Two devices might seem like equally good buys, but that's not necessarily the case. Perhaps one of them is older and nearing end of life, or maybe the screen will disappoint you when you get it out from under those bright lights in the store. With dozens of Android phones lined up on each carrier, you should be cautious when signing up for a new contract. That's what the monthly Android device roundup is all about. Helping you make the right call.
This month AT&T has an embarrassment of riches, Verizon pushes the new Galaxy, T-Mobile can't catch a break, and Sprint is still betting on LTE.
There was a stretch not long ago when AT&T was really lagging behind in Android phones. It was getting old to keep recommending the Galaxy S2 and the Galaxy Note. Now here we are with plenty of great phones to choose from. Last month we looked at the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the HTC One X. This time, I’m throwing something new into the mix: the Motorola Atrix HD. There are a lot of commonalities among these devices, so let’s organize this by the specs.
All three of these devices run identical Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chips. That means dual-core 1.5GHz and a killer LTE radio. The speed of these devices should not be a problem. The RAM is set at 1GB on both the Atrix HD and the HTC One X. The Galaxy S3, however, has 2GB of RAM, but most of the extra is reserved for TouchWiz enhancements.
The screens are all a little different on these phones, despite the identical resolution -- all three phones are 1280x720 (720p). The Atrix uses a solid 4.5-inch LCD panel with “ColorBoost,” which is probably just some minimal post-processing color enhancement. The HTC One X uses a very good 4.7-inch gapless Super LCD2 panel. The Galaxy S3 packs a 4.8-inch Super AMOLED HD panel with PenTile sub-pixels. I’ve stuck my eyeball up to all three of these screens, and the One X is clearly the best. The Atrix HD is actually more impressive than I expected, though. The Galaxy S3 is good, but there is a little PenTile fringing visible. It’s not quite as good as the other two.
The One X and Atrix HD are both sealed, with non-removable batteries. All three of these devices have 16GB of internal storage, and there is a more expensive 32GB Galaxy S3. The Atrix and Galaxy S3 also have MicroSD slots. I find the HTC One X has reason to be sealed up because that unibody design is absolutely phenomenal. The Galaxy S3 is fairly good looking as well. The Atrix HD, however, is a little boring. It’s got the same rounded corners as the last Atrix, and the Kevlar back with upper camera bump is a little old hat.
The HTC One X and Galaxy S3 have excellent cameras. Great colors and sharpness. I’m always impressed that the Galaxy S3 in particular can take fairly good shots in very dark environments. The Atrix HD has a lacking camera by comparison. It shoots acceptable images, but the colors are a little washed out. All three are 8MP shooters, but it’s not all about the numbers.
Finally, it comes to the software. HTC and Samsung both make fairly extreme changes to Android 4.0. HTC Sense is better than it once was, but there are unnecessary changes to almost all the apps. It’s not better -- just different. I’m also very unhappy with the way HTC implemented the on-screen menu button. Samsung’s TouchWiz is better than Sense, but not dramatically better. It seems to work with Android more than it overpowers it.
I have to commend Motorola for its new Android skin. It works so well with Android 4.0 that it’s almost like using stock. The colors are as Google intended, and the home screen is very clean. The Atrix also uses on-screen buttons -- I’m very in favor of on-screen buttons. This is how Android 4.0 is supposed to work.
This is complicated situation. The software is best on the Atrix. The camera is great on the Galaxy S3 and the One X. The internal hardware is essentially the same. On the topic of screens, the One X runs away with it. The Atrix is next, and the GS3 is just a little behind.
The One X is currently on sale for $99; the same as the Atrix HD. The Galaxy S3 is still $199. If it were me, I’d really consider the Atrix HD because of the software. If you can deal with the good-not-great camera, and possibility that it won’t get much update attention, get that. If you want better snapshots and more future-proofing, get the Galaxy S3. I feel like HTC’s ongoing sales issues might be a problem for updates on the One X going forward, which is why I’m leaning toward the other devices this month.
Lastly, even though there are three great devices on AT&T, you might consider the Galaxy Nexus on Google Play. This is the official Nexus phone and it runs Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean. You can’t say that about any other device right now.
The sentence after this one is going to surprise you. I think it’s time to stop buying the Galaxy Nexus on Verizon. I’ve recommended it heartily for months on the basis of its software. But it’s getting long in the tooth and you can have good experiences with other devices. Verizon also seems reluctant to get more official updates out the door. The Nexus should only be purchased by those that need an open phone for modding.
In that same vein, the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx is getting to be less of a good deal all the time. I’m including it here on the basis of its one major feature: the killer battery life. The Razr Maxx is a sealed device with a non-removable 3300mAh battery. It will run for a few days with moderate usage before it begs for a charge.
Internally, the Razr Maxx has an OMAP4430, a dual-core chip clocked at 1.2GHz. This is definitely a last-generation ARM chip. There is also 1GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage with an included 16GB microSD card.
The screen on the Maxx is a little lackluster by today’s standards. It is a 4.3-inch qHD (960x540) AMOLED panel with a pretty noticeable PenTile matrix. It is okay at arm’s length, but fuzzier than the competition. The thin AMOLED panel has allowed the device to stay very thin, despite the massive battery. The overall design is not bad, but it’s slightly awkward to hold.
On the software front, the Maxx has a very good Ice Cream Sandwich update. This is basically the same software from the Atrix HD on AT&T. It’s very close to stock Android, and feels very smooth. Motorola isn’t just changing Android to be different -- it is adding features. The Razr Maxx is still selling for $299 on contract, though.
The other main competitor on Verizon is the Samsung Galaxy S3. Like the other versions of this device, it runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core chip, at 1.5GHz per core. The built-in LTE radio has excellent reception. The Galaxy S3 also has 2GB of RAM on Verizon. Unlike the other versions of this device, the Big Red Galaxy S3 has a locked and encrypted bootloader. That means no modding, unless you buy the special developer edition for full price from Samsung.
The screen here is identical to the other new Galaxy phones; a 4.8-inch 720p Super AMOLED HD panel with PenTile. I think this screen looks fine, and it’s markedly better than the Droid Razr Maxx display. The body of the phone is sleek, with no sharp corners. Some people like the design, and others not so much. I think the white model is great looking, but the blue version looks cheap.
Samsung’s new version of TouchWiz is on board the GS3, and it’s fairly good. I’m not really a fan of S Voice, but some of the other features, like Smart Stay, are quite cool. When compared to many Android skins, the new TouchWiz is preferable, but it’s not as good as Motorola’s close to stock Android 4.0 skin. As an addendum, the battery life isn’t as great on the GS3 as it is on the Maxx, but it’s still very good without needing a giant battery. You can also swap out the battery if you need to. The Galaxy S3 is $199 for the 16GB unit.
Between these two, you ought to get the Samsung Galaxy S3 because of the better screen, faster internals, and better support going forward.
Little T-Mobile has continued to struggle as of late to keep subscribers. Its 4G network plans are lagging far behind. It plans to start rolling out 4G LTE in some markets sometime in the first half of 2013. As such, you’re stuck on HSPA+ pseudo-4G until then. The selection of phones has also not changed much in the last month or two. There are still two devices you need to consider on Tmo: the HTC One S, and the Samsung Galaxy S3.
The HTC Ones S ia a really beautiful phone. Despite some shortcomings that I’ll get to in due course, the One S is much more attractive than the Samsung device. The One S has a unibody design constructed largely from anodized aluminum, and it’s just 7.9mm thick. It’s sealed, so the battery is not removable.
The One S has the now familiar Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip along with 1GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and no SD card slot. The screen is the real sticking point here. HTC went with a 4.3-inch AMOLED panel that clocks in at qHD resolution, just like the Droid Razr Maxx. It looks passable, but I can definitely make out some PenTile fringing around text and icons.
The software is identical to what you’d expect from any new HTC device. It has Android 4.0 with HTC Sense on top. I’m not thrilled with the heavy skinning most apps have gotten, but the refreshed home screen is so much better than older versions of Sense. I’m also not as into the way the theme was applied to UI elements like the app drawer. Still, it has all the essential Android 4.0 features. The interface on the One S is also very fast, possibly because it’s pushing fewer pixels. The One S is $199 with a new contract.
Can you guess what the other top device on T-Mobile is right now? If you said “the Galaxy S3,” you are right. I’ll just say upfront that this one is hardly even a contest. The HTC One S is clearly a mid-range phone, while the Galaxy S3 is a flagship. The fact that there is really only one top-of-the-line device on T-Mobile is a little sad.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 on T-Mobile is every bit as snappy as its cousins on other networks. The Snapdragon S4 inside is great, but there is no 4G LTE network for the device to connect to. The Qualcomm radio won’t even support the right bands for T-Mobile’s eventual 4G network. You do at least get 2GB of RAM, and your choice of 16 or 32GB of storage.
So the internals are very close to the One S, but the screen puts it to shame. The 4.8-inch Super AMOLED HD panel is 720p, and the PenTile on this screen is nowhere near as noticeable as it is on the One S. While I think the One S is beautiful, the Galaxy S3 in white isn’t bad.
The software situation should be familiar by now; it’s either HTC Sense or Samsung’s TouchWiz. TouchWiz is a lighter skin that preserves more of the colors from ICS, and it feels more familiar to anyone used to stock Android. All that extra RAM helps Samsung run its unique features without impacting performance negatively.
The pricing for the Galaxy S3 is odd on T-Mobile. It’s $279 for the 16GB device, and a whopping $329 for the 32GB. That’s a lot of scratch when compared to the other carriers. Even at the inflated price, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is the phone to get on T-Mobile.
Additionally, you can still get an unlocked Galaxy Nexus from Google Play. It’s only $350, and you don’t need to have sign contract. This device has Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, and it’s really wonderful software.
Those of you on Sprint are in s tricky situation. The carrier is moving away from WiMAX as a 4G standard, and rolling out LTE. Any device you get will be packing LTE, but Sprint’s LTE network is still in its early phase of rollout. For most of you, that means you’re stuck on Sprint’s incredibly slow 3G EvDO data. If that doesn’t scare you away, you’ve still got two devices to choose from: the HTC Evo 4G LTE, and the Samsung Galaxy S3.
Sprint’s new Evo is an interesting device. On the inside, this is essentially the One X from AT&T. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip and 1GB of RAM. On the outside, it has been tweaked to look more like the Evo line of devices, which is sad because the One series has really excellent industrial design.
The screen on the Evo 4G LTE is at least the same stellar Super LCD2 panel from the One X. This is a 4.7-inch 720p gapless display and it looks amazing. Just like the other newer HTC phones, the casing is sealed, and the battery is not user-replaceable (it’s fairly big at 2000mAh, though). The device has just 16GB of storage, but there is also a microSD card slot.
I had a chance to play with an Evo 4G LTE a while back, and I’ll say that it does look better in person than it does in pictures. The back is half glossy and half matte, but there is a sweet kickstand. I love kickstands. Still, it’s much more boring than the One X is. The 8MP camera on the back is excellent, though.
As for the software, you guessed it -- Android 4.0 with HTC Sense. The Samsung Galaxy S3 runs TouchWiz, so let’s just compare them right now. It’s a deathmatch happening on the other carriers above, but what it comes down to is that TouchWiz is a little more stock than Sense. HTC has skinned Android more heavily, and I don’t much care for the Sense keyboard. TouchWiz has some goofy color choices, but it preserves more of what makes Android 4.0 attractive. The Evo 4G LTE is $199 from Sprint.
As for the Samsung Galaxy S3, it’s as good on Sprint as it is on other carriers, and it might even taste some LTE in the future. The Galaxy S3 on Sprint is, yet again, running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4. The screen is the same great 4.8-inch 720p Super AMOLED HD panel. Also inside are 2GB of RAM.
The device feels good in the hand, but overwhelmingly plasticky. Again, the white version is nicer looking than the blue. Because HTC opted to go with the Evo design on its device, I’d place the two phones on the same level as far as industrial design goes. It’s not the hardware, but the software that differentiates these phones. The Galaxy S3 is also going for $199.99 for the 16GB version, but $249.99 for the 32GB. On the basis of the software, and my suspicion that the GS3 will be better supported in the future, I think that’s the phone to get on Sprint.
That's it for the picks this month, As you can tell, Samsung is killing it right now. Other OEMs appear to be shying away from direct competition for now, but the Galaxy S3 is a great phone. Those of you on a GSM network, don't discount the unlocked Galaxy Nexus, either!