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Apple has the iPhone 4S on the market – and I still don’t care. I’ve been on Team Android since the launch of the G1. Why? One reason: customization. Sure, my die-hard Apple-fanatic friends make fun of me, but I just think they’re jealous because they’re stuck with one handset model and a whole lot of rules.
I like options, and now that I’m on my sixth Android, I’ve learned a thing or two about narrowing those options. If you’re ready to make the switch to Team Android, use these tips to help you find the best Android model for your money…
1. Wireless provider
Decide on a wireless carrier first. Even if it’s the best Android handset ever sold, you’re not going to care if you’re paying a ginormous bill every month or standing in the corner of your kitchen because it’s the only place you get service. Compare plans and ask your friends about their coverage. If you’re considering their carrier, invite them to your house to see how it is where you live. But don’t rely too much on service reviews. Wireless coverage varies widely by area, so you’re better off getting an honest opinion from people who work and live near you.
Almost every smartphone manufacturer except Apple is pumping out Androids these days. In my experience, it’s not the manufacturer that matters – it’s the Android series. Great manufacturers can release some horrible phones. For example, the Motorola Droid series is excellent, but the Cliq series, also by Motorola, pales in comparison. Bottom line: Don’t pick an Android based on the manufacturer.
Screen size matters, but it’s all based on personal preference. If you want a smaller handset, you need a smaller display. So look for an Android in the 3-inch range. If you want to watch movies on your handset, go for something in the 4-inch or higher range.
For keyboards, you have two choices: touchscreen or a full QWERTY external keyboard. QWERTY keyboards are easier for typing longer emails, but having that full keyboard makes the handset bulkier. If you want a sleeker handset, go with a touchscreen keyboard. And if you end up hating Swype (the keyboard common on touchscreen Androids), you can always download a new keyboard app. For example, Better Keyboard does what the name implies.
For still cameras, I’ve found that 5 megapixels is the dividing line for getting quality shots. My Samsung Galaxy had a 5-megapixel camera that took near-digital-camera-quality photos. For video cameras, the 3D-video capturing looks amazing, but 1080p will also produce high-quality videos.
Most Androids are still bare bones when it comes to photo settings and options, but you can fix that with different photo apps. The Android Market has dozens of great photo-taking apps available. I love MagicHour and PocketBooth.
6. Operating system
Google releases updates to the Android OS fairly regularly, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get them. If and when your handset will get an upgrade depends entirely on the manufacturer and your wireless provider. It’s better to play it safe and buy a handset that already has the latest OS installed. Right now, that would be Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is on its way.
The processor affects how your Android runs. Processor speeds are one category where I have to give props to Apple – they really know how to make a phone run smoothly. But a few of the newer Android models have similar speeds. For example, the HTC Rezound has a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, and the Droid Razr has a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor. Both are fast enough to handle any multitasking you throw at them.
Android devices typically have two storage capacities: the internal storage and the expandable memory slot. Apple only has the first type.
Turns out 2 GBs of internal storage and an expandable SD card slot are enough memory to download apps, save photos, and keep a few ringtones on hand – which is all most users will ever need. But if you want to do more with your handset, look for one with a larger internal memory or higher SD storage capacity. For example, I switched to the Samsung Galaxy II and dumped my old iPod. With 16 GBs of internal space and a memory card slot, I have all the space I need to use my Android as an MP3 player.
Once you get your handset, clear off as many factory-installed apps as you can to free up storage space. Every wireless provider loads their Androids down with not-very-helpful pre-installed apps, and they’ll eat away at your storage.
9. Data speed
4G is faster than 3G, but it’s also more expensive and not available in all areas. If you want to save some money, opt for a 3G data plan if your wireless provider still offers them. 3G is more than enough speed to browse the Internet on your Android. If you can only get 4G through your provider, opt for a lower monthly limit – 2GB is enough for most users.
Each manufacturer has its own interface installed over the Android OS. The interface changes the appearance of your home screens and different menus. Try out different interfaces in the store, because the online pictures really don’t do the screens any justice. Personally, I think HTC has the cleanest interface. But if you miss your old iPhone, try Samsung’s interface – after all, the two were similar enough to start a legal war.