As a guy who writes about Android, the question I get asked most often -- other than "How do you manage to be so handsome?" -- is "Which Android phone should I get?"
It's an understandable inquiry: As a platform, Android is all about diversity. And while lots of choice is undoubtedly a good thing, it can get a little overwhelming at times -- especially if you don't spend your days reading about (and trying out) nearly every device that enters the world.
So with the holiday season upon us, I thought I'd try to tackle the eternal question and share some device recommendations. I'll start with my picks for the top three Android phones available right now, regardless of carrier. Then, over the next several days, I'll break it down carrier by carrier and sort out the top three phones for each of the major U.S. networks.
Remember: These are just my general recommendations. Smartphones are personal products, and there is no universal right answer as to which is "the best phone" for everyone. Ultimately, it all comes down to what you want and what's important to you in a device.
But based on the time I've spent with the various Android phones of the season, here are the three devices that stand out the most to me (in no particular order):
No two ways about it: Google's new flagship phone is in a league of its own. The Nexus 4 runs pure, unadulterated Android without the needless bloat and arbitrary UI changes so many manufacturers add into the software. The result is a sleek, intuitive, and visually consistent user experience; once you see how good Google's pure Android OS is, you'll never want to go back.
Interface aside, the Nexus 4 gets fast and frequent upgrades directly from Google, eliminating the wait-and-see game you're forced to play with many non-Nexus devices. The LG-made phone has some stellar hardware, too, and its unlocked sales setup means you can use it on any compatible carrier with no contracts and no commitment.
The Nexus 4 is sold directly from Google for $299 to $349, but plan ahead: The device is currently backordered and sometimes difficult to find in stock.
HTC One X+
A souped-up version of HTC's original One X, the One X+ takes something great and makes it even better. The One X+ features the same excellent display, top-notch camera, and impressive build quality as the first One X model but introduces a faster processor, better battery, and quadrupled amount of internal storage. It also sports an eye-catching new black color design.
The One X+ runs a custom version of Android 4.1 with HTC's Sense UI, which is a step down from pure Android but far less overwhelming than many manufacturers' takes on the OS. All considered, there's an awful lot to like about this device.
The HTC One X+ is available on AT&T for $200 with a new two-year contract.
Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD
Motorola's Droid Razr Maxx HD stands out from the pack with its premium, durable body and rock-solid battery life. Quite simply, the phone is built to last -- even in the hands of the clumsiest among us -- and it looks and feels great, too.
As for that battery life? You aren't gonna get any better than this. The Razr Maxx HD packs a 3300mAh battery that's listed for 32 hours of mixed usage. As I said in my initial assessment of the phone, it's like the freakin' Energizer bunny: Even with an LTE connection, you've really gotta work to get the Maxx HD's battery down.
The Droid Razr Maxx HD runs a lightly skinned version of Android that's not too far removed from the stock Jelly Bean UI. And the newly refocused Motorola appears to be taking the idea of timely upgrades seriously -- no surprise, given its ongoing transition into Google ownership.
The Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD is available on Verizon Wireless for $300 with a new two-year contract (though you can get it for less if you buy it through a third-party retailer like Amazon Wireless or Wirefly).
So there you have it: my top three picks for Android phones this holiday season. There are certainly plenty of first-class devices out there, but for my money, these three offer the best overall experiences you can find on any carrier right now.
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to chime in with your own recommendations. And if you need to limit your selections to one particular carrier, stay tuned: We'll do top three picks for each of the major U.S. networks next.
THE FULL SERIES:
• Top 3 Android phones on any carrier [December 2012]
• Top 3 Android phones on AT&T [December 2012]
• Top 3 Android phones on Sprint [December 2012]
• Top 3 Android phones on T-Mobile [December 2012]
• Top 3 Android phones on Verizon Wireless [December 2012]