Smart phones: Screen v. speed v. compatability
Pro: Apple's App Store and elegant design
Con: Requires a new Apple cord (comes with phone; an extra cord costs $20)
Best for: Apple fans, those who like to keep it simple
Retail price: Starts at $199
Apple's latest smartphone is its thinnest and lightest ever but is, in some ways, playing catch-up with the rest of the industry. Apple increased the screen size on the phone to be better for Web browsing and video -- following its competition, but kept it to a thumb-friendly four inches.
The iPhone won't be the best choice for everyone, and is certainly most useful for people who already have Apple products. But it's also a strong candidate for a first smartphone and worth an upgrade if you have one coming to you. For simplicity, quality and portability, the iPhone 5 is an easy choice.
(Google) Nexus 4
Pro: Fast and trendy
Con: No LTE support
Best for: T-Mobile's top customers
Retail price: $199.99 and up
Google's Nexus 4 is the latest smartphone the company has put out from its Google-branded line, meaning that it will be on the fast track for Google updates. Its screen is a generous 4.7 inches with a high-quality display that's very nice for video. And even though it has a plastic body that doesn't feel as polished as an iPhone, it still has a high-quality feel.
The quality in this phone, really, is in the software. It makes the most of Google's latest version of its Android operating system. It's very easy to customize.
Of course, it's not a perfect phone. The biggest flaw with the Nexus 4 is that it won't run on the nation's fastest 4G LTE networks and therefore won't appeal to the techies who like to be on the cutting edge. It's also available on T-Mobile, though you can buy a (somewhat pricey) $299 version that will also run on AT&T.
Samsung Galaxy S III
Pro: Beautiful screen
Con: Can be a bit too big
Best for: Video nuts
Retail price: $199.99 and up
The Galaxy S III is Samsung's main competitor to Apple's iPhone.
The most noticeable difference is the smartphone's 4.8-inch screen, which is fantastic for video. Samsung clearly took advantage of its roots in making screens when it designed this phone. It's also speedy and powerful, so its users shouldn't have to spend too much time waiting for their phones to think.
The phone also has some neat features such as the ability to share information through a technology called "near-field communication," meaning that playlists, photos and other files can be swapped by tapping two Galaxy S III phones together. Overall, the S III will appeal most to serious mobile Web-surfers and video-lovers who like to have great viewing options in their pockets.
Pro: Great camera
Con: Only on AT&T
Best for: The business-minded
Retail price: $99.99 and up
The Nokia Lumia 920 is a Windows Phone, meaning that it's running Microsoft's dark-horse operating system, Windows Phone 8.
That distinction comes with a couple of shopper caveats. For one, Microsoft's mobile app store isn't nearly as comprehensive as Apple or Google's. Secondly, while certain phone apps will communicate with the apps on your computer or Windows tablet, not all will.
As for the phone itself, the Nokia Lumia 920 looks a lot like its predecessor the Lumia 900 -- a colorful plastic slab with sharper edges and corners than the curvy iPhone or Galaxy S III, but still comfortable to hold. The 920 is a very solid-feeling phone, well-built around its 4.5-inch screen. It also comes with wireless charging, which is nice for those of us who a hate rat's nest of cords. The camera is a major selling point here -- Nokia has put a top-of-the-line sensor in this phone that takes great snapshots.
Microsoft has improved its system, making it easier for users to organize and customize the main screen of the phone.
Pro: Great speakers
Con: Has a limited app store, for now
Best for: Music fans
Retail price: $99.99 and up, depending on carrier
Another Windows Phone, the HTC 8X is available on Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, making it a much more available phone. Well-designed and distinctive, the phone's bright colors and sleek form will likely make you want to show it off.
The 8X is also a powerful phone, designed to run smoothly and to handle several tasks without breaking a proverbial sweat. That's great for Microsoft's target audience of folks who want a device that can work and play.
And play it does. The fact that the 8X is made by HTC means that it comes with speakers from Beats Audio, a point the company is quick to point out to potential buyers.
The audio quality on the phone combined with the 4.3-inch screen make it ideal for watching video as well.
The 8X also comes with all the features and weaknesses of Windows Phone 8. It, too, has a limited selection of apps to choose from, though it also has the great customization options that let Windows Phone users show a bit more personality.
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