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Holiday Gift Guide 2012

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Nov 19, 2012, 11:59 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Phone Scoop's 2012 Holiday Gift Guide is the only tool the discerning shopper needs to pick out the perfect phone for the people on their list. Whether the intended recipients have been naughty or nice, everyone needs a phone. Here are options for every carrier, every device style, and every budget.

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We've made it through yet another exciting year in the mobile phone industry and now the final days of the year are upon us. It's been an incredible year, with an unprecedented number of great new phones introduced. With so many choices, selecting the perfect gift for your family, friends, and loved ones can be difficult. That's why Phone Scoop is here to help.

As always, choosing the right phone often starts with choosing the right carrier. We assume most people have already settled on the carrier that best suits their coverage, service, and pricing needs. Many people are also locked into a long-term contract. That's why we make our recommendations based on each carrier and its line-up.

The year 2012 saw a sharper decline in the availability of inexpensive flip phones and other devices that don't require data plans. Even so, we managed to dig up a few for those of you still seeking simple voice and messaging services. The middle of the field is extremely crowded with low-cost smartphones. Many mid-range models are available for $50 or less with a contract (or under $200 with prepaid service). The price difference between mid-range devices and top-of-the-line smartphones has blurred further this year, and sometimes $100 is all it takes to get a killer device. With most flagship models retailing for $200 or less (thanks to sales), it's hard to recommend the multitude of so-so smartphones. You'll still find several mid-range handsets among our recommendations, though.

Now that smartphones do most everything, picking devices that specialize on one function isn't as necessary as it was in the past. Still, we looked over the field to pick the best low-cost phones for voice, messaging, and web services; the best smartphones for business, media, and camera functions; and the best prepaid phones and smartphones for those who are contract-averse. As long as you have a basic idea of what your friend, family member, or significant other prefers to do with their device, picking the right carrier and device should be a breeze.

After you've picked out the perfect phone, there's still one more thing to do. When you or the lucky person you're giving a phone to has moved everything off of the old phone, don't just toss it in your junk drawer or a closet corner, recycle it. Most wireless network operators (and even retailers such as Best Buy) accept recycled or traded-in phones year round.



Basic service to call 911 or Mom and Dad.

There seems to be no consensus on how old kids should be before they receive their first cell phone. I know some parents who've given their six-year-olds a cell phone, while other parents hold off at least until age 10. Whatever age is appropriate for that first device, young users don't necessarily need high-end smartphones that will rack up data charges (at least, not yet they don't.) Devices that provide simple calling and text messaging functions, as well as a few games, should be more than enough to make the youngest cell phone owners happy. Phones in this list should be less than $20 (or free) on contract, and can easily be added to a family plan for a minimal extra monthly cost. These devices are also smaller, which should work better for kids' smaller hands.


For users who just want the simplest phone for emergencies or basic calls.

This individual is probably the type of person who simply doesn't care about cell phones or technology all that much. There are plenty of merits to living life in the (almost) analog age, rather than the full-on digital one. Rather than saddle them with a technical do-dad they'll let collect dust, give them the basic phone that they want or need. These devices are generally $50 or less, and often come free with a contract. They provide calling and messaging features, and not much else.

Samsung T159
buy it

LG Revere
buy it


This might be a young teenager or other new user who is keen on texting rather than calling all their besties.

Feature phones with keyboards — or Quick Messaging Devices — have become a rare commodity. Phone makers produce just a few different models per year. Though most QWERTY-keyboard-equipped devices are smartphones, there are at least a few left that don't require pricey smartphone data plans. These devices include all the messaging services (text, picture, video, and IM) required by text-happy hipsters, and even toss in some rudimentary social networking features for good measure. Any of the devices below will help your loved one get (and give) the message!


Entry-level or lost-cost smartphones that cover the main features (smartphone OS with apps, browser, camera) and offer decent performance.

Not everyone needs a high-definition display and the latest quad-core processor. Plenty of people are happy with devices that meet the minimum specs and capabilities, such as email and social networking. For a decent web browsing experience, you need a smartphone. That's why you'll find some inexpensive Android smartphones on this list. They offer a solid platform for running apps, the ability to browse the web and look up directions, and they also include basic cameras and media players. These devices do more than high-end feature phones, but not quite as much as the best smartphones on the market.


Grandparents and other older users generally only need (or want) a cell phone that makes calls and can be used in emergencies.

Some of our more aged friends and family members may not care all that much about the latest technology. That's why some still have rabbit ears on their television sets at home. (Some even have an antique Gran Torino or Red Barchetta in the garage out back.) Even so, you might want them to have a cell phone for your own peace of mind, if not theirs. That's why this list includes only the most basic devices that offer good call quality, solid battery life, and easy-to-use hardware. At least one selection even includes services specifically for those who need help with their medications and other health-related functions. These phones definitely target function over form.

LG A340
buy it

Samsung M400
buy it

Samsung T159
buy it

Jitterbug Plus
buy it

Category Killers

Best for Biz 

Mobile professionals need ever-more powerful devices to keep their email and busy schedules in check.

These are the people who never let go of their smartphone: Not when at the dinner table, not when on a date, not in the movie theater, not even in the bathroom. It's not that they're addicted to their smartphones, it's that they are really, really busy thanks to their job. The devices on this list offer all the business basics: corporate email, 4G, corporate calendar and contacts, and good battery life. These phones aren't all about business, though. They can also serve as solid multimedia platforms to make sure the owner can watch a movie, listen to some music, or play Angry Birds while on the flight to their next conference.


These are the phones for that special someone who has a home theater in every room. Big screens, big sound, and big features are a must!

One of the best trends to occur in smartphones this year was the proliferation of devices with high-definition displays. In just two years, we've seen displays improve from 800 x 480 pixels to 1280 x 720 (and even 1920 x 1080) pixels. In addition to amazing screens, many of these devices have enhanced audio and the horsepower necessary to push pixels to the big screen if needed. Since they are also high-end smartphones, that means they cover the basics and then some. Many include excellent cameras, and cool new features such as NFC. Lights, camera, action!


Smartphones are commonly replacing dedicated point-and-shoot cameras, if not SLRs these days. These people want the best camera possible on their phone.

Most flagship smartphones include cameras with 8 megapixels or better, some form of low-light capabilities, killer flashes, and of course the ability to record 1080p HD video. For all the budding Adamses, Leibovitzes, Scorceses, and Spielbergs, these are the phones you should look at first. In addition to their solid camera performance, this list of devices covers the smartphone basics with aplomb, and includes a healthy dose of social networking integration, for sharing your new art.

buy it

buy it

No Contracts


The best no-contract phones to choose when you only care about making phone calls.

Prepaid or no-contract phones are the ultimate in low-cost budgeting. Not only is the hardware inexpensive, (especially over time,) but so are the voice, messaging, and data plans. With the prepaid or no-contract crowd, it's usually more about their monthly budget than it is about having the newest gear or most intense services. The phones on this list are the ultimate in simplicity — and therefore about as cheap as it gets for a cell phone.

Samsung Chrono
buy it

Kyocera Presto
buy it

Alcatel Sparq
buy it

LG Cosmos 2
buy it

Kyocera S2100
buy it


Smartphones for people who value their commitment-free lifestyle.

Just because they aren't interested in signing a two-year contract with a major carrier doesn't mean this class of people wants to skimp out on their device. Prepaid carriers are offering top-tier devices now, including some of the best from Apple and Samsung. As long as you don't mind paying a bit more up front for the device, these people will save money thanks to the lower monthly costs that accompany prepaid services. (Do the math over two years; trust us.) These devices are capable smartphones that offer modern operating systems, decent cameras, and good all-around performance.

buy it


Just like their contract-signing friends, these folks have camera top-of-mind when it comes to their prepaid device.

Since many of today's prepaid smartphones are the same flagship devices sold by the post-paid network operators, they can have excellent cameras. Most can shoot 8-megapixel still images and record 720p (if not 1080p) HD video. These phones might be a little bit older than some of the other (on-contract) offerings, but that's part of why they are available for so little. These are all capable devices, perfect for real web browsing and keeping up with your Facebook friends, in addition to taking pictures and sharing them across your social networks.

HTC Rhyme
buy it

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Nov 20, 2012, 5:27 PM

I don't know....

I think there is a lot more places to fit the free iPhone 4 and the $100.00 iPhone 4s into the mix.
I dont know where they would fit. I mean they are iPhones afterall. I dont even know how the iPhone 5 made the list at all. But i could see the windows phone 8 in more categories

Nov 20, 2012, 11:08 AM

Thanks Eric!

Thanks Eric! I think you did a great job picking these phones. I cant wait to see the DNA in person. Haven't seen it yet....
Your very welcome.

Nov 20, 2012, 2:27 AM

Category Killer

Why don't you have an all around section like the best overall smartphone on the carriers?
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