Christmas is approaching faster than ever and if the snow has once more failed to make an appearance, gifts have never disappointed us. With only a few days remaining until Santa will buckle up and visit those who were nice this year, we’ve thought of lending the big guy a help and present a small, but comprehensive collection of this year’s best choices. Those who plan to buy a smartphone as a gift for the Holidays, the guide detailed below can help you make a choice.
While most buyers look for the best smartphone on the market, there are lots of people who also search for a good offer during this madness-buying season. While Black Friday has passed for some without any acquisitions, this is the period when you must take advantage of existing offers and purchase a brand new phone, for you or for the loved ones.
Top segment: powerful, more expensive smartphones
In this segment we have chosen the most valuable smartphones on the market, for those with a budget above average. While there may be other names that have been proven to be technically more powerful than those presented in the list, please note that this is not a reminder of the best smartphones, but a buying guide with the most note-worthy offers on the market right now.
Apple’s latest creation, the iPhone 5, is definitely a smartphone worth mentioning right before Christmas, especially because it is still the most desired phone and brand of the year. While the competition has become stiffer than ever, Apple has managed to spark interest using a brand new design, premium materials and an operating system with lots of improvements.
The iPhone 5 has a blazing fast processor, a slimmer but elongated form and a light-weight body. Besides being easy to hold, the phone has LTE connectivity integrated in such manners that the battery life is not greatly affected and the user can actually download major applications / games in only minutes. Speaking of apps, the Apple store has around 700,000 of names listed, being a collection greater even than Google’s.
Improvements have also been made in the camera module, where the new iSight version takes pictures much faster and snaps can be made lightning-quick. Quality has also been improved in voice calls, the new device coming with noise-cancelling microphones.
As for disadvantages:
- Siri is still unreliable in some cases
- The new Maps app has a lot of things to fix before it becomes usable
- The aluminum back becomes hot during intensive usage and can be easily scratched
- Some users have issues with Wi-Fi connectivity and even battery life
Price: Around $600, but it depends on your carrier’s offer
HTC Droid DNA
HTC’s monster flagship was released a couple of weeks ago and since then reviewers have marked it as a bold attempt of dethroning every other phablet on the market. The device comes with a light and stylish body, made out of a solid plastic material with a soft-touch finish and perforated side panels. Like the Samsung Galaxy S3, the Droid DNA comes with a multicolor LED placed on the back of the phone which reacts accordingly to different notifications. HTC wanted this phone to look and feel like a sports car, and in many ways, this has been accomplished.
When it comes to other technical intrigues, the Droid DNA excels in the display segment, where the 5-inch wide panel supplies a FULL HD resolution with crisp density and premium viewing angles. The 8-megapixel front-facing shooter stands out in the crowd thanks to the wide field of view (88 degrees) and premium picture quality due to a quad-core processor and ImageChip technology, as long as there is sufficient light in the room.
Another advantage of this Android wonder would be the OS version itself, Jelly Bean 4.1.1, and the fact that this phone is deemed to receive the next few Google updates. Pairing this with wonderful 4G/LTE connectivity, this phone is the perfect choice for someone looking to watch a couple of Full HD movies or even play high definition games, besides using the device as a regular cellphone.
The HTC Droid DNA also comes with a few drawbacks:
- The plastic design can be easily impregnated with fingerprints or damaged by pocket lint / dust.
- The phone cannot be used with one hand (comfortable, at least) and the power button is placed badly
- The flap covering the microUSB port is frustrating to use
- Lack a dedicated camera button
- Removing the SIM card is not easily made
- Camera falls short in low-light
- HTC Sense 4+ interface slows the handset
- The battery cannot be swapped and although it has 2,020 mAh, it doesn’t survive a full day use
Price: Around 470 euros, again, you’ll get a better price with a carrier plan
Nokia Lumia 920
Nokia Lumia 920 is Microsoft’s best bet for this Holiday season. Described by some as the monster truck of smartphones, this wonder of Nokia comes as a revitalization of the Lumia line and as a significant member of the Windows Phone 8 crew. While some users have found this phone to be a bit larger than normally, we consider it to be the perfect symbiosis between a smartphone and a tablet, but not a phablet, in the mean time.
For starters, the Lumia 920 comes with a bulky design, a heavy body (185 grams) and a 4.5-inch wide display. It has the advantage of being the first dual-core smartphone from Nokia which embeds a note-worthy graphical processing unit under the eye-catching design that make a breakthrough in a sea of brick-like models.
Nokia’s Lumia 920 has a few tricks up the sleeve, which can be seen as a quick and responsive user interface, a camera that fairs well in low-light scenarios and while taking dynamic pictures, a very fast browser and a more-than-decent battery. Although this phone comes with LTE connectivity, designers have optimized the antenna so well that users can get a full day out of the device even with 4G activated. When the battery is out of juice, charging can be done without wires.
As the tradition accustomed us, Nokia is the magician when it comes to hardware parts. In this creation, manufacturers have included a top-notch display that can even detect fingernails or gloves under high-sensitivity settings, while displaying the best of colors. The camera is astonishing, the processor is responsive and Windows Phone 8 seems to be exactly what Microsoft needs right now to make a breakthrough. As a bonus, the partnership between these two companies also generated unique features, like a layer of public transit lines for the Maps app.
- Too big for some
- Lack of applications in the Microsoft Marketplace
- No SD slot card
Price: Around 460 euros, different with your carrier
Samsung Galaxy Note II
Forget about the monster truck of phones, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is a giant of the new millennium. The device features high-end specifications, like a quad-core Exynos processor clocked at 1.6 GHz and 2GB of RAM, a massive 5.5-inch wide Super AMOLED display, a whopping battery and a quality camera – and this is just above the surface.
This smartphone/wanabe tablet comes with a high quality display that renders colors like no other in a 276 PPI pixel density, making even app icons look crisp and pictures catching life. Every move made on the sensitive LCD resembles a 3D motion-picture, where items are brought forward and the difference between the background and the foreground becomes palpable. The overall performance is great, with few apps causing small problems for this phone, while warping through the interface is smooth and virtually without notice.
All of these features become even more vivid when the Galaxy Note 2 is actually used for getting some work done on the move, using the new S Pen and a wide range of integrated features. We have all seen the commercial where the guy clips a part of the photo and attaches it into a blog post in matters of second, and we vouch that the same thing can happen in the real world.
The Galaxy Note 2 excels in performance, software wonders, camera quality (it has the same sensor as the Samsung Galaxy S3) and the battery life is more than pleasant, at least without LTE activated. It’s the perfect choice for those who like gaming, but the phone aims primarily at workaholics.
- TouchWiz interface can sometimes cause headaches, disruptions and other unpleasant disasters
- It’s certainly the biggest device of this year, making it not so appealing to some
- Samsung still sticks to hardware buttons
- Some versions of the phone (T-Mobile) have no multi-window view, or LTE
- The phone comes with 16 bloatware apps, which are a bit useless
Price: Around 490 euros
LG Nexus 4
Last but not least, the LG Nexus 4 will be indeed something to look forward this Christmas. Those who will bypass Google’s own drawbacks in the whole buying process (the phone is out of stock since launch) will be the lucky owners of a high-end smartphone, purchased at a very appealing price.
The LG Nexus 4 stands out thanks to a wonderful design with rubberized edges, back-plate covered with glass and a body that feels like it loves to be touched. It’s a phone that gives owners a feeling that they have purchased the newest, thanks to some cool features like wireless charging (which can be done using an orb-like kit) and the stylish design.
Another strong point of this smartphone is the cutting-edge software, Android 4.2, which comes with notable improvements such as:
- Enhanced Google Now assistant
- Virtual keyboard with detection for gestures (just like Swype)
- 360 degree pictures and cool settings panel
- New clock application
- Lockscreen widgets
- Revamped Gallery app
Underneath the surface hides a strong 1.5GHz quad-core processor that manages to do every job with smoothness, especially when it comes to gaming. Those who like to take pictures in the most dreaded scenarios can now do so even in less than ideal lightning conditions, thanks to the new HDR setting implanted in the camera sensor. A sensor which also renders regular images in great resolutions.
At the end of the day, the LG Nexus 4 is the perfect choice for someone looking for the best and the cheapest, but take note that Google planned this device as a Cloud lover, so unless you attach a great data plan or limit your media usage, it would not suffice.
- Low memory: the 8GB model has only around 5GB of usable memory – but this can be bypassed
- It can be easily scratched
- Because the speaker is placed on the back, sound is covered when the phone is on-top of a surface
- The corners of the screen can be accessed difficulty with one hand
- Volume buttons are not very distinctive
- Minor issues with autofocus
- Lacks LTE connectivity in USA
- No SD card
Price: $299 for the 8GB version, $349 for 16GB.
Mid-range: good results at an efficient price
While the top segment usually has names that sell at $500 or even higher, the mid-range is meant for those who do not want a phone that’s going to be outdated in one year and look for something more budget-friendly, that can suffice in usual tasks without exceeding in any area, whatsoever.
Nokia Lumia 820
While the Lumia 820 has always been seen as the smaller sister of the monster smartphone presented above, differences are present in many aspects besides size alone. I personally prefer this phone instead of the 920, because it comes with rounded edges, a smaller 4.3-inch screen, specifications that can be used without cares and some tricks to sparkle interest.
For instance, the Lumia 820 features exchangeable covers, meaning that once you’ve got bored by the stock color you can change it for a few bucks. Using this concept, users can also add wireless charging and NFC capabilities, making it a great option for future customizers. As a bonus, this phone also comes with Windows Phone 8, just like its bigger sibling. Like with any budget-friendly phone, the difference in price is seen in a weaker display (WVGA OLED with no Gorilla glass) and a weaker camera sensor.
Price: Around 370 euros.
HTC One S
HTC One S is one of those smartphones that have become outdated through the pass of time and since February, the month when HTC launched this baby, the One S became a viable option for many. The HTC One S has the advantage of being built using premium materials and under a very classy design. Although it follows HTC’s tradition of making several smartphones that sometimes cannot be distinguished one from another, the One S has a pleasant form and a nice engine under the cover.
Technically, this model embeds a fast dual-core processor and a graphical unit that can render most games, while the camera has an eyebrow-raising resolution of 8 megapixels and high video possibilities. The phone itself comes packing Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but users can easily update it to 4.1 Jelly Bean and take advantage of software improvements.
The only drawbacks we’ve found is the lack of the standard card slot and the fact that 16GB of memory are sometimes to less, in such crowded atmospheres. All other features (battery, headphones, sensors, browser), except HTC’s UI, have been found adequate.
Price: Around 320 euros.
Lenovo S880 (yes, Lenovo, as in the laptop maker) is a budget attempt at creating a phablet to compete directly with the original Samsung Galaxy Note, incorporating a decent 5-inch wide display and other technical tricks, like dual-SIM capabilities. Under the hood you will find a single-core processor clocked at 1GHz, a 2250 mAh battery and a camera that can suffice for those not as demanding.
The phone is mainly built out of durable plastic and although the body conceals a wide display, Lenovo has managed to keep the total form slim and easy to carry. Software wise, Lenovo has integrated a few helpful applications on top of the Android 4.0 platform and the general feeling of the OS is smooth.
The main attraction of this wonder is the Dual SIM with Dual-Standby feature, which allows two numbers to be integrated and both are active at the same time. Users receive calls and messages on both SIMs, and when something goes out of the terminal you have the option of choosing the source. The only disadvantage of this process is the fact that only one SIM will run on 3G, while the other will be limited at 2G.
Price: Around 280 Euros.
While manufactures have baptized this device as the Windows Phone 8S, we kindly recommend it as HTC 8S and as a viable option for someone looking for great results, at a discounted price. In a few words, the HTC 8S comes with a 4-inch wide WVGA screen, a dual-core S4 processor clocked at 1.0 GHz, a 5-megapixel shooter, 512 MB of RAM and only 4GB of storage.
Manufactures have chosen other aspects, besides technical, to market this phone and this can be seen in the inclusion of the Beats Audio technology and in other small tricks.
Price: Around 280 euros.
Huawei Ascend P1
The Ascend P1 is the first high-power Huawei model that hit UK and since launch it has been bragged as a pretty decent smartphone. Launched in May this year, the P1 brings a skinned version of Android 4.0 in a package designed for performance, with a high frequency dual-core processor and enough RAM power to play most games.
Out of all the models presented here, the Ascend P1 is one of the most powerful and in some countries, certainly the most expensive. The handset comes with a powerful camera sensor that can make pictures with an 8-megapixel resolution and capture videos with Full HD resolution. Another plus of this variant is the 4.3-inch wide screen with a 256 PPI pixel density (Retina-like), which is offered protection thanks to the Cornering Gorilla Glass screen.
After using the Ascend P1 you will find that the 7.7mm slim body costs users the advantage of removing the battery and, for some, the curse of a sealed chassis. Although it has its downsides, the Ascend P1 can be bragged as a sturdy and durable smartphone, with a candy-bar design that also has room for rounded edges. Unfortunately, Huawei has modified the Android keyboard in matters not so pleasing, while some features as the spellchecker are impossible to use.
P.S: Huawei fans can also wait the Ascend G330 smartphone, which is said to drop anytime this month in the Great Britain.
Price: Around 450 euros
Low end: possibly your first smartphone
In this section you will find options for those who haven’t yet upgraded to the smartphone world, but are dying to do so. Some of these phones may represent the birth of today’s era, while others can be integrated in the Featured phone category, where regular models have met advanced options such as a map application or multitasking. All, at low prices.
Samsung Galaxy Ace 2
The Galaxy Ace 2 comes with the traditional sleek look of Samsung and materials not to be shy with. The phone has a moderate dual-core processor and a camera that can capture most instances, in decent conditions. Although the quality of the materials used impress us at this low-budget price, one of the major flaws of the Galaxy Ace 2 is the operating system: Android 2.3.
Price: Around 210 euros
LG Optimus L3
Coming as the modest LG variant in the L collection, the Optimus L3 is compact and lightweight and provides everything smartphone owners need, but fails to impress in every chapter. The strong points of this handset are the large battery which can last several days, a quite fast processor clocked at 800 MHz and 1GB of internal storage. Unfortunately, it comes with a low-quality display and several interface issues.
Price: Around 90 euros
Nokia Lumia 510
The Lumia 510 is an affordable member of the Lumia crew, which comes with a quite responsive processor and a solid build quality. The phone has a 4.0-inch wide display that can be used for reading and playing games with proper quality and several unique applications like Maps and Music which certainly bring a plus. However, due to the low amount of RAM and the old components, the handset feels a bit underpowered and comes with an extremely low storage amount. Also, the Windows Phone 7.5 OS may feel limited, especially in matters of applications.
Price: Around 150 euros
Sony Xperia U
The Sony Xperia U impresses the audience with a 3.5-inch wide screen of great quality (for this price) and a dual-core processor that runs Android without a hitch. Because the display is rather small for today’s terms, the phone is granted a great battery life and awesome reactions. The only real disadvantage can be met in the storage section (only 4GB with no SD card possibilities) and the low resolution camera.
Price: Around 160 euros
Micromax A87 Ninja 4.0
The wonder of India, as we like to call Micromax Ninja 4.0, comes with a Snapdragon single-core processor clocked at 1 GHz and the latest version of Gingerbread as the operating system (Android 2.3.5). It comes with a 4-inch wide display, a low-quality camera sensor and great storage options (up to 32GB with a microSD card). Those who love to mess with smartphones can even root this one and make it play HD games like Temple Run, as long as they increase the amount of RAM.
Disadvantages can be found in the lack of Android upgrades, the small amount of internal memory (only 130 MB) and RAM (256 MB).
Price: Around 90 euros.
Nokia Asha 205/206
At the end of this November, Nokia has yet more introduced a few members into the Asha family, known as the Nokia 205 and 206. These products can hardly be called smartphones, but manufacturers seem to have baptized them as Feature phones – something extra than a regular cellphone.
In a few words, both handsets come with 64MB of internal memory, a 2.4inch wide screen with low resolutions and cameras with the lowest resolutions (0.3 megapixels and 1.3 ). As a plus over conventional devices, both models come with a new Slam feature to pair devices over Bluetooth and a microSD extension that can accommodate up to 32GB of storage. Also, a dedicated Facebook button has been integrated, to cope with the existing demand.
Price: Around $60