Smartphones

Leaderboard: The 10 best Android smartphones

Android has surged to 50% of the smartphone market and new devices arrive every week. Here's a look at the 10 best Android phones money can buy.

Android devices has totally flooded today's smartphone market. That includes a handful of really good ones and a bunch of mediocre ones. The Android invasion has provided a lot of choices at a lot of different price points, but that makes it nearly impossible to keep up with which phones are currently the best.

So, I'm updating my list of the best Android smartphones now that we're heading into the year-end holiday season and all of the phone makers are basically done releasing big devices until the beginning of 2012.

There have been so many strong Android phones released in the last few months that my list has almost completely changed since my last big update in the spring. Only one device (the Samsung Galaxy 4G) remains on the list since April.

Another thing that's different in this update of the leaderboard is that HTC is no longer the big player. HTC owned four of the top ten spots in the spring, but only one HTC device made the list this time. The company has been passed up by Motorola, which has unleashed a fleet of high-end designs during the second half of 2011, and five of them made it on to this list, including the No. 1 choice.

Slide show

The best way to view this list is the companion photo gallery, which offers a slide show of each of the 10 Android devices. If you don't like slide shows, you can view it as a list below. I've also included a link to the full CNET review for each of the devices.

1. Motorola Droid Razr

I was extremely skeptical about this device when it was announced. Bringing back the Razr brand (Motorola's wildly popular flip phone from almost a decade ago) seemed like a bad gimmick. However, brand names aside, the exterior design of this device is thin, light, and sturdy -- a great combination. It's also super fast (thanks to a 1.2 GHz CPU and Verizon LTE service), has a great screen, solid battery life, and Motorola's Webtop docking capability. Some people will find the 4.3-inch screen a little oversized and it doesn't have a removable battery, but the Razr represents the best all-around design in the Android universe, for now.

2. Samsung Galaxy Nexus

The smartphone that could soon overtake the Droid Razr for the top spot is the Galaxy Nexus, which is just hitting the market at the time I'm writing this list. This is the new "Google phone," following in the footsteps of the Nexus One and the Nexus S. It's the first phone to run Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich." It has a similar curved design to the Nexus S, which was made by Samsung. I honestly preferred the Nexus One design (made by HTC) to either of the latest Nexus hardware model. Still, the Galaxy Nexus is a versatile, fast, well-designed device that will be available on Verizon in the U.S. and a variety of other carriers worldwide.

3. Motorola Atrix 2

I called the Motorola Atrix "groundbreaking" when it was released in April. That was mostly due to its ability to dock into a laptop or desktop experience with the help of Motorola's Webtop software. Motorola has now extended Webtop to several more smartphones, and six months after releasing the first Atrix, Motorola has upgraded the product with faster internals, a newer version of Android (2.3), and a better camera. The device is sized perfectly (not oversized like the Razr) and feels sturdy and comfortable in your hand. With its docking capability and overall versatility, it's an especially good choice for professionals.

4. Samsung Galaxy S II

As I've said before, I've never been much of a fan of Samsung's smartphone designs. They use a lot of plastic, which makes the phones very light, but they also tend to feel slippery and not very sturdy. The Galaxy S II has a much nicer feel to it. The exterior is still mostly plastic but it's textured, so it feels much better in your hand. This phone is super-thin, has a great screen, and a powerful feature set. The TouchWiz UI is pretty weak, but Samsung has minimized it to the point that the standard Android UI shines through a lot more. The Galaxy S II is also one of the phones that is most universally available worldwide.

5. Motorola Droid Bionic

We had to wait all year for the Droid Bionic to arrive. It was announced at CES 2011 in January and expected to be one of the top smartphones of the year, but it faced repeated delays. The Bionic that arrived this fall looked nothing like the Bionic shown at CES (which had a similar design to the original Atrix). The Bionic now available looks like a stockier version of the old Droid X. It features an industrial-looking design, great battery life, and high-speed performance from top-notch hardware and Verizon LTE 4G service. It's not the flashiest phone on the market, but it's highly functional.

6. HTC Amaze (a.k.a. HTC Sensation)

HTC has had a tough time keeping up with Motorola in the second half of 2011, but the one HTC device that made this list is a very good one. The HTC Amaze is the name of the HTC Sensation available in the U.S. on T-Mobile. It has a compact, rounded design that reminds me of the Nexus One and the original HTC Desire. The HTC Amaze also has a dual core processor, 8MP camera, hefty design, and T-Mobile's HSPA+ network.

7. Motorola Photon

This is a cousin of the Droid Bionic mentioned above, only this one has a better hardware design and it runs on Sprint instead of Verizon. It's another speed demon. It has a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra processor and runs on the Sprint/Clearwire WiMAX network for 4G. Like the Bionic and Motorola Atrix 2, the Photon includes Motorola's Webtop software and the ability to dock into a PC-like experience on the desktop or into the laptop dock. It even has a nice little kickstand like many of the HTC devices like the ThunderBolt. This device has 4G WiMAX capability since it's exclusive to Sprint (in the U.S.).

8. T-Mobile G2x (LG)

One of the best kept secrets is the T-Mobile G2x, made by LG. Along with the Galaxy Nexus, this is the only phone on the list that runs the stock Android OS, and that's a big plus in my opinion. The G2x has a very polished, high-quality design with lots of metal. It has plenty of speed to burn and the form factor is a little smaller, similar to the HTC Amaze. It's not huge like the Droid Razr, so it's going to appeal to people who want a smaller, more portable design or simply have smaller hands.

9. Motorola Droid 3

The original Motorola Droid was the device that really launched the Android smartphone revolution (the earlier Android devices were unimpressive and failed to attract the public). The third generation Moto Droid is on this list because it's the best Android device with a hardware keyboard. Most Android buyers -- even BlackBerry converts -- are moving away from hardware keyboards to full touch screens, but since there are still some die-hards out there, I wanted to put at least one hardware keyboard device on the list. Other than the keyboard, the Droid 3 hardware doesn't have anything special and it lacks Verizon's 4G LTE, so keep that in mind before opting for it solely based on the keyboard.

10. Samsung Galaxy S 4G

Samsung joined the Android ecosystem with a bang in 2010, putting its Galaxy S line of smartphones on lots of different carriers in lots of different form factors. The first successor to its initial line of Android phones was the Samsung Galaxy S 4G in early 2011. It was very similar to last year's Galaxy S line but it added HSPA+ capability (which T-Mobile dubiously calls "4G") and a svelte form factor that doesn't feel quite as placticy as most of last year's models. It's not quite as nice or as powerful at the Galaxy S II, but it's also much less expensive and still a solid choice.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

33 comments
kjohnson
kjohnson

To the tune of "There are Bad Times just around the Corner," by Noel Coward. No verse. Sing chorus twice. There's a rootkit hiding in my mobile But I take it everywhere I go Though my friends deplore it I tell them to ignore it And I don't mind it watching me, I say Ho, Ho, Ho! It can tell Uncle Sam Exactly where I am From the time I get up till I go to bed, And while the closed circuit TV cameras roll, roll, roll They'll watch me till I drop down dead. There's a rootkit hiding in my mobile There's a snooper with me all the time With no rights nor balance I'm subject to surveillance 'Cause I might be about to commit a dreadful crime While the world listens in My bank account and PIN Will be broadcast so always I'm in the red And in some dark secret bunker down a hole, hole, hole They'll watch me till I drop down dead.

zeus4466
zeus4466

It is weird how the software side of the phone is not taken into consideration in this assessment. Well let me say that I've been comparing android phones along with iphone for the last 2 years, and the experience you get from HTC sense is way better than Motorola and Samsung overlays and even iphone, it is smooth, has great customization capabilities and options, user friendly, and has a lot of benefits. In the above ranking it seems that the author did not have the time to use some HTC products, or just compared phones based on shapes, and specifications knowing that the software is a major part for any comparison; freezing, reboots... are all due mainly to the software, and the experience is mainly based on the software becuase all phones have almost the same specifications for normal operations (unless you are working with NASA). If I wanted to rank the android phones, I think HTC should come on top for the build quality, HTC sense overlay and user's experience. I can assure that an old HTC like the desire S is way better experience for normal usage than any Motorola and samsung, because we are not inventing space ships with our phones. Phone's camera are useless for good photography, on the go games does not require high processing (angry birds, doodle jump...). And if come back to price expensive phones makes no sense, the comparison even should go into price/quality/experience side to make a proper analysis. Maybe the original HTC desire (nexus 1 with sense overlay) might be th best of all if it is still available.

m.guarnacci
m.guarnacci

Hi Jason, what do you think about MOTOROLA FIRE XT smartphone? it is quite cheap, but i don't know if it is really worth. Regards Marco

OldITBod
OldITBod

Why no htc cha-cha? It is singulary inexpensive, has a physical keyboard - beats the socks off (any?) blackbury - on value for money rating it outscores all more expensive phones

Daniel Breslauer
Daniel Breslauer

Got my wife a Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S just 2 weeks ago. Great phone. Personally I'm staying with my Nokia E72, at least it does real, actual, true and efficient multitasking, is easy, fast and reliable, and most of all - it has a physical keyboard and a replaceable battery. But give me an Android phone with a large screen, QWERTY keyboard (slider?), and large and replaceable battery, and I'll switch tomorrow morning at 6 AM. Unfortunately no such device is around yet. I bet the first who makes it is going to get rich, with tons of former Nokia and BlackBerry users switching.... Current QWERTY Androids are not relevant, since their screens are too small. Fact is Android needs a bigger screen. You simply can't efficiently run Android on the screen of a Nokia or BlackBerry QWERTY phone. What it needs is a much bigger screen, plus a real keyboard.

brian.hartnett
brian.hartnett

What methodology is being applied for this analysis? HTC led all others (Samsung, Moto, LG, Apple, RIM) in Smartphone market share in North America in 3Q and only have 1 phone on this list?

readydave1
readydave1

It currently has the best specs of any released Android phone. It's got decent battery life, the highest-quality screen available, 4G LTE, lots of memory, 8 MP rear cam, a front cam, etc. etc. etc.... The vendor says it is getting Ice Cream in January 2012. This phone should be #1 on the list.

bwexler
bwexler

I agree a phone should be able to make a call, first time, every time. I too am still using a stupid phone. I don't need internet on my phone, I get on my Verizon USB 720 modem. I plug it into a router which provides me with WiFi wherever I am. When I can get a smartphone without a monthly data charge mandatory, I will opt in. Until then me and my phone will remain stupid.

Regulus
Regulus

Thank You!, Thank You!, Thank You!!! For not freezing us into a slide show on this. Your efforts are much appreciated.

mfa
mfa

I finally decided to abandon my reliable, old (going on for 6 years now) Stupidphone and got a great deal on an original Droid back in June. It worked for 3 days, so I abandoned it and went back to Stupid. Decided to try again lst month, and got another seemingly great deal on a Bionic at Costco. This was significantly better, in that it didn't fail for almost 5 days, but it was back tp Stupid again. Call me an old fogey, but I think a phone ought to work as reliably as the iconic AT&T desktop dial phone. I have one from 1956 that I still use today. And with all of today's smarts and storage, it's MUCH more important that they be 100% reliable -- I'm not convinced yet that they will be any time soon, especially the Droids, a stew of hardware and software involving far too many cooks. But when a friend upgraded to an iPhone 4s, he gave me his old iPhone 3GS, which I've been using for close to a month now with no problems -- a WHOLE MONTH! It's much more intuitive than the Droids were, feels better in my hand, and did I say? -- It's worked for A MONTH! Only problem is, I can't make phone calls on it, since my cell provider is Verizon, and this is an AT&T iPhone. Let's hear it for competition, eh? But I can use it just fine for everything I need its smarts for, whenever I've got a WiFi connection, which is most of the time. I replaced the so-called unreplaceable battery myself for under $5 (tools included), so based on the previous owner's experience, I should be good for quite a while. As a formerly certified geek, the Droids appeal to me, but until there's less of a Wild West feeling about them and more demonstrated reliability, and (especially in Verizon's case) no add-on garbage software, I'm sticking with Stupid for phone use.

JoeFromIT
JoeFromIT

I like how they said the Droid Bionic has great battery life.

LedLincoln
LedLincoln

But Techrepublic's slide show is so clunky. If the pictures changed quickly and smoothly, without refreshing the whole page and forcing me to scroll down to the comments with every change, that would be fine. Meanwhile, thanks for the list.

ravinderpsingh
ravinderpsingh

This phone has smaller screen with super VGA type resolution and a weak processor. However considering it is priced at $300 unlocked you get what you pay for as some of their high end phones are over $500 in unlocked mode. Hope this helps. In social media this phone is rated average.

socialnuggets
socialnuggets

I don't know what methodology does Tech republic apply except for a person's opinion. However, for any of socialnuggets data, we mine social data and using our text analytics algorithms, we come up with this graph. If you want to know more, details are at http://socialnuggets.net/technology

REDCOATS1023
REDCOATS1023

phone companies gonna loose some money when they start charging data usage

patti.pender
patti.pender

I don't see the point of a smartphone without data. And the monthly data plan is to CYA, because smartphones' features use data even when you're not actively using the 'net and that is going to cost you big at a per megabit charge.

spawnywhippet
spawnywhippet

just buy one off contract and use it with WiFi then. No monthly data charges and you still get smartphone functionality

patti.pender
patti.pender

You didn't notice you could get an iPhone from Verizon? How's that for competition! Your friend's AT&T iPhone won't work on Verizon because GSM is incompatible with CDMA. If you find the iPhone so intuitive and reliable (which it is, I'd simply argue there are Android models which are as well) why not get an iPhone 4 for your Verizon account and quit pretending you're some kind of uber-geek but Motorola (the manufacturer of both the original Droid and the Droid Bionic) doesn't make quality phones.

chadpendley
chadpendley

I gather then that you arent as advanced a user as youd like us to believe...?

Garreth49
Garreth49

When I bought my Bionic, I bought an external charger and a second battery. Otherwise, I would have taken it back due to poor battery performance. I noted that the Razr doesn't have a removeable battery. Shame on them! A smartphone will eat them if you much of anything besides talk on the phone.

mfa
mfa

I think if you turn off all the superfluous stuff (WiFi, GPS, no flash pictures, etc.) you can get a whole day out of it. My Stupidphone doesn't have any of that stuff anyway, but it gets close to a week.

REDCOATS1023
REDCOATS1023

ya what is the point ....pda,droid and i phone all useless without the internet

mfa
mfa

So far, I haven't found any data I need that I can't get over WiFi. I'm sure I will find some someday, but that day hasn't come yet. The monthly data plan is not to CYA but to cover _theirs_ (the carriers'). Now that most carriers sell by the drink, I'm less inclined to get my data through their wireless networks rather than via WiFi. Verizon is currently offering 4GB for the price of 2, however, which is attractive enough to make me consider their iPhone.

mfa
mfa

Better yet, find a friend who's upgrading and persuade her to give you her old one.

mfa
mfa

Present situation: Stupidphone for voice: $9/mo; iPhone for data: free; no contract. Your suggested alternative: Verizon iPhone: +$200 up front, +$30/mo. + 2-year commitment. So far, I haven't found anything I need to do but can't do with my combination, as long as I'm in a WiFi hotspot and willing to put up with the lower data rate. I apologize if I seem to be pretending to be an u[sic]ber-geek, which I am most assuredly not.

QAonCall
QAonCall

He doth protest too much.

BIO Hazard GXP
BIO Hazard GXP

I have owned 4 of the original Motorola Razrs... 4 months was the longest the battery lasted in the original Razr. Same can be said for any of the Motorola phones I have owned 8 total between my wife and I. ***** For this fact alone.... I would NEVER own a motorola phone that did not have a consumer replaceable battery. ***** Spare me the blah blah blah about how they have allegedly improved with changes in technology. I for one am not buying any of that garbage. Shame on me for falling for the Motorola the 8 times I had in the past.... The author questions the quality of Samsung for being cheaply made and out of plastic.... Sounds to me like he is a I-phone owner.... I have yet to have a problem with either of our Samsung devices.

REDCOATS1023
REDCOATS1023

i agree like packman. i use mine for tethering.

patti.pender
patti.pender

When I bought my Bionic, I was amazed at how much better the battery life was than battery life on my Evo had been.

mfa
mfa

The point is you don't need the carrier's telephone network to get Internet data, if you're in a WiFi hotspot. Since no carrier (AFAIK) will sell you a smartphone without a "data plan" (data access via their telephone network), you have to get a smartphone via some other means -- like a free hand-me-down or buy used.

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