In past years, T-Mobile has killed with exclusive devices. The company has always missed the iPhone but made up for it with every single “Google phone” and with first sales of a number of high-end devices. This year, not so much. T-Mobile is still known as the best nationwide network to stick with if you want to pay as little as possible, but my experience is that the company’s cellular capabilities have degraded over the past year. Not only is reception worse (though in good areas faster thanks to an improved data network), but the phones available are no longer the top-of-the-line. They do still get some devices first, like the Galaxy Note 2, but that’s become a rarity.

Thankfully the best smartphones aren’t limited to single carriers anymore, at least not on a large scale. Some phones, like anything named “Droid” from Motorola, are only available on Verizon, but the most popular Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 2 are available everywhere (the Note 2 isn’t available on Verizon just yet, but it will be in the coming months), so T-Mobile users need not fret this year. And, as always, if you’re looking for an iPhone and don’t want to switch away from T-Mobile, you’ll have to buy it for the full price and then either get a new contract or continue on your current one. Which, mind you, isn’t worth it in almost any case.

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.

HTC One S

While the other One series phones don’t make the best of list on AT&T and Sprint, the smaller One S is really a great phone, even if the camera is only mediocre. The reason is because it’s both incredibly small and light as well as a great device overall. The other phones are large and compete directly with the Galaxy S III, which doesn’t have the camera limitation that the HTC One X or Evo 4G LTE have, and the One S is also better looking, slimmer, and certainly better thanks to a smarter design yet with equal power.

Google Nexus 4

The Nexus 4, otherwise known as the latest Google phone but also as a simplified version of the LG Optimus G, is a solid buy for a few reasons. First, it has a great design, better than the Optimus G and a great clash of previous iPhone and the best Android phone designs. It comes with all of the high-end components and is available exclusively on T-Mobile, and you can only get it through T-Mo right now because it’s completely sold out off contract.

The real benefit from owning the Nexus 4 is first dibs on updates and no bloatware through LG, T-Mobile, or anyone else. A lot of people buy “Google” phones just for that reason (same with the new Nexus 7 and Nexus 10, for that matter). Plus Google’s track record for keeping any “Google” device up to date is pretty good, at least long enough for the life of a new contract. That shouldn’t be a problem for the Nexus 4 as well thanks to the high-speed quad-core processor and the luxuries of all the latest tech instilled within it. Aside from the 16GB maximum space, you can’t go wrong with the Nexus 4.



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.