The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (November 2014)

The top OEMs have now laid their cards on the table. All the major phones of late 2014 are available for purchase, and you’ve got some decisions to make. We won’t see anymore big announcements until CES in January, but more likely February at Mobile World Congress. This is one of those rare times you can buy a phone and not immediately feel like you missed out when something better comes along two weeks later. But which one to get?

The Nexus 6 is big news this month, but a number of other phones still have a lot to offer.

AT&T

If you’re on AT&T, you’ve got a number of really good options. The Nexus 6 is certainly one of them, but it’s a huge phone. There’s also the much smaller Moto X and the somewhat smaller LG G3. Truly an embarrassment of riches.

Let’s start with the LG G3 before we got to Motorola’s offerings. At 5.5-inches, the LG G3 is a sizeable phone. That big LCD does come with an excellent 2560×1440 resolution. Surprisingly, LG manages to make the overall device not feel too huge. The bezels are incredibly thin and there are no buttons around the edges. Instead, LG stuck those on the back, and they’re quite useful in that position. The back is smooth plastic, but it’s not of the sketchy Samsung variety–it actually feels solid for a phone with a removable back.

The LG G3 is packing some impressive hardware even several months after launch including 3GB of RAM, a 3000mAh battery, a Snapdragon 801, and 32GB of storage with a microSD card slot. The device is fast, but probably not quite as snappy as the Moto X or Nexus 6. The battery life is very good, though. The high resolution of the G3 limits screen time to about 5 hours, but it can make it a few days in standby. 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 little better than either in actual performance. Low-light shots are good and it focuses super-quick with the laser range-finder right next to the lens.

LG’s Android skin has gotten surprisingly good in the last year. It’s no longer just aping Samsung, and there aren’t too many unnecessary additional features. The skin isn’t very heavy and the choice of colors isn’t nearly as garish as TouchWiz. The fact that LG is now finally using the proper on-screen buttons setup is hugely encouraging too. LG didn’t load the G3 down with marginally useful features, instead sticking with a few good ones 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 $199 on-contract from AT&T, but it does go on sale fairly often. It compares favorably to the competition, but the Moto X has a lot of fine points.

Motorola’s current flagship phone is a little larger than its predecessor, but at 5.2-inches, it’s on the small side for a top-of-the-line smartphone (how times change). The screen is a 1080p AMOLED, which looks great at that size and has nice colors. It’s a little warm and the colors get wonky at minimum brightness, but that’s a minor complaint. 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 2014 Moto X has 2GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 801, and a 2300mAh battery. The battery life isn’t amazing, but it’s more than good enough in my experience. You won’t get multiple days of standby time, but a solid day with moderate screen-on is going to be doable. You can’t take the battery out or replace the back cover, so make sure you design a phone you’ll like with 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. The hardware isn’t the problem, though, it’s software. Hopefully Motorola can get things straightened out in the lollipop update.

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. I love that you can just wave at the phone and the screen wakes up to show you pending notifications. It’s also super-fast. It’s hard to argue with the $99 on-contract price from AT&T as well.

There’s one last thing you should keep in mind, and that’s the Nexus 6. AT&T is selling the N6 directly, which is a big deal. Yes, it has a logo on the back, but you can scrape that thing off pretty quickly. The Nexus 6 is sold out just about everywhere, so it’s hard to tell you that’s the one to get. It’s also $250 on-contract. If you can handle a 6-inch phone, though, it’s probably your best bet. There’s going to be very little AT&T influence and it’s super fast with its 3GB of RAM, Snapdragon 805, and 32GB of storage. The 13MP camera also performs better than the Moto X.

So most people should probably get a Moto X on AT&T, but the Nexus 6 is a better overall device if you ignore the price, scarcity, and that it’s really big. Does that still make it “better?” I don’t know.

Verizon

While the Nexus 6 works on Verizon (yay), Big Red isn’t selling the phone yet. It might not ever carry the device in stores, so don’t hold out for that. There are a few great choices already, and one of them got even better in the last month. The Moto X on Verizon got its KitKat update, which is kind of amazing. Last month I placed the Droid Turbo ahead of the X because of the battery, but I feel like the tables have turned now.

So option one is the Moto X, which is the same basic phone you’d get on AT&T, except it runs Android 5.0 Lollipop already. You’re still 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 panels.

The build quality of the Moto X is fantastic. The metal frame is solid and blends perfectly with the downward curved glass on the front. The back as its own curve to better fit in your hand. Then there are all the Moto maker customizations. It’s still the only phone you can get with handsome wood paneling or rich leather. I also feel like 5.2-inches is a perfect size phone for most people.

As much as I like the design of the Moto X, the software is even better. Not that the Verizon edition has Lollipop, you’ll have support for all of the cool animations and interface tweaks developers are busily integrating into apps. Some of the high points are smart lock for bypassing the secure lock screen when you have a trusted device connected or the phone sees you with the front-facing camera. Moto Assist also ties into the priority notification scheme.

This is still a Verizon phone, but if anything, that’s less apparent on Lollipop. It’s clean, fast, and mostly bug free. Yeah, I know, but there are always a few quirks on a new OS. The upgrade is totally worth it. Verizon too is selling this device for $99 on-contract. For $100 more you can get the Droid Turbo, which is a great phone, as long as you’re okay with waiting a little longer for updates.

The other top choice ought to be the LG G3, which Verizon is almost giving away now. The Price was recently dropped to $29.99 with a new contract, and they’ll even throw in a G Pad 7.0 tablet. 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. The bezels on each side are extremely thin, though. The buttons have been moved from the sides of the device to the back, just like the G2. This puts them in a comfortable position to use when you’re holding the phone, and you can wake the screen with a double-tap when it’s laying on a table, thus blocking access to the physical power button.

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 too.

The LG G3 runs on Android 4.4, but supposedly 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. It’s much improved on the G3 from the cleaner notification shade to the proper on-screen navigation buttons.

Motorola has a superior build of Android overall, but the G3 does have better battery life. LG’s phone can make it through a few days on standby, but the Moto X is a single-day phone no matter how much you baby it. Most users should still go for the Moto X, even if it’s slightly more expensive. The software is better and it’s on the latest and greatest version already.

T-Mobile

Customers of the nation’s fastest growing carrier have the option of picking up the Nexus 6, but there are a few good choices. Last month we were in the pre-order period for the Nexus 6, and now you can order it from Tmo and get it shipped fairly fast.

I feel like this puts Android fans on T-Mobile in a tough spot. The Nexus 6 isn’t that much larger than the LG G3, and it’s a better phone in terms of specs and software. If the Nexus 6 isn’t right for you, the G3 isn’t going to be more appealing. The Moto X would be a nice smaller alternative, but T-Mobile doesn’t sell it directly. Let’s look at the Nexus 6 first, then we can see about a non-phablet alternative.

The Nexus 6 runs 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, and it looks killer. There has been some talk of burn-in with this panel, but I’ve been using one for a few weeks and I don’t see anything I’d call burn-in. The navigation buttons are slightly visible on a solid background for a moment, but they go away. I suspect this is just some form of image retention, but not permanent burn-in.

The Nexus 6 is a big phone, there’s no denying that. The curved back makes it fit in your hand rather nicely, though, and ambient display makes it easier to unlock one-handed. 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, by far the largest of any Nexus phone to date. That will get you a solid five hours of screen-on time most days with more then enough juice to spare each evening. The high-resolution screen will invariably need a little more power, but that’s the price you pay.

The software is the real reason you get a Nexus, though. Android 5.0 Lollipop is a major change for the platform. The attention to detail this time is profound–almost every screen and feature has gotten a little makeover. There is concern over the benchmark speed of the N6 with its default encryption, but in daily use, there is no discernable effect. It plays games and opens apps without issue. 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 for a moment, the Nexus 6 is the best Android phone on T-Mobile. It’s a little expensive at $27 per month for 24 months or $650. If you can’t get used to a phablet, let’s try something a little different. How about the Sony Xperia Z3?

Sony pumps out a new phone in its flagship Z series every few months, so you will notice a lot of similarities to past Xperia devices in the Z3. However, this one is coming out in the US much faster than previous devices. Inside is 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.

This is a phone to consider because it has a comparatively manageable 5.2-inch 1080p LCD with Sony’s custom post-processing effects. It’s a nice panel, and I quite like how it blends into the new, curvier bezels. Sony’s phones have always been very angular, but this one feels more ergonomic. Like the other Z series phones, this one is water and dust resistant 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. You can crank it up to the full resolution, but you lose a lot of the powerful features of Sony’s software (and HDR).

Sony’s version of Android isn’t stock, but it’s not bad. It’s fast, mostly free of extraneous and useless features, and the company has even ditched some of its separate content stores. I can’t say I’m enamored with the icons–in fact, they’re kind of ugly. That’s not the end of the world, though. You can hide stuff like that. What matters is it’s a fast phone that’s probably going to see Android 5.0 in the not too distant future.

I think you should seriously consider getting the Nexus 6, if you can handle a phone that size. If not, the Xperia Z3 is a good phone with a much smaller footprint on T-Mobile. The Z3 is about the same price–$630 up front or $26.25 per month.

Sprint

So you’re on Sprint, a carrier which has undergone some radical changes in the last few months. Well, the phone selection on Sprint is also kind of weird. There’s no Moto X, but there is a Nexus 6. So I think this comes down to the Nexus 6 or the LG G3. The winner is pretty clear, but let’s explore why.

Both of these phones are big–the Nexus 6 is 6-inches and the LG G3 is 5.5-inches. 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 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.

The Nexus 6 has 3GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 805, and 32GB of storage. The LG G3 is the same except it has a microSD slot and a Snapdragon 801. The Nexus 6 has killer 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. It feels a little more premium overall compared to the LG G3, which has a removable back and 3000mAh battery. The Nexus 6 has a slightly larger battery at 3220mAh. Performance in this respect is very close, though. The Nexus might get a little more screen time, but not much.

I’d say the camera is the one place the LG G3 really puts up a fight against the Nexus (unless you need a removable battery or microSD card). Both phones have 13MP cameras, but the LG G3 has great autofocus thanks to the laser planted on the back next to the lens. The N6 doesn’t do badly, but LG has better image processing. Things can sometimes look grainy on the Nexus 6 in low light.

When it comes to software, the Nexus 6 runs away with it. 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. There are a handful of irksome things in Lollipop, but it’s the most polished release of Android I’ve seen in years. And because you’re on a Nexus, the bug fixes hit your device first.

That’s not to say LG is doing poorly with its software. The version of KitKat on the G3 isn’t bad at all. In fact, it’s pretty good as far as OEM skins go. The company has avoided loading it down with too many features, and most of the UI tweaks are reasonable. I wish LG’s designers would decide whether they wanted to use squares or circles on everything, because right now there are both. As for the update situation, LG is already rolling out Lollipop in some markets. It’ll get here eventually, but you can expect at least a few months of waiting.

So price–the Nexus 6 is expensive at $250 on-contract. The LG G3 is only $100. If you’re looking to save money, then the G3 is a fine phone. However, the Nexus 6 is the best device on Sprint. There isn’t a smaller phone I’d recommend right now. Devices like the One M8 and Galaxy S5 are fine, but they’re getting old. New versions are probably debuting in early 2015.

SOURCE:http://www.tested.com/tech/android/470213-best-android-smartphone-your-network-november-2014/

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