Which phone should I buy? "Back to school" edition

Aaron Baker
member from Dallas, TX
Published: August 2, 2010

"Which phone should I get?" Given my line of work, I get this question regularly from friends, family, and colleagues. Choosing a carrier is tough enough, but the sheer number of phones available (with more arriving each week) complicates a buying decision even more.

With school starting in a few weeks, it's time to take a look at some of the devices on the market. We've divided the list into two categories - smartphones and featurephones - depending on the age of your loved one(s). In most cases, the phones you see below aren't the newest devices on the block, but they're all reasonably priced, well-equipped, and recommended for the hustle and bustle that accompanies back to school time. For additional information, including in-depth specifications, videos, and reviews, be sure to click on the "Product Hub" link.

Smartphones

Apple iPhone 4G (AT&T)

Apple iPhone 4

  • Buy this if: You're a media buff who wants a first class music and web experience.
  • Don't buy this if: You want widgets or a subtle notification system.
  • Buyer Beware: Don't hold the phone in the much ballyhooed lower left hand corner.
  • Pleasant Surprise: The "Retina Display" is absolutely gorgeous, and battery life has been surprisingly good.
  • Dark Secret: Download fring and video chat with non-iPhone users.
  • Alternatives: HTC Droid Incredible (Verizon), Samsung Captivate (AT&T), Samsung Vibrant (T-Mobile).

 

iPhone 4G Review Available at RadioShack


T-Mobile myTouch 3G Slide

HTC myTouch 3G Slide

  • Buy this if: You like Android and want a physical QWERTY keyboard.
  • Don't buy this if: You don't like a heavily customized user interface over Android.
  • Buyer Beware: HTC has placed a custom interface on the myTouch 3G Slide, so Android updates could take longer to arrive.
  • Pleasant Surprise: Great physical keyboard.
  • Dark Secret: Hinge can get a bit wobbly after extended use.
  • Alternatives: LG Ally (Verizon), Samsung Intercept (Sprint)

 

myTouch 3G Review Available at RadioShack


Palm Pre Plus

Palm Pre Plus

  • Buy this if: You want a nice mid-range smartphone with a smart OS.
  • Don't buy this if: You like a ton of apps, since Palm's App Catalog is pretty bare in comparison to the competition.
  • Buyer Beware: The Pre series is well over a year old, so a revised model could arrive any day now.
  • Pleasant Surprise: Verizon has been offering Mobile Hotspot for free, a $20 value.
  • Dark Secret: Battery life isn't the best.
  • Alternatives: HTC DROID Incredible (Verizon), HTC Aria (AT&T).

 

Palm Pre Plus » Available at RadioShack


HTC Aria (AT&T)

HTC Aria

  • Buy this if: You want a nice mid-range device in a small package.
  • Don't buy this if: You have big hands and like to type long messages.
  • Buyer Beware: You can't sideload unofficial apps on AT&T's Android devices, so the device isn't for the enthusiast.
  • Pleasant Surprise: Well-equipped small device in a world of behemoths.
  • Dark Secret: With a smaller device comes a smaller battery, so you may need to carry a car charger.
  • Alternatives: HTC Hero (Sprint), LG Ally (Verizon).

 

HTC Aria Review Available at RadioShack


BlackBerry Bold 9650

BlackBerry Bold 9650

  • Buy this if: You want reliable push e-mail service, and have several friends with BlackBerry devices.
  • Don't buy this if: You enjoy music or web browsing; BlackBerry doesn't handle either particularly well.
  • Buyer Beware: BlackBerry has used a similar platform for years, so the operating system may seem outdated in comparison to others.
  • Pleasant Surprise: Trackpad and added memory make for a better experience, and as always, the physical keyboard is fantastic.
  • Dark Secret: The Bold takes several minutes to power on.
  • Alternatives: BlackBerry Bold 9700 (AT&T, T-Mobile), HTC myTouch 3G Slide (T-Mobile).

 

BlackBerry Bold 9650 Review Available at RadioShack


Samsung Vibrant

Samsung Vibrant

  • Buy this if: You want a feature-packed Android device with a beautiful "Super AMOLED" display.
  • Don't buy this if: You like the standard Android interface, because Samsung's TouchWiz is completely different.
  • Buyer Beware: The 5.0-megapixel camera doesn't have a flash.
  • Pleasant Surprise: Avatar is pre-loaded on the device (yep, the full movie).
  • Dark Secret: Suffers from the occasional lag.
  • Alternatives: Motorola DROID X (Verizon), HTC EVO 4G (Sprint), Samsung Captivate (AT&T).

 

Samsung Vibrant Review Available at RadioShack

 

Featurephones


Pantech Link

Pantech Link

  • Buy this if: You want a slick, clean messaging device.
  • Don't buy this if: You want a powerful camera, since Link only offers a 1.3-megapixel shooter.
  • Buyer Beware: Some have reported call quality issues.
  • Pleasant Surprise: The keyboard is spacious and incredibly easy to type on, and battery life is quite good.
  • Dark Secret: The HTML browser is frustrating to use at times.
  • Alternatives: Samsung Magnet (AT&T).

 

Pantech Link Review Available at RadioShack


Samsung Gravity 3

Samsung Gravity 3

  • Buy this if: You're on T-Mobile and want a good messaging device.
  • Don't buy this if: The "sliding QWERTY" form factor isn't your thing.
  • Buyer Beware: The Gravity 3 doesn't offer a dedicated headphone jack.
  • Pleasant Surprise: The keyboard is roomy and easy to use.
  • Dark Secret: The Gravity 3 suffers from some occasional call quality issues.
  • Alternatives: LG Cosmos (Verizon), Samsung Intensity (Verizon).

 

Samsung Gravity 3 Review Available at RadioShack


Samsung Reality

Samsung Reality

  • Buy this if: Your budget is for a featurephone but you want the ability to customize.
  • Don't buy this if: You dislike additional features; the Reality requires a $9.99 (or higher) data plan.
  • Buyer Beware: Camera quality isn't the best.
  • Pleasant Surprise: Samsung's TouchWiz user interface offers a nice level of customization.
  • Dark Secret: Despite being the successor to the Samsung Rogue, it skimps out on a few features like screen size and data speed.
  • Alternatives: Samsung Smiley (T-Mobile), LG enV3 (Verizon)

 

Samsung Reality Review Available at RadioShack


LG VU Plus

LG VU Plus

  • Buy this if: You're on a budget but want a nice, well-equipped featurephone.
  • Don't buy this if: You find capacitive touchscreen displays frustrating.
  • Buyer Beware: Keyboard is somewhat squished together.
  • Pleasant Surprise: With a capacitive touchscreen, 3.0-megapixel camera, and stereo Bluetooth, it offers quite a few features.
  • Dark Secret: Lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack could be frustrating for music fans.
  • Alternatives: Samsung Gravity T (T-Mobile), LG enV Touch (Verizon).

 

LG VU Plus Review Available at RadioShack


LG EnV3

LG EnV3

  • Buy this if: You're buying a featurephone and want a good music and web experience.
  • Don't buy this if: You dislike additional features; the EnV3 requires a $9.99 (or higher) data plan.
  • Buyer Beware: It's approaching old age, so the EnV 4 could be on the market soon.
  • Pleasant Surprise: One of the best QWERTY keyboards on a featurephone.
  • Dark Secret: After extended use, some users have reported issues with "OK" button.
  • Alternatives: Samsung Reality (Verizon).

 

LG EnV3 Review Available at RadioShack


Samsung Reclaim

Samsung Reclaim

  • Buy this if: You want a solid messaging device that's also eco-friendly.
  • Don't buy this if: You're looking for a professional color, since the Reclaim ships in blue and green.
  • Buyer Beware: Call quality was shaky at times.
  • Pleasant Surprise: 40 percent of Reclaim's casing is made from corn.
  • Dark Secret: 3G connectivity occasionally faded out during testing.
  • Alternatives: Samsung Restore (Sprint), LG Remarq (Sprint).

 

Samsung Reclaim Review Available at RadioShack