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Holiday Gift Guide 2013

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Nov 26, 2013, 1:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Phone Scoop's 2013 Holiday Gift Guide is the only tool the discerning shopper needs to pick out the perfect phone. 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.

Intro 

The last few weeks of 2013 are upon us and once again it’s amazing to see how much the mobile phone industry has evolved over the past year. Smartphones now account for the bulk of new devices sold in the U.S. and beyond. Competition among the top players has been fierce, with companies going toe-to-toe and feature-for-feature upping the ante all year long. With such a diverse and exciting array of compelling devices available, selecting the right one for the special people in your life can be a challenge.

The 2013 holiday shopping season officially gets under way this week with Black Friday and other deals sure to entice those eager to find a bargain. Whether you're shopping online, at carrier stores, or at big box electronics retailers, Phone Scoop's Holiday Gift Guide should help you navigate the crowded field of this year's phone crop.

There are excellent devices being offered this year by every carrier in the country, including the four big national operators, as well as smaller, regional players. Phone Scoop firmly believes that the carrier should play a significant role in determining your selection of devices. People generally have their carrier preferences already in place based on the coverage, plans, and pricing that works for them. To that end, we've organized our Gift Guide based on carriers and their current roster of hardware.

If there was one trend evident throughout 2013, it is that (practically) no one is interested in flip phones and other entry-level devices that might be devoid of data access. There are still some out there, but finding them is becoming more and more difficult. Smartphones continue to span every price point, from $0 to nearly $1,000. With sales and subsidies dropping the price of the best devices to one or two Franklins, choosing is harder than ever. No matter what, however, there is a good device to fit your budget and gifting needs.

This year, we changed up how we organized gifts. There so few devices that target just voice, or just messaging, or just media playback, that suggesting gifts based on specific features no longer really makes sense. These days, most phones offer a range of features that include good cameras, solid video powers, app support, and amazing communications tools. We looked more at price, functionality, quality, and overall position in the market, instead. We then lumped them into three main groups: devices that fall into the entry- and mid-market, those that are fully featured flagship devices, and those that are free of restrictive contracts. As long as you know which carrier works best for the person you're buying for, we can help sort out what price range and general device type fits the bill.

Once the holidays are over (or even before!), please be sure to erase your old phone and recycle it. Don't stuff it into some dark hole in your house -- take it to a wireless retailer or other electronics store and trade in that old-and-busted gear. Who knows, you might even get a few bucks for it.

Basic

Voice 

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

These phones are for people who really, really don't want or need an advanced device. They'd much prefer to keep things simple and uncomplicated. They probably still have a landline as their primary phone at home, but want an extra device to keep in the car or reserve for emergencies. Don't give them a top-of-the-line smartphone. Keep it simple with one of these old-school flip phones or simple smartphones instead. As a bonus, most of these phones are inexpensive and some even come free of contracts for next to nothing. They cover basic voice service, but don't offer advanced features.

 
T-Mobile
LG Optimus F3

 
Verizon
Samsung Convoy 3

Messaging 

For those who love physical keyboards.

Finding a device with a physical QWERTY keyboard is becoming more and more difficult, leaving few options from which to choose. Don't bother looking for a feature phone with a keyboard, you won't find any worth spending money on. Instead, you'll be better off settling for a smartphone. Even if you scour only smartphones, finding those with a keyboard is still a difficult task. This set of devices is defined by their physical form factor, with one worthwhile exception thanks to its incredible powers of dictation.

 
AT&T
BlackBerry Q10

 
Sprint
BlackBerry Q10

 
T-Mobile
Motorola Moto X

 
Verizon
BlackBerry Q10

Kids 

Kids don't want phones to make calls, they want portable gaming units.

Mom and Dad might want Junior to be able to call 911 or send a text message in the event of an emergency, but that's not what kids want to do with their phones. Not at all. They want to play games and pass the time with their mobile device. Rather than buy them a Nintendo 3DS or Sony PlayStation Vita and a flip phone, why not get a basic smartphone -- which covers both bases -- instead? The best devices for kids are those that have good screens, are easy to hold, have a wide selection of content, and are dead simple to use. Some might question picking smartphones for kids, but they are really the only devices that can handle all of the above. What's more, adding such devices - even smartphones - to family plans has become inexpensive. Not only is the at-register cost low, so are the monthly fees if you limit mobile data. These devices are also smaller, which should work better for kids' smaller hands. And don't worry, they can be used to call 911 quite easily.

 
AT&T
Apple iPhone 4S

 
Sprint
Apple iPhone 4

 
T-Mobile
Apple iPhone 4

 
Verizon
Apple iPhone 4S

Seniors 

Seniors are among the few users out there who might prefer a flip phone to a smartphone.

My 83-year-old grandmother loves her iPad, but still prefers to use a simple cell phone rather than a complicated smartphone. Many seniors might balk at the idea of using a cell phone at all, since their landline is so reliable. Those who are with the times, however, know that having access to family members (and maybe even emergency services) anywhere they might be is essential. This list includes only the most basic devices that offer good call quality, solid battery life, and easy-to-use hardware. These simpler phones are all low-cost and perfectly suited to our elders. Last, we've included a selection from Jitterbug, which is a carrier that specializes in providing services for the elderly, such as help with their medications and other health- and wellness-related features.

 
Sprint
Kyocera Kona

 
T-Mobile
Alcatel 768

 
Verizon
LG Exalt

 
GreatCall
Jitterbug Touch 2

Flagship

Compact 

Smartphones that offer everything, but come wrapped in small packages.

Let's face it, huge phones aren't for everyone. In fact, many users (especially those with petite hands) might prefer devices that have a smaller footprint. That's why we've selected this group of devices. They may be small in size, but they don't skimp on features, not by a long shot. They have all the hallmarks of a flagship device, including excellent cameras, good battery life, LTE 4G data, good screens, advanced software, and superior build quality. These devices lead the market in performance, but not in size.

 
AT&T
HTC One mini

 
Sprint
Apple iPhone 5s

 
T-Mobile
Apple iPhone 5s

Mid-Sized 

The best all-around smartphones.

These phones hit the sweet spot for many buyers: they aren't too small, aren't too large, and offer just the right mix of performance and features to make them solid picks for the majority. These are the smartphones that the big boys really want you to buy. They have class-leading cameras, HD screens, LTE 4G, good build quality, and footprints with which most people can get comfortable. Toss in day-long battery life, good call quality, and the best selection of apps, and you have the following list of excellent devices.

 
Sprint
LG G2

 
T-Mobile
Nokia Lumia 925

 
Verizon
Motorola Moto X

Phablets 

Phones with huge screens for those who want the most of everything.

Like it or not, phablets are here to stay. While 5 inches may be the optimal screen size for many people, these phones take it to the next level. They go bigger with displays approaching 6 inches, and all include 1920 x 1080 pixels to make their screens full HD. More than just big screens, they go the extra mile to provide an improved performance, be it with a stylus or more screen real estate for customization. These phones claim to do it all and do it better than any other phone. They do push other boundaries, however, such as price and usability. Phablets can be pricey and over-sized for some people. Make sure those on your shopping list want this type of device before committing them to the gargantuan proportions of today's phablets.

Camera 

For the discerning photographer who wants the best-possible camera in their smartphone.

Though most smartphones have decent cameras, these devices are for those who prioritize the camera function of their devices. They offer category-leading imaging performance, excellent photo-manipulation software, and attractive, functional hardware. For the shutterbug who simply won't skimp on camera features, the following devices are the next-best-thing to dedicated imaging devices. They may not equal the performance of the best dSLRs, but they are a solid substitute.

 
T-Mobile
Sony Xperia Z

 
Verizon
HTC One

No Contract

Basic 

Simple phones that offer good voice performance for little cost.

This is not a list of devices for technophiles. Instead, these are for the contract-averse who need only the simplest feature set from their phone. The bulk of these phones are flip phones, though there are some entry-level smartphones (now that price isn't much of an issue for that category) and good flip phones are so rare. Many of these cost less than $100 off contract and still manage to provide a good experience.

 
AT&T
ZTE Z222

 
Boost
Kyocera Coast

 
Verizon
LG Optimus Zone

 
Virgin Mobile
Kyocera Kona

Smartphone 

Pick these phones for those who want a great device with the smallest monthly bill.

There's no question that today's prepaid / no-contract providers offer a bargain on the cost of monthly service when compared to the big four carriers. These devices are for those who want the best hardware possible, but still don't want to spend a fortune on their wireless service. The below phones offer an excellent mix of performance and cost for today's discerning, budget-minded consumer.

 
Cricket
Samsung Galaxy S4

 
MetroPCS
Samsung Galaxy S4

 
Virgin Mobile
HTC Desire

Camera 

Inexpensive monthly plans, but good camera performance are a must.

Everyone has their own budget. These folks want a good smartphone with a great camera, but a low monthly service cost. The good news is there are plenty of devices to fit that description. The majority of these devices were released this year and include great cameras. They may not sit at the top of the smartphone hill, but they almost do (or did recently). If you're looking for a bargain on a good camera that happens to also include a smartphone, these are the devices from which to select.

 
Cricket
Apple iPhone 5c

 
MetroPCS
Samsung Galaxy S4

 
Virgin Mobile
Apple iPhone 5c

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Subject Author Date
Why Not Nexus 5? rwalford79 Nov 26, 2013, 1:29 PM
Just one slight suggestion Jellz Nov 26, 2013, 3:54 PM
Camrea? (flagship>camera, 4th line, 3rd word ATTDRONEV2.5 Nov 26, 2013, 1:57 PM
Moto G or X Poison Ivy Nov 26, 2013, 1:32 PM
 
 
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