AT&T may be the second largest carrier nationwide, but if you’re looking for the best deal on individual plans with solid nationwide coverage and reasonable data speeds, then this should be your home. I’ve been on AT&T for four years now (since the iPhone first released) and the massive carrier has had its ups and downs, but the one thing I really admire is excellent pricing (relatively speaking, of course. All smartphone plans are outrageously overpriced). If you want a smartphone but don’t need all of the special features like unlimited texting, 3GB of data, and unlimited talk time, then AT&T is your best bet. The same holds true if you do use any of those!

But what phones should you get on AT&T? That’s a tough call, especially with the number of really excellent devices to have come out this year. Thankfully we’ve been watching the smartphone market pretty heavily and know exactly what phones you should look at.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2

I haven’t finished reviewing the Note 2 yet, but so far I am loving it. The biggest smartphone ever produced is a beast of a device. The all-new quad-core processor is really fast, and by far the best I’ve seen on any Android device. But more importantly is the gorgeous 5.5″ Super AMOLED display, which is both bright enough for the outdoors and big enough to watch HD video at full 720p with excellent light and color contrast.

With this phone, you don’t need a 7″ tablet, and possibly no tablet at all. We’re still testing it here, but after a week and a half it isn’t the first phone that I’d switch my iPhone out for in a heartbeat, but it is the one I’d choose if my contract expired today.

Samsung Galaxy S III

Samsung’s flagship smartphone is, so far, the best smartphone we’ve ever reviewed. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Just like the Note 2 it has a great 4.8″ 720p display, though it isn’t quite as fast or quite as large. As a slightly older phone (by a few months), the Galaxy S III is the phone I’ve recommended to everyone curious about smartphones. It’s available on all carriers, supports LTE, has expandable memory and an excellent camera, and easily lasts all day. Among smartphones, the Galaxy S III is king. You can’t go wrong with it.

While the Note 2 may be too large for you to hold in the hand or the pocket, the Galaxy S III is a great size. 4.8″ may seem huge, but the thin frame and light weight make it easy to hold in the hand and slip into a pocket.

Apple iPhone 5

If you aren’t sure what to get as a smartphone, the iPhone is always a safe bet. The latest update to Apple’s smartphone is the fastest and best yet with an all-new processor that doubles the speed of everything, from web browsing to playing games. It’s actually remarkable for a device like this to keep improving so quickly.

On top of the general improvements, the iPhone 5 is the first iPhone with LTE, and it’s also the first iPhone with a 4″ widescreen display. That means that now, for the first time, users can watch all of the media they buy on iTunes without letterboxing. No more annoying smaller screens and black bars with the iPhone 5! It’s also the thinnest, lightest, and sleekest smartphone you can buy today, with one of the best cameras of any smartphone and  the best selection of apps available on any device.

You can’t go wrong with the iPhone 5. It’s great for gaming, great for music and media, and overall an excellent device. There’s a reason why most of our smartphone comparisons include the iPhone 5: because even if it isn’t the best smartphone, the combination of excellent hardware and software and the amazing app ecosystem make it a no-brainer for buyers. I am more inclined towards the 4S myself; I like the slightly thicker build and heavier feel, and am a huge fan of the glass-on-glass design from the iPhone 4/4S. But I would never recommend an older model phone like that when you can get the boost in performance and functionality like on the iPhone 5. A real winner.

Motorola Atrix HD

Come for the promise of high end components. Stay for the speedy and intuitive performance. From the  larger vibrant and beautifully rich display, to the peppy and slick interface—the Motorola Atrix HD will surely pop up on more than a few Christmas lists. Or surprise a loved one with this stellar mid-range device. At $99 (w/ 2yr commitment) this At&t exclusive is priced to go. Our time with the Atrix HD was an enjoyable one. General use and performance speed made for a more pleasant user experience than that offered up by my aging iPhone 4S. Photos leave a bit to be desired and you will definitely want to purge some of the bloatware.

But that’s splitting very fine hairs. This is an easy no-brainer for 100 clams. There is so much to love about it, which includes HDMI-out, 1080p video capture, speedy 4G LTE, the handsome component choices and it’s all running excellently on the latest Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating software. It’s the Motorola Atrix HD! Oh for me? You’re so thoughtful!

Shawn Sanders contributed to this post



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.