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Best Smartphone in 2012? The Beginner's Guide.

Updated on August 11, 2013
Will Apse profile image

Scientist, writer, audiophile and smartphone addict, Will Apse, loves explaining tech issues in a way that anyone can understand.

Many future gazers expect mobile devices to be selling faster than desktops for the first time in 2012.

What does this mean for smart-phones? It means they will become more and more powerful as software is scaled to them. It will mean eventually that everyone will have one- except for the guys in the tinfoil hats.

If you love smartphones - or think you might - you are living in interesting times.

Hot Brands in 2012

Samsung: The Samsung Galaxy S2 was widely reckoned to be the top selling handset of 2011, beating the iPhone 4s into second place . The Galaxy Nexus was the first smartphone with the latest Android operating system (Ice-cream Sandwich). The S3 is the fastest selling Android smartphone of 2012.

Samsung are on a roll. Except for the patent wars. Apple say Samsung stole key tech and want several Samsung products banned in the US.

Apple iPhone: The iPhone 5 has certainly not impressed the reviewers. It is just not that different from the Iphone 4s. But nothing will change for serious Apple fans, the latest iPhone is a must have.

The Cloud

Over the last few years, the big software developers have been shifting a lot of their attention to providing applications for mobile computing. Central to this is the Cloud- programs and applications you access and use on the internet, not your phone or PC.

The fewer programs you load onto your mobile the more space there is for data, movies and games. This is expected to appeal to business users most, initially, but gamers too will benefit with massive games consigned more and more to storage online not their mobile devices.

The biggest winner looks like being Android.

Slide out Qwerty keyboard on Motorola Droid
Slide out Qwerty keyboard on Motorola Droid

How to Choose a Smartphone

One element in any choice has to be hardware. How big is the screen? How good is the camera and video? How fast is the processor?

Just as important is the issue of what the phone can do. This means what applications are available. You may want great business software, you might want great games or movie apps.

Most of the best apps are supplied by independent developers rather then the phone manufacturer. To get the phone that is right for you, you need to check out what apps will work with which phones.

Smartphones with a Qwerty Keyboard

Touchscreens are pretty much the standard nowadays but phones with physical keyboards have something to offer.Texting with a virtual keyboard is still a slow process even with helpful word suggestion software.

Blackberry style physical keyboards are excellent for entering data or texting fast. You just need a couple of good thumbs!

Sliders like the Motorola Droid 3 will never be super slim but if texting is a big thing for you, that big, responsive keyboard is a bonus.

Smartphones as WiFi Hotspots

Many 3G or 4G phones can act as a WiFi hotspot and hook up to any WIFi device. This means you can use your phone to stream music to music players, video to TVs, documents to printers and so on.

Listening to Internet radio with a WiFi music player is the most popular application.

Phone Operating Systems for Beginners

Operating systems don't sound too exciting but if you don't have some idea of which phone has what OS, you shouldn't be shopping for a smartphone on your own.

The OS of a phone determines what apps a phone can offer you.

iPhone uses Apple's iOS and has more applications available via its Store than any other OS in the world- around 600,000.

The Android Operating System is used by top smartphones like HTC Hero and Samsung Vibrant. It was developed by Google and, while Android has far fewer apps than Apple, Android is close to catching up with around 500.000. Android is big for business as well as fun. The latest OS is Android 4 which incorporates the best of the Tablet OS, Honeycomb.

Blackberry OS has some of the best business apps available. It covers the bases on social networking and recreation too but don't exspect apps for things like carp fishing, snowboarding or casting love spells.

Windows Phones: Microsoft created a completely new OS for the Windows 7 mobile and when it was launched mid-2010. it caused a stir. Mango, (Windows 7.5), ironed out many irritating features and gave it some devoted fans. Windows 8, debuting in 2012, is set to deliver at least two great smartphones, the HTC Titan and Nokia Lumia 900. There are around 40,000 apps currently available.

Older Nokia phones use the Symbian OS. Nokia is the number one seller of phones world wide but lost its way in the US market several years ago. Symbian offers far fewer apps than its rivals but Nokia hardware is top quality and affordable. Symbian will soon be replaced by Windows OS on all Nokia Phones.

Locked, Unlocked or Jailbroken?

Most phones sold in the US are locked. This means you buy a phone at a low price from a company like AT&T which provides the cell phone service. You are obliged to sign a contract usually for 2 years and cannot get out of it. This suits most people, the upfront cost of an iPhone, for example, is usually less than a hundred dollars. A 2 gigabyte per month data plan costs around $25,

The problem comes if you don't like the cell service provider- maybe it is slow in your area. Maybe you just want out of the payments. Buying an unlocked phone is the alternative but top phones are around five to eight hundred dollars.

Jailbreaking a phone drives providers crazy and is illegal- though nobody has ever been prosecuted. You hack into the phone's security system with readily available software and free it up to use any provider and any third party apps.

Android Phones Versus the iPhone

The rest of this page looks in more detail at the top phones in the smartphone market in 2011- the iPhone and Android-based phones.

There is a glance at some of the very affordable Blackberry and Nokia phones at the bottom of the page.

Movies App

Movies App
Movies App


What Sort of Apps Does Android OS Offer?

If you have never browsed the Android Market it is certainly worth a visit:

These are some of the favorite apps available and they tell you a lot about what an Android can do:

  • Easy Facebook and Twitter Apps
  • Foursquare- explore your town and keep up with where friends are
  • Google Voice- caller id etc
  • Meebo IM- instant chat
  • Movies; this is also available on Apple phones and lets you check movie start times, read reviews and more
  • Pandora internet radio- play this through earphones or Bluetooth speakers
  • Yellow pages
  • USA Today and many other newspapers

The most popular downloads are games, of course, like Angry Birds or Pocket Empires but you can explore these yourself at the Marketplace.

A few of the Weirder Apps

  • Car Matey- mark where you park your car on the map so you don't lose it. This is Ideal for low attention span individuals (like me on a high pressure day!). It talks like a pirate so you don't feel it is making fun of you.
  • Tricorder- it tracks solar flares and satellites to reassure you nothing big will fall on your head.
  • Bic Concert lighter- getting into the feeling at a schmaltzy concert and need a lighter to wave? This app will fake it for you.

Business Apps

Organizers, antivirus, order processing, remote for media presentations- the Android has plenty for the business user Top Android-Business-Apps.htm

Best Android Phones

The S3
The S3

Samsung Galaxy S3

As of June 2012 the S3 has yet to reach the shores of the US. All the major carriers will carry it: Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular and AT&T. Delivery dates have slipped to July but eagerness for the latest big Android has not diminished.

The specs for the US version represent a little slippage from the International version. Getting delivery on soon as possible seems to be the most important thing. It is still impressive when compared to almost every other phone on the market in 2012.

  • Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0)
  • 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor (the international version has the Quad Core 1.4GHz Cortex A9 processor)
  • 4.8″ Super AMOLED touchscreen.
  • 2,048MB of RAM
  • 8MP Camera

Most of us were hoping for 2 GB of RAM and how this downgrading will affect things like multitasking and big games, is something to look out for.

LG-OPTIMUS4X: huge power, reasonable price
LG-OPTIMUS4X: huge power, reasonable price

The LG Optimus 4X HD

LG is not one of those names that comes to mind easily when you start thinking of state of the art smartphones. The Optimus 4X, though is one of the few phones that has the drop on the Galaxy S3 in some key performance areas.

It has the quad core 1.5GHz Tegra 3 processor from NVIDIA for a start. This is a little faster than the Quad Core 1.4GHz Cortex A9 processor you find in the international version of the S3 and delivers top games and multitasking effortlessly.

The 4.7” True HD-IPS display in the Optimus is less appealing if you like bright, rich colors than the Super AMOLED screen in the S3. At the same time the true-to-life HD-IPS display in the Optimus makes for good browsing and gaming experiences.

The cameras are broadly comparable too, though the S3 front camera wins out for clarity.

The LG in-house rendering of Icecream sandwich works for the Optimus smoothing out some of the remaining edges in an already pretty smooth OS.

Did I say I am secret fanboy of LG HDTV's? This phone is leading LG in the right direction in the smartphone arena too,

One X, available in white grey or black.
One X, available in white grey or black.


HTC fans will probably look no further than the One X. With AT&T as a carrier you will pay a fraction under 200 dollars for a big (very bright) screen, Android 4 and HTC's very successful Sense 4 software graft.

The rear camera is versatile and powerful with 8MP, though the front camera is less capable than the Samsung Galaxy S2.

The main drawback is the lack of an SD card slot. A removavble battery would also have helped.

If 4G LTE is available you will get very fast downloads even without the quad core processor you can find in the international version.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Any smartphone with the name 'Nexus' is worth looking forward to. Nexus phones always come with important Android updates and set a standard for other manufacturers to live up to.

Samsung and Google co operated closely on the development of 'icecream sandwich' and the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus will also be the official launch of Android 4.

Samsung's role means that every other manufacturer will find it hard to get as much from the new OS for quite a while. Samsung have always known where Android 4 was headed. So that huge raft of improvements that Android 4 offers will be fully implemented in the new Nexus.

What about the hardware? Is it as good or perhaps even better than the Galaxy S2?

  • dual-core 1.2GHz Cortex-A9 CPU,
  • 1 GB of RAM
  • 4.65-inch high-definition Super AMOLED display,
  • 16 or 32 GB of internal memory,
  • 4G LTE support,
  • 5-megapixel rear-facing camera with 1080p video capture,
  • 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera
  • size 135.5 x 67.94 x 8.94 mm and weighs 135 grams

The hardware is very similar to the Galaxy S2 mentioned below. Screen resolution is excellent and you will keep the details of the new resizable widgets and Roboto keyboard from Android 4.The AMOLED screen also means high contrast and strong color even in sunlight.

What the S2 cannot offer is all those extra features courtesy of 'Icecream Sandwich'.

On the downside, the Nexus is bigger than the S2 and less slender, which will count against it with some users.

Galaxy S2
Galaxy S2

Samsung Galaxy S2

The S2 will still be a very desirable smartphone after the launch of the new S3, so here is the review from 2011.

Smartphones don't come much thinner than the Galaxy S2. If you take out the battery, there seems to almost nothing left. Even with the battery inserted the whole thing weighs a mere 116 grams.

What is certainly big, though, is the screen- at 4.3 inches it is way bigger than the 3.5 inch iPhone 4. It is also very, very bright. Even in sunlight the super amoled display burns bright enough to watch your movies with ease.

The Tegra 2 processor is fast. Android 2.3 gives you all your favorite apps. The camera is a capable 8 MP.

What is there not to like? Well, it is not the cheapest smartphone around with the 16GB version weighing in at around $600 on Amazon, contract-free.

That has not stopped it being the most popular Android phone of 2011.

Best QWERTY Keyboard Smartphone in 2012?

Last year, the Droid 3 was probably the best slider with a physical QWERTY keyboard. This year it is hard to think that anything will outdo the Droid 4. Motorola made this niche market their own with previous Droids..

The Droid 4 is available for Verizon customers at around $200.

It offers:

  • slide-out QWERTY keyboard with pressure-sensitive keys feeding direct to the phone motherboard.
  • FIPS 140-2 encryption (more or less unbreakable).
  • an 8MP camera with 1080p HD video capture,

The OS is Android 2.3 with promises of an upgrade to Android 4.0 soon.


Motorola Atrix 2

Like the original Atrix, the Atrix 2 has a dual core processor and plenty of RAM. It will integrate with a PC or HDTV via a multimedia dock and (with a keyboard) makes an acceptable replacement for a laptop.

The Atrix 2 is not the big leap forward that the original Atrix was- the original was the most powerful phone around, at launch. The Atrix 2 does offer some useful upgrades, though, and helps to keep Motorola in the game with Samsung and HTC.

The rear camera is upgraded from 5MP stills and 720p HD video to 8MP stills and 1080p HD video.

The screen is a little bigger at 4.3 inches (compared to 4 inches). The processor is improved by around 20 per cent.

4G is available (in some areas) from AT&T.

The softened, rounded out design makes the new Atrix looks less Motorola than some fans will like but it is still a great phone.

iPhone 4s. 'Retina' display still gives the best screen clarity available. But it is far from the biggest screen...
iPhone 4s. 'Retina' display still gives the best screen clarity available. But it is far from the biggest screen...

The iPhone 4 and i4s

With the launch of the iPhone 5 prices are falling for older models. US carriers are offering the iPhone 3 free with a contract and the iPhone 4 is now only one hundred dollars.

Every iPhone, from the original to the iPhone 4s, has been snapped up by a hungry fan base with good reason. The iPhone satisfies expectations. It is also a magnet for software developers and the apps are outstanding.

The i4s has Siri- the voice operated virtual assistant, the dazzlingly precise (if undersized) retina display and an 8MP camera. It is better than many point and shoot cameras you will pay a hundred dollars for.

Why People Love the iPhone

A glance at some of the top apps for the iPhone is a good way to gauge what it can do and why people love it.

  • Facebook app- simplest facebook access on any phone
  • Gorillacam- camera app with timer, multi-shot, spirit-level, on-screen grid, 'press anywhere' capture features. This makes the already excellent camera, a pleasure to use.
  • Runkeeper- jogging app with route, mapping, pace recorder and calories burned calculator.
  • Stanza- eBook app
  • Movies: a cinema listings app
  • Newsfeeds- plenty of these from top names.
  • Tonepad- compose epic pop with your thumbs!

These are just a few of the apps available. Browse more here:

Some of the Stranger Apps

  • Hello Cow- yearning for a simpler life? This app gives you a cute looking cow. Stroke it and it moos at you. Treat it badly and it moos at you. Ignore it and it moos at you. Unconditional love does not come any better.
  • Voodoo- get a picture of your enemy. Stick pins in your enemy. Wait for your enemy to die in terrible agony. This requires patience.
  • Paranormal State EMF Meter: this will measure the paranormal energy in your vicinity. It is a great way to vet potential soul-mates for vampireness,

Business Apps

The iPhone is trying to be more business friendly with some useful apps. 3G is also more secure these days and inspires more confidence that data won't be intercepted:

Tall screen = wide screen on the iPhone 5
Tall screen = wide screen on the iPhone 5

iPhone 5

It has not delighted anyone looking for a sudden leap forward in smartphone capability. It has a taller screen, LTE (but LTE is only available in big cities) and is thinner and lighter than the i4s.

Is this enough? Or is it all downhill for Apple after the iPhone 4?

On balance, I reckon the iPhone 5 is top dog in 2012, on the basis of the ease of use (Siri helps a lot). retina display, lightweight power and all those Apple apps.

It is no Samsung Galaxy S3 killer. though. The S3 already has LTE, plenty of power and a big bright screen. At a better price...

If Apple are going to kill Samsung, it will have to be in the law courts.

Customer Satisfaction Survey

J.D. Power and Associates are respected for their research into consumers likes and dislikes. This year they found that, once again, Apple were the company that phone users most liked.

People were asked to score their phones for ease of use, performance, features and design.

The scores (out of a thousand) were:

  • Apple 838
  • HTC 801.
  • Samsung 718
  • LG 717
  • Sanyo 716
  • Sony Ericsson 709

People love their iPhones. But the pack is not so far behind!



    0 of 8192 characters used
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    • Will Apse profile imageAUTHOR

      Will Apse 

      8 years ago

      You fall into that great group that I will call the 'worried smartphone owner'. I should include myself.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Just bought IPhone 4S because of Siri. I'm having so many problems with Siri, it's unreal! Verizon could not fix it, so gave me a new phone....same problem! I want to get the Droid Razr, but keep hearing about the screen cracking. I don't know what to do!!!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      i have an iphone 4, and its hopeless at getting a signal too, both phone network and wifi. it's a known fault and all should have been replaced. its the first and last apple phone i'll have

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      how about sony xperia s, i think this is a classic smartphone ever know...

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      The galaxy nexus is by far tge best smartphone I've had, recently switched my htc evo 4g for it and I do not regret it even though both are great phones

    • profile image

      9 years ago

      Galaxy gs2 awarded the!best smart phone sorry little iphone User ha ha i love my gs2 lets give a round of applause

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      samsung galaxy sII is the best smartphone in the world

    • Will Apse profile imageAUTHOR

      Will Apse 

      9 years ago

      I noticed that Apple is suing Samsung again for alleged patent infringements with the Galaxy Nexus. One of the reasons Apple lawyers gave for the legal action is that the Nexus is a serious threat to to the iPhone and could supersede it.

      I was a little surprised by this admission...

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I've never heard of issues with signal with the iphone before reading comments here. I currently have an htc sensation with t-mobile. I have had other android phones as well. They are nice except that they are glitchy. I'm probably leaving t-mobile for at&t to get the ip4s. My attraction to the iphone and apple in general is that their products run smoothly and don't slow down like windows and google products. Apple is just designed better and with more care.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Hve a Blackberry bold and looking for a replacement . as swerving to HTC but now have Galaxy in mind. Abit confused!!!!!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      my 'xperia arc s' is the best phone i ever used but i'm gonna buy 4s tomorrow to observe and check everything myself.

    • Will Apse profile imageAUTHOR

      Will Apse 

      9 years ago

      The Galaxy Note is a fine device but is it really a phone?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      how about galaxy note?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I just got the htc amaze and i unlocked it and it works great on att network I had the iPhone 4 before and I sold it out I'm loving the htc amaze nice design and very fast in everyway u can think..

    • profile image

      Krishna Neupane 

      9 years ago

      fools look for iphone, real people who knows what is called the smartphone always know its only NOkia...

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Ip4s- it's great, however it's the 2nd I've owned by apple. Don't know what the others are like

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Excellent Information! Thank you, Ive got some good options now!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Android OS is freeware. that's the biggest value and for that, unstoppable. Let Apple do their best

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      i have an ip4. one time i was in an open area when my ip4 just lost signal for 2 long hours. i thought i pressed something that made my ip4 signal less. i checked my friend's samsung galaxy coz we both have the same subscriber, his phone was on full bar. damn i thought im goin to buy another ip4.

    • profile image


      9 years ago


    • Will Apse profile imageAUTHOR

      Will Apse 

      9 years ago

      You are probably right, mbpurna.

      The problem with the S2 being such a good phone is that Apple is now running scared. They have been buying up patents and using patent laws to hobble Android device manufacturers recently.

      The better Android gets the harder Apple will try to sink it.

      Some people say Apple is trying to gain control of all the important features of a smartphone. If they succeed, it means rivals will need to pay Apple a lot of money to make smartphones at all- or get out of the business.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      galaxy s2 is the best.

    • Will Apse profile imageAUTHOR

      Will Apse 

      9 years ago

      Nobody likes that bumper, Aaron.

      I'm surprised about the reception issue, though. I reckon that particular phone is defective.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I did have an iPhone 4... big mistake.

      Not because of its superior apps or screen resolution etc. No, what let it down was its inability to pick up a signal!

      I live a large city in southern England, and currently use the Vodaphone network. My ip4 at best had no more than 2 bars, at worst nothing. I dug out an old smartphone to check and got full reception on the same network.

      In addition, the awful bumper they give you to put round the ip4 is ugly and pretty much ineffective.

      For me this version is a total let-down. Its ill thought out and flawed in a way which is staggering considering the resources they spend designing these phones.

      Don't get me wrong, I loved everything else about it, but what use is an amazing phone without a signal that allows you to go about your business.

      I will add that the phone was replaced, twice, and resulted in the same flaw!

      I will look at the ip5 when it eventually comes out, but for now I’ve switched to a Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II which is truly an amazing phone… and has full signal!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      HTC EVO 4G..good..^_^

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      the samsung galaxy s2, best specs ever

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great job! Very useful. Thanks!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      A wonderful job u are doing.i learnt alot.

    • FaithDream profile image


      10 years ago from (Midwest) USA

      This is a great article. I just bought the iphone a few days ago. It's not the latest iphone 4 but I'm enjoying the apps on it.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great site to make informed decision

    • profile image

      Brian W 

      10 years ago

      Great Site. Professional and very helpful to see firsthand of what these have to offer.

    • awboan profile image


      10 years ago from United States

      Very well done. I'm ready for an upgrade (Moto Droid), so I definitely have a lot to choose from this year. Really excited about the upcoming HTC Thunderbolt (pretty much an improved EVO 4G on Verizon's network).

    • dsmythe profile image


      10 years ago

      I have an iPhone 4 and I love it!

    • ajmee019131 profile image


      10 years ago

      This is a really good job.

    • sean kinn profile image

      sean kinn 

      10 years ago from Key West and Budapest

      Not a huge issue for most iPhone owners, but I believe the iPhone 4 has a Skype-like capability that allows you to use free Wifi to communicate with another iPhone 4 user anywhere on the planet. Which would make for great telephone bill savings when backpacking through Europe or Asia, aye? :-) SK

    • jerrycorinadam profile image


      10 years ago from United State

      I find these models very exciting and want to try one of them.

    • amiiee99 profile image


      10 years ago

      I like the Andriod based Motorola handset. I think Android and blackberry will be the best platforms

    • eimproveit profile image


      10 years ago from New Zealand

      Wow this is a really nice hub. Great information.


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