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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Motorola StarTac (digital)

LG VX6000

Palm Treo 650

BlackBerry Pearl 8120

T-Mobile G1

HTC Hero

T-Mobile HD2

HTC Droid Incredible (Verizon)

Samsung Galaxy S2

LG Nexus 4

I've been reviewing cell phones and other mobile products for over a decade. In that time I've put a great deal of gadgets through the ringer or have owned them outright. I've tested and played with everything from rudimentary feature phones to the most complex mobile computers money can buy.

I couldn't resist the urge to reminisces a little and recall all the phones that still hold a special place in my heart or thrill me currently. Here's a personal hit list of devices that have made a big impact on my life and the evolution of the cellular industry as well. So sit back and relax as I take you for a stroll down cell phone memory lane.

Let's begin my gathering of ultimate phones of all time at the beginning. You always remember your first, as the saying goes, and the Motorola StarTac was mine. In its time, way back in 1999, the digital version of the StarTac was the sexiest piece of mobile tech I could get my hands on. Indeed, the digital StarTac continued its lead created by the phone's analog predecessor as the most compact cellular gadget sold outside of Flex pagers. Sadly, I was a victim of the handset's legendary portability, since I lost it a short three months after the StarTac came into my life.

Caption by / Photo by Realitypod.com
In 2003, when the LG VX6000 first shipped on Verizon, the flip-phone market was red hot. To differentiate itself from the competition, the VX6000 flaunted a colorful three-line external OLED screen. Honestly, that's why I bought it, since I've always been a sucker for futuristic flashing lights. The phone's excellent audio quality and compact size were icing on the cake.
Caption by / Photo by Verizon Wireless
The first real smartphone I ever used -- and enjoyed using. I'm sure I'm not alone in the affection I have for the Palm Treo 650. With its comfortable backlit keyboard plus simple yet powerful OS, this handset was a pleasure to operate.
Caption by / Photo by Palm
For years I was curious about what life was like within the elite BlackBerry club. The BlackBerry Pearl 8120 was my ticket into this mysterious sector of the mobile market. Of course, the only reason I was let through the door was RIM's push into personal smartphones. Yes, "crackberries" were not just for jet-setters with fat corporate cards anymore. The Pearl 8120, with its compact size and split yet intuitive predictive keyboard, was a great example of mobile messaging for the masses, done right.
Caption by / Photo by CNET
When the T-Mobile G1 first hit the scene in 2008, I admit I was skeptical. Built like a tank and featuring a big spring-loaded rubbery keyboard, let's just say its plastic design didn't bowl me over. Plus, the iPhone was a smash hit, and RIM was still riding high in shoppers' minds. Of course when I began using a G1 for my personal device, its highly customizable UI and frequent Android updates had me hooked.
Caption by / Photo by CNET
HTC, which had first built the G1 for Google and T-Mobile, followed up with the Hero. Sold internationally first, then finding its way to U.S. shores on Sprint and Verizon (aka the Droid Eris), the Hero was a truly impressive device. Shipping with Android 1.5 at launch in 2009 and HTC's Sense UI grafted on top, it also featured plenty of software tweaks. That funky chin bump, well you either hated or loved it.
Caption by / Photo by HTC
The T-Mobile HD2 (aka, HTC Leo) deserves a special pedestal in the pantheon of epic smartphones. Before Android became a real force to be reckoned with, Microsoft still felt that its Windows Mobile platform had a chance. Running Windows Mobile 6.5 when it debuted in 2009, the HTC HD2 came with weak software, but its hardware was anything but. Powered by a 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, 1GB of RAM (U.S. T-Mobile version), plus a large 4.3-inch WVGA screen, tweakers quickly cooked up custom Android ROMS for the device. I personally wiped Windows off of my HD2 in favor of Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Ah, those were the days.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The HTC Droid Incredible really wowed me by packing a bevy of excellent components into a svelte and compact frame. The device came off the shelf with a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 512MB of RAM, plus a microSD card and removable battery under its hood. Not only was it a nimble performer, it looked liked one, too, courtesy of a red hidden interior.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
The Galaxy S2 was the first phone from Samsung that made me stand up and take notice of the Korean powerhouse's mobile products. It was square, seductively black, and oh so very thin. The international model also boasted a muscular dual-core Samsung Exynos processor, 1GB of RAM, and Android 2.3 Gingerbread. With variants of the phone subsequently scooped up by the majority of U.S. carriers, the GS2 also kicked off Samsung's continuing hegemony of the American mobile handset market.
Caption by / Photo by Josh Miller/CNET
From the first Google Nexus One built by HTC, Nexus class handsets have been a breed apart. They may not always boast the most high-octane hardware, though they often do. Still, you can bet current Nexus phones will have access to the freshest Android software Google can crank out. The LG Nexus 4 is the latest phone anointed by Google and is equipped with components to match, such as a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, a full 2GB of RAM, and squeaky-clean Android 4.2.1 OS at launch. Outside of the HTC Droid DNA, it's the most excellent Android phone I've used to date.
Caption by / Photo by Josh Long/CNET
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