'Tis the season for smartphones. As 2012 nears its end, we've got more lust-worthy mobile gadgets in front of us than ever, and deciding which device is right for you isn't always an easy task.
That's why I'm sharing some recommendations for the top three Android phones, both in general and specific to each major U.S. carrier. Ultimately, the decision comes down to what you want and what's important to you in a phone -- and only you, of course, can make that decision -- but I can help provide some perspective based on the time I've spent with the year's top devices.
When it comes to T-Mobile, the good news is you've got some outstanding options to choose from. Here are the three T-Mobile-friendly Android phones 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 T-Mobile plan or with a cheaper plan from any of the prepaid providers (including T-Mo itself) that offers service on T-Mobile's network. You can also buy the phone directly from T-Mobile for $200, but that price is subsidized by the carrier and consequently requires you to commit to a 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 T-Mobile for $280 to $330 after a $50 mail-in rebate and with a new two-year contract.
HTC One S
It may often get overshadowed by its bigger brother -- the HTC One X -- but make no mistake about it: HTC's One S is a star in its own right. In fact, the One S shares a lot of its sibling's standout traits, including its speedy Snapdragon S4 processor and top-of-the-line camera setup.
What makes the One S unique is its form: The phone has a compact size, relatively speaking, with a 4.3-in. screen and 2.6 x 5.2 in. frame. Even with a striking aluminum unibody shell, it's pleasantly light and thin -- just 0.31 in. thick and 4.2 oz. The device looks fantastic and feels great in the hand, and with its smaller profile, it addresses a niche that's largely overlooked in the high-end Android market these days.
The One S does have a couple of drawbacks: Its display -- while by no means bad -- is not at the same level of many current high-end devices. The phone also ships with last year's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich release; HTC has confirmed the device will be upgraded to the more current Jelly Bean level of the platform but has provided no firm date for when that'll happen.
Still, the One S is a solid all-around package -- a beautifully designed device with great performance and a camera you'll love. It's available from T-Mobile for $150 after a $50 mail-in rebate and with a new two-year contract.
If you want to supersize your smartphone experience, Samsung's Galaxy Note II ($370 from T-Mobile with a $50 mail-in rebate and 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.
You can find all the Android Power picks -- including the top three overall Android phones, regardless of carrier -- at the links below.
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]