What are today's good phones? When will they be obsolete?
April 27, 2013 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Need a new phone for myself and my wife, usually there's a "hot" phone (iPhone, HTC Evo 4G, Samsung Galaxy S3, etc) - whatever the top phone is. That seems to change every 6 months, and I just can't keep up. Also, I don't keep up with the release cycle - if I buy the hot phone today, is it essentially going to be obsolete in 3 months?

I'm primarily looking at T-Mobile, but that might change, depending on how bad the signal is at my work. Not looking for an iPhone (plus, I know that's always an option). I don't know if Windows 8 is worth getting yet, I've always been an Android guy. Galaxy S3 is a possibility for me, but my wife's hands are too small to comfortably use it. Right now we're looking at HTC One. I'd strongly prefer something where there's an accessible battery, so I can swap it out without a problem.

For me it's somewhat critical - my phone has stopped making sound in the past few months, and the Sprint service is horrible. I can probably hold out another 3 months, but it won't be comfortable. Are we on the cusp of the next release cycle, or am I safe buying a phone now?

I'm sure that this question has been asked a million times, but I haven't seen it in about 3 months, and like I said, the answers change all the time, so it's a bit ephemeral.
posted by 0x006DB0 to Technology (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you buy an iPhone, you can still have fun with it in and have it genuinely feel current in 3-4 years. Almost all new iPhone software still runs on the 3GS, from 2009.

I can't think of any other phone, or phone ecosystem like this. My friend has an android phone that's not even a full year old, and we just realized some new games won't run on it last night. Ludicrous.

I just don't think you're realistically get that from any other OS or Insividual handset manufacturer. Everyone who bought windows phone 7 phones got boned when 8 came out, and many people with barely a year old android phones have been screwed out of new software or updates.

If I had to buy an android phone, I like the One, and all of htc's stuff. It's just generally well made. I wouldn't though.

I'd rather have an iPhone and a battery case like a juicepack(or one of the many brandless eBay knockoffs) than any other phone and a swapable battery. I'd be pretty angry if I shelled out $200 on a new android phone and it wouldn't run the newest OS, or certain new software in a year. Same with Microsoft.

And this is coming from someone who got a new, then rapidly obseleted android phone twice. Never again.
posted by emptythought at 3:56 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sorry, to clarify what I mean by obsolete - I'd like to be able to have the latest version of Android for a decent amount of time, and I'd prefer to have at least some time with "the hottest phone". I'm mainly just asking for recommendations for the best new android phone and if it's worth it, the best Windows 8 phone, with the additional question of, "Are we at the end of the development cycle for that phone?" (i.e. if I bought an iPhone 5 and the iPhone 6 comes out in 2 months, I'd rather have the iPhone 6). Obsolescence is a relative term.

Also, to clarify, I will never, ever buy another iPhone. I understand that the hot android phones become semi-obsolete within a year or two. My phones tend to break after around 1.5-2 years anyway, so I don't really care how good it'll be in 2 years, just that it's not last year's hot phone.

OK, sorry if that's threadsitting. I'm done for now.
posted by 0x006DB0 at 3:59 PM on April 27, 2013

I have used the iPhone 4 for a few years, but if I had to upgrade today, I'd take a serious look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.
posted by 4ster at 4:03 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Husband says Samsung galaxy s4 and HTC One.
posted by bq at 4:03 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It won't be obsolete. Things that change are processor speed, camera quality, and OS version (which you can sometimes upgrade to anyway, depending on the phone and carrier). T-Mobile has those new non-contract post-pay plans that are attractive, so good thinking on T-Mobile, and as for a phone, Nexus 4 or iPhone or BlackBerry or Windows Phone 8 are all options (but if you want apps, iPhone is king - but no changeable battery).
posted by Dansaman at 4:11 PM on April 27, 2013

I will never, ever buy another iPhone.

If you could elaborate on that, people would be better able to give you advice.
posted by Dansaman at 4:14 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Husband says Samsung galaxy s4 and HTC One.

From The Verge's review of the Galaxy S4:
I don't like holding this phone, and I can't overstate how much that informs the experience of using it. It makes an awful first impression, slippery and slimy and simply unpleasant in your hand. My white review unit is completely smooth and glossy, with a subtle checkered pattern that looks textured but is neither grippy nor textured anywhere on its body. Even the silver band around the sides, which is obviously supposed to look like metal, is plastic. Everyone I showed the GS4 to frowned and wrinkled their nose as if it smelled bad, before rubbing their fingers on the back of the phone and then handing it back to me — that's the opposite of the standard reaction to HTC’s One, which everyone wants to ogle and hold.
posted by bcwinters at 4:25 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I use Boost (and Virgin and MetroPCS in the past, so always prepaid) so I don't get the newest hottest phone options without paying a zillion dollars. I bought an HTC One V about 7 months ago and it just completely died on me after installing a system update. It also had trouble receiving picture messages, it was delaying texts foreverrrr if they showed up at all, and it generally kinda sucked. I just got a Samsung Galaxy s2 (which is technically now the old-ass one but it's brand new to me!) and so far it runs MUCH smoother and quicker, and I'd recommend it, but since it's old maybe the S4 would be good for you!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 4:50 PM on April 27, 2013

I have been a TMo customer for a long time, and it seems to me like April/May is often when they march out what's hot -- my contract renewals eventually drifted around to April as a result. This year it's the S4, the One, the BYO plan, and the phone you don't want.

(It may be worth noting that one of 2011's Hot Phones had real issues.)
posted by gnomeloaf at 5:16 PM on April 27, 2013

"usually there's a 'hot' phone".
The iPhone has been hot since it was first released in 2007.

You say you don't want a phone that changes so often but then you say you know [an iphone] is always an option.

"I don't know if Windows 8 is worth getting yet." Well I have it on my computer and I don't love it and I don't think I would love it on my phone.

"my wife's hands are too small to comfortably use it." iPhones are a compact size compared to a lot of smart phones these days.

You want something with an accessible battery, because you're worried about battery issues? iPhone's have really reliable batteries these days and if you do have any issues getting the whole thing replaced has been easy in my experience.

So my question is, what do you have against the iPhone when everything in your description seems to want it, except that you explicitly state otherwise?

I hope you find the phone that works best for you. I haven't tried a lot of other phones so my opinion is very biased toward my iPhone 4, which I love.
posted by jeffmilner at 5:54 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd like to be able to have the latest version of Android for a decent amount of time

Android isn't like other operating systems. Every phone manufacturer and carrier has added customizations such as Samsung's eye-tracking features and HTC's BlinkFeed aggregator that will never be part of "core" Android.

The specific Android version doesn't even matter anymore, and most phone manufacturers don't even bother to release with the current version of Android, much less release upgrades to the newest one when it's available.

For example, the newest version of Android is 4.2.x. The HTC One just released with 4.1.2, and HTC's flagship last year, the HTC One X, has gotten upgraded to 4.1.1. Samsung's GS4 is releasing with 4.2.2 but last year's GS3 is unlikely to go beyond 4.1.

The only phones that always have the "newest" versions are Google's Nexus phones, and they dispense with a lot of the add-ons from Samsung and HTC.

and I'd prefer to have at least some time with "the hottest phone"

If you're just interested in popularity, I think only the Galaxy S series has made a name for itself outside of "new generic Android phone". But no matter what you do, it will be considered "old" in a year by people who care too much about such things, and marketing.
posted by meowzilla at 6:06 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The iFanbois run deep in these parts. But I'm having a hard time with your 'hot' requirement and whether you mean CPU/graphics/hardware stuff or something else. I'll probably stick with whatever Google puts out itself as my Nexus gets the latest and greatest Android as soon as it is released. I don't think there's any other phone that does. The only deal with apps being uncompatible I've had are things like games that want more of a tablet device with bigger screens/faster graphics. Pretty much any other phone is going to be on a slower upgrade track as the manufacturers/providers have to add in all their little tweaks to Android before they release a new version (if they decide to release a new version at all).
posted by zengargoyle at 6:13 PM on April 27, 2013

Well, if it were me, I'd hold out a month if at all possible to see if Google announces the Nexus 5 at the I/O conference in the middle of May. It will be the newest phone out, though unsure when it would actually be available. Their pricing scheme is also fantastic if you want to buy a phone without a contract - they were selling the Nexus 4 outright for basically half of what a comparable phone costs without contract subsidy.

My Galaxy Nexus on Verizon is still going strong 18 months in, and handles most everything I throw at it, including fairly regular ROM changes just to keep things interesting.

If you're picking a phone for right now, the Samsung S4 will be hard to beat, or a Note 2 if you want the stylus (which I would love for my next phone - though likely waiting for the Note 3).
posted by shinynewnick at 6:41 PM on April 27, 2013

Another vote for the Nexus (right now, the Nexus 4. If you can hold on, there might be a newer one.) Being a Google phone it should keep getting the newer versions of Android right away as they are released, and it's quite a sleek Android system that starts with the bare basics and lets you add what you want, rather than forcing a whole lot of manufacturer-dependent stuff on you that you may or may not use. Plus, it has high end specifications, but costs about half as much as other phones with those specs. I have had one since February and am super happy with it.
posted by lollusc at 7:20 PM on April 27, 2013

The current hot android phones are the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, as already mentioned. The HTC is more nicely made and has a better screen and takes better low light photos, the Samsung gets a removable battery, can use SD memory cards and takes better daylight photos. Probably worth just playing with either.

I'm a big fan of the Nexus phones, but the current one, the Nexus 4, couldn't be said to be the latest and greatest anymore, it's a generation behind the phones mentioned (plus the camera is pretty bad and I just know I'd drop it and crack the glass back). Still well worth a look, and frankly it's probably what I would buy (I really like stock Android).

iPhone users like to get worked up about Android software versions, but keep in mind that pretty much everything in Android is an upgradable app, so as long as you are vaguely current you just install the shiny new stuff as Google releases it (there are some exceptions, Google Now needs 4.1 for example). Contrast this with iOS where your phone might say it has iOS6 but your iPhone 4 still doesn't have Siri. Also in iOS app developers quickly move to only supporting the current iOS version, they don't do this in Android. Not saying you want to be stuck back on 2.3 like some budget phones are, but a flagship on 4.1 or 4.2 (which was a really minor update) is fine.
posted by markr at 8:50 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the answers guys. I don't want to get into a whole argument about the iPhone - I know the advantages, I also know that I hate iOS and I generally don't like the form factor. My wife might get one, but again, I've always known that that's an option - I don't have to ask the question "which iPhone should I get?" like I have to ask "which android phone is the best?" Since anyone can make an android-based device, you get a wide ecosystem with some duds and usually some top notch highly innovative phones.

As for the android versions and such - one of the main reasons I like the "hot" device is that I usually just root my phones and put custom ROMs on them, so I don't really care about version fragmentation, but I do care that there's going to be a large audience of people, since the custom ROM scene is much more active for that kind of thing. If you look at the HP Touchpad right after it went on fire sale, there was a frenzy of activity which has now died down. HTC Evo 4G got custom ROMs up until ICS, then after that people couldn't get the 4G working and, I suspect that the number of people with Evo 4Gs running around has reduced to the point where these custom rom creators are focusing their efforts on other things.

I generally find that most android phones get custom roms anyway, but the development speed is usually fastest for the high-end phones, and obviously the roms run better on better hardware.

I think I might go with the HTC One. You guys are making some compelling arguments about the Nexus, though. Especially with T-Mobile's contract-free phone thing (something I very much want to support), that might be the best choice.
posted by 0x006DB0 at 9:06 PM on April 27, 2013

I will say the ROM development around the Galaxy Nexus has been very strong. I think the "clean" nature of the Nexus family draws a lot of developers in and would be even more of a reason to wait if ROMs are your thing.
posted by shinynewnick at 1:03 PM on April 29, 2013

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