Sprint (S) is featured in the third installment of our series and while it doesn’t sell quite as many smartphones as its rivals Verizon Wireless (VZ) and AT&T (T), it offers smartphone users something the big-two do not: Truly unlimited data with no caps and no throttling. That unlimited data is somewhat slow in most parts of the country since Sprint’s LTE network is in its infancy, but the carrier still had a great smartphone lineup for subscribers in 2012. Sprint’s newest addition to its flagship brand — the HTC (2498) EVO 4G LTE — didn’t make the cut this year along with a few other phones that came close, but the five handsets listed below were our clear stand-outs for 2012.
Samsung Galaxy S III ($199.99+)
Samsung (005930) has taken a lot of heat over the past year following countless allegations that it is ripping off Apple’s (AAPL) hardware and software designs. Some agree and some do not but the fact of the matter is that Samsung has a formula that works.
The company’s flagship smartphone for 2012 is the Galaxy S III, and it became Samsung’s most successful smartphone ever for good reason: A sleek design, cutting-edge components and a giant, beautiful display combine to form an overall user experience that smartphone users just can’t get enough of.
Highlights include a 4.8-inch 720 x 1,280-pixel Super AMOLED screen, a quad-core 1.4GHz processor, up to 64GB of internal storage, microSDXC support, an 8-megapixel camera and a suite of great Samsung services mixed into Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Galaxy S III was first unveiled in May but even now, more than seven months later, it’s still one of the best smartphones on the market.
iPhone 5 ($199.99+)
Apple’s iPhone 5 has already made two appearances on our best-of lists, and now it’s back for a third mention.
Including the fastest-selling smartphone in history on a list like this is considered a no-brainer by many, but Apple’s latest smartphone has plenty more going for it than just sales.
It’s easily one of the most solid smartphones that has ever been produced in terms of build and materials, the design is arguably the sleekest on the market, and iOS 6 offers one of the most refined and comprehensive mobile experiences available. And while several smartphones make the iPhone 5 look puny on paper, specs are a small part of a much bigger picture — independent tests performed by PC Magazine earlier this year found Apple’s latest iPhone to be “the fastest smartphone in the land.”
Apple is bound to top the iPhone 5 when it launches the handset’s successor next year but for the time being, this phone is definitely one of the best in the business.
LG Optimus G ($199.99)
It’s not that LG makes bad phones — far from it. LG’s smartphones have never really been anything to write home about though, trumped time and time again by offerings from the likes of Samsung, HTC and Apple. In 2012, however, all that changed.
The LG Optimus G is without question one of the most impressive smartphones that launched in 2012. On paper, it’s a beast thanks to its 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 4.7-inch 768 x 1,280 display, 8- or 13-megapixel camera (Sprint’s version has the 13-megapixel version) and 32GB of storage. Where some well-spec’d phones fall short in the real world, LG’s Optimus G shines with lightning-fast performance, an extensive feature set and a gorgeous and unique Optimus user interface.
I will say that I prefer the styling of AT&T’s version of this phone as opposed to Sprint’s, but the Optimus G is still one of the best smartphones Sprint has ever offered.
Samsung Galaxy Note II ($299.99)
Sure I call it “smartphoneasaurus” behind closed doors, but Samsung’s Galaxy Note II was still one of the best smartphones to hit Sprint this year.
The phone’s 151.1-millimeter height and 80.5-millimeter width make it one of the least pocketable handsets on the planet, but the brilliant 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED screen makes the phone’s massive size well worth for many users. In fact, Samsung has sold more than 5 million Note IIs to date, making it one of the company’s fast-selling phones yet.
Packed within the Note II’s monstrous case lies a 1.6GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, microSDXC support (up to 64GB), an 8-megapixel camera and Samsung’s TouchWiz software. The Galaxy Note II also ships with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean so users have access to great new features like Google Now.
“Phablets” certainly aren’t for everyone and the $300 price tag is a tall order, but those looking for a supersized smartphone should look no further.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus (free)
Can a smartphone that launched in 2011 be named one of the best smartphones of 2012? Why yes, yes it can.
While it’s true that the Galaxy Nexus was first released by a U.S. carrier in December 2011, Sprint didn’t pick up this pure Google (GOOG) phone until the end of April 2012. And while Google has already launched another Nexus phone, the Galaxy Nexus can definitely still hold its own despite its age.
Beyond the gorgeous curved display and sleek case, the Galaxy Nexus brings users a pure Android experience exactly as Google intended it. It also runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which was found on less than 3% of all Android devices as of November.
Power users may want to look elsewhere since the phone isn’t cutting edge, but with 32GB of storage, a high-definition 720p display, a 1.2GHz dual-core processor and an 1,850 mAh battery, the Galaxy Nexus can still keep pace with most Android phones out there. And the best part? Sprint is offering the Galaxy Nexus online for free on contract right now, and the promo code BATTERY1 gets you a free extended battery and replacement battery door as well.
Other segments in this series: