Photo: Dan Frommer, The Business Insider
Choosing the right Android phone can be a real bother these days.As Google’s mobile operating system continues to grow, manufacturers are deluging us with choices–and not all of them good ones.
Right now, there are almost 40 Android phones that you can wander in and buy from the big four US carriers. You shouldn’t need to go in blind, so we’re going to go over the best options on each carrier and see what phone comes out on top. Each month, we’re going to list our choices for the best Android phones for each of the big US cellular networks.
Some picks won’t change from month to month, but at the rate new Android phone models are released, we think a monthly update is appropriate.
Read on to find the best current Android phone for your favourite network.
AT&T: The Motorola Atrix 4G
Photo: Steve Kovach, The Business Insider
The nation’s second largest carrier is finally showing Android some love in the wake of the Verizon iPhone. Where your choices used to be very limited, now AT&T has what is shaping up to be an impressive lineup. The HTC Inspire 4G has just launched on the carrier bringing with it Android 2.2 with HTC Sense, a 1GHz next gen Snapdragon SoC, and a 4.3-inch Super LCD screen. As far as manufacturer Android skins go, we think HTC Sense is the best of the bunch. That’s the real advantage the Inspire has. But it can’t compete with the hardware in AT&T’s other hot new phone.
Of course we’re referring to the Motorola Atrix 4G. This handset is rocking the fastest new hardware you can get. The Atrix is using a Nvidia Tegra 2 SoC with two 1GHz cores and GeForce graphics. Customers will also like the qHD resolution (960 x 540) screen with 24-bit colour. The sticking point may be that this phone is running Android 2.2 with the heavier version of MotoBLUR. Motorola’s integrated Blur apps and service can be confusing and really just get in the way. Still, by all accounts this phone is stupid fast.The Atrix also offers some unique docks that you can use to run a webtop experience with a full Firefox browser. Most reviews have found these to be lacking in functionality and too expensive, but judge for yourself. All the customisation Moto has done on the Atrix leads us to believe that updates will be slow to appear for this phone.
Between the Inspire 4G and Atrix, we’d have to give the edge to the Atrix. The faster hardware and better screen are just too tempting. The software on the Inspire is better, but it feels like last year’s model rehashed for a new carrier. The call is closer than it should be because of the software Moto is pushing. The Atrix is $200 on contract, and $500 without. If you think the Atrix isn’t right for you, the HTC Inspire 4G will only cost you $100 on contract, or $400 without.
Verizon: Motorola Droid X
Big Red has been all over Android ever since the original Droid launched in late 2009. To this day, they have perhaps the most impressive lineup of Android phones of any of the carriers. The choice of phones on Verizon is complicated by the upcoming handsets we have seen floating around in recent weeks. None of the Android phones currently available can access Verizon’s new 4G LTE network. Some of Verizon’s phones have cruelly removed Google search from the device, replacing it with Bing. Only with some serious hacking can you get back to a semblance of normality. For us, this rules out multiple handsets.
Even though the Droid X was released last summer, it has aged very well. It currently ships with Android 2.2, but we are confident a Gingerbread update will be pushed out. The Droid X runs a 1GHz OMAP SoC, a 4.3-inch FWVGA screen, and has excellent industrial design. This has proven a popular model, and despite the locked bootloader, modders have managed some impressive customisations.
The other handset you may want to look at is the Droid Incredible. This phone is coming up on a year old now, and may be at end of life soon. But it still holds its own with a 1GHz last gen Snapdragon SoC, Android 2.2 with Sense, a 3.7-inch WVGA Super LCD screen, and an 8MP camera. The reason to go with this phone is the software, which we feel is better than most other phones.
When it really comes down to it, the Droid X will be best for most people. It is fast, well supported, and runs the better Verizon-specific version of Blur. We do want to stress that if you can wait, you might really want to. The HTC Thunderbolt and Droid Bionic are supposed to be out in the next few weeks. Both of these handsets are 4G capable and look great.
T-Mobile: MyTouch 4G
Photo: T-Mobile’s YouTube Channel
The original home of Android is still offering up some great handsets. T-Mobile has an assortment of mid-range phones, and in the last few months they have really stepped it up in the high-end department. Despite a recent and inexplicable price bump, you can still get a good deal on Tmo. If you’re willing to buy from outside the carrier-sanctioned lineup, there is an extra option here as well.
The MyTouch 4G is a popular model on the nation’s smallest carrier. It has a 4.1-inch Super LCD display that looks great, a 1GHz next gen Snapdragon SoC, and HSPA+ connectivity for faster data. The software is a little strange, though. It runs a T-Mobile-specific version of HTC Sense. It has a lot of the enhancements that makes Sense good, but there are some buggy elements here too. For instance, the Genius Button seems like an unnecessary change. The phone itself is light and thin. If you like the slightly funky MyTouch aesthetic, you’ll like this phone. We also think the T-Mobile G2 is an excellent device. This phone runs an 800Mhz next gen Snapdragon SoC, a 3.7-inch Super LCD screen, and stock Android 2.2. The device is a little heavy thanks to the excellent slide-out keyboard. There is also an HSPA+ radio in this phone. The real selling point of this device is the almost completely unmodified stock Android build. Still, if you don’t need the keyboard, it won’t be worth the weight. We expect updates for this phone to be good, but we haven’t seen proof of that yet.
When it comes down to it, the MyTouch 4G is probably a slightly better buy than the G2 for those that don’t need a keyboard. Both these phones were recently increase in price to $250 on a 2-year contract. It’s a bummer, but you can pay a bit more ($500 for the G2 or $450 for the MyTouch) to go contract free. T-Mobile lets you use cheaper plans if you go this route, but you have to buy in the store. If you are not tied to buying direct from your carrier, the Nexus S works on T-Mobile’s 3G network and can be bought from Best Buy. We think this might be the best Android phone out there thanks to its great stock software. Call this an honorable mention.
Sprint: HTC EVO 4G
Sprint is the only carrier currently rolling out a WiMAX network, and they actually have phones that utilise it. Strangely, Sprint has been slower to adopt new handsets in the last few months (for instance, they will still sell you a Hero for an obscene $150 on contract), but they still have some solid choices.
The HTC Evo 4G came out last year, but we still think this is a great phone you should check out. The Evo runs a 1GHz last gen Snapdragon SoC, a 4.3-inch WVGA LCD screen, and a WiMAX radio. This phone continues to be snappy and well supported. If you want to mod it, the community around the Evo is very committed. We can’t be sure about future updates, and that’s really the biggest sticking point for us.If you fancy a physical keyboard, the Samsung Epic 4G and HTC Evo Shift 4G are both good choices. The screen on the Epic is a 4-inch Super AMOLED and it runs a 1GHz Hummingbird SoC. The Shift has a smaller 3.6-inch Super LCD, and a 800MHz next gen Snapdragon SoC. The software loadout on the Shift is HTC Sense, which we like better than the TouchWiz UI on the Epic. Also, the Froyo update on the Epic is currently on hiatus after some serious bugs. The Shift comes with Froyo pre-installed.
We don’t think you should wait around for the Kyocera Echo. If you’re in the market for a Sprint Android phone, get the Evo 4G (yes, still). It can be had for $200 on contract. If you need, or think you’ll want, a keyboard, get the Evo Shift or the Epic 4G, priced at $150 and $200 respectively on contract. You’ll have to decide if the slightly nicer hardware on the Epic is worth the (in our opinion) worse software.
That’s all we have for this time. If you are preparing to buy a new Android phone, clue everyone in on your decision making process in the comments. We’d also like to hear you make a case for any recent purchases you’ve made. Buy smart, everyone.
Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
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