Hi everybody! (Hi, Dr. Nick!)
So I previously wrote a post I'd planned on sharing with all of you regarding the best smartphones (Android ones that is) that you could buy and that would be the best bang for your buck. However, in light of events that I touched upon in another post, I had to rethink my post that is now in the great writing heap in the sky.
Rather than scrap it entirely, I'm going to salvage what I can and explain why.
I'm a tinkerer, first off, which I feel needs some explaining. I pick devices based on whether they are good long term investments (for tinkering purposes) and whether their cost is justified (be it through specs, tinkering longevity or a number of factors). That said, I do get a lot of questions asked of me by non-tinkerers regarding recommendations and what have you. So I try and put myself into the average (non-tinkerering) user's shoes and pick what best meets their average wants and needs. Basically, I default to "would this be a phone I would recommend to my mom or lady friend". (The former is basically "can she use it without bugging me every five minutes" and the latter is "will it do what she wants it to, which falls more into average user territory".)
All that explained/said, which isn't much, I have four recommendations for phones you should seriously look into. First and foremost though, all these phones are available unlocked. This means you can pick up any one of these and use them on any carrier (although there may be some issues, which I'll touch upon further below). Secondly, I am keeping this list to "affordable" phones. Meaning these won't break your wallet. So, to summarize, these are phones that you can get at cost that are amazing devices and that won't force you to be tied to a contract/carrier.
I will list them from lowest priced/"worst" ("worst" meaning I would gladly use this phone myself, it's not actually a bad phone at all it just doesn't stack up to the rest of my choices) to highest priced/"best".
Available from Amazon (in its "stock" Moto version) or from Google (in its pure stock Android "Google Play edition" version). This phone is basically a bargain from a price perspective. Both versions linked to are the 16 GB ones, there is an 8 GB version but the cost is only $20 in savings. With apps growing in size and people's storage needs (for music, videos, photos, etc.) only getting bigger, I would be remiss to recommend, much less link to, anything that isn't the 16 GB version. The cost for the 16 gig model is $199, putting total cost (for shipping/handling and taxes) at about $215. (I would know, I bought one last week for my lady friend.) Either way, you get the latest and greatest from a software perspective. The device has already been updated to Android 4.4.2 (Kit Kat). Spec wise, it's hardly worth mentioning, this will more than meet your needs. (For all but the most hardcore gamers/power users.) I honestly can't recommend this phone enough for people on tight budgets, ditto people who want a backup phone but don't want to spend too much on it.
This is the phone I bought the moment it came out and still am using currently. Brand new it retailed for $299 (8 GB version) and $349 (16 GB version). It is no longer available through the Play Store, but you can still find it online or in some stores. As far as specs goes, this has better ones than the Moto G (to keep things incredibly simple, rather than overwhelm you with meaningless numbers and whatnot). If you're a tinkerer then you already know that any Nexus device has a huge following in the developer/tinkering community and you know what this phone can do and what can be done to it. It's been out for a little over a year and will likely continue to get official Google support for at minimum one more year. If you can find it, I highly recommend getting this phone. (Keep in mind that the Moto G is roughly the same size but somehow seems to just feel better in hand. Personal experience talking.)
Now, these next two phones are pretty much the best you can get in my opinion. Some would argue one is better than the other. I'd say otherwise, despite being a tinkerer for reasons I'll explain when discussing the one that I choose as the best.
An updated version in every way possible to the Nexus 4. Bigger screen, better specs, released with the latest version of Android (although the N4 got it too already) and so on and so forth. You can get the 16 gig version for $349 and the 32 gig version for $399. It's available in black or white. Since it's newer in every way possible, this one will likely get updates for a longer time (from Google and the tinkering community) than the Nexus 4. If you can afford to get this one, by all means get it. It is stock Android in every way possible and that isn't a bad thing. The fact that you get updates straight from Google is the best part, no waiting for the carriers to send it your way (if they even feel like doing so). This phone comes with the radios necessary to throw your SIM card (from whoever) in and start talking. It also has the radios necessary to work on Sprint's network. Sadly, or perhaps fortunately (in my book), it won't work with Verizon. Reasons why vary, I won't get into it unless specifically asked to. I was all set to order this phone this week, for what it's worth. So that tells you a bit.
This is the best phone you can get in my opinion. Especially at the moment, as it's currently discounted til the 14th (Valentine's Day), meaning you can pick up a 32 GB version (and customize it to your liking through the Moto Maker site) for the total cost of about $412. (That's including taxes and shipping and handling. Keep in mind though that is a promotional price, it will likely go back up, not sure how much, after Valentine's Day.) It too comes with the latest version of Android, much like every other phone I've listed up to this point. There are a handful of notable things though that make this phone stand out. Active Display. This is a feature that is found only on this phone and basically means you no longer have to turn on your screen to see if you have any missed calls, texts, emails, etc. The phone's display "breathes". Or put in a way the laymen would get, it lights up and shows you what's going on, but as minimally as possible. So all you see is a black screen and in the center it'll show you a notification symbol and who it's from, you can then decide what to do. The next feature that is pretty nifty in my opinion is the "always listening" mode. Basically, the phone is always listening for your voice, even when the screen is off. So the moment you tell it to do something it fires up and does it. Oh and it learns your voice. Meaning if you have childish friends/relatives who might try messing with you and your phone or if you're in a crowded place or whatnot, it'll ignore every voice but yours. Pretty neat, right? In addition to those two it has an app called Motorola Assist. This app I'm not as informed on since I've only heard of it in passing and haven't actually used myself. I know vaguely what it does, so that's what I'll share. If you're driving, the phone will know because of said app and will read aloud text messages and incoming caller names and whatnot to you. You can then respond to it and it'll send off messages or answers calls and all that jazz. It'll also allow you to set the phone to silent if you're going to a meet or catching a flick or something and then turn off once you're done. It also has a "I'm sleeping" ability, in that at night it'll go silent for all notifications, except for those you select. Meaning if you need to know when your significant other or mom/dad/siblings/etc or bestie are calling or texting, then you'll know. There's will come in LOUD and clear. You might read all that and think "wtf, that'll murder the battery!" In any other case you'd be right, except this is where Motorola's designers and engineers really pulled through and shine. The chip inside the phone is a one-off. It's like any other in almost every way, save one. One of its cores (through the software on the device) handles all the duties of that lighter stuff and sips battery. Literally. Mind = Blown! And because of all those things it's why I've chosen it as the best phone you can get right now. (Although it might be pricier after the promotion currently going on ends. I forget what the price was beforehand. Either way, it's worth the price whatever it may be. But that's in my book, you might disagree.)
So there you have it. Those are my choices/recommendations. With prices listed and reasons why.
Are those phones for everybody? No. None are. To each their own. What works for me might not work for you and what works for you won't work for someone else. And all of us likely have different opinions on how much we're willing to spend on such devices. All of these are affordable to my wallet, but maybe not yours. I did choose all these because of their off contract pricing though, I wanted to avoid tying any of you to any carrier for two years. (It's actually cheaper to not sign a contract in the long run. However, up front costs tend to be higher. You always break even though, there's been numerous articles online showing just how quickly that happens. The minimum time frame is six months. In six months you'll save in cost what you spent up front, thus breaking even.) In addition to which, all of these phones work perfectly well and will more than suffice for the average user's needs. The fact that all are on the latest version of Android at the moment and comprise some of the best hardware and specs you can get (without breaking your wallet!) is just icing on the cake. However, that isn't something the average user would know about, much less care about. The point is they work and are affordable.
Thoughts? Questions? Angry comments?
Throw it my way if you want. At the end of the day I'm just sharing my general opinion, but it comes from knowledge and personal experience/use. I've used every one of these devices myself and have bought them for others. (With the exception of the Moto X, but I didn't buy it without giving it some major thought beforehand.)
Hope this has been informative to at least some of you. I know this is more likely something that should be over on Gizmodo or Lifehacker, but I don't have posting privileges there (yet!). I do know that some of you don't venture over to those sites though and thus this was aimed more for you all.
If you don't care for any of what was written above and want to discuss options you are looking at with me, feel free. I'm always happy to help if asked.