How Do Last Year's Top Android Phones Hold Up Today?

By Ryan Whitwam

Is a year-old phone worth buying on the cheap?

We spend a lot of time talking about the hottest new devices like the HTC Sensation and Droid X2, but what about the forgotten super phones of yesteryear? If you hunt around, you can still find some of these devices new in places like Wirefly and Amazon Wireless for great prices; maybe even free with a contract. The hardware might be a little out of date, but many of these phones have vibrant modding communities, not to mention recent official software updates.

Let’s take a look at the big phones from last summer to see it they are still worth your time and money.

Droid X

When the Droid X came out, we were a little unhappy with the locked bootloader. But over time, the community has found some ingenious ways around that. if you don’t mind doing a little hacking, you can have a great software experience. If you stick with the stock software at this point, it is kind of a mixed bag.

Motorola was good enough to get a Gingerbread update out the door, but it’s not been a great update for all users. Many report freezing or rebooting devices. A fix is reportedly coming, but in the mean time, this device is in a strange place as far as software goes.

The hardware in the Droid X was certainly top of the line last year, and it’s actually not terrible now. The Droid X runs on a 1GHz OMAP3 SoC. This chip is plenty snappy to handle all but the most intense apps on the Market with its PowerVR SGX530 GPU. The X also has the requisite 512MB of RAM, a 4-inch 854x480 LCD (that we still think looks excellent), and an 8MP rear camera. There is not front-facing cam on this phone.

We still think the Droid X has the hardware chops to be a good phone if you are happy with the device as it is. Don't expect anymore official updates, know the software limitations, and you should be happy. The Droid X can be had for free in several places with contract.

HTC Desire

The HTC Desire is an interesting device. It is well over a year old now, and HTC first said it would not be getting an update to Android 2.3. Well, after an uproar from the community, they relented and Gingerbread is on the way. HTC has said that they will remove parts of Sense to fit the Gingerbread update on the phone. If official ROMs aren’t your cup of tea, the Desire is one of the most modded phones you can buy (with the exception of the Nexus devices).

The Desire runs a previous-generation Snapdragon (QSD8250) SoC at 1GHz. This is a passable chip, but it is hurt by its weak GPU, and Adreno 200. The device is still fairly fast, but expect more hiccups in games as time goes on. This device has 575MB of RAM, a 3.7-inch 800x480 Super LCD (or AMOLED in some places) screen, and a 5MP rear camera.

One thing that is really bothersome about the Desire is the lack of app storage space. The phone only gives you about 150MB to store your apps. With some apps clocking in at 30+ megabytes, and App2SD support not guaranteed, you could be in a world of hurt really fast.

That said, we still really like the design of the Desire. it has a trackpad and physical buttons. Both pluses in our book. The Desire is a little harder to find as it is older, and only reached some regional carriers in the US. Unlocked handsets are going for about $350-400 online. A good modern equivalent to this device available on contract might be the Droid Incredible 2 or HTC Sensation.

Galaxy S (and variants)

The exact status if the Samsung Galaxy S is going to vary greatly depending on your location and carrier. This phone showed up everywhere in different forms. The international version of the Galaxy S has received an official Gingerbread update in almost all regions. That’s great news, but even more than that, the update fixed a lot of the TouchWiz lag that bothered us so much last year.

In the US, there are not yet any Galaxy S variants updated to Gingerbread. The Froyo software loadouts are better than the Eclair code that was originally shipped, but we would like to see a current version of the software before we really recommend picking one of these. Although, if you want to mod, these devices do have custom ROM support.

The hardware in the Galaxy S (in all variants) is based on Samsung’s own Hummingbird SoC at 1GHz. This chip is the same that is still in the Nexus S, Google’s current flagship device. The chip is fast enough to get you by, but as with the Droid X, some high end games just won’t work. You also get 512MB of RAM and a 4-inch 800x480 Super AMOLED screen.

The GPS on the US Galaxy S devices had some issues do to the last-minute removal of Skyhook for network location assistance. Recent software releases have improved matters, but the GPS is still a little flaky. This is something to consider before buying a US Galaxy S model. You can pick up most Galaxy S variants for free or $50 on contract.

HTC EVO 4G

People still love their EVOs. This device launched just over one year ago, and attracted the attention of a lot of buyers. Is this once great device still worth picking up with the EVO 3D hanging around looking hot? The EVO 3D recently got a new lease on life with a competently managed Gingerbread update. The build is 2.3.3, which means no native video calling with Google Talk. Bummer.

Seeing as it was such a popular phone, there is a dedicated modding community here as well. You can get custom ROMs that extend the functionality of the device. This is especially important because it is unlikely the EVO will be bumped up to Ice Cream Sandwich.

The internals in the EVO are strikingly similar to the Desire. The main difference is the screen, which on the EVO is a 4.3-inch LCD screen at 800x480. This is not the best screen out there. It has poor viewing angles and is prone to backlight bleed. IN the year since it was released, screen quality has gone up noticeably. The SoC is a familiar 1GHz QSD8650 Snapdragon. There is 512MB of RAM, HDMI out, and an 8MP camera as well.

The EVO 4G also has the benefit of 4G WiMAX data on Sprint. So if you live in a good WiMAX area, this could be a real selling point. You can still pick up the EVO 4G online for free with a contract.

HTC Droid Incredible

This HTC device is yet another riff on the Nexus One/Desire hardware. The Droid Incredible was such a big seller, that HTC had to switch from AMOLED screens to Super LCD to keep up with demand last summer. Unlike most other devices on this list, we aren’t sure what is happening with a Gingerbread update for this device. HTC has said it is happening, but aside from some leaks, we don’t have much to go on.

The hardware is another example of the QSD8650, 512MB of RAM, and 3.7-inch 800x480 screen. Again, the SoC will run well enough, but it’s getting a little long in the tooth at this point with that old Adreno 200 GPU. There is an 8MP shooter around the back that takes solid still and 720p video.

Of all the devices we’ve have on this list, the Droid Incredible might be the one with the strongest whiff of abandonment. Verizon is aggressive in moving old devices out, and the Incredible is well over a year old at this point. You might have to rely on the modding community to help you update this sucker. If you can find one, it’s probably going to be full price at $300-400. if you're looking to go the contract route, just get a Droid Incredible 2 and call it a day.

Are there any devices from last summer that you feel still make good buys? Let us know in the comments.