Choosing the best smartphone for your needs is a little like trying to decide your favorite song of all time: sometimes it's a struggle, and other times it just clicks. This roundup offers top picks, no matter what your budget. If this little gang isn't exactly what you're looking for, check out this more extensive guide walking you through which smartphone to buy based on your carrier and favorite components.
Photo by: Josh Miller/CNET
Motorola Moto X
Just because the Motorola Moto X isn't the most powerful smartphone on the market, that doesn't mean it isn't an excellent handset. Hitting stores later this August, the $199 Moto X is stylish, has a long battery life, and a fast camera. In addition, it comes with an array of customizable designs, so you can stand out from the crowd.
Whether you're a budding photographer or you just want to capture great shots of your friends, the Lumia 1020 has you covered. Along with a 4.5-inch screen and a Snapdragon processor, it boasts a 41-megapixel rear-facing camera, and tons of photo-editing options that you can use to polish up your high-resolution pictures.
A badass design and stunning display are only two reasons to pick the HTC One for school. Retailing for $200 on-contract, the gorgeous top-notch Android smartphone also comes packed with two amazing speakers that pump your tunes in the dorm room or quad, and 32GB of storage space for all your photos and videos.
For the fully-loaded Android experience with a terrific camera and gobs of photo features, the Samsung Galaxy S4 truly has it all. No, its chassis isn't as slick as the HTC One's, and for the same $200 on-contract price, you get just 16GB of storage rather than 32GB. Still, this quad-core machine goes neck and neck with the HTC One.
Students with Macs, the iPhone 5 is a no-brainer. Yes, it's definitely possible to own a Mac and have a complete smartphone experience on a non-iOS device, but the integrated ecosystem is much simpler to navigate. Beyond that, everything from your music and video library to tools like calendars and notes sync in a snap. However, because it's rumored that Apple will unveil the next iPhone on September 10, we suggest you see what the company has in store if you're able to wait.
Although LG's newest flagship handset, the G2, won't be available in time before school starts, you can still nab its predecessor, the LG Optimus G Pro. Only $99 right now at AT&T, it has an iron-pumping processor, a massive 5.5-inch display, and a 13-megapixel camera. As with the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, this Android Jelly Bean big boy is equipped with an IR blaster that turns your phone into a TV remote -- a lifesaver for when the real thing slips behind the couch.
For the phablet category, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is the only real contender that marries Android power with a built-in stylus. Note-taking with the S Pen means you can leave the laptop back in your locker or dorm room, and the built-in 8-megapixel camera takes fine videos and snaps. Those who can should wait until Samsung announces a successor in the fall -- if you don't opt for that Note 3 model, at least prices on the Note 2 will drop.
I'll give you 144 reasons to consider T-Mobile's Nokia Lumia 521 and yes, it's the Windows Phone 8 device's all-in, no-contract cost. Specs are purposely humble on this compact starter phone, to match the handset's envelope-pushing price. Still, the take-home value is high, even if data speeds do top out at HSPA+.
It may be last year's model, but Samsung's Galaxy S3 still has a lot of life in it yet. And at half off what it cost even a few months ago ($99 on-contract, down from $199), the GS3 still packs in powerful hardware, like a speedy dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera, and a large, lovely screen.