This one is gonna be tough. Smartphones are getting smarter. Dumbphones are as smart as last year's smartphones. And Internet rumors and leaks are so rampant, it's hard to talk about today when we (think we) know what's coming tomorrow. Not to mention the fact that my favorite phone may well be your worst nightmare.
That said, here's my stab at the five phones I would most likely recommend to anyone, in order of preference. Note that I am only including phones that are actually shipping as of today, August 12, 2009. US carriers noted in (parenthesis) as available:
1. Apple iPhone 3GS (AT&T)
iPhone is not the best choice for certain users, but it is still my overall most-recommendable phone. Yes it lacks in obvious features that other smartphones take for granted (MMS and tethering in the US, anyone?), and yes Apple's App Store practices are under a harsh spotlight more than ever. But the multitouch display is still killer, the iPod and App Store are still the best in the biz, and the addition of video capture, voice control, and up to 32 GB of onboard storage makes the 3GS the slightly evolved phone to beat.
1a. Apple iPhone 3G (AT&T)
Really it's the same thing but a little cheaper. Most people won't miss 3GS' speed bump and voice control that much. They might miss the camcorder and extra storage space, though.
2. HTC Hero (Unlocked)
Despite the fact that my Hero review unit was a bit laggy, it represents the near-term future of the Android platform. Integrated contacts and messaging, widgets galore, and multitouch performance that rivals Pre and iPhone - this is what Android should be. HTC is already optimizing Hero's performance, and no doubt is working on some Sprint-ified goodies for Hero's US debut, rumored to be planned for CTIA Fall in October.
3. Palm Pre (Sprint)
Pre would have taken the Number Two spot if only the App Catalog was a bit more filled out. Pre's multitouch screen and WebOS are astoundingly good. I'm so-so on the hardware and don't really care much for that tiny keyboard. But so what? The WebOS experience is nothing short of phenomenal. And there's a great Homebrew community churning out jailbreak-style apps. Now if only Palm could get the App Catalog humming and release a few more WebOS devices, they might be onto something.
4. BlackBerry Bold (AT&T)
I was tempted to give the new CDMA Tour the nod over Bold, but then realized that's because I'm tired of AT&T's lousy 3G service where I live, and not because of the phone itself. While brave new BlackBerry devices like Magnum and Storm 2 have recently made appearances in leaked photos, until they launch Bold is still King of (Blue)Berry Hill. The new Tours and Curves have higher-res displays, but Bold's mix of 3G, WiFi, and that gloriously comfy keyboard give it the edge. Barely.
5. LG enV Touch (Verizon)
While I still think the dual-full sized display thing is silly overkill, enV Touch is so packed with features that most people won't miss - or notice - the fact that it's not a "smartphone." enV Touch's Web browser does HTML, tabs, 800 x 480 widescreen browsing and inline Flash video playback. The phone has a 3,5mm headphone jack and can play music in the background while you surf or text. LG's new user interface rivals all but the very best in terms of usability and style. And that full QWERTY board on the inside of the "horizontal flip" is a texter's delight. If you can live without advanced PC syncing and all of the user-installable apps that true smartphones afford, enV Touch will put all of the calling, messaging, emailing, browsing, listening, watching, and gaming you can handle in your pocket ... for just a little less coin than a smartphone would cost you.
Honorable Mention: Toshiba TG01, Nokia E75, BlackBerry Tour, Blackberry Curve 8900, Samsung Omnia 2, Samsung Omnia HD, Samsung Jet, HTC Touch Pro2, HTC Touch Diamond2 .. and several more that have been launched but aren't yet shipping!