With the holidays fast approaching, we're taking a look at some of the finest Android phones you can get your gadget-loving hands on right now.
Earlier this week, I shared my picks for the top three Android phones available today, regardless of provider. And now it's time to start breaking things down by carrier.
First up: AT&T. The company that was last to open its arms to Android has built itself an impressive arsenal of high-end devices this holiday season, with a lust-worthy smartphone for almost any taste or desire.
Before we get started, remember: There is no single universal 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 phones of the year, here are the AT&T-ready Android devices that stand out the most to me (in no particular order):
Google's new flagship phone offers a pure Android experience -- Android the way Google designed it, with none of the heavy bloat and messy modifications so many manufacturers add into the OS.
That's no small distinction: The stock Jelly Bean setup provides the most intuitive and visually consistent user experience you can find on Android today. The Nexus stamp also means you get future software upgrades directly from Google within days of their release. If you've ever owned a non-Nexus Android device, you know how valuable of a guarantee that is.
In terms of hardware, the LG-made Nexus 4 has plenty of good things going for it, including a sleek and distinctive design, stellar display, great camera, and powerful engine. And it's sold unlocked, with no contracts or carrier commitments, for $299 to $349. That, my friends, is what we call a frickin' steal.
The Nexus 4 is available directly from Google; it'll work with any regular AT&T plan or with a cheaper plan from any of the prepaid providers that offers service on AT&T's network.
HTC One X+
HTC's One X was -- and still is -- a fantastic Android phone. The One X+ is the same basic phone, only better.
The One X+ gives you the whole package: one of the best displays and cameras on the mobile market today, screamingly fast performance, good battery life, and loads of internal storage (a full 64GB). It has a solid and well-constructed build, too, with a sharp-looking black color scheme that sets it apart from the original model.
So design aside, how much has HTC really improved the One X+ over the first One X? Well, it packed in four times the amount of internal storage, a new quad-core chip that's rated for 67-percent faster processing, and a beefier battery that claims 50 percent more up-time per charge.
And that's coming from a phone that was pretty damn great to begin with.
The HTC One X+ is available from AT&T for $200 with a new two-year contract.
Samsung Galaxy S III
Maybe you've heard of this one? Samsung's Galaxy line has won over legions of fans, and there's a reason. The Galaxy S III offers an eye-catching display, excellent camera, and top-notch performance, all secured inside a smooth and sexy outer shell that you won't want to put down.
Some of Samsung's design decisions do take away from the overall user experience -- namely the company's awkward button setup and busy UI -- but the Galaxy S III has plenty of positive qualities to balance those things out. Just ask the millions of happy Galaxy owners out there.
The Galaxy S III is available from AT&T for $200 with a new two-year contract.
If you want to supersize your smartphone experience, Samsung's Galaxy Note II ($300 from AT&T with a two-year contract) offers a hardware and software experience that's similar to the Galaxy S III but significantly larger -- and with a built-in stylus for on-screen sketching.
The LG Optimus G ($200 from AT&T with a two-year contract), meanwhile, has the same superb hardware as the Nexus 4; it's actually the device Google used as a base for that phone's design. The main difference is that the Optimus G uses LG's software interface instead of Google's and is capable of LTE data connections instead of the 21Mbps HSPA+ speeds the Nexus 4 delivers. It also has the option for external storage.
Up next: the top three Android phones of the season for Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Stay tuned.
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]