Android Smartphone Buyers Guide

As we inch closer towards the end of the year, more and more spectacular Android smartphones are lining up on each carrier.  But what is it that sets one apart from the other? Maybe it's a QWERTY keyboard you're after, or looking to stay within a particular budget, or maybe you just want the best-damn Android that money can buy for your carrier.  Any way you look at it, shopping for the perfect device is not always that simple.  There are many key factors that come in play when you're making that final decision between Android's-- and this guide is designed to give you the know-how that will ease the process of choosing the perfect smartphone for you.

We'll be taking a look at specific Android's on each major US carrier, as well as Bell Canada that meet the requirements of best overall device, budget phones ($150 and under), best Android with a QWERTY keyboard, and finally our very own reader's choice selection.  Check past the break to dive into this edition of the Android Smartphone Buyer's Guide.

AT&T Android phones

AT&T Samsung Galaxy S II

SAMSUNG GALAXY S II
Best Android

Hands down, the Samsung Galaxy S II is AT&T's hottest device that is currently available.  This device comes with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and Touchwiz 4 right out of the box, along with a stunning 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display.  The Samsung Galaxy S II has a nice slim and sleek design, and is extrememly responsive thanks to its HSPA+ network, dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. Labeled the thinnest 4G Android smartphone on the market, the Samsung Galaxy S II is without a doubt the top-dog on AT&T.   

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                         Pantech Crossover
PANTECH CROSSOVER
Qwerty Keyboard

For the Android enthusiasts on AT&T who prefer a keyboard at hand, the Pantech Crossover is a good choice with its side-slider design, 3.1-inch touchscreen, and 600MHz single core processor.  Although it's not the most impressive Android smartphone on AT&T, it's still not a bad device if you prefer texting on that phyical keyboard.  If you're even looking to take a step down from the Crossover, the HTC Status (Facebook phone) would be your next best option-- but don't set your expectations too high for that device.  The Pantech Crossover is available for $349.99.

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LG Thrill 4G

LG THRILL 4G
Budget Android

If money's tight this month, then you'll want to look for the best bang for your buck.  In this case the LG Thrill 4G is your best bet on AT&T right now.  Very similar to the Optimus 3D, the LG Thrill 4G allows you to enjoy 3D media without the use of special glasses. There's some great hardware underneath the hood of this device such as a 1GHz dual-core processor and 512MB of RAM.  The LG Thrill 4G features a 4.3-inch display, a 5-megapixel stereoscopic camera, and utilizes the HSPA+ network on AT&T.  For $99.99 with the usual 2-year agreement, the Thrill 4G packs quite the 3D punch while still saving you some dinero.

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Motorola Atrix 4G

MOTOROLA ATRIX 4G
Reader's Choice

Chosen by you-- the Android Central community.  The Motorola Atrix 4G, noted as the "world's most powerful smartphone" at one time or another is still quite the powerhouse next to its competition.  There's no question why the community is a fan of this beast with its 1GHz dual-core processor, 16GB of onboard memory, slim candybar formfactor, HSPA+ capability and 5-megapixel camera with 720p HD video capture.  To make this device even more worthy of the Android Central Readers Choice title is the latest update to Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).  Currently the Atrix 4G is available for $449.99 without a contract.

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Verizon Android phones

Motorola Droid Bionic

MOTOROLA DROID BIONIC
Best Android

While they sure kept us all waiting for the launch of this device, the Motorola Droid Bionic is without a doubt a top contender on Verizon's 4G Android lineup.  Packing a 1GHz OMAP4430 dual-core processor, a whopping 1GB of RAM while running on Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread), this device was definitely worth the wait and is sure to be a crowd pleaser for those looking to have the best of the best on Verizon. You get what you pay for, and in this case you'll be forking out $589.99 without a contract, and $299 with.

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Motorola Droid 3

MOTOROLA DROID 3
Qwerty Keyboard

The Motorola Droid 3 is an awesome choice for a slider phone on Verizon.  As long as you don't mind giving up that LTE data speed and staying at 3G it's a pretty solid device.  It still sports a 1GHz dual-core processor, 16GB of internal memory, a nifty 8-megapixel camera with panoramic modes and even runs on Gingerbread with an updated version of BLUR. Full retail on the Motorola Droid 3 is $459.99, or $199.99 if you sign on the dot.

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Casio G'zOne Commando

CASIO G'ZONE COMMANDO
Budget Android

The Casio G'zOne Commando is your best bet if you're pinching pennies.  The Commando is a pretty unique Android in terms of design.  It's built like a tank, and by that we mean that it meets military standards for immersion, rain, shock, heck even solar radiation.  Looking on the inside you've got an 800MHz processor with 512MB of RAM covered up by a 3.6-inch WVGA Gorilla Glass display. The Casio G'zOne Commando goes for $149.99 with a two-year agreement making it a sweet choice for saving a buck or two.

                                                     Specs | Forums | Accessories
 

HTC Thunderbolt
HTC THUNDERBOLT
Reader's Choice

An all-time favorite here at Android Central, the HTC Thunderbolt proves itself to be top pick amongst the community. The Thunderbolt was Verizon's first 4G LTE Android smartphone, but that doesn't mean that it's old news.  With features such as a 1GHz single-core Snapdragon processor, 768MB of RAM and a 4.3-inch capacitive touchscreen the HTC Thunderbolt is an absolute wonder to use.  Full retail on this gem is $569.99, or $249.99 with contract.

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Sprint Android phones

HTC EVO 3D
HTC EVO 3D
Best Android & Reader's Choice

Not only is the HTC EVO 3D the top runner on Sprint right now, but it also holds the title for reader's choice.  It's the first 3D Android smartphone to hit Sprint, and it's doing a great job representing the hype that it created even prior to its launch.  Underneath the EVO 3D's 4.3-inch 3D qHD capacitive 960 x 540 px display you have a 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, 1GB of RAM, dual 5-megapixel rear cameras that are capabable of recording 2D video at 1080p as well as 3D recording at 720p.  Did we mention the EVO 3D utilizes Sprint's 4G network as well? Yeah, it's that good. The no-obligation price is currently $549.99 through Sprint,  but with a two-year contract the EVO 3D is all yours for $199.99.

                                               Specs | Forums | Accessories


Samsung Epic 4GSAMSUNG EPIC 4G
Qwerty Keyboard

Best choice for a QWERTY keyboard Android on Sprint? The Samsung Epic 4G.  This device is a dream for any user that absolutely must-have a physical keyboard.  Not only is the comfort level exceptional for typing, the 4-inch Super AMOLED display is crisp and easy to slide.  Take advantage of 3G/4G speeds with hotspotting powered by a 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor and 512MB of RAM.  The Samsung Epic 4G is available for $99.99 with a two-year agreement or $499.99 contract-free.

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HTC EVO 4G

HTC EVO 4G
Budget Android

Sprint's got some pretty good deals if you're looking to conserve your finances, but overall your best choice without a doubt is the HTC EVO 4G.  The EVO 4G has been around the Android scene for a little over a year, but still manages to hold its own against the current competition.  It has features such as a gorgeous 4.3-inch capacitive display, 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 512MB of RAM and a convenient fold-out kickstand to make viewing media a breeze.  Throw a little Gingerbread and 4G in the mix and you've got a killer deal for just $99.99 with a two-year contract.

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T-Mobile Android phones

HTC Sensation

HTC SENSATION
Best Android & Reader's Choice

The HTC Sensation is T-Mobile's latest and greatest Android smartphone which features a 4.3-inch capacitive qHD Super LCD display, Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and the lastest version of Sense 3.0.  It's extremely slim and lightweight making it comfortable and easy to handle compared to heavier devices such as the Droid 2 or LG Revolution.  Other specs include a 1.2GHz Qualcomm dual-core processor, 768MB of RAM, and an 8-megapixel camera with dual LED flash. For $199.99 you can pick up the HTC Sensation with contract or buy it outright for $499.99.

                Specs | Forums | Accessories

MyTouch 4G SlideMYTOUCH 4G SLIDE
Qwerty Keyboard

Taking the spot for best Android with a keyboard is the MyTouch 4G Slide.  Silimar to the original MyTouch 4G with the addition of a physical keyboard and some improved specs like a 3.7-inch touchscreen, Sense 3.0, a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 8-megapixel camera and Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).  If you plan to bag one of these you're looking around $499.99 for full retail, otherwise it's $199.99 contracted.

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LG G2X

LG G2X
Budget Android

The T-Mobile LG G2X is the perfect budget Android with its intense HD gaming and 4G speeds powered by Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and T-Mobile's first NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor.  It also features 512MB of RAM underneath its 4-inch Gorilla Glass capacitive display.  The LG G2X goes for $149.99 with a two-year agreement.

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Bell Android smartphones
Samsung Galaxy S II
SAMSUNG GALAXY S II
Best Android

You didn't think we forgot about our friends over in Canada, did you?  The most popular and top rated Android available from Bell is the Samsung Galaxy S II.  There's not really any negatives to say about this device as a whole.  You've got nearly top of the line specs here: 4.3-inch WVGA Super-AMOLED display, dual-core 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, Android 2.3, and an 8-megapixel camera.  No terms, you're looking at $599.95 for this beast.  However a 3-year agreement will get you the Galaxy S II for just $149.95.

                                                           Specs | Forums | Accessories


Android Central
MOTOROLA XT860 4G
Qwerty Keyboard

In Canada, they don't have 'Droid' devices so instead devices tend to get rebranded. The MOTOROLA XT860 4G or as it is more commonly known the Droid 3 wins out as best QWERTY keyboard device available. Bell carries the MOTOROLA XT860 4G with a 1GHz dual-core processor, 16GB of internal memory, an 8-megapixel camera with panoramic modes and even runs on Gingerbread with an updated version of BLUR. You'll also get HSPA+ compatibility when using the Bell network. Pricing - $99 on a new three-year contract, if you're looking for no contract that will be $549.

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Motorola Atrix 4G
MOTOROLA ATRIX 4G
Budget Android

While it may come as a surprise to see the Motorola Atrix 4G on the budget device list, truth is -- it's available for $49 on Bell with a three-year contract and when it comes to specs it is no slouch. Some of the specs include Nvidia's Tegra 2 dual core processor, 1 GB RAM, 16 GB of onboard storage and fingerprint recognition. Gingerbread is available out of the box and HSPA+ is there as well.

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Rogers


HTC EVO 3D
HTC EVO 3D
Honorable Mention

Sharing the same specs as Sprint, only bearing GSM bands -- Rogers HTC EVO 3D's gets and honourable mention here. You can pick up a Rogers HTC EVO 3D for only $99 on a three-year contract with the outright cost setting you back $549. The EVO 3D's 4.3-inch 3D qHD capacitive 960 x 540 px display you have a 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, 1GB of RAM, dual 5-megapixel rear cameras that are capbable of recording 2D video at 1080p as well as 3D recording at 720p makes it a great choice.

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The UK and Europe

Samsung Galaxy S IISAMSUNG GALAXY S II

Best Android & Readers Choice

Of all the phones we’ve tested recently, nothing has come close to Samsung’s Galaxy S II in terms of sheer speed and display quality. The 1.2GHz dual-core Exynos chip flies along, while the 4.3-inch SuperAMOLED+ screen is the brightest, most vibrant we’ve ever seen on a smartphone. Samsung’s made some serious improvements on the software side of things too -- the new TouchWiz 4.0 UI is easy to use, and runs without a hitch on the Galaxy S II’s top-notch hardware. Add in an 8-megapixel camera with 1080p recording capabilities, and a super-thin, super-light chassis, and it becomes clear why our readers selected this phone as their favorite of 2011.

SIM-free prices for the Galaxy S II start at around £400. Most networks offer it for free on contracts of £30-35 or more per month.

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HTC Sensation
HTC SENSATION
Honorable Mention

The HTC Sensation is a shining example of just how far Android smartphones have come in the past year, and it wouldn’t be fair to leave it off our list. Sure, it doesn’t quite match up to the Galaxy S II’s raw speed, but equally it’s no slouch. Inside the Sensation’s gorgeous aluminum unibody chassis there’s an ample 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon chip, backed up by 768MB of RAM. And the phone’s software is just as sleek as its hardware. HTC Sense 3.0 builds on Android 2.3 Gingerbread to create the most fully-featured Android user experience around. It also boasts a sharp qHD (960x540) resolution display that looks great whether displaying photos, or reading small text in the web browser.

The Sensation will set you back somewhere in the region of £360-400 without a contract. If you want a subsidized Sensation, you’re looking at a contract of around £30 per month from most major networks.

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Xperia Arc
SONY ERICSSON XPERIA ARC
Android All-Arounder

The Xperia Arc won us over with its sleek design, streamlined UI and best-in-class 8-megapixel Exmor-R camera. Like the Galaxy S II, it’s extremely thin and light, with a well-designed UI that’s fast and effortless to use. You also get a large 4.2-inch screen powered by Sony’s Mobile Bravia Engine -- the same tech that’s found in high-end Sony TVs. And the Arc’s physical design shouldn’t be overlooked, either -- its arced back and slim profile give it a striking appearance.

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Wildfire S
HTC WILDFIRE S
Budget Android

HTC’s current budget offering, the Wildfire S, is a great way to get in on the Android smartphone action without breaking the bank. For your £175 (SIM-free), you get a software experience comparable to more expensive phones like the Desire S, thanks to HTC Sense 2.1. The 600MHz CPU may stop you from playing some high-end games, but it’s more than speedy enough for web browsing, social networking and casual games like Angry Birds. Our main reason for picking the Wildfire S over other, similarly speced phones, however, is its build quality. HTC should be given credit for delivering a budget device that’s built like a premium smartphone.

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Xperia Pro
SONY ERICSSON XPERIA PRO
Qwerty Keyboard

Launching imminently for around £350, Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Pro looks set to fill the space left by the now discontinued HTC Desire Z. The Xperia Pro offers many of the headline features of the Xperia Arc, with the added bonus of a four-row keyboard of the physical, clicky variety. Just like the Arc, you get a 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, 512MB of RAM, 8MP Exmor-R camera and a bright 854x480 Mobile Bravia Engine-powered display. Sony Ericsson’s Xperia UI takes care of your social networking needs too, with Facebook closely integrated into the phone’s contacts, messaging, dialer and music apps.

Specs | Forums | Accessories

 

Wrap-up

Hopefully you've got a better idea of which Android smartphone is best for you with this edition of Android Smartphone Buyer's Guide.  Remember that despite the choices mentioned here, there's always a better device already in the works, and some that have already been released. Look for them in our next edition.  It comes down to whether you want to wait it out, or embrace one of the many great Android smartphone's available from your carrier.  Good luck, and happy shopping!

 

Reader comments

Android Smartphone Buyer's Guide: Fall 2011

40 Comments

How is the S2 on Sprint not a recommendation over the EVO 3D??

edit- Sorry I forgot Sprint prefers the acronym SGS2E4GT :)

I had the same question. I think most people having to choose between the two would choose the new Samsung over the evo 3D.

It's because that's what was available on Sprint at the time. The reader's choice award? Remember that from the forums? There we go. I refreshed a lot of people's memories :)

3D and E4GT...... Pretty much the same specs, pretty much.

If you own a 3D TV you should get the EVO. MHL adaptors let you play 3D content from your phone to your TV. Plus you understand 3D better than non-3D adopters.

If you have no interest in going 3D anywhere in your life, please stick with Samsung as they know that throwing "GALAXY" on a device will justify the purchase for most common folk.

Damn Sammy not only stole Apple's designs, they stole their marketing campaign too...

B-)

Yeah, I just upgraded on Sprint and it was between the E4GT and the MoPho. I considered the EVO 3D, but it was a distant 3rd IMHO.

We just sold my wifes Evo 3d to buy her the Galaxy s2 at the 75 dollar upgrade. I never buy phones at the $75 upgrade price but I got my GS2 and loved it so much we got another. Bad call on not placing the SGS2 at the top of Sprints list. Not to mention its the only one with a notification light.

I have no idea how this happened. The EVO3d was not even a consideration for my wife and I. I snuck out of work early to go and upgrade our old Qwerty Epics for the new SGS2E4GT.

Att, verizon and tmobile were spot on but sprint was way off. Even the lg thrill on att is better than the evo 3d. The cortex a9 in the thrill is more powerful than the scorpion chipset in the evo 3d. And the 3d screen on the thrill is 10 fold whats on the evo 3d. The samsung galaxy s 2 epic 4g touch is by far the best phone with no crappy gimmicks and the photon even puts a mollywhopping on the evo 3d. You can get the photon at best buy for the same price as the original evo. the sprint line up presented was a joke.

I wonder what the editor in chief thinks of this after doing an excellent favorable reivew of the Epic 4G Touch. Come on Phil have this article edited.

"Hands down, the Samsung Galaxy S II is AT&T's hottest device that is currently available."

International: "Of all the phones we’ve tested recently, nothing has come close to Samsung’s Galaxy S II in terms of sheer speed and display quality."

"The 1.2GHz dual-core Exynos chip flies along, while the 4.3-inch SuperAMOLED+ screen is the brightest, most vibrant we’ve ever seen on a smartphone. Samsung’s made some serious improvements on the software side of things too -- the new TouchWiz 4.0 UI is easy to use, and runs without a hitch on the Galaxy S II’s top-notch hardware. Add in an 8-megapixel camera with 1080p recording capabilities, and a super-thin, super-light chassis, and it becomes clear why our readers selected this phone as their favorite of 2011."

But the same phone on Sprint is not even mentioned.

Android Central is the only site to rate the EVO 3D better than the Epic 4G Touch.

Why? How?

I think they somehow forgot or left out the Samsung Epic 4G Touch on Sprint. Perhaps it is too new to officially get on this list, but interesting that there is not even a mention.

At Android Central, we recommend the SGS2 variant with the most ridiculous security flaw!

We also don't even bother mentioning arguably the best Android phone available at the moment.

You're Welcome!

Who wrote this article? Really, Where is the Motorola photon? Did they even research this info? Android Central please do better than this.

Brent,

The Android Central Editor in Chief, Phil Nickerson, just reviewed the Epic 4G Touch.

http://m.androidcentral.com/sprint-epic-4g-touch-review

Phil concluded:
" Here's the bottom line: The Galaxy S II is easily the fastest, thinnest and lightest Android smartphone you can get. Sprint's first out of the gate in the United States -- the other carriers will follow shortly. And while Sprint appears to have a few data issues with the SGSIIE4GT, for our money, if you're going to pass on this one, you're going to need to give us a good reason why."

Brent, which review is right?

They should have waited another week to post this. They missed the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch and next week T-Mobile gets the Samsung Galaxy S II 4.5" AND the HTC Amaze 4G.

I agree this article was at least 1 month ahead of its time knowing the kind of phones that are coming out in Oct & Nov.

What's odd is the inclusion of the Samsung Galaxy S II on AT&T which came AFTER the release of the Epic 4G Touch on Sprint...

I think only certain regional carriers were covered. US Cellular hardly has any android phones worth getting (I'm saying this although they are my service provider) besides the Electrify (Photon) and the Desire. That's in my opinion, though. Only one phone is worth mention out of those, so it would be a pretty brief section regardless.

US Cellular isn't a regional anymore. They've been a "national carrier" for quite a while now. They're the 6th largest in the country behind Verizon, at&t, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Metro. But you probably already knew that.

I'd like to see US Cellular and Metro get their own sections added to this article next time. With the HTC Hero S and other worthwhile phones being released, US Cellular will actually have decent choices for their customers.

I have a question you list the att Samsung Galaxy S II as 4g.
but when you look at the specs on att's site it lists it as 3g.
which is correct?

One thing about the Reader's Choice award is that it's at least partly a survey of what people own, so release timing is a big factor given sales volume over time. Look at Thunderbolt vs. Bionic for example. The Tbolt has had 6 months to build up a large userbase of voters whereas the Bionic is only just now out, and we know how device loyalty works in the forums. If they had been released at the same time with these specs, would the Thunderbolt still be the crowd favorite? I think it still has some solid advantages, particularly in design and UI, which would still make it a horserace at the store counter, but it loses the spec war almost across the board at this point. Try keeping any of us spec hounds from picking the spec beast when both leave the starting line at the same time.

Agree with so many other posts here.... What happened to the SGSII4G (Sprint Samsung Galaxy)? That thing simply ROCKS!

Can someone explain to me how the Casio Command got the best budget android on Verizon when there is still the Droid Incredible 2? Same price with better specs and a slightly larger screen that comfortable in the hand. Hell I got mine for 49 at radio shack. I'm a little confused on that.

I agree. The DINC2 is a (not good but) great all around phone. Its got a great battery life, screen and is a powerhouse.

It's only major flaw is that it suffers from having no PR.

Wow, didn't even notice that and I own an Incredible 2! I haven't played with the Casio but given that I hadn't even heard of it, it's hard to imagine it made a better impression than the 2. Although I will say the lack of noise about the Incredible 2 as the go-to solid all-rounder on Verizon has been puzzling. With all the mess that 4G was right out of the gate, you'd think Verizon would have pushed the 2 as the phone for the masses. Never heard a peep though. And it's always been pretty quiet in our forum.

Boo that man!! The Epic Touch 4G dominates on Sprint but doesn't even make the cut? Did this guy have Richard Yarell help him with the list?

In my opinion, the SGS II could have won the budget category as well; I just bought two for $149 each at Best Buy.

These prices are obviously first-party retailer prices only. ALL the phones on this list can be had for cheaper elsewhere.

Oh look no new keyboards, pass. Another example of Apple being a god damn cancer on the tech industry. I'm just about ready to give up on Sprint and just pay the ETF so I can go somewhere else that has a new QWERTY phone. Damn softkeyboard phones are too slow and too inaccurate. And don't tell me SWYPE. That doesn't help. It comes down screen size, screen real estate being used by the keyboard, and frankly thumb size. I can type rings around soft keyboards.

I _HATE_ Verizon but I have to give them props for at least keeping one current QWERTY phone around almost at all times.

I've gotten used to soft keyboards, but part of that getting-used-to is simply less typing and an acceptance of reduced accuracy. I avoid typing when I can, like if I'm sitting near my computer, I'll go respond to a quick email there instead of fumbling around on the stupid phone making corrections. I use voice recognition whenever I can but while that's gotten miles better in recent years, it's still not totally up to snuff.