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Buying an Android phone is more complicated than buying an iPhone. If you’ve read our smartphone review and buying guide, then you probably already know that. There are literally thousands of choices, most of which are terrible (but also inexpensive). Homing in on the best requires time, research, consideration and careful balancing of pros and cons listed on hundreds of lengthy reviews.
Or you can read this article and find out everything you need to know in 10 minutes. Your choice!
Standout specs: 1080p display, quad-core processor, 2GB RAM.
Why it’s great: The DNA was the first phone to boast a 5-inch 1080p display – the same resolution used by most modern televisions. To power that crazy resolution, HTC had to pack in a beefy quad-core running at 1.5 GHz, so the phone is as fast as it is beautiful.
Given the specs, and the display size, you might think that DNA is a phablet. That’s not really the case. Though large, this device feels far smaller than the Samsung Galaxy Note both in-hand and in-pocket. HTC also hasn’t designed the phone for use with a stylus, so you won’t find any of the special functionality phablets enable.
Another extra worth note is Beats Audio with built-in amplifier. This is great for audiophiles. Most smartphones lack the grunt needed to properly drive sound through high-end headphones.
Don’t buy it if: You value endurance or expansion. The battery drains quickly when the 1080p display is in use and the DNA lacks both a user-replaceable battery and a SD card slot.
Standout specs: Gigantic 720p display, stylus, quad-core processor, 2GB RAM.
Why it’s great: This phablet proved that some users will happily buy a cross between a smartphone and tablet rather than two separate devices. The fact the Galaxy Note II has excellent hardware no doubt helped the case – inside you’ll find one of the strongest quad-core processors on the market, gobs of RAM, an SD card slot that can handle up to a 64GB card and a huge battery.
And then there’s the stylus. Samsung has found some innovative ways to make it an essential device for texts, document editing and web navigation. There’s no other Android phone that can provide more value to consumers who productivity on-the-go.
Don’t buy it if: You don’t want to carry a tablet in your pocket. Owners often say it’s not that big – don’t believe them. This phone is huge.
Standout specs: Quad-core processor, 2GB RAM, sold unlocked and off-contract.
Why it’s great: The Nexus 4 is the not the first Google phone, but it is the first sold only under Google’s brand rather than piggy-backing on another (Samsung). Unlike most phones, which are sold on contract, the Nexus 4 is sold direct to consumers. Yet at a base price of $300, this phone is only a bit more expensive than devices sold with a contract.
Though far from the only quad-core phone available, the Nexus 4 is available as a quad internationally, unlike some competitors (HTC’s One and Samsung’s S3 are dual-core in North America). The 4.7” display boasts 720p resolution and is powered by the same quad-core found in the HTC DNA. There’s plenty of RAM to go around, too.
Don’t buy it if: You care about download speeds. The Nexus 4 lacks 4G LTE support, so it’s stuck on 3G/HSPA+ (which is often much slower). The Nexus 4 also lacks an SD card slot and user-serviceable battery.
Motorola Droid Razr M
Standout specs: Dual-core processor, 1GB RAM.
Why it’s great: The Razr M isn’t a monster on paper. It “only” has a dual-core processor and one gigabyte of RAM, which means it’s much slower than a quad-core on paper and a bit slower in real-world use.
Yet the Razr M stands out because of what it lacks more than what it has. This is one of the few remaining flagship-quality Android phones to offer a 4.3-inch display. And, because of its almost paper-thin display bezels, the Razr M is actually similar in size to an iPhone 5. If you want a good Android smartphone, but don’t want to go big, this is your best option.
And since you’re receiving less, you pay for less. This phone is often available for $50-$100 on contract and is $549 off-contract. The other phones here range from $649 to $799 off-contract.
Don’t buy it if: You care about specifications. There’s nothing in the Razr M that pushes the boundaries of what is possible in a smartphone.
Two More Phones To Watch
You may notice the lack of two important phones on this list. They are the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the HTC One X.
Both of these phones aren’t included because they’re about to be replaced with their successors, the Galaxy S4 and HTC One. Though they come from different manufacturers the phones are similar in many respects. Both offer large displays with full 1080p resolution, quad-core processors (though the Galaxy S4 will have an octo-core in some markets), and 2GB of RAM.
Still, there are some differences. HTC will offer a Super LCD display that is brighter and more accurate than the AMOLED technology used by the S4. Yet Samsung keeps the upper hand in expandability as the Galaxy S4 will offer an SD card slot and user serviceable battery, features the HTC One will lack. And then there’s the price. The HTC One will hit at $199 on-contract while the S4 is expected to be $249. Off-contract pricing remains unclear.
You should wait until full reviews come in for these new phones before buying. This is true even if you want a Samsung Galaxy S3 or HTC One X. The older phones will be discounted once the new models are available.