Anna's Top 5 Back to School phones

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| Published: August 15, 2013

This summer seemed short, as all summers seem to be; but as it comes to a close and fall rolls in, another semester of school begins. But "Back to School" signifies more than just returning to a regular educational setting for the year - it also means there are some serious sales going on, which many students look forward to every year: school supplies, clothing, dorm room furniture, laptops, eReaders and yes, even smartphones. Although my expertise can't help you find that perfect name brand outfit for the best price or how you should theme your dorm room (which will likely clash with whatever your roommate has planned for their side of the room anyway) I have put together a list of phones that I think can serve students well over the course of the next year (or two, or three). Let's get started!

The Powerhouse: Samsung Galaxy S4

The Galaxy S4 was released earlier this year in April, and still remains as one of the most popular flagship phones so far this year. This phone has a 5" display and features a 1080 x 1920 full HD display (~441 ppi), 13-megapixel rear camera, 2-megapixel front-facing camera, a quad-core 1.6 GHz Cortex-A15 processor, and 2GB of RAM. Yes, that's a mouthful, and yes, this phone is a powerhouse of a smartphone. Even though I myself opted for the HTC One after initially choosing the Galaxy S4, there are still quite a few things from the Galaxy S4 that I wish the HTC One had. The first thing that comes to mind, especially that benefits this particular scenario, is the fact that the device has a microSD card slot. Expandable memory is perfect for students that will likely be taking a lot of pictures and videos, possibly using e-Books, and expanding their music library over the course of the year.  The Galaxy S4 also has Multi Window support, which allows you to multitask by splitting your screen into two different windows.

Although the price of the Galaxy S4 is high-end, even for the lowest amount of internal memory ($199 for 16GB), for a high school or college student looking for a phone that will carry through for the next couple of years it's a good buy.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is available on every major U.S. carrier.

Best Camera: Nokia Lumia 920/928/925

Your school years are said to be "the best years of your life". And what do people want to do with the best years of their life? Remember them, of course! And what better way to remember them than with the power of a pretty awesome camera that happens to be on the back of your phone? For the best camera that comes in a smartphone, there's no question in my mind that the Nokia Lumia line is the best choice for such a feature.

For students, the 920 line should do well enough on its own. Unless said student is a professional photographer and really has the need for the 41-megapixel shooter on the back of the latest Nokia Lumia 1020, which is missing from the list, the cameras on the 920-line are well enough for group shots, events and selfies galore.

An additional benefit of choosing a Lumia over other phones is that with Windows Phone 8 you also get support for Microsoft Office, which many students from middle school on up often use for projects and essays. Windows Phone 8 is also a particularly useful platform for students who own and use an XBox with XBox Live, as it features XBox Live support right from your phone.

The Nokia Lumia 920 line is available for every major U.S. carrier except for Sprint (Lumia 920 for AT&T; Lumia 928 for Verizon; Lumia 925 for T-Mobile).

Best Deal: Apple iPhone 5

Now, this device falls into this category presumptively; as it currently stands, the 16GB Apple iPhone 5 costs $199 on-contract, but if you can wait until sometime shortly after September 10th you can expect this popular phone to cost $100 less once the newest iPhone debuts (supposedly) at the Apple event on September 10th.

The Apple iPhone 5 sets itself apart from other iPhones by being the first iPhone to have a 4" screen, as oppose to the 3.5" screen that every iPhone before it measured at. This is also the first iPhone to use 4G LTE.

Although this deal comes with the understanding that it won't be the latest and greatest, this phone should still last you comfortably until the next two-year upgrade rolls around. Most iPhones have a good 3-year shelf-life before officially being pulled and discontinued. Since the iPhone 5 will only be a year old come October, this phone should still be on shelves until fall of 2015 if Apple follows the same pattern they've been following for years. This phone should also continue to see regular updates until it does officially become obsolete.

Students who already have other Apple products, or plan on buying other Apple products like a Macbook or an iPad, might find the Apple iPhone 5 a good addition to the collection as every device can stay in sync with each other using the iCloud. By waiting until the debut of the next generation iPhone, you're also cutting yourself a pretty sweet deal as well.

The Apple iPhone 5 is available on every major U.S. carrier.

The Scribe: Samsung Galaxy Note II

Fall is an interesting time for phones, and as it stands we're expecting to see a couple of manufacturers release the next generations of popular smartphones in the coming months. One of the smartphones that we're most excited to see happens to be what we think will be the Samsung Galaxy Note III. However, since we're still not sure when the device will be released, it's best just to fall back on the next best thing: the Galaxy Note II. Although the device is nearly a year old now, it still has one major feature that holds it above the rest, and that's the incorporation of the S Pen.

S Pen functionality is beneficial to a lot of people, and for students who prefer the art of the handwritten word the Note line has the best support for bringing tradition and technology together. What makes the Note so different is that instead of simply supporting the use of a stylus, which every smartphone does, it includes a dock and a special stylus (called the S Pen) within the device itself. It's an old feature that a lot of phones stopped using once pressure-sensitive screens phased out and heat-sensitive screens became the norm. However, just because pressure sensitivity was no longer a thing doesn't mean that a stylus isn't useful for a lot of things on a smartphone.

The Galaxy Note II is one of the larger phones on the market at 5.5", but this also gives you more room to comfortably write with the S Pen. The Galaxy Note II also supports the Multi Window feature.

The Galaxy Note II is available on every major U.S. carrier.

Cheap, Stock and Unlocked: Google (LG) Nexus 4

Last but not least, I've decided to include the Nexus 4 on this list. The true defining features of the Nexus 4 is that, even without signing a contract, you're able to get this phone at a cheap $299 price for the 8GB variant ($349 for 16GB). For the students that aren't available for an upgrade yet, but desperately need something new before the school year starts, the Nexus 4 will probably be the best bang for your buck. Not only is it cheap, but by owning a Nexus device you'll always be the first to receive software updates straight from Google when they become available.

Although it's the only phone on this list that doesn't support LTE, it still gets relatively fast data from HSPA+ speeds. This phone is also pretty powerful with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon™ S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM. The Nexus 4 features an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, so taking pictures with this phone won't turn out too shabby either. For any student who doesn't need the best of the best, but still wants to have a phone that is cost-effective and performs well, the Nexus 4 is your best bet, all things considered.

Although the Nexus 4 only supports GSM carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile), the phone comes unlocked so you can use them with a number of prepaid carriers that specialize in no-contract pricing every month (Simple Mobile, Straight Talk, and now T-Mobile can be included in that list as well).

I have to admit, it's pretty hard to narrow down so many great phones into a top 5 list, but given the circumstances that we're specifically talking about phones for students I couldn't just throw out my top 5 favorite flagship devices. In the end, I chose these 5 devices for different reasons; for the powerhouse user, the photographer, the Apple fan, the writer, and he-who-rightfully-hates-contracts. Hopefully, somewhere and somehow this list is helpful to a student looking for their next new phone somewhere.

If you had to create your own "Top 5 Back-to-School Phones", dear readers, what would you choose and why? Share your own top 5 lists with us in the comments below!

Images via Google, Edudemic