it was only in the last couple of days that the promotions started cascading from the likes of Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.

Black Friday crowd

And let’s not forget Cricket Wireless, US Cellular, Boost Mobile, MetroPCS and Virgin Mobile. These smaller fighters in the service operator arena often try to compensate for their low profiles with outstanding discounts, diverting the spotlight away from the “Big Four” for at least a week or so.

But let’s cut to the chase, shall we? Here’s what the magnificent carrier nine have in store for Android addicts this Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday:

Verizon

Courtesy dictated we begin with the most popular wireless provider stateside, and surprisingly, we’re getting off on the right foot here. Big Red’s generosity is extremely uncharacteristic, suggesting el primo carrier of the nation might be feeling AT&T’s heat. Perhaps Sprint and T-Mo’s too, even if the user base gap is enormous at the moment.

Xperia Z3v

Highly recommended deals:

  • Sony Xperia Z3v – free with two-year contracts (down from $200 currently at both Verizon and Amazon)
  • Motorola Droid Turbo – $100 with carrier agreements ($100 off and an all-time low)
  • Second-gen Motorola Moto X in Verizon-exclusive “football leather” flavor – free with contracts (wacky, tacky but cool)
  • LG G Watch – $99 (oldie but goldie)

You can probably do better:

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – $199 with pacts ($100 off and just too darn expensive for an on-contract smartphone)
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 – free after $50 mail-in rebate (rebate, Verizon, really?!)
  • Jawbone Up24 – $99 (already available at $99 on Amazon)

Editor’s note: Of the four highly recommended special offers, just one is restricted to Black Friday only – the Xperia Z3v deal. The other three can theoretically be had from Friday to Sunday, if stocks last.

AT&T

We’re receiving mixed signals as to what Ma Bell is prepping for the holidays, with HTC’s RE Camera, for instance, tipped to go down $50 by some sources, and a full $100 by others. All in all, we believe the $100 reduction will be valid on Black Friday, and the $50 trim shall remain instated through January 8.

AT&T store

Speaking of January 8, AT&T has a couple of special bundles to sell on the cheap all the way until next year. Namely, Samsung Galaxy Alpha purchases on Next will let you have the Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 at a measly 99 cents, and 2014 Moto X buys come with $50 savings towards the 360 or Hint.

Weak and convoluted, AT&T. The former can be said about Pebble and Samsung Gear Fit’s imminent $99 deals. Which only leaves these two as must-buys:

Sprint

You thought AT&T’s deals were uninteresting? Wait until you hear what Sprint’s definition of cheap stocking stuffers looks like. Starting Thanksgiving Day, qualifying clients looking to lease or score a Galaxy S5 or S5 Sport on Easy Pay will get $200 off.

Galaxy S5 Sport

Instead of coughing up around $30 a month for two years, you’ll be paying the Now Network just $20 for a grand total of $480. Too… darn… complicated, Sprint. Meanwhile, the S4 at no charge with two-year contracts is by no means anything new or attractive. Oh, well, there’s always next year to try again.

T-Mobile

The leading “UnCarrier” jumped the gun and started the festivities already, letting Magenta fans nab an Alcatel OneTouch Pop 7 tablet completely for free with qualifying Mobile Internet plans. That’s $0 upfront, and installments of… $0 a month. The downside? It’s an in-store deal only.

T-Mobile Black Friday

Online, the Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy S5 cost $417 and $510 respectively in the long run, with no charge outright and $17 and $21 monthly payments. Decent but nothing to write home about.

US Cellular

Seemingly content with its steady number five position in the US operator ranks, USC looks like it’s not even trying to grow. For Pete’s sake, their “batch” of Black Friday 2014 deals stars one lousy gadget. Just the one.

G Pad

And yes, the LG G Pad 7.0 is a fairly solid bargain, at $0.01 with pacts, price valid already. But what if you want a higher-end tab? A discounted smartphone? Well, then US Cellular is probably not the carrier for you.

Cricket Wireless

Did we or did we not “warn” you the smaller players of the wireless service game go the extra mile in slashing their prices near the holidays? Cricket, which is technically one of AT&T’s daughter companies, proves it better than anyone, discounting among others Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and S5 by a whopping 50 percent.

Cricket Black Friday

Half off, that’s right, and for once, we don’t mean an on-contract gimmick dropping $200 to $100 or, even worse, $100 to $50. Cricket takes half off the prepaid, no-contract S4 or S5, bringing them down to, wait for it, $215 and $295 respectively.

And because Cricket doesn’t just cherish its power user subscribers, here are an extra few promos on lower-end devices:

Virgin Mobile

Sprint hits back at AT&T in the prepaid subsidiary duel, with an assortment of promos meant to satisfy basically anybody that doesn’t want the best of the best in mobile tech nowadays. True, Virgin has a deal on the high-end Galaxy S5, but their bona fide winners are the much less impressive S3, LG Volt or LG Optimus F3.

Virgin Black Friday

Boost Mobile

Another Sprint subsidiary, more or less the same promos, savings and even products on sale. The differences are Boost’s lineup is a little lighter, and its deals aren’t live yet. That said, your best bets at Boost Mobile once they start out the sale are probably Samsung’s Galaxy S3, LG’s Volt or Optimus F3, and Kyocera’s Hydro Vibe.

Boost-Mobile

All uber-cheap, all 4G LTE-enabled, all a tad short of being described as powerhouses by late 2014 standards.

MetroPCS

We’ve left Metro, T-Mobile’s sister operator, for last not because its promotions are the worst, but on account of the prepaid specialist’s secrecy. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Black Friday isn’t here yet, but it’d be nice to know some specifics about Metro’s upcoming “bargains” to see if they’re worth the wait.

Right now, all we know for sure is some no-contract smartphone purchases made in some physical stores will be eligible for BOGO deals with some other handhelds. Otherwise put, you may or may not get two phones at the price of one.

MetroPCS Black Friday

The Galaxy S5 is likely the headliner of the sale, but you’re unlikely to be able to bundle it with a second S5. At best, an LG Optimus L70, Samsung Galaxy Avant or something.

Before saying our good-byes, remember our promise. Anything you need on Thursday, Friday and next Monday on the low-cost Android buying front, we’re here for you. 

Best low-cost 4G LTE Android tablets available on major US networks

Stacking up on LTE-enabled gear for the cold season and would love to have something left in your bank accounts at the end of the holiday shopping season? Don’t want to make the choice between a spanking new Android tablet and food, as you’re afraid you’ll die of starvation playing Temple Run 2?

LG G Pad 8.3 LTE

Then maybe the wise call would be settling just for a fresh LTE smartphone. But if you listen to our recommendations, it’s virtually impossible to go broke simply from spending, say, $200 on a Moto G 4G.

So if the piggybank isn’t completely empty, we give you the seven best, cheapest LTE-capable Android slates available in the States. We’ll get to the names and ranking in a minute, but before, let’s list our selection criteria to avoid discussions and general complaints:

  • Affordability – since carrier subsidies are minuscule compared to on-contract discounts for smartphones, and solid sub-$200 no-contract tabs are as easy to find as unicorns, we’ve raised the pricing bar a little. Not a lot though, so anything costing north of $350 sans pacts is a no-go.

LTE speeds

  • Wide US availability – network backing from at least one of the “big four” is a must for obvious reasons, and Amazon is as always our online retailer of choice.
  • Quality-price ratio – it’s not enough for a slate to be affordable to make our listicle. It has to offer bang for buck. Likewise, we’re always willing to recommend spending a little extra in exchange of excellence.

And now let’s get to it:

7. Verizon Ellipsis 7 – $0.01 with service agreements, $249.99 without contract

The prospect of accessing Big Red’s high-speed 4G connectivity options on a 7-inch screen for just one penny is probably irresistible for most budget tech consumers. Yet you may want to think this through before doing something you’ll end up regretting.

Ellipsis 7

Yes, we’ve certainly seen worse. But why be so skimpy when, you’ll see, $100 buys a lot more? A whole lot more than this ultra-bezel-y, fugly, low-res, laggy gizmo. Okay, maybe we’re pushing it to prove a point. Yet there’s a reason the Ellipsis finished this in last place. Make that several: Android 4.2, 10 mm profile, 4,000 mAh battery, 3 MP rear camera with no flash or autofocus.

6. Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 – $244.77 outright with Sprint-friendly LTE

Even though we’re dealing with a prettier, lighter, more reliable Samsung than the no-name Ellipsis, we’ll be just as brutally honest and admit the Tab 3 7.0 also made the list thanks squarely to its low, low price.

Galaxy Tab 3 7.0

Technically, lower than the no-contract retail costs of the Ellipsis, though by very, very little. In the hardware department, we’re actually looking at a worse slab, packed with a sluggish dual-core chip and also towing a modest 4,000 mAh juicer. Meanwhile, the 7-inch screen is horrible, at 1,024 x 600 pixels resolution and 170 ppi.

So yeah, it’s an option, but only if you can’t afford something better.

5. Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 – $299.99 with no contracts for Sprint

Something better, like Tab 3 7.0’s 2014 follow-up, erm, spin-off. This thing isn’t drastically improved by no means, but it’s only $50 or so pricier and it at least increases RAM by 50 percent (1.5 gigs now), and ups the screen res ante to 1,280 x 800.

Galaxy-Tab4-7.0

Oh, yeah, and you get quad-core punch now, plus an even slimmer figure, with no impact whatsoever on battery life. Bottom line, we’re still a long way from perfection, but we’re clearly progressing.

4. Amazon Kindle Fire HDX – $279 for AT&T or Verizon with “special offers” and no contractual obligations

We’re no extreme Android purists, so we can certainly appreciate the benefits of a nice, smooth, non-intrusive custom-made UI, but what Amazon does to Android isn’t customization or skinning. It’s altering it from the roots, and we don’t like that one bit.

Which is a terrible shame, I tell you, because from a technical standpoint, the Fire HDX is a whopper. That display may be small, but it’s packed with pixels (1,920 x 1,200 resulting in top-level 323 ppi), then you have a fast and furious quad-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, 2 generous GB of RAM and a battery supposedly capable of lasting hours and hours of “mixed use”.

Amazon-Kindle-Fire-HDX-7

Yes, the microSD card slot absence is a major flaw, but slap an actual flavor of Android on this baby, offer freedom of choice between Google Play and Amazon Appstore and we’d have no problem in promoting the Fire HDX to the podium. Maybe the top spot.

3. Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 – $200 with Verizon pacts, $340 outright

Sad to see the Fire HDX miss bronze by a whisker? You’re about to get sadder. Aside from running a copy of Android KitKat that, you know, looks like Android, and allowing Big Red customers to get a discount in exchange of a 24-month commitment, the Tab 4 8.0 has nothing on Amazon’s OG 7 incher. Nada.

Galaxy Tab 4 8.0

Well, size, yeah, and also expandable storage, but what about the positively lackluster 1,280 x 800 panel? The snail-like 1.2 GHz quad-core SoC? The 1.5 GB RAM? Ugh, how we hate encouraging mediocrity.

2. Google Nexus 7 2013 – $250 and $350 on Verizon, $404 in flavor compatible with other networks

Wait, the legendary second-generation vanilla Android-powered Nexus 7 has had its budget crown dispossessed? Sounds hard to believe, but it’s true. Yes, it’s the end of an era, and in part, you can blame the limited inventory most retailers seem to retain these days.

Clearly, N7 2013’s days are numbered, but at least its legacy will be carried on with pride by a larger, somewhat similar albeit not stock Android-running tablet. Before paying our respects to the new champion though, let’s underline the 7-inch “new” Nexus is a deserving silver medalist.

Nexus 7 2013

Sure, it lost some of its charm, its je ne sais quoi, yet the 1,920 x 1,200 pix res display remains a monster, and so does the quad-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro chip. And remember, Android L will swing by the Nexus line first and foremost.

1. LG G Pad 8.3 – $99.99 with Verizon contracts; $299.99 outright

Would you look at that, the G Pad 8.3 can be had for as little as one measly Benjamin, yet its spec sheet includes top-level stuff like a comfortably large, slim-bezeled, high-resolution 1,920 x 1,200 IPS screen, punchy quad-core 1.7 GHz Snapdragon 600 CPU and 2 GB RAM.

LG G Pad 8.3

Not to forget the beefy 4,600 mAh battery, the incredibly slim (all things considered) 8.3 mm profile, microSD support, 5 MP rear camera and, starting a couple of months back, Android 4.4.2 KitKat.

It’s the near-flawless blend of affordability, raw power, great looks, portability and productivity and, best of all, it works both on Wi-Fi and 4G LTE on America’s biggest service provider. Your tough decision has become a no-brainer all of a sudden, eh?