Welcome to a new weekly column where we break down each carrier to let you know the best devices and current promotions. We have already posted our Verizon Buyer’s Guide, T-Mobile Buyer’s Guide, and Sprint Buyer’s Guide, so now it’s time for AT&T. Each week we will rotate between the big four US carriers, so that each buyer’s guide gets refreshed every month. Read on for AT&T’s best devices and deals.
Current Promotions and News
Unlimited Data Plans throttled at 3 GB: AT&T finally cleared up their stance on customers who still have unlimited data plans. Subscribers will receive a text message after they consume 3 GB of data, their speeds will be reduced until the next billing cycle, and they are encouraged to switch to a tiered data plan.
Facebook Fans Save: For a limited time, AT&T is offering up to $50 off to new and add a line customers. The promotion is only available to online customers.
Best Android Phone: Galaxy S II series
Just like the other big three carriers, Samsung currently offers the best Android smartphone on AT&T. The latest Samsung device is actually available in three models: Galaxy S II, Galaxy S II Skyrocket 4G, and Galaxy Note. Each one has their own advantages which we will describe below.
For most users I would recommend the original Galaxy S II. AT&T currently sells it for $99 and Amazon has it as low as $49for new customers ($89 for upgrades, $149 add a line). This is the only version on AT&T that sports the dual-core 1.2 GHz Samsung Exynos processor, which is faster in graphics performance versus the Snapdragon processor found in the two other Galaxy models. The original Galaxy S II does not have LTE, but it still supports AT&T’s 4G HSPA+ network for enhanced download speeds (up to approximately 6 Mbps download).
Next we have the Galaxy S II Skyrocket 4G, which adds LTE support and offers a larger 4.5 inch Super AMOLED Plus display over the original Galaxy S II. In order to support AT&T’s 4G LTE network, this device uses a dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S3 processor. It offers comparable processing performance to the Exynos processor, but it has slightly slower graphics performance. AT&T currently sells the Skyrocket 4G for $199 and Amazon has it as low as $99 for new customers ($99 for upgrades, $219 for add a line).
Finally we have the Galaxy Note which offers a huge 5.3 inch HD Super AMOLED display and unique S Pen stylus. Some have criticized the large size of this device, but I have several friends who have fallen in love with it. Internally, the Note is very similar to the Skyrocket 4G and includes the same dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S3 processor. Most people have said it takes a couple of days to get used to the size of this device, so you might want to take advantage of AT&T’s 30 day return policy to fully test it out. AT&T sells the Note for $299 and Amazon has it for as low as $249 for new customers ($249 for upgrades, $259 for add a line).
Samsung has already said the Galaxy S II and Galaxy Note will receive Android 4.0 in the coming months, so these devices will continue to improve with new software updates.
I’ve already recommended the Galaxy S II to several close friends and they have all been very pleased with their purchase. If you want to know more about the device, just check out our full review of the Sprint version.
Alternative pick: AT&T does not sell the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but if money is no object you can buy one online and use it on their HSPA+ network. The Galaxy Nexus is the best Android phone available thanks to it shipping with Android 4.0. Amazon currently has the GSM Galaxy Nexus listed for $593. Check out Anthony’s review of the Galaxy Nexus for more info.
Best Android Phone with Keyboard: Captivate Glide
There isn’t a very large selection of high-end keyboard phones on AT&T, so it was easy picking the Samsung Captivate Glide as the best.
AT&T currently sells the Captivate Glide for $149 and Amazon has it as low as $0.01 for new customers ($79 for upgrades, $169 add a line).
Highlights of the Captivate Glide include a 4-inch Super AMOLED display, dual-core 1 GHz Tegra 2 processor, 8 MP rear camera, 1.3 MP front camera, 8 GB internal storage, and support for AT&T’s 4G HSPA+ network.
Even though the Tegra 2 is an older processor, it still has access to a big library of premium games from NVIDIA’s Tegra Zone showcase application.
The Captivate currently ships with Android 2.3, and there is no word if it will receive an update to the latest Android 4.0. Keep this in mind when thinking about purchasing this device.
Best Android Tablet: Pantech Element
Let me repeat what I said in our previous buyer’s guide. Because of the current data plans, I’m not a huge fan of carrier branded Android tablets. However, if you need an Android tablet with wireless connectivity, then the Pantech Element should be your pick.
None of AT&T’s tablets really stand out above the rest, so the Element wins our pick for its low $299 price point with 2-year commitment.
Highlights of the Pantech Element include an 8-inch HD display, dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S3 processor, 4G LTE speeds, and a waterproof design.
The Element currently ships with Android 3.2, and there is no word yet if this device will receive an update to Android 4.0.
Best Android Phone on a Budget: Samsung Galaxy S II
Now that online stores offer high-end devices for $99 with a new 2-year agreement, it is becoming harder and harder to suggest a budget phone. The lower priced devices generally don’t receive major software updates to newer versions of Android and they are outdated as soon as you buy them.
However, the Galaxy S II is still a great buy and a device that we fully expect to receive Android 4.0. As we said above, AT&T currently sells it for $99 and Amazon has it as low as $49.
You really can’t go wrong with this phone. About the only negative thing compared to the latest high-end phones is the lack of 4G LTE support, but AT&T still doesn’t offer LTE coverage in a lot of their markets.
What’s Coming Next
If you are willing to hold out for a few months, then you should have your eye on the HTC One X. This flagship device will ship with Android 4.0, include the latest Snapdragon S4 processor, and feature an amazing camera experience thanks to HTC’s ImageSense chip.
AT&T already announced they would carry the device, but no pricing or release date has been revealed. We expect it will go for around $299 with contract like other high-end LTE smartphones and hopefully it will be in stores by the first-half of 2012.
During CES, AT&T also announced the Galaxy S II Skyrocket HD, which offers a HD Super AMOLED display. No release date has been shared, but we think the HTC One X is a more compelling device.
The Sony Xperia Ion is also coming to AT&T sometime in Q2. This device features the same dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S3 already available in the Galaxy S II Skyrocket and Galaxy Note, but it does have Sony’s Bravia display and 12MP Exmor-R camera sensor going for it.
Finally, all of us are still waiting on the official announcement of the Samsung Galaxy S III, which should happen by summer.
We have long wanted to maintain buyer’s guides for every carrier, but it’s just something we have failed to produce. As one of the most influential sources of Android information on the web, we realize that our opinions are valuable and the average consumer just wants to know what phone they should buy without having to do all the research.
Our hardcore audience lives and breaths Android, so most of them already know what device they want to buy next. However, I realize that for most of the public, reading our blog is like trying to read Swahili or some other foreign language. The purpose of these guides is to try and help the average consumer.
Having said all that, consider this first guide as a rough draft that will continually be updated and improved over time. We would love to hear your feedback on what other sections or information should be added to the next version. Our lead developer Clark has some amazing site features that are coming down the pipe (like the new profiles), and we are committed to this community.
I ask for your help by sharing this guide with your friends on AT&T and leaving suggestions in the comments below.