It's a near-weekly occurrence: HTC, or Motorola, or someone releases a brand-new Android phone. There are a ton of them! But really, there are only a few worth buying. Here are the best Android phones on each carrier.
Choosing an Android phone is just like choosing any other cellphone, except easier: You're already onboard with the Android operating system, you're prepared to shell out for a data plan, and probably have a more specific idea of what you want in a phone than your average buyer. Accordingly, similar rules apply:
• Don't buy something that's going to be obsolete before you're halfway through your contract.
• Generally, ignore the upfront price—the total tally for your cellphone contract is going to make your smartphone's $200 seem like spare change.
• Look forward. Google updates their Android software at a breakneck pace. This is awesome if your phone is ready for the upgrades, and demoralizing if it isn't—and a lot of current handsets are getting left behind. This has serious implications in terms of app compatibility—do you really want to buy a phone that can't even run Google's Navigation software?
So! The calculus is simple: Buy the Android phone that is objectively one of the best, or you'll probably regret it. Here are your choices:
T-Mobile is the grandfather of all things Android. They had the first phone! And the second. (Also, did you know they're still selling the G1, right now? Nuts.) It's weird, then, that their Android line has thinned down into an anemic, uninspiring mishmash of oldish hardware and Android's few legitimate pariahs. Luckily, they've got a savior outside of their official lineup: The Nexus One.
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It's the best Android phone that you can buy today, and that's saying a lot: It's got a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, and beautiful AMOLED screen, Android 2.1 and a bright future for software upgrades, since, after all, it's the Google Phone. It retails for $180 with contract or $530 without, at Google.
If you need a keyboard, go with the Motorola Cliq, at $150. It's far from futureproof, though, with and older generation of hardware and a certain delay for software upgrades, since Motorola needs to update their Motoblur software shell for any new OS releases. Stick with the Nexus One if you can.
Sprint rode the crest of the second Android wave, landing the America version of the well-reviewed HTC Hero. Then, like T-Mobile, their lineup started to look less and less competitive, as phones like the Droid came to market. Now, they're back out in front with the HTC Evo, the first 4G handset in the US, and by far the most impressive Android phone available.
It's got a 4.3-inch screen, HTC's generally helpful Sense Android interface, an 8MP camera, and what the hell, a kickstand. 4G's only a selling point if you live within Sprint's limited WiMax coverage area, but if you do, you can use the Evo's hotspot feature to share the connection with a handful of other devices over Wi-Fi. And even without 4G, it's still king of the hill. Minor catch: It's not out yet. It's expected in June, when it'll probably cost $200—though it could conceivably be higher.
If you need a keyboard, you're nearly out of luck on Sprint. You could go with the Samsung Moment, but really, you shouldn't. Nut up and deal with the soft keyboard—on a 4.3-inch screen, it's really not that big of a deal.
AT&T got into the Android game late, and they started with a spread of mid-level phones, like the Backflip, and soon, the Dell Aero. But as with T-Mobile, your best option lies outside of AT&T: The AT&T-compatible Nexus One.
But there's a much larger catch this time around: It's $530. There is no on-contract option, so your phone won't be subsidized. On the plus side, you won't be stuck in any kind of contract at all if you're already an AT&T customer, but still, steep.
So here, your second choice, the Backflip, may seem a bit more compelling. Not only does it have a keyboard, but it'll only run you $100, and it's due for the 2.1 update sooner rather than later. But again, consider what you're getting yourself into. Two years with a phone you don't really want isn't worth saving a few hundred dollars, and signing a new blood contract with your carrier—you can always resell the Nexus One!
Verizon took Android mainstream with the Droid, which, up until the Nexus One came out, was the best Android piece you could buy. Today, they've done themselves one better with the HTC Droid Incredible, which matches or beats the Nexus One (which, by the way, both Sprint and Verizon are due to get sometime soon) in almost every respect.
It's got a 480x800 AMOLED screen, a Snapdragon processor (like the Nexus One) and an 8MP camera, to start. It's due on April 29th.
If you want a keyboard, though, the original Droid is still a reasonable choice. Obsolescence isn't something you have to worry about in the near-term, and it's generally been quick to receive major software updates. It can be had for significantly under its $200 retail price, too.
You may have noticed a theme here: All of the top phones are made by HTC, and all of these phones share similar spec sheets—in fact, they all run on Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor, which is, for now, the fastest available. The downside is a lack of diversity; the upside, though, is that no single carrier has that much of a hardware advantage, so you shouldn't feel the need to switch carriers.