The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (January 2015)

We took a month off from bombarding you with phone recommendations over the holiday season, but now it’s time to dive back in. This is a crucial time if you’re up for contract renewal or have saved up the cash to get a new device. Flagship phones are going to be announced in the coming weeks, which could make you feel quite behind the times with your previously top-of-the-line device. Let’s try to keep that from happening.

AT&T

Ma Bell has taken a more cautious approach to updates than many of the other carriers, so there’s not much movement amongst the top phones. I think your best bets right now are the Moto X or the LG G3. However, we know that HTC’s upcoming flagship, which will probably be announced in mere weeks, will be for sale soon on AT&T. Samsung too is probably a little further off, but not much. That affects the calculus.

Starting with the LG G3, You’re looking at a 5.5-inch LCD with an excellent 2560×1440 resolution. A fwe months ago this was a huge device, now it simply feels big. I even feel like a giant after using the G3 after carrying around a nexus 6. The bezels are incredibly thin and there are no buttons around the edges. Instead, LG stuck those on the back, and that’s a good place for them. The frame and back are entirely plastic, but they’re very solid premium-feeling plastics. I don’t feel like I’m going to break the G3 when I take the back panel off. Speaking of, that’s where the removable battery and microSD card slot are.

The LG G3 is packing some impressive hardware including 3GB of RAM, a 3000mAh battery, a Snapdragon 801, and 32GB of storage with a microSD card slot. It’s a fast device, and LG’s skin is mostly free of bloat. The battery life is very good in standby, but you won’t get as much screen time as you would with a 1080p screen. 4-5 hours is still doable on the G3. The software is also very reliable in that it won’t start wakelocking for no reason.

The G3’s 13MP camera is the same resolution as the Moto X and the Nexus 6, but it’s probably a better overall camera. Low light performance is solid, if perhaps a little aggressive with noise reduction. The laser autofocus system totally works and outdoor images are stunning.

I find myself not disliking LG’s Android skin, and what I’ve seen of the impending Lollipop update has me excited. Most of the strange UI choices LG made on the G3 (and there aren’t many) are being covered up by proper Lollipop elements. The fact that LG is now finally using the proper on-screen buttons setup is hugely encouraging too. LG also didn’t spend time on crappy features no one will care about. Instead we get cool stuff like guest mode and Knock Code. Knock Code is a particularly cool feature that lets you securely unlock the phone while also waking it up with a series of taps on the screen.

The G3 is still $149 on-contract from AT&T, but it does go on sale fairly often. It compares favorably to the competition.

AT&T offers both the Nexus 6 and the Moto X, so the first order of business is to narrow this down. I’m going to focus on the Moto X for the following reasons — the LG G3 already fills the phablet niche quite well, and that means many of the use cases and tradeoffs are the same. If you don’t like the G3, it might be because of the size. In which case, you won’t like the N6 either. The Nexus 6 and Moto X also have similarly clean software without too much differentiation. The Moto X also has Moto Maker. So we’re looking at the G3 and Moto X. What does Motorola’s flagship have going for it?

Motorola’s current flagship phone is a little larger than its predecessor, but at 5.2-inches, it’s considered a reasonable one-handed device (how times change). The screen is a 1080p AMOLED, which looks great at that size and has nice colors. There’s a bit of pink at low brightness levels, though. The way the glass slopes down at the edge makes the phone very pleasant to hold and the curved back sits nicely in your hand.The overall device is rather thick (1cm), but it tapers down dramatically at the edges.

The 2014 Moto X has 2GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 801, and a 2300mAh battery. The battery life isn’t amazing, but it’s acceptable for moderate use. If you expect days of standby time, you won’t get it. The battery is non-replaceable, but there is a cool array of back materials and colors in Moto Maker. At least you get the choice, which is more than most phones offer.

The camera is still a pain point for the Moto X. The 13MP shooter is better than last year’s 10MP sensor, but it’s still not great in low light and colors are average at best. Even after Lollipop reaching some versions of the moto X, the camera hasn’t improved. it’s just can’t hold a candle to the LG G3.

One of the best things about the Moto X is that its software is close to stock, but with a few nice extras cooked up by Motorola. Moto Display, Moto Voice, and all the rest are great. Waking up the phone simply by waving at it is great, and the custom voice control is great. It’s also super-fast. It’s hard to argue with the $99 on-contract price from AT&T as well.

Between these two devices, I’d still recommend the Moto X to most people. However, if taking photos is at all important to you, consider the LG G3 instead.

Verizon

On Verizon things are still stable with the Moto X and LG G3 at the top of the heap. Big Red still hasn’t announced any official availability for the Nexus 6 in the carrier’s stores. You can wait on a nexus 6 or one of the new flagship devices from HTC or Samsung, but the G3 and Moto X are both very capable phones.

One of your top choices should be the LG G3, which Verizon is offering free on-contract now. There’s really no reason to be giving it away, though. The LG G3 is still a killer phone with a 5.5-inch 1440p LCD, a Snapdragon 801, 3GB of RAM, 3000mAh battery, and 32GB of storage with a microSD card slot.

The screen is good overall, but the brightness is a little on the low side. It also uses a lot more power than a comparable 1080p screen, but that’s a consequence of the technology. The bezels on each side are extremely thin, and the buttons have been moved from the sides of the device to the back. This puts them in a comfortable position to use when you’re holding the phone. When the phone isn’t in your hand, you can double tap the screen to wake the screen.

The 13MP camera on the G3 is better than the Moto X’s 13MP sensor, even though the hardware is almost identical. It’s mainly in the software processing, which LG is just better at. The laser autofocus helps acquire a target even in very low light. There’s just no competition.

The LG G3 runs on Android 4.4, but a Lollipop update is on the way. LG has already started rolling it out to some international devices, and Verizon is apparently willing to push updates out fast, at least for Motorola. It’s nice that LG has gotten things sorted with its Android UI in the meantime. The software is much improved on the G3 with Lollipop. There were a few UI elements that LG felt the need to modify unnecessarily. Not too many, but no OEM is completely free of stupid ideas. For example, the multitasking screen is backward and cluttered on the G3. The Lollipop update will update it to look more like stock Android.

The Moto X, on the other hand, already has its Lollipop update. Verizon is usually the last to push out updates, but here we are. I’m still skipping the Droid Turbi in this comparison because it’s still on Android 4.4. I figure if you’re going to get a Motorola phone on Verizon, it might as well be the one that gets updates quickly. You’re looking at 2GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 801, and a 2300mAh battery inside. The 5.2-inch 1080p AMOLED display is great–not quite as good as Samsung’s newest generation panels on the GS5 and Note 4, but still a vast improvement over older AMOLEDs.

The Moto X has great build quality. The metal frame is sturdy and blends well with the curved glass on the front. The back has its own curve to better fit in your hand. Moto Maker is awesome to play around with even if you aren’t buying a phone. The Moto X still the only phone you can get wood, leather, and a variety of colorful plastics. There’s even football leather, which I think looks horrendous, personally.

As much as I like the design of the Moto X, the software is even better. The Verizon edition has its Lollipop update already which means improved visuals and some cool new features like trusted faces and a persistent app switching mode. Moto Assist also ties into the priority notification scheme quite nicely.

This is still a Verizon phone, but if anything, that’s less apparent on Lollipop. It’s clean, fast, and mostly bug free. There are a few Lollipop bugs still to squash, but I haven’t had any particular issues with it on the unlocked version. Verizon is selling this device for $99 on-contract.

So what should you get? The Moto X is a great phone and probably my favorite overall device right now, But the $100 price difference should give you pause. If you are worried about the mediocre camera on the Moto X, that could but the LG G3 ahead despite the lack of Lollipop.

T-Mobile

Even with its recent gains, T-Mobile is a few subscribers short of passing Sprint to become the third largest carrier in the US. It certainly has the phones to support such an effort. It’s an embarrassment of riches, really. There’s no Moto X on T-Mobile, so the Nexus 6 is a safe bet as a phablet pick, but as for a more modest phone, how about the Sony Xperia Z3. Unlike Verizon’s Z3, this is a proper Z3 with the updated design.

Starting with the Google flagship Nexus 6, it has a Snapdragon 805 ARM chip, 3GB of RAM, and 32-64GB of storage. The 6-inch screen is AMOLED with a resolution of 2560×1440. It looks good with only a little reddening at very low brightness levels. I’m not seeing any permanent burn-in on mine as has been reported elsewhere, but your milage may vary.

The Nexus 6 is a big phone, there’s no denying that. If you use it for more than a few minutes, you’ll need to use two hands. It has the same sturdy metal frame as the Moto X, but the camera around back is much better. It looks the same, but the sensor is slightly newer and packs optical image stabilization.

Google equipped the Nexus 6 with a 3220mAh, which is certainly on the large end of things. The Nexus 6 gets reasonably good battery life, but it’s not amazing. The 1440p AMOLED does eat up a lot of power, but over four hours of screen time is doable. Having wireless charging is great, though.

The software is the real reason you get a Nexus. Android 5.0 Lollipop is a major change for the platform. The look and feel of Android is more refined and the attention to detail is significant. There is some concern over memory usage on Android 5.0, but the Nexus 6 seems to have no issues on that front. The plethora of new Lollipop features are great too. There are things I’m not entirely pleased with in Android 5.0, but it’s a great improvement overall.

If you ignore the size and price for a moment, the Nexus 6 is the best Android phone on T-Mobile. At $27 per month for 24 months or $650, not everyone will be able to justify it, especially when it’s too big for some people in the first place.

There’s no Moto X on T-Mobile, but the carrier does offer the Xperia Z3, which is a great device. This phone rocks a Snapdragon 801, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. The battery is non-removable, but at 3100mAh, the Z3 gets a solid two days of moderate use. The frame is sealed and water-resistant, though, so a quick dip won’t hurt it. It doesn’t have wireless charging, instead using Sony’s custom magnetic charging system.

The Z3 is a good foil to the Nexus 6 because the screen is a 5.2-inch 1080p LCD. That’s a very manageable size and the bezels are nice and slim. It’s a nice panel, and I quite like how it blends into the new, curvier bezels.It feels exceptional solid too.

Sony’s 20.1MP camera sensor makes another appearance on this phone, and it takes solid pictures. Sony knows a lot about image processing, and it shows. The camera is actually used to create 8MP images with oversampling for a better final result. Full resolution shots are supported in manual mode, but you lose most of the custom image processing features.

Sony’s version of Android isn’t stock, but it’s not bad. Sony includes a number of handy power saving options, and the UI is overall very clean. I’m not a fan of Sony’s icon at all. They’re actually super-ugly. The home screen is easy to replace, though, and the rest of the system looks fine. The Z3 is still on KitKat, and Sony says an update is coming. It will arrive on the unlocked version before appearing on the T-Mobile variant. The Z3 is a similarly expensive phone at $630 up front or $26.25 per month.

So what should you get? I feel like the software experience on the Nexus 6 is much better, and it’s made all the better with a solid camera and good performance. Get the N6 is you can handle the size. If you need something smaller on T-Mobile, get the Z3.

Sprint

Sprint has been going after T-Mobile in an attempt to remain relevant after a number of business setbacks. That means you can get some excellent deals on Sprint if it works well in your area. The top choices this time are the same as last, but some pricing tweaks change the calculations somewhat. It comes down to the LG G3 and Nexus 6.

Both of these phones are big–the Nexus 6 is 6-inches and the LG G3 is 5.5-inches. You’d be surprised how much smaller the G3 feels, though. The Nexus 6 is definitely too large to use regularly with one hand, but the G3 is workable in some situations. LG kept the bezels super-thin by moving the buttons to the back of the device. It’s a good place for them too. The Nexus 6 has traditional buttons on the side, but they’re very good and tactile.

Both run at 1440p resolution, but the N6 has an AMOLED panel that gets a lot brighter than the G3’s LCD. The Nexus 6 has 3GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 805, and 32GB of storage. The LG G3 is the same except it adds a microSD slot and runs the older Snapdragon 801.

The Nexus 6 has excellent build quality with a sturdy metal frame and curved glass front that melts into the sides. The back also has that great Motorola dimple in the middle for added stability. The LG G3 isn’t quite as premium, but it’s surprisingly good for a plastic phone. It also has a removable back and 3000mAh battery. The Nexus 6 has a slightly larger battery at 3220mAh. It won’t get as much screen time as some phablets, but the G3 and N6 are close in terms of battery life. Although, the G3 gets better standby time.

I’d say the camera is the one place the LG G3 really gets a clear win over the Nexus 6. Both phones have 13MP cameras, but the LG G3 has great autofocus thanks to the laser sensor on the back. The N6 doesn’t do badly, but LG also has better image processing. The N6 does alright in low-light, but the G3 is better there and in every other type of lighting.

When it comes to software, the Nexus 6 wins by a mile. The N6 comes with pure Android 5.0 straight from the source. There’s almost no carrier bloat built into the ROM, though a few carrier apps autoinstall from the Play Store, but you can easily remove them. That’s not to say LG is doing a bad job on software these days. The G3 is still on KitKat, and it’s rather clean. The company has avoided loading it down with too many features, and most of the UI tweaks are reasonable. The impending Lollipop update will clean up a few of the questionable decisions, though.

The LG G3 was recently reduced in price to just $50 on contract, and the Nexus 6 is still $250. I think the Nexus 6 is a better phone, but a $200 price difference is nothing to sneeze at. Right now, at this moment in time, I’d probably tell most Sprint users to get the G3. If money is no object, get the Nexus.

SOURCE:http://www.tested.com/tech/android/491382-best-android-smartphone-your-network-january-2015/

About Science and Tech News

View all posts by Science and Tech News →