Just like every month, there are plenty of Android phones on the market. The specs can be hard to decipher and you never know if in-store reps are being straight with you. Don’t worry, though. Tested had your back. It’s time to evaluate the entirety of the Android device exosystem to help you find the best phones.
This month the Galaxy S3 hits, Apple's legal assault presents uncertainty, and Snapdragon rules the roost.
Like most carriers, AT&T has a shiny new Samsung galaxy S3 for sale, but it also has the HTC One X. HTC’s device is a little bit older, but still competes well with the Galaxy S3. You can only have one, so which is the best?
Let’s start with the HTC One X, which came out a few months ago. The first thing anyone will notice about the One X is that it is absolutely gorgeous. The white version of this phone knocks my socks off every time I see it. Everything about the design of this device seems well thought-out and without compromise.
The back of this phone wraps around and frames a great 4.7-inch Super LCD 2 at 1280x720. This panel doesn’t use PenTile, so the screen looks absolutely perfect. Hands down, this is the best display on a phone right now. It even has that gapless thing going on, so you can tilt the phone to the side, and the screen doesn’t distort.
On the inside, the One X is still really good, but essentially par for the course these days. The AT&T version of the One X ditches the Tegra 3 for a Snapdragon S4, a dual-core SoC at 1.5GHz per core. Even though there are only two cores to Tegra’s 4, this chip is more than powerful enough. The two Krait cores are much more advanced than the Cortex-A9 cores in the Tegra. Snapdragon also plays nice with the Qualcomm LTE radio inside the One X.
Also in the One X are 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Sadly, no SD card slot here, and some users will find 16GB too constraining. The 8MP images from the rear camera will also take up space. It has improved low-light performance with f/2.0 aperture, so you might find more reason to use it. There is also a 1.3MP front camera.
For reasons that will become apparent soon, the software is going to be important in your decision-making process. This is Android 4.0.3 with HTC Sense 4. Overall, I like Sense on the One X. There are fewer unnecessary gradients, and shiny buttons to contend with. Sense fits more with the minimalistic Ice Cream Sandwich aesthetic. It still feel like Sense, though. Some Android purists won’t much care for that. I am however not fond of the menu bar popup that you get in legacy apps.
The One X is $199.99 on contract, and you won’t regret buying it.
The other main contender is, of course, the Samsung Galaxy S3. While the Galaxy S3 doesn’t look as good in pictures as the One X, I will say that it has its appeal in-person. The entire phone is glossy plastic, so it’s a bit of a fingerprint magnet. There are no sharp corners anywhere, and I find that it fits in the hand very well. There are the standard blue and white versions of the device, but there is also a special red edition of the GS3 on AT&T.
The screen Samsung has gone with is maybe a little disappointing. It’s a 4.8-inch Super AMOLED HD panel at 1280x720. The issue here being that it’s still PenTile, which means a little more distortion than you’d see with the RGB pixels on the One X. Samsung claims to have changed the placement of the sub-pixels on this panel to fix some of that, but it’s still not as good as the One X.
Internally, this is actually very similar to the One X. It runs the same Snapdragon S4 SoC at 1.5GHz per core. The international GS3 has a quad-core chip, but the necessity of LTE in the US means it’s all about the Snapdragon for now. The rear camera is 8MP, and takes really great pictures.
There is only a 16GB storage option on AT&T, but there is an SD card slot for more storage. The back is removable so you can get at the battery, unlike the One X. Samsung’s new baby also packs a whopping 2GB of RAM. Yes, that’s double what the One X has, but much of it is reserved for running some parts of TouchWiz.
Speaking of TouchWiz, it’s all over the place in the Galaxy S3. It’s less of a complete transformation than Sense is on the One X, and that’s good. Samsung has added interesting features like Smart Stay, to keep the phone awake while you’re looking at it. Siri competitor S Voice might be fun to play with, but I don’t imagine it will change your life.
This is a very, very close call. The Galaxy S3 has slightly better software and a removable battery. The One X has an amazing screen, solid software, and a great design. When so much is the same, I’m tempted to go with the HTC One X, but only by the slimmest of margins.
As a side note, I think you ought to consider getting the Galaxy Nexus from Google Play. You’ve probably heard that Apple has gotten an injunction against the phone, so maybe you won’t even have the option by the time you’re reading this. But the Nexus is compatible with AT&T’s HSPA+ network, will soon have Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and still performs admirably. It’s $349 unlocked and without a contract.
As I mentioned above, the Galaxy Nexus might soon be barred from sale. So that puts Verizon customers in a tight spot. I’ve been recommending the LTE Galaxy Nexus for months because it’s really a wonderful device. If the Nexus is pulled from shelves, I expect Big Red will just end-of-life the device. There are just so many uncertainties still to contend with, and the Galaxy S3 isn’t out until mid-July, although you can preorder it. Let’s dive in, and explore all your confusing options.
I’m going to approach this a little differently than I usually would. You’ve got three options, each of them with their own drawbacks. Option number one is to get the LTE Galaxy Nexus. I like this phone. It’s still my daily driver, and I love stock Android. The screen is a 4.65-inch Super AMOLED HD panel at 1280x720. The overall feeling of the device is good, but it’s not going to turn any heads.
Inside it rocks the somewhat aged TI OMAP 4460 at 1.2GHz per core. You’re also looking at 1GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and no SD card slot. The software is well optimized for that chip, and it’s certainly no slouch. I find that the battery drains a little fast in areas with no Wi-Fi and poor cell signal, but the extended battery adds almost no additional thickness. The Nexus has the best software experience. It’s clean, fast, and mostly without branding. If you can still get it, the Nexus is $149.99 on contract.
Your second option is the Droid Razr Maxx. This phone has Android 4.0 at long last, and it’s a vast improvement over 2.3. The Moto skin is less offensive in this iteration, but still worse than stock. This big selling point here is the massive 3300mAh battery. This device will sustain itself for over a day with heavy use. The phone itself is perhaps a bit too wide, and not that comfortable to hold, though. The Maxx runs atop an OMAP4430, which is very similar to the Nexus chip.
The screen is a 4.3-inch AMOLED panel with qHD resolution (960x540). Additionally, it’s PenTile. In general, I am not a fan of this screen but I understand the need for an AMOLED panel to keep the thickness down. Still, the Maxx can’t compare to your other options in this respect. I worry that the Maxx is aging fast,and won't be seeing another update to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
Your third and final option is to just pre-order the Samsung Galaxy S3. I include this only because there is a distinct possibility that the Nexus might not be on shelves. The Verizon S3 will be almost identical to the AT&T version I went over above. There will be the same 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon chip, 2GB of RAM, and an LTE radio. The screen is also that same 4.8-inch Super AMOLED HD 720p panel. You should have this phone in-hand by mid-July.
The only appreciable difference here is that Verizon is offering a 32GB version of the S3 in addition to the 16GB size available on AT&T. The smaller of the two can be had for $199.99 with a contract. I think you should still get the Galaxy Nexus because the software is great, but at this point, ordering the Galaxy S3 is also a fine option.
Little T-Mobile is struggling valiantly to entice users to hop on board with its aging HSPA+ 3G network. The monthly rates are lower, and its 3G phones will outperform Sprint’s offerings as both are lacking real 4G standards. What’s different is that T-Mobile’s 4G transition is far behind the competition. If you buy a T-Mobile phone, it’s going to be HSPA+ for the entire contract. Last month the HTC One S was the clear winner, what about this month?
Let’s have a quick refresher on the HTC One S first. The One S is a gorgeous phone with a unibody design like the One X on AT&T. It is made mostly from anodized aluminum and it’s just 7.9mm thick. The phone feels great in the hand, but the battery is not removable.
Inside the One S has the same Snapdragon S4 chip that seems to be dominating the industry right now. It also has 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and no SD card slot. The screen on the One S is AMOLED, unlike the other new HTC devices. It is 4.3-inches in size and has PenTile qHD resolution. This panel is okay, but nothing special.
The software is Android 4.0.3 with HTC Sense 4, but you probably expected that. The lower resolution has the minor benefit of giving the UI a little extra snappiness, but it’s not a huge difference. The software should not be a problem for you. The One S is selling for $199.99
The One S is clearly a mid-range phone, which is why the Samsung Galaxy S3 is going to make such a splash. T-Mobile has been waiting on a great high-end device, and now it’s here. Inside the Galaxy S3 is about what you’d expect from the device on other carriers. A 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon chip, 2GB of RAM, and 16 or 32GB of storage.
The internals are a small step up over the One S, but the screen is something else. While the Super AMOLED HD panel on the Galaxy S3 is still PenTile, it’s 720p. It looks much better than the qHD panel on the One S. The feel of the Samsung Galaxy S3 is actually not as good as the One S, but both do feel reasonably good in your hand.
The software story is, again, HTC Sense against TouchWiz. I prefer TouchWiz, but you might disagree. The pricing for the GS3 is bizarre on T-Mobile. It’s $279.99 for the 16GB version, and $329.99 for the 32GB device. You have to make up the difference in price on the slightly lower service costs. On the merits of the screen and the software, you should get the Galaxy S3 on T-Mobile, even though it’s pricey.
As an addendum, you might still consider the unlocked HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus on T-Mobile. It’s only $349 with no contract, remember. It might not be available if that nonsense court ruling stays in effect, but it’s a great device with nearly perfect software. The cost isn’t even much higher than what T-Mobile charges for its phones.
Sprint is in a strange place right now. It has abandoned WiMAX as a 4G standard, but the LTE network that is to replace it has not yet materialized. So keep in mind that any device you get from Sprint will be relying on 3G-only in most places. There are two phones of note on Sprint right now, and you can probably guess what they are. Last month's winner, the HTC Evo 4G LTE is one of them. The Samsung Galaxy S3 takes over for last year's Galaxy S2 this month, as well.
The new Evo has a Snapdragon S4 SoC with matching LTE radio, just like so many phones these days. There is 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage with microSD expansion. The display is that same gorgeous 4.7-inch Super LCD 2 1280x720 screen. Like the One X, the battery on the Evo is non-removable, but it is reasonably big at 2000mAh. The 8MP camera is among the best out there too.
The industrial design of this phone is not as awe-inspiring as the One X is. There is a somewhat more blocky case, and the back is half glossy and half matte. There is, however, a kickstand, and I love kickstands. It does look better in-person than it does in pictures.
The software is basically what you'll find in the HTC One X on AT&T. It's Android 4.0.3 with HTC Sense. Again, I’m fine with this version of Sense, but it’s not quite as palatable as TouchWiz is these days. The HTC Evo 4G LTE is $199.99 with a new contract.
The other possibility is the Galaxy S3, which is out on Sprint. Like Verizon and T-Mobile, Sprint is making 16 and 32GB versions of the phone available in both blue and white. Inside it is identical to the other version of the Galaxy S3, and very similar to the HTC Evo 4G LTE. We’re still looking at a Snapdragon SoC at 1.5GHz per core, 2GB of RAM, and a solid 4.8-inch Super AMOLED HD 720p panel.
The device itself looks a little cheap in photos, but as I’ve said, it is better in your hand. It’s just like the Evo in that respect. I think I’d give the appearance win to the Galaxy S3, but only slightly. It’s the software that really differentiates the phones. The Galaxy S3 is also going for $199.99 for the 16GB version, but $249.99 for the 32GB.
Much like the matchup on AT&T, it’s Sense 4 versus TouchWiz Nature UX. You’re going to have to decide which one feels better to you, but I’ll go with TouchWiz for now. Because of that, I suggest getting the Galaxy S3 on Sprint.
Those are my recommendations for this month. Agree? disagree? Let me know what you decided on if you just picked up a new device.