Aaron's Top 5 Android phones (December 2011)

Aaron Baker
Writer from  Dallas, TX
| December 13, 2011

It's the holiday season, and in the midst of all that eggnog and gingerbread, you may be in the market for a new Android phone.  They've been coming out at a harried pace this year, making it even harder to choose.  DROID?  Galaxy S II?  Nexus?  The list can be daunting, to say the least.  Couple that with today's confusing advertisements, and the whole process can go from "fun and easy" to "annoying and hard" quickly.

There are some great choices out there, but as with anything, there are a few that stand out above the rest.  Whether you're buying for yourself, your nerdy brother, your needy Mother (I've got rhymes!), here are my top five Android devices for the holidays.


1. Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket ($249.99, AT&T)

At this point in time, I like the Skyrocket - the latest member of Samsung's Galaxy S II family - better than the Galaxy Nexus.  It's a bit on the pricey side at $249.99 with a two-year agreement, but it's rocking a nice 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon CPU. 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus display, 8-megapixel camera with 1080p video recording, and Android 2.3.6 with TouchWiz 4.0, the newest version of Samsung's user interface.

Skyrocket takes every feature you like from the Galaxy S II variants, like the big screen on the Epic 4G Touch and large battery in T-Mobile's Galaxy S II, and throws in 4G LTE connectivity to boot.  TouchWiz 4.0 is an excellent, easy to use interface that's been drastically improved over past versions.  Some will be drawn to the HTC Vivid because they prefer a metal build and HTC's design cues, but in regards to overall features, Skyrocket remains the Android device to beat.


2. Samsung Galaxy Nexus (unlocked)

Verizon is dragging its feet with the release of the US - and LTE-capable - Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but if you're willing to spend somewhere in the ballpark of $750, you can score an unlocked GSM version now that'll work on AT&T and T-Mobile's HSPA+ networks.  There's a lot of hype around the Galaxy Nexus due to it being the first retail unit to run the latest version of stock Android, version 4.0 (also known as Ice Cream Sandwich - or as I call it, "Ice Cream Sammich").  You get that raw feeling that you can only get on a Galaxy Nexus

The specifications are decent, but comparatively speaking, they're not as advanced as past Nexus devices: 1.2 GHz dual-core TI OMAP processor, 4.65-inch Super AMOLED HD (720p) display, 5-megapixel camera with 1080p recording, just to name a few.  It lands squarely in the middle of today's high-end Android lineup, which would be fine if it wasn't a Nexus.  But it is a Nexus.  It's not supposed to fall in line.  It's supposed to have cutting-edge specs that place it ahead of the Android competition.

The HD display is very nice, and the build quality is excellent (loving the curved build in particular), but the camera is a disappointment.  If being an early adopter of Ice Cream Sandwich and having 4G LTE connectivity (when it comes to Verizon) are important to you, you're going to love the Galaxy Nexus.


3. Motorola DROID RAZR ($299.99, Verizon Wireless)

If this list were based on looks and size alone, the Motorola DROID RAZR would top the charts.  It's a handsome little device, coming in at 7.1mm thin and offering Gorilla Glass on the front and a KEVLAR coating on the back to protect it from drops, small animals, and teething toddlers.  Inside, it has a 1.2 GHz dual-core TI OMAP processor, 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Advanced display with PenTile technology, an 8-megapixel camera, and a non-removable 1,780 mAh battery.  It's the thinnest 4G LTE device in Verizon's lineup, and I'd be willing to wager that the other LTE smartphones are jealous.  Especially that chunky Motorola DROID BIONIC.

Love it or hate it, it ships with Motorola's custom user interface, though it has been tweaked significantly since the MOTOBLUR days.  It's slated to get Ice Cream Sandwich next year, and given Google's proposed acquisition of Motorola, we could see the Motorola UI finally ride off into the sunset.


4. Samsung Captivate Glide ($149.99, AT&T)

All too often, I feel like manufacturers slip into the "RIM mindset" and couple mid-range specifications with keyboards, so that's why the Samsung Captivate Glide was a breath of fresh air.  The Captivate Glide can hold its own with the big boys thanks to a 1 GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, 4-inch Super AMOLED display, and 8-megapixel camera with 720p HD video recording.  It also has Android 2.3 with TouchWiz 4.0, the latest version of Samsung's UI.  On top of that, it packs a QWERTY keyboard that, while it needs some work, still gets the job done and gives the hard-core email fiend an additional choice over the on-screen buttons.  This is a fast device that's priced incredibly well.


5. HTC Amaze 4G ($229.99, T-Mobile)

I like the build quality of the HTC Amaze 4G.  If you prefer metal accents, this is going to be the device for you.  Under the hood, you'll get a 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon CPU, 4.3-inch qHD display, 8-megapixel camera with 1080p video recording, and Android 2.3 with HTC Sense 3.0.  It's a gorgeous device for sure, but HTC's Sense is getting a little bit too overbearing for my liking.  Like the EVO 3D and Sensation 4G, I see lag on the Amaze 4G from time to time.


What are your top five must-have Android devices for the holiday season?  Hit the comments section with your lists - and most importantly, the reasoning behind your choices!