ST. LOUIS -- It seems like the Apple iPhone has captured all of the smartphone headlines these days.
Who can blame them? It's an undeniably beautiful piece of engineering with software that's so easy to use, anyone from small children to the elderly can pick it up and get the basics right away.
But still, there are plenty of other choices on the market that are high-quality, just as useful and can be had for prices much lower than the iPhone... if you shop in the right places.
Today, Matt hands the ball off to the resident smartphone guru on the Ways 2 Save team, producer Vince, for a breakdown of the top five smartphones that aren't the iPhone and how to get them for a bargain.
We did our best to come up with a list of devices that are available on as many carriers as possible. That really narrowed down the field we had to work with. If you need more in-depth reviews of these devices, we've included links to some of the most respected review sites on the web for each model.
Some of the deals are exclusive to a single carrier. That's part of the ebb and flow of the cell phone carrier business. Someone is bound to come along at some point for the ones we don't have deals for yet. It's just a matter of time in most cases.
Let's start the list...
1) HTC One
In a crowded, noisy field of large screen slabs, the HTC One stands atop the heap. It is very difficult for manufacturers of Android phones to stand out because there are so many of them. HTC hits a home run with the One. This phone has incredible build quality, with a stunning aluminium unibody design. Nothing cheap on this device.
The stereo speakers (a rare feature itself) are among the elite on the smartphone market. An innovative camera technology performs very well in those key low-light situations. Most Android phones are clumsy to use for the average person because the software is so complex. HTC bucks the trend, marrying simplicity and power with its take on Android that is both pleasing to the eye and easy to pick up.
For the spec hounds and power users, this device is the cream of the crop. Top shelf hardware from top to bottom and blazing performance on the back end make this one a sure thing. The battery is not removable, which is a sticking point among smartphone purists, but has been a mainstay of the iPhone for years. Hardcore Android fans are still debating the merits of the phone's camera quality, but it stands up very well against a lot of the others in its class.
EXTRA | Android Central Review: HTC One
HTC One (re-certified) - AT&T
HTC One (new) - Verizon
2) Samsung Galaxy S4
It's the flagship phone that almost everyone thinks of (alongside iPhone) when they hear the term smartphone. The GS4 has a dizzying array of features, great hardware to back it up and the marketing muscle to actually put it into customers' hands. The problem is, this phone isn't enough of an upgrade over the Galaxy S III to justify the difference in sticker price.
The average user doesn't need this phone. That's not a popular opinion, but it is true. This phone has more features than you can shake a stick at, and most of those features go undiscovered and unused by most users. People buy smartphones for the apps, media/games, cameras, phone calls and the communication tools. It packs a quad-core processor, which sounds great, but most people who use a GSIII don't even use their dual core to its potential. Despite tons of fun features, Samsung's take on the Android software lacks consistency and uniformity, unlike competitors like HTC, Apple, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Motorola.
Power users will appreciate this device. It has everything you look for and more. Samsung's camera typically trumps every manufacturer except for Apple and Nokia/Microsoft. The processor is excellent and will power through almost any task. The screen is only .2 inches larger -- notice the decimal point -- than its predecessor. The larger battery is the real upgrade, but with normal use, it did no better than the HTC One. However, the battery is removable, so if you plan to keep this phone for longer than the life of your carrier contract, you can buy a new battery after this one wears out.
EXTRA | Android Central Review: Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung Galaxy S4 - Sprint
3) BlackBerry Q10
The darkhorse in the field gets a surprising nod very high on this list. Despite the negative headlines about the company, the Q10 is the top phone on the market with a physical QWERTY keyboard. It also is one of the best-constructed smartphones you can buy. The software uses an innovative way of navigating that takes some patience to learn, but once you get the hang of it, all tasks get accomplished faster than on competing devices.
Let's face it, people hate typing on touchscreens. They do it because that's pretty much their only choice. Not any more. The Q10's keyboard is the best we've ever tested. BlackBerrys are known for being the best messaging devices and the company retains that title with this offering. It packs a touchscreen that is smaller than the others on this list because the phone has to fit a keyboard right under it, but it doesn't really hurt its functionality. The screen is too small for big-time gaming or video watching, but games and media apps are available anyway if you want them. The Q10's sister phone, the Z10, is an all-touchscreen device that aims to fill that media-loving void and can be purchased for free on sites like Wirefly and Amazon.
Some of the more informed power users are starting to notice this device because even though the BlackBerry World app catalog isn't as large as Android or Apple's offerings, users can actually run Android apps on this device. The software is so powerful that it can actually simulate Android while running its own operating system. Battery life is excellent because the smaller screen and display technology combines with the largest battery ever put in a BlackBerry. This thing is a workhorse worthy of its place on this list.
Note: With BlackBerry's impending purchase by private investment company Fairfax (headed by the "Warren Buffet of Canada" Prem Watsa), the company is on solid ground and isn't going anywhere, so there is no reason to worry about future support of your devices.
EXTRA | Crackberry Review: BlackBerry Q10
Blackberry Q10 - Verizon
Now: $99.99 - $69.99 (includes free case!)
4) Nokia Lumia 920 series
There are four major software platforms that power smartphones these days: Apple's iOS, Google's Android, BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone 8. This one runs Windows Phone. It's a really fun, yet functional operating system that is very easy to use and quickly catches your eye. Nokia's hardware is really slick, using high-quality materials that still manage to keep its phones at a lower price than its comparable competition.
The 920 series refers to basically three phones in the U.S. -- the Lumia 920 (AT&T), 925 (T-Mobile) and 928 (Verizon). Each carrier wants to have its own special spin on this great line of phones, hence the rather confusing list of model numbers. Each one basically packs the same general internals, but have different stylistic flair to set them apart. The software is fun, colorful and simple. It uses something called "Live Tiles" that double as both icons and notification windows. Hard to describe on paper, but easy to figure out as soon as you look at it. Some of the best visual layout designs on competing smartphones "borrow" directly from what Windows Phone already created.
The camera on these devices are incredible. Nokia decided early on that it would make camera technology one of its differentiating factors over the competition. They don't disappoint. Its software is so tightly woven with the hardware that it doesn't need power-sucking features like quad-core processors to do the job other smartphones need more horsepower to accomplish. The touchscreen keyboard is one of the best, so if you don't want a BlackBerry, this is your next best bet for typing. The Windows Store app catalog isn't as robust as the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, but still has almost all of your staples. For the name-brand apps it doesn't have, crafty third-party developers have created fully-functioning replacements. The Lumia 928 is already free with a new contract on Verizon. Below are some deals on the other two iterations of this innovative device.
Sorry Sprint fans. The carrier has not yet brought a Nokia device to its lineup.
EXTRA | Windows Phone Central Review: Nokia Lumia 920 (AT&T)
EXTRA | Windows Phone Central Review: Nokia Lumia 925 (T-Mobile)
EXTRA | CNET Review: Nokia Lumia 928 (Verizon)
Nokia Lumia 920 - AT&T
Nokia Lumia 925 - T-Mobile
5) Moto X by Motorola
Motorola took a year off after Google bought the company's mobile division and emerged this year with its flagship Moto X. It is a gorgeous device that feels great in the hand and performs incredibly well. It probably deserves a higher spot on this list, but it's a crowded field and this phone is so new that most people haven't even seen one in person yet.
Google pulled out all the stops for this one, but keeps costs down. It is shaped to comfortably fit in your hand, unlike the much sharper-edged iPhone. While it doesn't have bleeding-edge specs under the hood, this phone performs with the best of them, including some great features that a lot of people will enjoy. The Google Now voice activation integration is a killer feature that gives Siri a real run for her money. Oh, and the battery is projected to last 24 hours straight. There isn't an official independent mixed-use test of this claim, but it stands up well to some really hardcore battery drain tests, so it probably isn't too far off the mark.
Hardcore Android fans will balk at the screen size, resolution and power under the hood. What they fail to realize though, is how tightly woven Google/Motorola made the whole package. They maximize just about every component built into this thing. The camera, like all Motorola cameras, leave something to be desired, but it is better than previous models. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that this phone can also be custom built (if you're on AT&T). Custom wood back plates, colors, etc. can be designed to your personal taste. The custom building is expected to eventually be available to other carriers, but AT&T paid more up front to lock in the exclusivity for a while.
EXTRA | CNET Review: Moto X by Motorola
Moto X by Motorola - AT&T
Don't agree with the list? Want more deals? Sound off on Twitter and follow @MattGranite.
By VINCE FRATIANI
Ways 2 Save Producer