Computerworld's holiday gift guide 2013: Smartphones, cases and more

Part 3 of our annual offering of gift suggestions has recommendations for iPhones, Android phones and Windows phones; we also have a wide range of cool and useful add-ons.

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Windows Phone: Nokia Lumia 925

Beautiful. Stylish. Sleek. Powerful. Quite simply, the Lumia 925 is the best Windows Phone out there. And that means it's ideal for any Windows Phone lover on your gift list.

Nokia Lumia 925

Lumia 925 from Nokia

Direct price: $100 with 2-year AT&T contract; $500 with 2-year T-Mobile contract

A svelte 0.3-in. thick, the 5.1 x 2.8-in. case has an aluminum frame and a thin polycarbonate back. The build quality is excellent; it simply feels right in your hand. And the 4.5-in., 334 ppi AMOLED display with 1280 x 768 resolution is a beauty.

Performance is top-notch, featuring smooth scrolling and little (if any delay) in launching and running apps -- and it supports fast 4G/LTE data networks. Like other Windows Phones, the Lumia 925 includes a free version of Microsoft Office and 7GB of free SkyDrive storage.

Nokia has also pre-loaded some very useful apps, including its Here Maps mapping app and Here Drive turn-by-turn navigation app.

One of the phone's most compelling features is its 8.7-megapixel camera; it comes with optical image stabilization (which comes in especially handy when you're shooting videos) and does particularly well in low-light situations. Nokia's Smart Camera app adds useful features as well, including panorama shots and a nifty Best Shot tool that takes 10 pictures in burst mode, then lets you select the best one.

It all adds up to a winner for anyone who likes Windows Phones. In fact, it might be worthwhile giving it to someone who has yet to try a Windows Phone -- she may just find that she likes it better than its competitors.

You might also like: If having an extremely high-quality phone camera is important to your giftee, consider the Nokia Lumia 1020 ($150 - $200 with two-year contract). Its 41-megapixel camera is as good as it gets when it comes to smartphones.

-- Preston Gralla

Plus-sized phone: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Know someone who thinks bigger is better? Samsung popularized the plus-sized phone market with its original Galaxy Note device, and the company's new Galaxy Note 3 continues to lead the way in the large-form phone ("phablet," if you must) category.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Galaxy Note 3 from Samsung

Direct price: $300 from AT&T, $250 from Sprint, $704 from T-Mobile, $300 from Verizon, all with two-year contract

Running Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean), the Note 3 has a big, beautiful screen: At 5.7 in., it's about as much display as anyone can fit in a pocket without wearing clown pants. (All told, the phone measures about 6 x 3.1 x 0.3 in. and weighs 5.9 oz.) The large display opens the door to some interesting types of usage, like having multiple apps open side by side -- which the Note's software allows -- and, of course, using Samsung's trademark S Pen stylus, which gets some meaningful improvements in this latest model.

You can use the S Pen for jotting down handwritten notes on the phone's screen; the device can search through your handwriting later or even convert it into regular text. The Note 3 also comes with a version of Autodesk's Sketchbook software that'll be an enticing addition for artists or anyone who likes to sketch and doodle; with the S Pen and that app together, plenty of creative possibilities await.

The Note 3 has several other compelling qualities, like the ability to enable an "increased touch sensitivity mode" that lets the phone recognize finger input even while the user is wearing gloves (it works surprisingly well). It's also equipped to handle USB 3.0-level data connections, which means it can charge and transfer data significantly faster than most smartphones.

While Samsung's devices tend to have cheaper-feeling materials and lower build quality than other manufacturers' mobile products, the Note 3 features a new faux-leather look that's a significant step up from the company's past designs. All in all, for anyone who wants a plus-sized device or might benefit from a built-in stylus, the Galaxy Note 3 is the phone to buy this holiday season.

-- JR Raphael

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