Nov 25 AT 11:17 AM Sean Riley 4 Comments

Android and Me holiday gift guide: Smartphones

holiday guide

It’s that time of the year again. Jack Frost is nipping at your nose, the smell of cinnamon and spice fill the air, football is on the TV and you’re trying to figure out what to get your brother for the holidays. Fear not, Android and Me reader, you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you’re trying to appease your audiophile cousin, help your clumsy mom, surprise your friend or give yourself something extra special this year, we’ve got your back. We’ve sifted through the junk to give you some recommendations for what we think are the best Android and mobile tech-related products you can buy this holiday season.

If you missed any of our guides last week you can catch up here, but today we’re tackling smartphones.

With contracts involved, it can be difficult to pick up a smartphone as a gift, so we’re giving you both the off and on-contract pricing for these phones so you know what you are in for. We’ve also provided options across a variety of price points to ensure there is something for everyone on the list.

note 4 family featured

$650+ – Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – ($699 off-contract / $299 with contract)
This one should come as no surprise, if for no other reason than there are few other phones that command this high price point. It may not have been the first phablet, but the Note line was certainly the first to put a large screen to good use, and the Note 4 continues to be the standout in the category. Samsung delivers superior multitasking and one-handed over all of the competitors out there thanks to years of experience with the Note.

And if you are a spec hound, there is little out there that can rival the Note 4. Its 5.7-inch QHD display has been lauded as the best by far in terms of color reproduction, and with the addition of optical image stabilization to the 16-megapixel rear camera, the photo quality is better than ever as well. Round everything out with a Snapdragon 805 and 3,220mAh battery, and it’s hard to know what you would complain about. (Ok sure, there’s no Lollipop quite yet.)

And that was all without even mentioning the pen.

Motorola Nexus 6

$500-$649 – Nexus 6 – ($649 off-contract / $249 with contract)
Despite the fact that this phone is nigh impossible to actually purchase, I still felt compelled to include it in the list. The Nexus 6 represents a stark departure from the Nexus line of the last several years with a high-end spec list and the price to match.

While the Nexus 6 doesn’t have all of the phablet-friendly features of the Note 4, it does offer a QHD display at 5.96 inches and front-facing stereo speakers that make it perhaps an even better media consumption device than the Note 4. The Nexus 6 features the same Snapdragon 805 CPU found in the Note 4 and an identically sized 3,220mAh battery. Unfortunately, despite its large battery, the Nexus 6 currently suffers from slightly subpar battery life compared to other phones this size. It does comee with a Motorola Turbo Charger that that will top you up quickly, though.

Verizon-Moto-X

$350-$499 – 2014 Moto X ($499 off-contract / $.01 with contract)
The original Moto X was my favorite device of 2013, and considering Motorola stuck pretty closely to the formula of the original, the 2014 Moto X is going to have a place on all of my top lists well into 2015.

While my initial impression was that the move to a 5.2-inch screen had a negative impact on the overall feel of the new Moto X, it was only a few days before it felt just as natural as last year’s. No other device on the market has nailed this as well as Motorola has with the Moto X, and the leather and wood customized options in particular offer a feel that far surpasses the competition. The software touches from Motorola are another area where this device continues to shine. Between the custom launch phrase for voice actions, to controlling the camera with your voice, and to the underlying Motorola software, the Moto X is incredibly feature-rich without being filled with bloat.

In the “not-so-good” column for the Moto X, its camera remains a bit of a disappointment, but once you get used to its limitations, you can come away with some great shots. And while it doesn’t include a Turbo Charger its big Nexus 6 brother, the Moto X supports the same fast-charging feature, and you are probably going to need it since the battery is the most signifiant downside of this device.

image OnePlus One

$200-$349 – OnePlus One ($299-$349 off-contract)
I’m a little torn on this one, as I don’t have any actual experience with the OnePlus One. But besides the impossibility of obtaining a OnePlus One, the reviews for this CyanogenMod-powered phone have been extremely positive. Many of the Android faithful wish that this is what the Nexus 6 would have been, and it’s not hard to see why. Starting at $299, the OnePlus One offers a 5.5-inch 1080p display, 3,100mAh battery, Snapdragon 801 processor and a 13-megapixel rear camera with dual flash. It’s a step down from the higher-end devices we have listed here to be sure, but to save $150-$350, I’m betting more than a few of us are willing to take a slight hit on specs.

moto-g-2014

$150-199 – 2014 Moto G ($179.99 off-contract)
The second generation of the incredibly inexpensive Moto G really blew me away when I first used it a couple months ago. Given that I’m accustomed to testing out all of the high-end devices that I can get my hands on, I was expecting the Moto G to feel nearly unusable. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The 2014 Moto G actually feels remarkably like the first generation Moto X in the hand, and I’ll remind you that that phone remains my gold standard.

The Moto G’s 5-inch 720p display is clearly not as crisp as high-end devices, but since you aren’t faced at looking at it side-by-side with a 1080p or QHD display, that isn’t really an issue in use. And given that the Moto G is running on a quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor and 1GB of RAM, you wouldn’t want it pushing many more pixels around. The Moto G’s dual front-facing speakers were another pleasant surprise for me; they aren’t going to challenge the HTC One (M8) anytime soon, but they are louder and clearer than the speakers on many higher-priced phones. The one real killer for me with the Moto G is the lack of LTE, but depending on how fast HSPA+ is in your neck of the woods, this may not matter as much.

Sean has been with Android and Me for over 6 years and covering mobile for the last 7. He occasionally muses about gadgets and tech outside of the Android universe at Techgasms.

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  • kiki.utena

    Smallest flagship phone mentioned 5.2″ Does anybody else just fond this ridiculous? Where are the normal sized flagship X-mas recommendations?

    • http://www.technogasms.com Sean Riley

      Welcome to the new normal.

      Honestly there just aren’t many flagship devices being built in the 4.something-inch range at this point. The HTC M8, which is certainly a favorite among many has a 5-inch screen, but it is a physically larger device than the Moto X so I don’t consider it a better option.

      The only “small” flagship smartphone that I can recommend is the Sony Z3 compact. It’s a 4.6-inch screen with a Snapdragon 801 and a 20MP camera. I’m using a Z3v right now and Sony’s build quality is fantastic. Downsides are the Sony skin and a 720p screen, although at 4.6-inches that resolution doesn’t look bad.

  • Mrnobody

    Any particular reason that the Droid Turbo, with its ridiculous specs, didn’t make the cut, like take the Moto X 2014′s spot?

    • FormerGC

      Possibly because it is a carrier exclusive. Not available for most people.