Holiday Gift Guide: Tablets, Smartphones, Laptops

Smartphones: From Budget to Phablet

Samsung Galaxy Note III: $169 - $299 and up unlocked

What started as a big risk has turned out to be a wise business decision. Screen sizes have been inching up for years, and as it turns out, people dig large-screen phones with styluses included. While the Note 3 did put up some of the best numbers we’ve seen from any smartphone we’ve tested to date, in real-world use, it was also noticeably faster and more fluid than many other devices we’ve used. The speedy Snapdragon 800 SoC with Adreno 330 graphics, relatively fast internal storage, 3GB of system memory and Android 4.3 team up to produce an experience that’s currently among the best in the Android-based smartphone market. No matter what we threw at the Note 3, its performance was great in light of competing devices.

LG G2: $199+

The G2 is a wildly fast phone, and it offers control button placement that you won't find on any other device. The G2 is LG's attempt to dethrone the Galaxy S4, or at least produce a handset that rivals it in every meaningful way. The company has definitely accomplished that goal. The G2 is tremendously powerful, has a battery that can easily last a full day even with extensive use, offers a brilliant new position for the power and volume rocker switches, and touts one of the nicest mobile displays we've ever seen. On the software front, the subtle enhancements to Android are largely quite positive, and the double-tap to lock/unlock is perhaps our favorite addition to the OS since the advent of Google Now.

Google Nexus 5: $349 (off-contract) or as low as $120 on contract

Google has redefined the high-end Android market with a relatively low unlocked price on the first phone to run Android 4.4 (KitKat). One of the hallmark features of Google's Nexus 5 flagship smartphone by LG isn't its bodaciously big and beautiful 5-inch HD display, its 8MP camera, or its "OK Google" voice command / personal assistant feature. Frankly, that's all been done before.  What does stand out about the Nexus 5 is Google's new Android 4.4 Kit Kat operating system and LG's smartphone SoC (System on Chip) processor of choice, namely Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 quad-core. Qualcomm is known for licensing ARM core technology and making it their own within their Krait architecture, and Qualcomm's latest Krait 400 with Adreno 330 GPU that comprises the Snapdragon 800, is a powerful beast.

Nokia Lumia 1020: $99 (on contract) and up

If you're willing make the transition to Windows Phone, you'll enjoy working and playing with this smartphone. The screen is beautiful, call quality is excellent, AT&T's LTE network is formidable (with a full build-out expected by the middle of next year), and the 1020's camera is best in class, hands-down and by a wide margin. If you value quality photography over pretty much everything else, there's really no other smartphone to consider.

Apple iPhone 5s: $199+

We said this last year with the iPhone 5, but we'll say it again this year; the latest iPhone (the 5s, in this case) is indeed the best iPhone yet. While it looks the same on the outside, Apple's internal upgrades have delivered a phone that's blisteringly fast and a pleasure to use. Performance wise, the iPhone 5s is in a class of its own. It's markedly faster than the iPhone 4S and 5 that came before it, and its 64-bit underpinnings make it a formidable opponent when compared to rival platforms, too.

Moto X: $49+

The hardware and design of the Moto X is exceptional. It's both designed and assembled in the United States, and the quality is notable. It's rigid, rugged, and feels like a premium product in the hand. The soft-backed cover is curved for perfect handheld operation, and the thoughtful Motorola dimple on the rear enables easy one-handed operation. It's true that the raw specifications list won't impress some, but the overall fluidity of the phone more than compensates and it's graphics performance is actually top-notch.

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