The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (September 2014)

So many phones, but most people only get the chance to decide which one to buy every year or two. It’s a tough decision, and one you don’t want to screw up. If you must have the best of the best, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to dissect the current state of the Android offerings on each of the big four US carrier and tell you what your best bet is.

This month the Moto X is on the scene, the Note 4 is ready to ship, and LG continues to impress.

AT&T

There are a few new devices that have hit AT&T stores in the last few weeks, not least among them is the new Moto X. Not all carriers offer the device, so AT&T customers in particular should take a close look at this phone. Of course, the LG G3 is still a top phone on AT&T with a different feature set. So which one should you get?

Let’s start with the new Moto X, which just started shipping in the last week or so. The device looks similar to last year’s Moto X, but the screen size has been bumped up from 4.7-inches to 5.2-inches. The resolution has increased as well to 1080p. The AMOLED panel used here is very similar to the one on the Galaxy S5, so it’s very nice. The device isn’t as good for one-handed use, but the curved design feels very comfortable to hold. The curved glass edges are also a joy.

The new Moto X also has 2GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 801, and a 2300mAh battery. The smallish battery is a sticking point for some–it won’t be able to eke out multi-day battery life like the LG G3 can, but it will get you through a full day with a bit to spare. The more sophisticated metal casing and ample customization choices are awesome too. You can get different back/front colors, materials, and accents. The Moto Maker stuff is a big selling point.

On the software side, the Moto X ships with Android 4.4.4 with a promised update to Android L as soon as it’s ready. Motorola is keen on saying the X runs “pure” Android without andy heavy skins or unnecessary features. Motorola instead adds new features to Android that really make a difference in the way the device works. For example, Moto Display shows notifications on the screen while the device is asleep. You can even wave your hand over the phone to wake the screen up. It also listens for voice commands while asleep, whether it’s charging or not. Other Android devices can only do that when charging.

Motorola’s 13MP camera is still not the finest sensor on an Android device, but it’s better than it was last year. The stock interface should also make it easier for Motorola to get the phone updated to Android L in a timely manner. AT&T is offering the new Moto X for just $99 on contract.

The other device you should consider is a big departure from the Moto X. The LG G3 is a phone that creeps solidly into phablet territory with a 5.5-inch 1440P LCD. The device does, however have very narrow bezels that makes it feel less gigantic than you’d expect. LG is also continuing with its tradition of placing the power and volume buttons on the back. They’re really easily accessible, and the presence of this structure gives you a bit more leverage when holding the device.

The rest of the hardware found in the LG G3 is undeniably top of the line including 3GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 801, and 32GB of storage. So the specs are a bit higher than the Moto X, but in reality it doesn’t matter much with regard to the performance you’ll actually experience. The screen is something to take note of because it’s a considerably higher resolution than Motorola’s screen. You can tell there’s a difference in clarity on some items, but it’s not a dramatic difference. LG’s screen is also a little on the dim side.

The G3’s 13MP camera is the same resolution as the Moto X, but it’s considerably better in overall performance. Low-light is less grainy and the laser autofocus system really works. The G3’s construction might not be as premium as the new Moto X, but it’s still worlds better than the devices Samsung is putting out.

LG’s software has come a long way in the last year. Not only is it slimmer and faster, the company has finally gotten with the program and started using the proper on-screen button configuration. The odd menu button layout was a deal breaker for a lot of Android users. LG’s launcher is probably the weakest part of the package, but that’s incredibly easy to replace. You can even install the Google Now launcher and have an almost identical experience to the Moto X.

I’m also quite fond of LG’s Knock Code feature, which allows you to wake up and unlock the device with a series of taps. It’s really convenient, rivaling Motorola’s Moto Display feature. The rest of LG’s customizations of Android are okay, but nothing to write home about. The skin stays mostly out of the way and isn’t unattractive. The mix of round and square elements is a little awkward, though.

AT&T is still asking $200 for the G3, twice as much as the Moto X. This is a close call as both devices are great. I’d say the Moto X will make you happier overall, unless you really need a spectacular camera. If an okay shooter will get you by, the Moto X is a no brainer.

Verizon

Big Red is also in the business of selling you a pretty new Moto X, but it would probably prefer you wait for the new DROID phones, which are rumored to drop any day. You don’t need to do that, though. The Moto X is already out and matches up nicely against the LG G3 on Verizon.

Verizon also offers the Moto X through Moto Maker, so you can design the phone that suits you best. There are multiple color options as well as wood and leather backs. The construction of the phone is also much better than last year’s version with a metal band around the middle that feels much more substantial and brings the front and back together in a much less jarring way.

The new Moto X has increased in size to 5.2-inches, but the AMOLED panel is also 1080p now. This is a very good screen with vibrant colors and excellent outdoor visibility. The way the glass curves down at the edges is also wonderful. It’s not as easy to use with one hand anymore, but it’s still a good size.

On the inside there’s no more X8 Computing platform. All the magic is coming from a Snapdragon 801, 2GB of RAM, and 16-32GB of storage (no SD card slot, though). The hardware is more than robust enough to keep the Moto X running smooth, and the camera situation is better than it was last year. The 13MP sensor is still weaker than what you’d find in the LG G3 or Galaxy S5, but it handles all shooting conditions better than the 2013 Moto X. The battery is only 2300mAh, so you’re looking at a single day of use as opposed to the two or more you can get from some other flagships.

The version of Android 4.4.4 on the Moto X is fabulous–it’s better than any OEM skin out there because there is no skin. Motorola just adds features on top of Android, and they make sense. There’s no changing things simply to create a brand identity. Features like Moto Display and Moto Voice are there because they do something important to set this phone apart. Seeing your notifications on the screen when the device is asleep and being able to use voice commands at any time are both excellent extras and they don’t get in the way of Android’s core experience.

The Verizon version of the Moto X will come with a few bloatware apps, but it’s still probably the cleanest software experience you’ll get on the carrier. For $99 on-contract, it’s hard to go wrong with this one.

That brings us to the LG G3. This phone is larger than the Moto X with its 5.5-inch 1440p LCD. However, LG has done a fine job of minimizing the bezels by moving the buttons to the back. The location is actually quite convenient, and doesn’t impede you from waking the phone when it’s laying on a table. Just double tap the screen and it comes to life. Despite being a fully plastic phone, the G3 manages to feel solid and premium. The back is even removable with a 3000mAh battery behind it, but you’d never know from holding it.

The G3 has specs that outclass the moto X by just a touch. In addition to the screen and battery mentioned above, the G3 packs a Snapdragon 801, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage (with a microSD card slot), and a 13MP camera with laser autofocus. It’s not any faster than the Moto X in practice, but the camera will produce noticeably better results, especially in low light. It also focuses much more reliably than the Moto X.

While the hardware is slightly better on the G3, the software isn’t as solid at the Moto X. The LG G3 runs on Android 4.4, but the skin is slightly heavier than Motorola’s. LG has, however, pulled back a lot from the heavy skins of the past that dragged down its phones. The notification bar, app drawer, and settings are all pretty clean. LG has also properly implemented on-screen buttons finally. The aforementioned knock-on feature is much appreciated too. LG has made the software on the G3 usable–and even good in a lot of places–by reducing arbitrary changes.

The LG G3 is selling for $199 on-contract, which is common for high-end phones. I feel like the Moto X is a better overall deal because of the better software and the lower price. The G3 is still worth checking out if the camera is highly important to you.

T-Mobile

On T-mobile you can’t get the mot X without buying one unlocked, so we’re still looking at the LG G3, and a newcomer this month–the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (which should ship in a week or two). So why not the Nexus 5? Well, we’re on the verge of a new nexus phone, by all accounts. If you feel strongly about having Google’s latest and greatest, you don’t need to be buying a phone right now. T-Mobile will probably support the new Nexus, but in them meantime, it’s the G3 or the Note 4.

The LG G3 is the first domestically available phone with a 1440p screen. This 5.5-inch panel is very clear, but a little on the dim side. The overall phone isn’t as large as you’d expect a phone with a 5.5-inch phone to be. There are no buttons on the sides or the top–LG has instead continued to mount these on the back of the device. As strange as it sounds, this really works. The rest of the hardware includes a Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage with a microSD card slot.

The G3 is an all plastic phone, but it feels more sturdy than you’d expect. The back is removable, concealing a 3000mAh battery. Battery life is very good overall–standby is unreal, but that screen does drink down juice like no one’s business. The G3 is comfortable to use, but make no mistake, it’s a big phone. You’ll want to use two hands on it most of the time, but you can get away with a little single handed tapping.

The software on the G3 is Android 4.4 with LG’s skin on top. In past years LG’s skin was a major stumbling block, but things are much better this time around. The UI has been flattened and there are fewer unnecessary changes to Android. The colors are also more modern and consistent. You can still customize the on-screen nav buttons, but the layout is finally right, including a a multitasking button.

LG’s launcher could use some work–the inclusion of the Smart Bulletin home screen panel is awkward and useless. You can turn most of the dumb stuff off, and many of the components can be swapped out with their Google equivalents. Even without any tweaking, the G3 is a responsive phone with cool features. I find it hard to use devices that don’t have Knock Code now. That’s how good LG has gotten with some of tis software features. This device is $25 per month or $598 total.

Since it’s probably too late to get a Nexus 5 right now, let’s check out the Note 4. This is Samsung’s latest and greatest Flagship. After learning some lessons from the Galaxy S5, the Note 4 adds some metal construction to its frame and bumps the specs up to match the likes of the LG G3.

The device again has a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED, but this time it’s a 1440p screen. The overall shape is much the same as other Samsung phones, with the home, multitasking, and back buttons clustered under the screen. The back is still plastic, but the frame is aluminum now, giving the device a more solid feel. There’s also a slot for the S Pen stylus, a big selling point for the Note 4.

The other specs include a Snapdragon 805, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage (with microSD card slot), and a 3220mAh battery. Around back is a 16MP camera similar to the one in the Galaxy S5, meaning it’s going to be pretty great. The only thing still unclear is how well it performs in low-light. The Note 4 basically has the specs everyone was hoping the Galaxy S5 would have.

With the software, you’ll get mostly the same looks and feel as the Galaxy S5. TouchWiz on Android 4.4 isn’t my favorite UI, but it’s not the mess it once was. The theme is mostly blue and black, and there are a lot of circles these days. Even if you don’t care for the loo, Samsung’s skin is very consistent these days. The Note 4 has features like a fingerprint scanner, ultra power saving mode (which is cool), and Multi Window.

Of course, it’s the S Pen that brings Samsung’s software tweaks into focus. The stylus makes TouchWiz worth using thanks to all the little tweaks supporting pen input. The S pen is inductive and pressure sensitive, so handwriting and taking notes is awesome on the Note. It also works much better with Multi Window mode–if only more apps supported it.

It’s hard to make a decision between these two devices–they both address a similar market segment of people who are comfortable with big phones, and both have high-end specs. The LG G3 has proven itself to be a good phone over time, though, and the Note 4 is just launching. It might come down to price. The Note 4 is $31.24 per month or $750 off-contract. That’s a bit higher than the G3. For now I’d still recommend the G3 overall, but it’s a very close one.

Sprint

Even though Sprint did sell the Moto x last year, the device is mysteriously absent this time around. That leaves us with a tossup between the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which again is on pre-order and should ship in a week or two. Two big phones, one big choice.

The LG G3 has been one of the top phones for a few months, so how is it holding up? The 5.5-inch 1440p screen is still among the highest resolution panels on a mobile device, but the Note 4 matches that resolution with its AMOLED panel. The form factor of the G3 is very good. The company paid attention to the shape and proportions of the device to make it feel smaller than you would expect a 5.5-inch phone to feel.

The continued use of rear-facing power and volume buttons is a smart move–this really works and makes the device easier to hold and operate. If those buttons aren’t accessible, you can just double-tap on the screen to wake the phone. It’s super-convenient. The back cover is made of plastic like the Note 4, but LG has chosen a thicker, more premium-feeling plastic. You wouldn’t even know this device has removable back hiding a 3000mAh battery.

Inside the LG G3 is packing a Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a 13MP camera around back. The camera on this device is even more impressive than LG’s past phones thanks to the addition of a laser autofocus system. it’s uncanny how well and quickly this phone can focus even in low-light. Samsung likes to talk up its phase detection autofocus, but this is better.

The the software side, this is Android 4.4 with an updated version of LG’s skin. It’s much lighter than it was in the past, and the colors are less garish. Really, i don’t mind using LG’s version of Android. There aren’t too many unnecessary features, and most of the UI tweaks are well thought-out. It’s not just a question of how closely can they copy Samsung without getting sued anymore. LG has it’s own style and signature features. One of my favorite things about the G3’s software is the Knock Code unlock feature. You can wake up and unlock the device with a few taps in a certain pattern. It’s very easy and still about as secure as a pattern lock.

While LG’s skin is better than it once was (yay, multitasking button), I do feel like there are some issues with consistency. Some parts of the UI have a lot of circles, and others still use square icons. LG needs to just pick one.

This device has dropped to just $99 on-contract from Sprint, which is a great deal if you’re going to sign up for 2 years. The Note 4, however, is not going to be cheap. Sprint has an odd habit of pricing Samsung’s Note devices rather high compared to other carriers, but it still might be worth the upgrade if a stylus is something you want.

The Galaxy Note 4 is one of the first devices Samsung has made that isn’t all plastic. After the mixed response to the Galaxy S5 earlier this year, the OEM has started upping its manufacturing game, so the Note 4 has a metal band around the middle instead of plastic painted to look like metal. It’s essentially a larger version of the Galaxy Alpha, which was a very solid phone.

The Note 4 has a 5.7-inch 1440p Super AMOLED screen, which finally matches the resolution of the G3. However, the colors on AMOLED are likely much better than the somewhat muted LCD tones on the G3. The Note 4 also includes a Snapdragon 805, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage (with microSD card slot), and a 3220mAh battery. It’s basically a little better than the G3 in most ways just going by the specs.

The back of the Note 3 is still plastic, but there’s a 16MP like the one used in the GS5. It will take very nice outdoor shots and good indoor ones too. Low-light has been an issue for Samsung cameras as of late, but Samsung has had time to tweak the software for this device. I’d expect it to be a little improved.

Of course, the S Pen is what makes the Note series truly interesting. This inductive stylus is ideal for writing and doodling, and sometimes it’s just easier to poke around on a device with a stylus. This is especially true when the screen is as large as the Note 4 or the G3. We’re already talking about two-handed devices here, so a stylus can be very useful. Samsung has also built a lot of software features into TouchWiz that take advantage of the S Pen. For example handwriting input and recognition, enhanced Multi Window, and easy access to core functions in pop up menus.

The Note series somewhat justifies Samsung’s Android skin, but even absent that, TouchWiz isn’t as bad as it once was. The interface is flatter and everything is cohesive. Samsung seems to have settled on a palette of muted blues and green for TouchWiz, which isn’t unattractive. At least it’s consistent. The launcher is also much improved, except for My Magazine, which is still awful and needs to be disabled immediately.

The Note 4 has a lot going for it, even when compared to the LG G3. However, the stylus is still a niche feature, and this is otherwise a bigger, faster Galaxy S5. With Sprint asking $300 on-contract for the Note 4, I think the $100 G3 is a better buy. It’s a close call, though. Samsung’s screen might really thump LG.

SOURCE:http://www.tested.com/tech/android/465626-best-android-smartphone-your-network-september-2014/

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