Galaxy S III ($279.99+)
Samsung’s (005930) Galaxy S III is no stranger to best-of lists, and it now finds itself on yet another.
While other Android vendors continue their struggles to turn a profit, Samsung has managed to build an Android empire with its numerous Galaxy-branded smartphones. At the top of the pile in 2012, the Galaxy S III sold a jaw-dropping 30 million units into channels during the phone’s first 150 days of availability and it’s still going strong — our sources at various carriers including T-Mobile state that the Galaxy S III has been among their best-selling smartphones during the holiday shopping season.
HTC One S ($149.99)
HTC’s (2498) One S isn’t the most powerful smartphone in T-Mobile’s lineup. It doesn’t have the biggest display, the sharpest resolution or the fastest processor. So why are we including it on this list?
The HTC One S has the most phenomenal build of any Android phone on the planet.
If it wasn’t for Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone 5, HTC’s One S might be the most sleek and solid smartphone, period. The unibody aluminum case is just 7.8 millimeters thick and it features a micro-arc oxidized finish that looks and feels incredible. The design is sleek and the phone’s manageable size makes it one of our favorite Android handsets to date.
The Windows Phone 8X is HTC’s second entry on our best-of list for T-Mobile, and the phone is now making its third appearance in this series. Long story short, it’s an awesome smartphone.
HTC’s Windows Phone 8X features almost everything that makes a smartphone great. The handset is sleek and unique, the build is outstanding, the performance is top-notch and the overall is experience is outstanding. The only thing the 8X doesn’t have that other flagship smartphones do is impressive sales numbers.
Recent checks performed by Canaccord Genuity found that Windows Phone 8X sales are topping the Lumia 820 at T-Mobile and the Lumia 822 at Verizon Wireless (VZ), but our sources have suggested that the figures are still nothing to write home about. We’re also told that the phone’s performance at AT&T (T) has been disappointing, which makes sense considering the Lumia 920 is overshadowing it there.
It really is a shame, though. Like most HTC phones, the Windows Phone 8X is a gorgeous piece of hardware with performance that absolutely won’t disappoint.
Galaxy Note II ($369.99)
The Samsung Galaxy Note II is one of the most expensive smartphones on the market and at T-Mobile, it’s even more expensive than it is elsewhere — this mammoth handset will set you back $369.99 with a two-year contract and a standard plan, which is unheard of for a phone with 16GB of memory.
If there’s any phone that can command such a sky-high price though, it’s Samsung’s latest phablet. Key features include a 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED display, a 1.6GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, an 8-megapixel camera, an integrated “S Pen” stylus and enhanced stylus support, and Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean.
$370 for a subsidized smartphone with 16GB of memory is enough to make anyone cringe, but if you consider that the phone pulls double-duty as a smartphone and a tablet, it’s a somewhat easier pill to swallow. And with cutting-edge specs, one of the most impressive displays on the market and class-leading performance, those who do cough up the cash won’t be disappointed.
Google Nexus 4 ($199.99)
Our final pick on T-Mobile’s list almost didn’t make the cut, which is odd considering it is one of the best Android smartphones ever made.
Google’s (GOOG) LG-built Nexus 4 features a quad-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon Pro processor, a 4.7-inch high-resolution Super AMOLED display, 16GB of storage, 2GB of RAM, an 8-megapixel camera and Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.
The best smartphones of 2012: Sprint
Samsung Galaxy S III ($199.99+)
Samsung (005930) has taken a lot of heat over the past year following countless allegations that it is ripping off Apple’s (AAPL) hardware and software designs. Some agree and some do not but the fact of the matter is that Samsung has a formula that works.
The company’s flagship smartphone for 2012 is the Galaxy S III, and it became Samsung’s most successful smartphone ever for good reason: A sleek design, cutting-edge components and a giant, beautiful display combine to form an overall user experience that smartphone users just can’t get enough of.
The Galaxy S III was first unveiled in May but even now, more than seven months later, it’s still one of the best smartphones on the market.
iPhone 5 ($199.99+)
Apple’s iPhone 5 has already made two appearances on our best-of lists, and now it’s back for a third mention.
Including the fastest-selling smartphone in history on a list like this is considered a no-brainer by many, but Apple’s latest smartphone has plenty more going for it than just sales.
It’s easily one of the most solid smartphones that has ever been produced in terms of build and materials, the design is arguably the sleekest on the market, and iOS 6 offers one of the most refined and comprehensive mobile experiences available. And while several smartphones make the iPhone 5 look puny on paper, specs are a small part of a much bigger picture — independent tests performed by PC Magazine earlier this year found Apple’s latest iPhone to be “the fastest smartphone in the land.”
Apple is bound to top the iPhone 5 when it launches the handset’s successor next year but for the time being, this phone is definitely one of the best in the business.
LG Optimus G ($199.99)
If you had told me last year that I would be naming an LG (066570) smartphone as one of the best smartphones of 2012 — for the second time — I definitely wouldn’t have believed you.
It’s not that LG makes bad phones — far from it. LG’s smartphones have never really been anything to write home about though, trumped time and time again by offerings from the likes of Samsung, HTC and Apple. In 2012, however, all that changed.
The LG Optimus G is without question one of the most impressive smartphones that launched in 2012. On paper, it’s a beast thanks to its 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 4.7-inch 768 x 1,280 display, 8- or 13-megapixel camera (Sprint’s version has the 13-megapixel version) and 32GB of storage. Where some well-spec’d phones fall short in the real world, LG’s Optimus G shines with lightning-fast performance, an extensive feature set and a gorgeous and unique Optimus user interface.
I will say that I prefer the styling of AT&T’s version of this phone as opposed to Sprint’s, but the Optimus G is still one of the best smartphones Sprint has ever offered.
Samsung Galaxy Note II ($299.99)
Sure I call it “smartphoneasaurus” behind closed doors, but Samsung’s Galaxy Note II was still one of the best smartphones to hit Sprint this year.
The phone’s 151.1-millimeter height and 80.5-millimeter width make it one of the least pocketable handsets on the planet, but the brilliant 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED screen makes the phone’s massive size well worth for many users. In fact, Samsung has sold more than 5 million Note IIs to date, making it one of the company’s fast-selling phones yet.
Packed within the Note II’s monstrous case lies a 1.6GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, microSDXC support (up to 64GB), an 8-megapixel camera and Samsung’s TouchWiz software. The Galaxy Note II also ships with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean so users have access to great new features like Google Now.
“Phablets” certainly aren’t for everyone and the $300 price tag is a tall order, but those looking for a supersized smartphone should look no further.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus (free)
Can a smartphone that launched in 2011 be named one of the best smartphones of 2012? Why yes, yes it can.
While it’s true that the Galaxy Nexus was first released by a U.S. carrier in December 2011, Sprint didn’t pick up this pure Google (GOOG) phone until the end of April 2012. And while Google has already launched another Nexus phone, the Galaxy Nexus can definitely still hold its own despite its age.
Beyond the gorgeous curved display and sleek case, the Galaxy Nexus brings users a pure Android experience exactly as Google intended it. It also runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which was found on less than 3% of all Android devices as of November.
The best smartphones of 2012: AT&T
iPhone 5 ($199.99+)
Disappointing or not, Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone 4S was the best-selling smartphone of 2011. It was faster than its predecessor, it added Siri into the mix, and it was better in almost every way. The one thing it didn’t bring to the table was a redesign. Of course, any disappointment over Apple’s recycled iPhone 4 case was short-lived.
LG Optimus G ($199.99)
LG’s (066570) Optimus G was a pleasant surprise when it hit AT&T in early November. The company’s South Korean neighbor Samsung (005930) took the smartphone market by storm and continues to dominate the industry alongside rival Apple, and LG has struggled to find an inroad in key markets like the U.S.
Nokia Lumia 920 ($99.99)
Put plainly, Nokia’s (NOK) Lumia 920 was one of the greatest smartphones we tested in 2012 but it was also one of the hardest to recommend.
The hardware, though bulky and heavy, really stands out from the crowd. The phone’s loud colors and unique design definitely say something about its owner, and Windows Phone 8 is no slouch when it comes to performance — the OS enhancements and support for multi-core chipsets put the platform on par with its rivals Android and iOS.
The Lumia 920 is a great smartphone. It has its faults, and you might have to hit the gym a few extra times each week in order to lift it, but it is still a great smartphone. The design is unique and sharp, the performance has improved dramatically from earlier Windows Phones and the camera is amazing. Does that add up to an experience that outweighs the platform’s many limitations? For the majority of consumers, I don’t think it does.
HTC One X+ ($199.99)
The HTC (2498) One X+ launched very late in the year and to call the phone’s introduction quiet is an understatement. It seems like almost an afterthought at this point, like AT&T is too busy worrying about what’s coming at CES 2013 to bother putting much support behind its new flagship HTC phone.
HTC Windows Phone 8X ($99.99+)
The HTC Windows Phone 8X is shaping up to be a sad story as well.
In terms of hardware, the Windows Phone 8X is outstanding and unique. Truth be told, it might be one of my favorite smartphone designs to date. The size is perfect, the shape fits comfortably in the hand, the build is solid and the soft-touch rubbery feel is a nice departure from hard metals and plastics.
The best smartphones of 2012: Verizon Wireless
HTC DROID DNA ($199.99)
HTC’s (2498) DROID DNA could very well be considered the king of smartphones at Verizon Wireless right now.
iPhone 5 ($199.99+)
2012 saw Apple launch the sixth iteration of its popular iPhone line of handsets and it quickly became the fastest-selling smartphone of all time.
Samsung Galaxy S III ($199.99+)
Behold, the world champion of Android smartphones.
HTC Windows Phone 8X ($199.99)
Verizon Wireless has historically not been one of the leading U.S. carriers when it comes to Windows Phone support. It has picked up a few Windows Phones here and there, but the most exciting offerings always seem to end up at either AT&T (T) or T-Mobile. With the launch of Windows Phone 8, that changes.
Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX HD ($299.99)
Spending $200 on a smartphone is a tough pill to swallow when you know you’ll be forking over hundreds of dollars each year on service. As such, Verizon’s $300 price tag on the Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX HD will probably seem as ludicrous as giving a smartphone a name composed of 15 capital letters.