Best Smartphone

What is the very best smartphone on the market today?

I have looked at most of the new smartphones that are available right now. I have some preferences and I am willing to share them with the readers who are trying to decide which is the best smartphone for them. 

Updated December 31, 2012: When is 4 greater than 5? When you are talking smart phones!

Got my Nexus 4 Phone from Google and it RULES! Absolutely the most intuitive and easy to use phone on the planet. I am hyped… … No need to LEARN anything. It just does what you want it to do!!

I will have a full review in a few days, but quickly: I put in my SIM card, turned it on, signed in with my Google gmail account & it began downloading apps to match my Nexus 7 tablet′s setup – it even changed the wallpaper to match my personal photo used on the N7. It auto-updated all of the apps & was ready – all my contacts, calendar, photos, music, etc sync’ed and ready to use. (About 10 minutes.)

I decided to give it to my wife, Viv. I switched the SIM cards, added her gmail account, removed my sync settings, and in 5 minutes, it was HER phone – with her data synced and ready to use! Blows away iPhone (any)!!!

iPhone vs Smartphone

When deciding about the best smartphone, it seems that most people equate “smartphone” with “iPhone.” The iPhone certainly qualifies as a smartphone but it is NOT the ONLY bear in the woods. Although Android phones generally outsell iPhones in the US, there are many DIFFERENT models of Androids from different manufacturers and with many different names. But even though there are several different models of the iPhone, they are all called “iPhone.” Consequently, there are many more iPhones in use today versus any particular model of an Android phone. On the other hand, there are many more android phones in use than the total of all iPhones.

So, what IS a smartphone? The term has been around since around 1997 when Ericsson described its GS 88 “Penelope” concept as a “Smart Phone” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smartphone). But the definition is vague. Generally today we understand that wireless phones with touch screens, that have a modern operating system such as iOS or Android, and support “apps” from third parties are “smartphones.” Your mileage may vary but those are the basics that I look for.

Operating System (OS)

The major operating systems (in order of popularity) are: Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows, and Symbian. My personal opinion is that Symbian is dead, Blackberry is on the way out, and Windows (any version) just cannot get a foot-hold. That makes my choice be between Android and iOS.

Hardware and Manufacturers

Most manufactures today produce similar top-end hardware. Apple has probably the best screen resolution but they do not have a hardware keyboard. Otherwise, from processor speed, camera resolution, screen size & resolution, to carrier availability, you can pretty much get whatever you want from any manufacturer.

Apple:

At 34% of the US market, Apple is the number one manufacturer of smartphones today. This chart from the Business Insider site (second quarter of 2012) demonstrates the comparative numbers for subscribers in the United States:

SmartPhone SalesApple’s latest model (iPhone 5) is certainly a contender for the best phone. The phone is the fastest and most powerful iPhone yet. But the most commonly cited feature of the entire iPhone series is “ease of use.” It certainly fulfills that function.

If you are a totally non-technical person, then the iPhone was designed for you. The phone is easy to set up and every app tends to behave exactly like all the others. So, adding a new app/function to the phone does not present a major learning curve. However, the means for accomplishing such ease is that Apple is a closed (proprietary) system. Your phone is controlled by Apple and you have limited access to changing how it works. You can add apps and change the order that their buttons appear on the home screens but little else.

World-wide, Apple is making the most money, while Samsung is shipping the most phones (see Digital Trends article). The article states, ” Apple accounted for just 6 percent of [world wide] smartphone sales during the quarter, but captured 77 percent of smartphone profits.” That alone is sufficient reason for me to look at other manufacturers when buying a phone.

Samsung:

Among the Android manufacturers, Samsung leads with 17% of the US market. As the top two manufacturers, Samsung and Apple are fighting constantly on several fronts (market share, legal infringement, etc). Both companies are struggling to produce phones that have the best feature set consistent with a price point that appeals to the largest group of consumers.

Samsung’s latest models are also contenders. Both the Galaxy S III & the latest version Galaxy S II have the same 1.5Ghz processor and are otherwise very similar. Both are excellent phones that are often reviewed as being better than the iPhone 5. I used the Galaxy S II for a week or so and I was very pleased with it. The only reason that I returned it was that it was on the T-Mobile network and their coverage in my area is dismal. Further, I was told that the device does not support data roaming onto the AT&T network – even though their contract says it is included.

HTC:

At 14% of the US market, HTC is also a player. I have owned several HTC smartphones. The first was the Cingular 8125 (Wizard). I later owned an AT&T Tilt and a T-Mobile G2. All were quality phones that were on the cutting edge of technology when they were released.

The HTC One(tm) X+ with a Tegra III 1.7GHz quad-core processor and 64GB of internal storage suggest that it is the most powerful – and maybe the best smartphone on the market today! The HTC One(tm) X (without the +) boasts, “Android 4.0-powered smartphone with 1.5 GHz dual-core processor and 4.7-inch HD 720p multi-touch display.” Either of these phones would compare well with any other phone on the market today.

Network: 4G LTE vs 4G HSPA+ 

A major consideration when choosing a mobile phone is the speed of the data connection that serves it. All four major carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, & Sprint) advertise that they have the best, fastest, largest, etc. network. But there is a major confusion about 4G and what it means. The term should mean “4th Generation” of data networks.  By 2013, all major carriers will support Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology on some level. But, at present, T-Mobile does not have any LTE services. Instead, it has built out its 4G HSPA+ network which provides speeds about the same as existing LTE from carriers such as Verizon. The T-Mobile 4G HSPA+ 42 is even faster but is only available in a few major cities. With any of the current “4G” networks, you can expect download speeds of about 3-10 Mbs and up to 42Mbs on T-Mobile’s 4G HSPA+ 42 network.

Carriers, Data Roaming, & Interoperability

With each carrier locking their phones to only work on their own networks, you are almost forced to purchase your phone from the carrier that you intend to use. Voice roaming works on some networks (eg., GSM networks such as AT&T and T-Mobile can voice roam). Data roaming would allow you to use your data connection on another carrier’s data network when you are outside the range of your carrier’s towers. In reality, it just doesn’t work. If you can roam, the data speeds are reduced to the equivalent of old fashioned dial up.

Interoperability is a concept whereby a subscriber’s phone (both voice and data) would work on multiple carriers’ networks. That was one of the main reasons to move to LTE – to eliminate the divide between GSM & CDMA carriers. So far, it is almost non-existent due to the divergent bands that each carrier will operate in. It is my understanding that HSPA+ networks currently interoperate between T-Mobile and AT&T in the US. But it is unclear whether LTE phones will ever work between different carriers.

Price & Carrier Charges

Pre-paid or Post-Paid

In the US, we tend to expect to “buy” a smartphone for about $100 (or even less). There are holiday shopping deals offering GREAT phones for $0.99. The catch is that you must subscribe to a carrier’s services for 24 months. The cost of the phone is subsidized by the carrier. The two-year commitment assures the carrier that they will recoup the subsidized cost of the phone (& much more). To assure that you do not renege on the contract, they lock the phone to only work on their network and set a high ETF (Early Termination Fee) of over $300. This is the Post-Paid system.

In most other parts of the world, you really do “buy” your phone (at the full price) and then choose your carrier. That is possible in the US with an “unlocked” phone. But it is complicated by the lack of interoperability. If you buy a CDMA phone (Verizon, Sprint), it probably will not work on both carriers and definitely will NOT work on the GSM carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile).

You can purchase a Pre-Paid service. But you must be careful that the phone and service are compatible. Currently, for $329, Walmart.com has a bundle including the Samsung Galaxy S II (for T-Mobile) with a $30 airtime card (good for T-Mobile Monthly 4G $30 Unlimited Web & Text with 100 min of talk). You can continue this service for $30 per month. Compare that price to most Post-paid unlimited (but capped to 5GB) plans that run around $80-90 per month (but with unlimited minutes).

Summary of Considerations:

So, which is the very best phone? As I see it…

  • The easiest to use is probably the iPhone 5.
  • The most powerful is the HTC One(tm) +
  • According to the Tech Radar article, the absolute best phone is the Samsung Galaxy S III

But there are a lot of things to consider. Here is my list:

  • Operating System: Android or iOS – I choose Android
  • Manufacturer & Hardware: Processor, Memory, Screen size & resolution, Camera quality (front & rear), and type of keyboard (everything else is pretty standard) – I choose 1.5Ghz, at least 1GB memory, minimum of 4″ & 800×400 screen, at least 8MP camera.
  • Network: 4G HSPA+ or 4G LTE – I choose either
  • Carrier: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, & Sprint – I choose either Verizon or AT&T because, in my area, there is very limited service by the other two carriers.
  • Carrier Locked or Unlocked: I prefer unlocked but I can deal with a locked phone
  • Service: Pre- or Post-Paid – I choose Pre-Paid because I refuse to obligate to a two-year contract at $80 per month (or more).
  • Price: Initial (subsidized) savings or total cost over the two-year life – I choose the lower long-term cost but the initial cost cannot be over $400.

So which phone did I choose?

  • After looking at all the considerations, I chose the Google Nexus 4 (16GB) as the best smartphone for me. I will be writing a review later (it will not delivered for another 4-5 weeks) but for now, here are the primary reasons: Technical specifications are as good or better than all others with the exception of the HTC One(tm) +
  • Photo Sphere Camera for 360 degree panoramas
  • Open (Android) technology and developed by Google so it will be kept updated with the lastest version of Android
  • It is unlocked and can be used on any of multiple carriers
  • Supports HSPA+ for some of the fastest speeds presently available on both AT&T and T-Mobile
  • Has limited support for LTE Band 4 (AWS) – Both AT&T and T-Mobile have some leases in that band+
  • Even though it is not subsidized by a carrier, the price is still within my budget ($363 including tax and shipping)

Which Carrier? I will use the StraightTalkSim.com $45/mo unlimited everything plan. It operates on the AT&T network so it will provide a larger coverage area and UNLIMITED DATA via their HSPA+ network. It MAY also work with their band 4 LTE where that is available.

So, which is the best smartphone for YOU? Leave a comment and tell us what – and why…

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2 Responses to Best Smartphone

  1. Jerry says:

    Just got the galaxy s3 black friday, works awesome, i think it’s the best phone out so far. 215 pages in original manual, will keep me happy a long time… Thank you….

    • Ray says:

      Yep. It is rated as #1 in the world by some reviewers. The new Galaxy S II is almost the same phone. I used the S2 for a week and really liked the phone.

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