Holiday Gift Guide – Mobile Phones

Smartphones have become a connectivity hub.  One small device allows users to communicate with friends, stay in touch with employers, access the internet and organize their lives, among other tasks.

The ubiquity of the smartphone makes it a great, if somewhat expensive, holiday gift.  With smartphone technology and feature improving all the time, gift-givers would be hard-pressed to find a user that wouldn’t welcome an upgrade.

Here are a few of the best phones available this holiday season, as well as aspects of phone-gifting to consider:

Phones and ecosystems

Each phone manufacturer has a marketplace or ecosystem through which they sell apps and services.  Apple’s App Store and Google Play are two of the biggest such services.  Be sure to suss out beforehand if the gift recipient has a personal preference for a certain ecosystem before purchasing a device; some users have a significant financial investment in apps for a specific platform that they’d probably like to keep using.

Apple iPhone 5 ($199 w/contract) - The iPhone 5 is the best device in Apple’s tremendously popular iPhone line, sporting the largest screen and fastest processor on an Apple phone.  Though it doesn’t introduce a revolutionary new feature, it does offer the best performance and most complete feature array amongst the Apple portables. Users not interested in the bigger screen (yes, there are some) may find the familiar form factor of the iPhone 4 or 4S more to their liking. The iPhone 4 and 4S are free and $99 on contract, respectively.

Samsung Galaxy S III ($199 w/contract) - Samsung saw success this year with the Galaxy S III, making a name as the go-to iPhone alternative.  The S III runs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and offers a well-rounded package of features and hardware specs.  The device has a sizable 4.8” screen, which is powered by a fast dual-core processor, and connects to Google Play for Android apps.

Nokia Lumia 920 ($99 w/contract) - One of the first mobile devices to run Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 8 operating system, the Lumia 920 provides one of, if not the best, hardware and feature packages for Windows Phone fans.  The phone has a 4.5” screen, which runs at a resolution of 1280 x 768 pixels.  The phone is fairly bulky, which is a negative, but offers a few unique features that may win it back some points.  The screen has a sensitivity setting that can be tweaked to allow gloved hands or even fingernails to navigate the interface.  Most touch screens will only respond to a warm, unshielded digit.  It allows for wireless charging; when set on a supported charging pad, the phone will charge without having to be plugged in or without having to use a special charging case.

HTC Droid DNA ($199 w/contract) - Currently exclusive to Verizon, the Droid DNA ups the ante in hardware specs.  The device has a large 5” 1080p screen, powered by a quad-core processor and 2GB RAM.  The extra processing capability helps the phone zip around the pre-installed Android 4.1 OS and powers the pixel-dense screen.  Despite the tall form factor, the device is relatively thin, a good situation for a phone with a 5” screen.

Contracts and services

Unfortunately, wireless carrier contracts and phone subsidies make purchasing a phone as a gift potentially troublesome.

To buy a person a phone at the cheaper contract price, the gift giver needs access to the recipient’s mobile account.  Since carriers won’t let you upgrade someone’s phone without them knowing, preserving the “surprise” of a gift isn’t generally possible unless the giver is the main account of a family plan the recipient is on.

A better idea might be giving a gift card good for the cost of an upgrade, though this is admittedly less exciting than giving the phone itself.  Also, the recipient needs to be eligible for a phone upgrade, information the gift giver may or may not be privy to.

Finally, make sure the recipient is ok with possible data charges that may come from owning a smartphone.  A smartphone is a great gift, but monthly data charges are an extra expense the recipient may not want to take on if they aren’t paying them already.

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