"Which is the best Android phone out there right now?" -- the headline of this story -- is the single most common question I get asked on a day-to-day basis. And it's understandable; after all, budget considerations not withstanding, everyone wants to feel like they're buying the best of the best.
Spoiler alert: There will be no definitive answer to that question provided here today. Or anywhere, any day (not one that matters, at least). While occasionally a device comes along that raises the bar in some exciting new manner -- the Galaxy Nexus, for example -- generally speaking, there is no single "right" answer for everyone. It all comes down to what you want.
In the case of Android, we're at the start of what promises to be a spectacular streak of high-end device launches. With Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) out in the wild, manufacturers are finally starting to release their new flagship phones built around Google's latest and greatest mobile OS.
One of the first such handsets to hit is HTC's One S, which goes on sale for $200 (with a new contract, following a $50 rebate) next Wednesday on T-Mobile. I've been using the One S for a few days now, and as I wrote in my review, it's a standout phone if I've ever seen one -- a premium device that handily earns its spot among the Android elite.
So naturally, certain questions are bound to follow -- questions like: "Should I get the One S instead of the Galaxy Nexus?" "What about the Droid Razr? Is it better than that?" And: "How about that elusive Galaxy S III? Should I maybe hold out for it?"
The answer to all these questions is the same: It's a personal judgment call that ultimately boils down to what you want in your phone. (The same answer applies to the age-old "iPhone or Android" question, incidentally. Sure, we all have our own opinions on the matter -- myself, ahem, included -- but what's right for one person isn't necessarily right for the next. That's the wonder of having all these choices in the first place.)
I think the HTC One S is a fantastic device, and I've really enjoyed using it. I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who's looking for a phone with the type of experience it delivers. I'd even go as far as to say it's the best phone available in T-Mobile's current lineup, which hasn't had a truly impressive high-end device in quite some time. Does that mean I think the One S is better than the Galaxy Nexus, or any other current high-end device on the market? Nope -- not at all.
As anyone who tests a lot of phones can tell you, overall performance and user experience mean a lot more than specs alone. And I can't emphasize enough: It's all relative to what you want. Now, of course there's a dividing line between phones of different generations or different classes -- recent phones vs. phones from 2010, for example, or high-end phones vs. lower-end devices -- but when it comes to phones of the same general caliber, there's a lot more to consider than just numbers on a paper.
The One S is a top-notch Android phone, and I wouldn't hesitate to put it in line with devices like the Galaxy Nexus, the Droid Razr, or the S's sibling, the HTC One X. All those phones have stellar performance and standout features; they're just different types of devices with different types of appeal. For me, personally, I like the large screen and form factor the Galaxy Nexus provides, and I really value its pure Android experience and the accompanying benefits that delivers.
That doesn't mean the Galaxy Nexus is better than the other phones, though; it's just better for me. The One S, One X, and Droid Razr each brings something different to the table, and depending on what's important to you in a smartphone, any of them could be best for you. The best suggestion I can offer is to read reviews from people you trust, then take a field trip to your favorite mobile-tech retailer (yes, one of those weird places with actual walls and a door). Hold some phones in your hand, see how you feel about their sizes and forms, and see how you like each one's approach to the Android OS. That's the only way you're going to know for sure what suits you.
We're in an exciting time for Android development. Some very cool devices are available now, and several more promising high-profile launches are on the horizon. Unlike other mobile platforms, Android isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of ecosystem. It can't always be measured and ranked in any meaningful way -- and believe me, that's a good thing.
If you're in the market for a new phone, get ready for a delightfully difficult decision.
Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.