This year, Sprint represents one of the weakest smartphone carriers you can sign up with. They finally started rolling out LTE this year, and have all but eliminated WiMax (what Sprint used to call 4G). None of their new phones utilize WiMax and those networks have been disappearing left and right. That means Sprint users without LTE are far more likely to have slower data speeds than any of the other four carriers. Both AT&T and T-Mobile offer nationwide HSPA+ (which they dub 4G and is roughly 8X faster than 3G for download speeds), and both Verizon and AT&T offer LTE nationwide, though Verizon’s area of coverage is significantly larger than AT&T’s.
The benefit of Sprint, however, is that users can get unlimited everything for only $100/month, compared to limited plans on other carriers. No other national carrier offers that kind of deal. So even if you have the slower 3G network, it may not be a big deal. I have no doubt Sprint will be the slowest to expand its LTE network as well, but price almost always beats out data speed when it comes to smartphones.
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.
LG Optimus G
Sprint is the only US carrier that gets the same international model of the LG Optimus G that everyone else in the world does. AT&T’s model is fatter, has a lower resolution (but a slightly better 8MP) camera, and isn’t quite as elegant as the world model which Sprint uses (albeit with CDMA, not GSM), but both are supremely powerful and feature excellent HD displays. As we wrote earlier about the Optimus G, there is no phone more powerful than it today, and it starts at the normal price of $200 for 32GB of memory, generally unheard of for smartphones (which typically sell with 16GB).