Introducing PhoneDog's Best Phones rankings!

Noah Kravitz
 from  Oakland, CA
| July 26, 2010
What's the best phone, what's the best phone, what's the best phone?
You keep asking us, so we're going to try to answer. Introducing PhoneDog's Best Phones rankings.
In the past some of us have done individual Top 5 Lists, but now we're getting all official with our PhoneDog rankings of the best phones as decided by The Editors. So while we might give you "Sydney's Top Music Phones" here or "Aaron's Top BlackBerry Wannabes" there, we'll also be giving you the official PhoneDog rankings, updated on a regular basis as new devices hit the market.
For now we're starting out with our Top 3 Smartphones and Top 3 Messaging phones for each of the four major U.S. carriers. Down the line we might expand our rankings to more phones, more carriers, and/or more categories. But this seems like a good way to start, giving some solid choices that all of us editor types agree upon without diluting the rankings by making the lists too long.
We'll also keep track of our old lists, so you'll always be able to click through the archives to see what phones joined or dropped off of a list and when. As always we welcome your comments, whether you agree or disagree with how we've sized up the market. Just keep it clean and respectful, please, when you comment.
So here we go with our first batch of official PhoneDog Best Phones rankings …

Best Verizon Smartphones

Best Verizon SmartphoneView full product info

1. HTC Droid Incredible

  • Near-perfect combination of power, large display, and light/pocketable form factor
  • Brilliant 3.7" display is multitouch aware for easy Web and photo browsing
  • Android 2.1 plus HTC Sense offers social networking integration and access to thousands of apps
  • Incredible has been back-ordered since the day it hit the stores
  • Early adopters have complained of battery life problems
  • 8MP camera isn't quite on par with the best cameraphones on the market
On par, HTC's Droid Incredible is the ideal smartphone in Verizon's lineup, though it'll face stiff competition from Samsung's forthcoming Fascinate. Some power users will opt for Motorola's Droid X instead, but we think Incredible offers the best blend of power, usability and size.


    Second best Verizon SmartphoneView full product info

    2. Motorola Droid X

    • Droid X offers the best raw performance of any smartphone in Verizon's current lineup
    • Massive 4.3", 854 x 480 display is stunning and offers widescreen aspect ratio for watching videos
    • Excellent noise cancellation performance during calls and camcorder use
    • Phone is just too big for some users
    • Motorola's custom widgets lack style 
    • Early adopters have complained of display and WiFi problems

    Motorola's Droid X is arguably the ultimate Verizon phone for hardcore geeks and media mavens alike. Interestingly, the phone is also gaining favor amongst at least some of the older crowd, who find that the large screen makes it easier to read text and offers up larger targets for links and buttons.

      Third best Verizon SmartphoneView full product info

      3. Palm Pre Plus

      • webOS is easy to use, easy on the eyes, and full of clever features
      • Free Mobile Hotspot service makes this a best buy for laptop tethering
      • HP has breathed life back into Palm and the webOS platform, and webOS 2.0 is set to launch later this year
      • Lack of user adoption means a relative lack of webOS apps
      • Phone has a somewhat cheap build quality
      • Pre design is overdue for a refresh

      Despite the sad story behind Palm's total mismanagement of the Pre's launch, Pre Plus remains one of Verizon's best smartphone options. webOS is a killer platform, particularly if you value multitasking and social networking integration over sheer volume of apps available for download. And the ongoing free Mobile Hotspot offer will save you $20 each month versus comparable laptop tethering options.

        Best AT&T Smartphones

        Best AT&T SmartphoneView full product info

        1. iPhone 4

        • The new iPhone builds on a successful formula with a thinner, more luxurious design, higher resolution display, and improved camera paired with a front-facing camera and video-calling software
        • Improved reception (see note below) and better voice quality thanks to dual-mic noise cancellation
        • Best HD video capture from any mobile phone we've ever tested
        • "Death Grip" issue has led to widespread reports of severe signal loss when phone is held a certain way
        • Proximity Sensor bug causing some users to experience unwanted muting, hang-ups and speakerphone activation during calls
        • White model has been delayed multiple times, still not available
        Despite its highly publicized antenna problems, iPhone 4 is the best smartphone on AT&T. Whatever you think of Apple's approach to smartphones, iPhone 4 is incredibly thin, has the best display ever to grace a mobile phone, and serves up state-of-the-art media capabilities. Some will prefer an Android phone because they prefer Android. For everyone else, iPhone remains the smartphone to beat.
        Second best AT&T SmartphoneView full product info

        2. Samsung Captivate

        • Stunning 4" Super AMOLED display offers vivid colors, high resolution, and good performance in direct sunlight
        • Fast performance with ample onboard storage for media and files
        • Ships with Android OS 2.1; 2.2 upgrade has been promised
        • Samsung custom user interface and AT&T's ban on sideloaded apps will turn some Android fans off
        • Somewhat cheap, plasticky feel to build quality
        • No flash on camera
        Don't care for iPhone? Captivate is AT&T's best Android device to date. While critics will scoff at Samsung's arguably tacky custom UI and use of cheap plastic in the phone's body, everyone else will enjoy Captivate's zippy performance and large, gorgeous display. The 4" screen offers up a ton of real estate for typing, Web browsing and media consumption while still keeping the phone light and pocketable overall. Too bad AT&T continues to place their own restrictions on Android's core capabilities.

          Third best AT&T SmartphoneView full product info

          3. HTC Aria

          • Full Android power in a small, light, and discreet package
          • Web browsing, Email and social networking are easily usable despite the smaller screen size
          • Decent performance overall
          • Suspect battery life
          • Small display hinders two-thumbed typing
          • No flash on camera or HD video capture
          We really like Aria even if it didn't become any of our daily phones. Why? Flying in the face of the current wave of giant-screen superphones, AT&T and HTC decided to offer up a fully functional Android + Sense smartphone in a deliciously small package. While two-thumbed power typing can be tough on the 3.2" QVGA display, Aria proves that you can have access to everything a great smartphone does without having to carry a mini-tablet computer in your pocket. Good things in little packages, how can you not love it?

            Best Sprint Smartphones

            Best Sprint PCS SmartphoneView full product info

            1. HTC EVO 4G

            • 1 GHz Snapdragon processor
            • Large 4.3-inch touchscreen
            • Mobile Hotspot with connectivity for up to eight (8) users
            • First 4G smartphone available in the United States
            • 8MP camera with 720p video recording capabilities, and additional front-facing camera for video calling
            • Battery life isn't the greatest
            • Sprint's 4G coverage is still limited to select markets in the US
            • Requires a $10 "premium data" add-on, even if you're not in a 4G market


            With a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, 4.3-inch display, 8-megapixel camera with 720p video recording capabilities, Android 2.1 with HTC's Sense UI, and 4G connectivity, the HTC EVO 4G is about as jam-packed as an Android device can get, and Sprint's current flagship unit.  Unfortunately, 4G coverage is still sporadic and limited to select markets in the United States, and EVO users are stuck with a $10 "premium data" fee regardless of the data coverage in their market.

            Second best Sprint SmartphoneView full product info

            2. Palm Pre

            • Decent sized touchscreen with a physical QWERTY keyboard
            • Revolutionary webOS platform
            • Ability to charge wirelessly via Touchstone
            • Slow and laggy at times
            • Battery life is poor
            • Specs are outdated compared to the Palm Pre Plus


            It's a bit long in the tooth, but the Palm Pre is still one of the best smartphones on Sprint.  Despite a lack of developer support (when compared to the big guys), Palm's webOS platform is still one of the best in the business.  Too bad Sprint didn't get the updated Palm Pre Plus when it launched.

              Third best Sprint SmartphoneView full product info

              3. BlackBerry Bold 9650

              • Fantastic physical QWERTY keyboard
              • New trackpad more accurate and reliable than trackball
              • Good battery life
              • BlackBerry platform in need of an overhaul
              • Lacks a good web browser, media platform
              • 3.2MP camera somewhat low-end in comparison to competitors
              Though it's a basic revision of the BlackBerry Tour 9630, the Bold 9650 is a good smartphone for those that text message and e-mail on a regular basis.  The trackpad is a more reliable navigation method, and battery life is quite good.  That being said, RIM's BlackBerry software is in serious need of a revision to compete with the media-centric devices of 2010.

              Best T-Mobile Smartphones

              Best T-Mobile SmartphoneView full product info

              1. Samsung Vibrant

              • Fast 1 GHz processor
              • Gorgeous 4-inch Super AMOLED display
              • Incredibly thin and light
              • 5MP camera lacks flash
              • GPS issues keep Google Maps from displaying correctly
              • Battery life isn't the greatest


              With a 4-inch Super AMOLED display, 1 GHz Hummingbird processor, Android 2.1, and a 5.0-megapixel camera, the Samsung Vibrant is T-Mobile's best smartphone yet.  That being said, the device is experiencing some GPS issues, and the camera is missing a flash.
              Second best T-Mobile SmartphonView full product info

              2. HTC myTouch 3G Slide

              • HTC's Sense UI customized for device
              • Roomy physical QWERTY keyboard
              • Pictures taken with the camera didn't come out great
              • Hinge is a bit wobbly


              Though the 600 MHz processor entrenches it in the mid-range category, the HTC myTouch 3G Slide is a great Android device for those that need a full QWERTY keyboard for day-to-day tasks.  Surprisingly, the hinge was a bit wobbly and pictures taken with the 5.0-megapixel camera weren't that great.

              Third best T-Mobile SmartphoneView full product info

              3. BlackBerry Bold 9700

              • Roomy QWERTY keyboard is a pleasure to use
              • Thin and light
              • Absolutely fantastic battery life
              • BlackBerry platform is outdated in comparison to competitors
              • 3.2MP camera behind the times


              The BlackBerry Bold 9700, available in white and black, is a fantastic device for those that e-mail, text message, IM, or do anything else that would benefit from a full QWERTY keyboard.  That being said, BlackBerry OS is outdated in comparison to its competitors, and the 3.2-megapixel camera pales in comparison to the 5+ megapixel alternatives on the market.

              Best Verizon Messaging Phones

              Best Verizon Messaging PhoneView full product info

              1. LG enV Touch


              • Basically has every peripheral feature you could ask for in a messaging phone
                • 3.5 mm headphone jack
                • 3.2 MP camera with a flash, video capture, and autofocus
                • Great HTML web browser (renders pages very well, has an RSS feeder, multiple windows, and it supports Flash.)
              • An outer touchscreen (with widgets), plus another non-touchscreen when you flip the phone open. The best of both worlds!
              • Very spacious keyboard with a good layout and plenty of shortcut buttons and a D-pad.


              • After a year on the market, it's still priced at $150. Kind of steep for a messaging phone
              • Battery doesn't last very long


              The enV Touch is a beast of a phone and there's not much it can't do or doesn't have. Definitely one of the best messaging phones out there.

              Second Verizon Messaging PhoneView full product info

              2. Nokia Twist


              • A 3MP camera and camcorder are always good to see, even if there is no flash
              • The physical keyboard is very well-desiged and contains plenty of shortcuts for music, e-mail, etc.
              • Unique design that is sure to turn heads


              • "Twist"-style design may not be for everyone
              • The phone is rather small. The tiny screen and keyboard may be too small for some
              • With only an 860 mAh battery, you'll have to charge it more often. You'll only get about 1-1.5 days of heavy use


              "There's even a built-in mirror!" Yeah, this phone is mostly for teens and trendsetters, but it's still a solid messaging device. Who says you can look cool and have a great physical keyboard? Have your cake and eat it too!

              Third Verizon Messaging PhoneView full product info

              3. Samsung Reality


              • Samsung's TouchWiz Interface with plenty of fun and useful widgets to use on three different homescreens
              • 3.2MP camera with video capture that offers some pretty fun photo-editing features
              • Always nice to see a 3.5 mm headphone jack


              • The only downside to its otherwise fantastic physical keyboard is the fact that the spacebar is in a row with letters. This design can take some time to get used to
              • The web browser isn't the greatest. It doesn't render pages too well and it can be slow at times


              As a messaging phone it's great. You may have problems with the web browser and the touchscreen may give you just a few problems, but it performs well and does the job.

              Best AT&T Messaging Phones

              Best AT&T Messaging PhoneView full product info

              1. Pantech Link

              • Stylish design and slim form factor make it look like a smartphone
              • Great keyboard with extra-domed keys
              • Very nice integration of the music player onto the homescreen while playing music.
              • Memory is expandable up to 32 GB
              • 1.3MP camera that offers less-than-stellar photos and videos
              • No 3.5 mm headphone jackfeature one
              The Link is the perfect phone for someone who doesn't need a smartphone, but doesn't want a cheap-looking featurephone. It has every feature you'll need and performs excellently in all areas.
              Second best AT&T Message PhoneView full product info

              2. Samsung Impression

              • Great physical keyboard that makes typing very quick and easy (one of the best I've tested)
              • Beautiful, vibrant AMOLED display
              • 3MP camera
                • Reported problems with messaging and the phone freezing up after a few months of use
                • Video playback is a bit quirky and very low quality
                • Older device (released a year ago) and may not be available much longer
                  While Impression is a great messaging device, there have been too many reported problems with the messaging interface freezing up to put it at number one. Also, the fact that it's a bit older may be a downside for some. If it weren't for the problems, we would say it's the best.
                    Third best AT&T Message PhoneView full product info

                    3. Samsung Flight

                    • Convenient short-cut menu on the homescreen
                    • Task Menu for easy app-switching
                    • Great physical keyboard (noticing a common thread?)
                      • No 3.5 mm headphone jack
                      • 2 megapixel camera
                      • The compact keyboard may be a problem for some

                        When talking about physical keyboards that set the standard for good performance, we usually mention the Flight and the Impression. With the Flight, it may not have the best camera, but it has plenty of other features to offer and it has one of the best physical keyboards.

                          Best Sprint Messaging Phones

                           Best Sprint Messaging PhoneView full product info

                          1. LG Rumor Touch


                          • Well-designed, spacious physical keyboard
                          • Notifications bar for messaging that is somewhat similar to what you would see on an Android device
                          • The touchscreen and 3.5 mm headphone jack are features that the previous Rumors lacked
                          • Excellent build quality


                          • For a phone of this caliber, you would expect something better than a 2MP camera with no flash
                          • Though the user interface is interesting and fun, it may take some getting used to. (You may want to try it before you buy it see if you like it or if it's too different for you.)


                          The Rumor line of phones have always been solid contenders in the messaging phone market. The Rumor Touch adds a few additional features and has very few downsides. Perfect for the "serious texter."

                          Second Sprint Messaging PhoneView full product info

                          2. Samsung Exclaim


                          • "Dual-slider" phone so you have a T9 number pad as well as a physical QWERTY keyboard
                          • Speaking of physical keyboards, this one delivers. Great and easy to use
                          • Sprint's One-Click Interface is very useful and easy to work with


                          • Because it is a dual-slider, it's a bit thicker than most messaging phones
                          • 2.5 mm headphone jack is kind of a bummer


                          The Exclaim has an interesting design that seems to work well, but it won't be for everyone. However, it's physical keyboard makes it one of the best messaging phones and the One-Click Interface makes it fun and easy to use.

                          Third Sprint Messaging PhoneView full product info

                          3. Samsung Reclaim


                          • Eco-friendly. The phone is actually made out of plastics that were derived from corn and is 80% recyclable
                          • Not only is it good for the environment, but it actually has a decent physical keyboard
                          • Features Sprint's One-Click Interface - very useful and fun interface that brings all of your favorite apps and programs together so they're easy to get to


                          • The small keyboard may be a bit too cramped for some
                          • Build quality feels kind of cheap


                          Everybody wants to be good to the earth. With the Reclaim you can do that without having to sacrifice performance or features. It's a win-win! (Unless the keyboard size or phone style doesn't fit you quite right.)

                          Best T-Mobile Messaging Phones

                          Best T-Mobile Messaging PhoneView full product info

                          1. Samsung Gravity T

                          • Interesting physical keyboard design that makes for easy and comfortable typing
                          • First (and only) device in the Gravity series to have a touchscreen
                          • Despite the lackluster 2MP camera quality, the phone records video and has some fun photo-editing features that make up for it
                            • The resistive touchscreen and phone speeds as a whole were a bit laggy
                            • The web browser was a bit slow when loading a page
                            • 2MP camera with no flash

                              The Gravity T may not excel in the web browsing department or in speed performance, but as a messaging phone, it's one of the best.
                                Second T-Mobile Message PhonView full product info

                                2. LG Sentio


                                • Stylish physical design
                                • Multiple widgets for an expandable homescreen
                                • Outstanding battery life. It lasted a full seven days on standby


                                • Virtual keyboard isn't too great
                                • Web browser problems. It simply wouldn't load the page 80% of the time
                                • Though it's equipped with a solid 3 MP camera, there is no flash.


                                The LG Sentio is one of our favorite devices on T-Mobile by far. However, we had to keep it at number two since the virtual keyboard wasn't the best when it came to text messaging. Other than that, the Sentio is a solid device that is packed with features and performs well.

                                Third T-Mobile Messaging PhoneView full product info

                                3. Samsung Gravity 3


                                • Same great keyboard that the Gravity T is equipped with
                                • Good choice for those who don't like touchscreens
                                • Overall build quality is firm and sturdy


                                • Unimpressive 2MP camera with no flash
                                • User Interface was somewhat boring and felt uninspired
                                • Though the lack of a touchscreen could be a pro for some, others may see it as a letdown


                                With the Gravity 3, you get all of the benefits of the Gravity T, without having the worry about the potential problems of a touchscreen device, something many people will appreciate.