Which smartphone would you recommend for a first-time buyer?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| Published: July 7, 2012

Each carrier, whether it’s national or regional, prides itself on having options. While it’s true that some of the regional carriers, or even the national pre-paid options, may not have the most in number, there are usually different form factors to choose from, as well as different operating systems. Options count for a lot, no doubt about it. But sometimes, for a new customer, having so many options can weigh heavy on someone who doesn’t know exactly what they’re looking for.

I recently went on a road-trip with my dad, and during the time on the road I was busy doing different things with my phone. There were certain points where he’d have me look up something, maybe for a place to eat or somewhere to just do something in general, and when I wasn’t doing that I was checking our route as we went along. He had plenty of questions, asking me how it worked, how well it worked, and how easy it all was. I answered, but I couldn’t foresee the outcome.

He wants a smartphone now.

My dad wanting a smartphone is interesting, because for as long as I can remember he’s just wanted, “A phone that makes phone calls.” He doesn’t send text messages, and he is perfectly content checking the few emails he gets from the computer he has at home. Or at least that’s how it used to be. Apparently the road-trip changed the way he looks at phones and their functionality. Now he’s on his computer, not checking his email, but looking at reviews for the smartphone that will end up in his hand.

My dad’s a subscriber for a regional carrier, so he doesn’t have that many options. Yes, he could switch to a national carrier, but he’s been a customer of US Cellular for about 10 years now, so he’s not switching. Not even an option. We found our way into a local retail shop earlier tonight, and my dad started looking over the phones. He ended up on the Galaxy S II, and while the representative was quick to point out that the Galaxy S III is coming out next week for the carrier, my dad wasn’t interested. After all, the Galaxy S II is cheaper.

After a bit of conversation, the rep actually informed my dad (and me) that US Cellular would be putting a stronger focus on smartphones, or “Internet-connected devices” as the rep called it, and phasing out everything else. Two flip-phones and two messaging devices would remain, while the brunt of available options would be smartphones.

I’m not surprised by this at all. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile USA have all put a strong focus on smartphones. Some of them even actively try to stay away from sales of other kinds of phones completely. I had wondered about this in the past, this inexorable transition. What about the folks a few age brackets above me? What if they don’t want a smartphone? They could potentially keep their flip-phones until they don’t need a phone anymore, I suppose, but upgrades are rarely passed up.

This made me start wondering what the best starter smartphone would be on each carrier. Like I said, they all have options. In my dad’s case, with his planned purchase of the Galaxy S II, I think he’s hit the nail right on the head. It’s a great device by itself, and there are plenty of Android enthusiasts out there who would still tell you today that it’s one of the best devices available. Big display, fast internals, and a camera that is worth using, the Galaxy S II is a great starter smartphone for my dad (or anyone similar to him, looking to get away from a simple phone).

So I’m curious, Dear Reader, have you been put in that situation before? Whether it’s your own parent(s), uncle, friend’s family member, or just an acquaintance, have you needed to suggest a smartphone for someone who has never used one before? If you have, which one did you pick, and for which carrier? More to the point, why did you pick that one? Let me know!