Which Android should I buy?

060.365 - March 1, 2010 (347 (Y2))

So you've read my previous post and decided to go the Android route.  You have a bewildering array of choices and want to know what to pick up.

Short answer: the newest thing in your category (phone, tablet, etc.) with "Nexus" in the name.  Currently, the Galaxy Nexus phone and the Nexus 7 tablet.

"Nexus" is the brand name that Google uses when they partner with a manufacturer to create a "reference" item, which showcases their newest operating system and updates.  Nexus devices are required to have basic Android without any vendor software laid over the interface; most other Android devices have some other user interface stuff thrown on top by the manufacturer to show off their coding skills and lock you into their system.  The problem with this eye candy is that it means lower compatibility with apps, slower updates (when Google releases a new Android patch, the manufacturer has to test the overlay stuff before releasing it), and possibly being locked out of some functions on your own phone.  For example, Verizon phones tend to want to force you into Verizon's own software rather than the free and frankly far better offerings from Google.

Nexus devices are also (often) available directly from Google, unlocked, so you needn't necessarily go through your carrier and sign a contract to get them.  You won't get the subsidies that you would for signing a new contract--no free phone, or even a $200 one--but Google Play tends to sell them rather more cheaply than you can get them elsewhere.

The reason to get something other than a Nexus device is if you have a hard requirement that they don't meet.  Some people absolutely require a physical keyboard from their phone, and no yet released Nexus has that.  Some want a larger tablet, and the Nexus 7 is an eponymous seven inches.  Sometimes a specialized device makes sense; I use a Kindle Fire instead of a Nexus 7 because I am fairly invested in Amazon's infrastructure, although I'm still tempted to switch and give the Fire to my fiancĂ©e.  The 7 is a nice device.

If you have special needs, then unfortunately for you, the playing field changes so rapidly that I can't give specific recommendations.  If you already have a cell provider and are looking for a new phone, check their selections for Android devices, and aim for something that is a little on the more expensive side if you can afford it.  It's not quite "you get what you pay for" due to the subsidies, but the free phones are usually out-of-date hardware and will start to feel very slow as Android gets updated to use and expect multiple cores, more RAM, etc.

Samsung's "Galaxy" series enjoys a good reputation (and indeed the "Galaxy Nexus" is one of the best choices currently available, as is the Galaxy S3).  Motorola and HTC have a more middling reputation.  Those people I know with LG devices have universally hated them.