Apple iPhone 5 ($199+)
Apple's 4" iPhone isn't just another iPhone. It just so happens to be the fastest and most potent iPhone yet, outpacing many of its non-iOS based rivals in many benchmarks. Apple's ecosystem is as strong as it has ever been, and it's also the first iPhone with LTE.
From our review:
"For one, the iPhone 5 is the first major overhaul since the iPhone 4 was released. Yes, the 4S added Siri, a new camera and a faster CPU, but it was essentially the same design. And when it comes to Apple products, design matters big time. Second, this is the first iPhone ever, since the original was introduced in 2007, where a display is employed that isn't 3.5-inches diagonally. There's a 4" (1136x640 resolution) display in the iPhone 5, along with LTE support, a new A6 processor, an all new dock connector called Lightning, and an all new operating system (iOS 6)."
Samsung Galaxy Note II ($649)
For the person in your life that just prefers everything to be larger, there's the Note II. It's far and away the superior phablet on the market today, improving over the first unit with faster internals and availability on a slew of carriers -- even regional ones like U.S. Cellular.
From our review
: "If we run down the list of things that make a good smart phone, the Samsung Galaxy Note II has them all. The device has a very nice screen, it’s very fast, offers good battery life, its camera and voice quality are also good, it’s running the latest version of Android, and the build quality is top notch, save for a couple of minor quibbles. Samsung also goes a few steps further and includes the S-Pen stylus, which adds some additional functionality over and above “touch-only” smartphones. And Samsung’s TouchWiz UI enables a few unique features as well, like the pop-up video player. In light of its features and performance, the Galaxy Note II is a clear winner, no ifs ands or buts about it."
Nokia Lumia 920 ($99+)
Nokia's hardware has always been something to be admired, but that quality has been kicked up a notch since the company devoted itself to Windows Phone. Now, with Windows Phone 8 available, the Lumia 920 is leading the charge. WP8 offers a litany of new features over WP7, including wireless charging, a higher-res display, LTE, and an entirely new tiles menu. Plus, it starts at just $99 on contract.
Motorola DROID RAZR M ($99+)
When it comes to budget handsets, there really aren't many that can come close to comparing to this one from Motorola. At just $99 on contract at Verizon, it's a small, sleek, long-lasting Android phone that doesn't skimp on performance. It's one of the few phones coming out these days that is both admirable from a performance standpoint without being huge, giving those who prefer smaller handsets a viable option.
From our review:
"The overall look and feel of the RAZR M is exceptional. The 4.3" screen size feels just about ideal for those who aren't ready to commit to a phablet
. The qHD (960x540) display is sharp and vibrant, and the viewing angles are great. Touch response was also good, with overall system responsiveness being more than satisfactory. Motorola's design choices are also worth praising. The Kevlar back and Gorilla Glass on the front both stand to prevent accidental cracks and bruises, and the microSD expansion slot makes the paltry 8GB of inbuilt storage easier to stomach. Our only real design gripe is the positioning of the microUSB port; if you're charging the phone while trying to use it, that cable gets in the way of normal keyboard use."
HTC One X ($49+)
HTC's One series is a fantastic line, and the One X is a brilliant Android phone for those willing to pony up for style, and the Sense overlay is about as useful as they come. It's also a great budget pick for those who aren't ready to jump up to a phablet in size.
From our review
: "We were very pleased with the HTC One X. The device offers excellent performance and we really dig the phone’s design and aesthetics. Our real-world experience with the HTC One X was nothing but good; touch response is best-of-class, the phone never felt slow--even with multiple applications open, the customizations offered by HTC Sense 4.0 are welcomed additions, and the camera is among the best we have used on a smartphone. Even the device’s speakers and audio capabilities are excellent thanks to some smart design decisions and support for Beats Audio. We also liked the HTC One X’s form factor and think many potential consumers will be impressed by how light and thin the phone feels. If you hit an AT&T store and play with the HTC One X alongside some of the other high-end phones currently being sold for AT&T’s network, we think you’ll agree. The HTC One X just feels fast and very polished."
Stay tuned to HotHardware for more holiday gift guides in the days ahead...