Taylor's Top 5 Android smartphones for Back to School (2011)

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| Published: August 16, 2011

Here we are, flying past the midpoint of August and just like that, it's just about time for classes to be kicking back into action any time now. It's time to clean the sand and beach towels out of your book bag, only to replace them with paper, binders, pencils and three or four textbooks that weigh as much as you do.

Heading back to school and waving goodbye summer can be hard. No fear, though! We here at PhoneDog have you covered. The perfect smartphone can help you along the way, either by providing entertainment between classes with pointless YouTube videos and games or by offering an easy way to capture all your notes with productivity apps. Without further ado here are my top five Android handsets for Back to School 2011:


1. Photon 4G (Sprint)

The Photon 4G is the newest addition to Sprint's smartphone lineup and I must say, it has left me impressed. Packing a 4.3-inch qHD (540 by 960 pixels), 8-megapixel camera, 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor and 1GB RAM, the Photon 4G is one serious contender. It isn't the most beautiful phone to date. In fact, it looks a lot like the Motorola i1 (iDEN) Android phone. And the display, though it sports a higher resolution, can show some gruesome pixelation at times.

Despite a few hiccups along the way, the Photon has proven its worth and packs its punches where they really matter: performance. Its direct competition, the EVO 3D suffers from intermittent lag – something that should not be present on a dual-core phone. The Photon, equipped with a little extra RAM and lighter UI changes takes the cake. It currently sells for $199.99 with a two-year agreement.


2. HTC Sensation 4G (T-Mobile)

One of HTC's newest flagship phones, the Sensation 4G, launched on T-Mobile's network back in mid-June. Sporting a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera with 1080P video recording capabilities, a 4.3-inch qHD S-LCD display (540 by 960 pixel resolution) and 768 MB RAM, the Sensation comes with one of the best spec sheets around. It is a monster of a phone, packed into a light, thin chassis, with hardware that teases the famed Nexus One.

That said, this bad boy also comes with HTC's latest custom Android skin, popularly known as Sense 3.0. Sense has been the deemed responsible for “lag that no dual-core device should have.” Respectably priced at $199.99 with a two-year agreement, the Sensation is the phone for you, if you're on T-Mobile and you can deal with unnecessary lag. Likewise, if you're on Sprint, you should check out the Sensation's close WiMAX relative, the EVO 3D.


3. T-Mobile G2x by LG

The T-Mobile G2x, made by LG, was quickly one of the best phones on the market. Just as quickly, it slipped down to the middle of our top smartphones list. The G2x ships with a 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor, a 4-inch LCD display, 8-megapixel camera with 1080p recording, 512MB RAM and stock Android, which easily puts it ahead of most single-core devices.

I've been using the G2x as my personal device for several months now and it has performed well. It's slim, with decent build quality and I love stock Android. But the battery life is definitely lacking and the camera, despite being 8-megapixels, is mediocre at best. With a little extra effort from LG, this device could have been the phone to have. Instead, it sits comfortably at the midpoint of my top five Back to School list.


4. Motorola DROID 3 (Verizon Wireless)

The latest entry in Verizon's ever-popular DROID line is the DROID 3. It's a beautifully designed phone with a full five-row, slide-out QWERTY hidden beneath the face of the device. With a 4-inch qHG TFT display, 1GHz TI OMAP dual-core processor, 8-megapixel shooter and 512MB RAM, the DROID 3 is a fair upgrade from its predecessor, the DROID 2.

Let me just say that the keyboard found on the DROID 3 alone is enough to place it on my Back to School list. Several Android manufacturers have tried their hand at landscape QWERTYs to no avail. This aspect alone is a success and a major improvement for Motorola.

Although slightly smaller, the DROID 3 shares the same display type as the Photon 4G, in which you may see some pixelation due to the PenTile (RBGW) layout. But the standby time is mind-blowing and the keyboard is absolutely fantastic – I would rate it the best in the business, excluding BlackBerrys. It's a powerhouse of a phone and with minimal changes to the UI, it's fairly snappy. Currently selling for $199.99 with a two-year agreement, the DROID 3 is a great choice for Back to School.


5. Google Nexus S 4G by Samsung (Sprint)

Bringing up the back of the pack is the famed Nexus S in its 4G variation on Sprint. The Nexus S 4G comes equipped with a 1GHz Hummingbird processor, a 4-inch Super AMOLED contoured display, a 5-megapixel camera, NFC and 512MB RAM. Spec-wise, this thing should have long been forgotten, but this isn't your run-of-the-mill Android. Being a "Google" phone, the Nexus line is far less susceptible to obsolescence, thanks to rapid software updates from Google and bleeding performance.

Despite being a lightweight in the specification department, the Nexus S 4G has some unique features that give it an air or superiority. Samsung's Super AMOLED display is beautiful. Some argue the displays are too saturated, but there's no denying it makes Android pop like no other. The Nexus S 4G is also guaranteed to be among the first to receive any phone-related updates from Google. Not to mention, it's extremely easy to modify and has unsurprisingly gained the attention of third-party developers all around. It may not be the biggest and baddest, but Google nor Samsung were pulling their punches with the Nexus S. This phone is availble on Sprint for $99.99 with a two-year agreement and can be purchased in 3G versions for T-Mobile and AT&T.