For the last two years you’ve been shackled to your carrier contract, but you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s finally time for a new phone. What do you buy? WHAT DO YOU BUY!?
There has never been a more exciting time than the present to be in the market for a new phone. The battle for mobile supremacy between iOS and Android continues to rage on as a slew of other companies like Blackberry and Microsoft fight over the leftover table scraps for third place. There is no doubt that as players in the mobile game, companies are forced to fight tooth and nail for whatever market share they can wrestle away from the competition. The mobile arena is a bloody and merciless place, where only the strong survive, or at least it’s a place where only the strong sell the most phones. But we as the consumer should be overjoyed. Never before has there been such a diverse and dare I say it, good crop of phones to choose from.
The Android landscape has come a very long way from its humble beginnings on the G1. Particularly over the last couple months, consumers have been greeted with several brand new Android devices that are arguably the best smartphones ever. Not to mention, Google has not been sitting on its multicolored hands since Android 1.0 Cupcake was released in September of 2008. Android 4.2.2 Jellybean is an entirely different beast compared to its doughy ancestor.
Last month (April, 2013) was borderline biblical in terms of Android hardware. We observed in awe as the face of the market changed before our very eyes. Samsung debuted the Galaxy S4, the heir to the wildly successful Galaxy S3. Facebook finally launched the “Facebook phone”, hidden in the form of a rather unassuming mid-ranged HTC phone with what is for all intents and purposes, a custom launcher on top of stock Android. And HTC also came out with its veritable swansong of a flagship device, the HTC One.
Featuring a full 1080p 5-inch Super AMOLED HD screen, and a quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 is one of the best devices that we have ever seen. The S4 is as fast or faster than any phone on the market, and has better battery life than most to boot. It also features an overwhelming number of new features including eye tracking that will pause your movie when you look away from the screen, and touchless scrolling. In fact the GS4 has so many features, it also sports an “Easy Mode” that breaks the phone down to the bare essential apps, and a dialer.
Despite its stellar performance, astonishingly good internals, screen, and camera, Samsung’s brand new flagship is somewhat unremarkable and as far as I am concerned, it’s pretty boring. Samsung made virtually no attempt to change the aesthetics and hardware of the device from its GS3 predecessor, meaning it is still your typical flimsy, cheap feeling, plastic, slimy fingerprint magnet that we’ve all grown to know and hate. Not to mention, TouchWiz (Samsung’s skin on top of stock Android) is regrettably alive and well. However, even with all of these shortcomings, the GS4 is still a damn good phone, and you certainly cannot go wrong picking one up. The GS4 is available on all four major US carriers, on contract for $250.
One the other side of the divide we’ve got the HTC One. For the last couple years HTC has been struggling to keep its head above water, and the One is its last ditch effort to do so. In fact, HTC’s CEO Peter Chou told investors he would step down if the One were to fail. To put it simply, the HTC One is gorgeous. Instead of offering consumers an extensive laundry list of features, HTC opted to spend its dollars on industrial design, and it truly shows. The One sports an all-metal shell, wrapping around a 4.7-inch 1080p LCD display, with Beats powered stereo speakers on either side rather than on the bottom or rear of the phone. From my experience with the One, I have found the device to be a pleasure to use and to hold in the hand, it just feels really good.
Beyond the external elements of the One, it shares most of the same internal hardware as the GS4. The One is powered by the same Snapdragon 600, has LTE, and 2GB of ram. However, the S4 has a removable battery and SD card slot, while the One has neither. The One also cannot stack up against the battery life of the S4. Instead of matching Samsung’s 13 megapixel camera, HTC chose to use a less traditional 4 ultrapixel camera. Ultrapixels are actually just larger megapixels that HTC claims can pick up, up to three times more light. My experience with the One gave me no reason to doubt HTC’s claims; it takes good pictures, particularly in low light. Unfortunately there is a catch, the One still features HTC Sense. Sense 5 is certainly better than HTC’s previous attempts at differentiating stock Android on its devices, but still not great. However, with a bit of customization, your One can act pretty close to stock. The One is available on AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, or an unlocked LTE version can be purchased directly from HTC. The One is going for $200 on contract or unlocked from HTC for $650.
If large flagship phones aren’t your thing, and you are partial to Facebook, have a look at the HTC First, which is basically the Facebook phone. It features midrange internals, a softtouch plastic body, and a completely manageable 4.3-inch screen. The First sports Facebook Home, which is essentially a skinned lockscreen that shows your Facebook feed with changing photos and status updates. Additionally, Facebook Home has a feature called Chat Heads, which allows users to access a Facebook chat or SMS session at any time via goofy looking orbs containing their friends’ avatars. Facebook home can be turned off to reveal an almost completely stock Android experience. For the time being the HTC First is exclusive to AT&T for $100 on contract.
If you are in the market for an Android device you cannot go wrong with one of the two flagship devices I mentioned above, or even the HTC First. However, if you are strictly in the game for the stock Android experience, you are stuck with the LTE-free Nexus 4. If stock is truly your calling however, you may want to wait for Google’s I/O event which begins on May 15. We are expecting to hear about a significant Android update, and possibly new phones… X Phone cough cough.