Cell phones. Let’s talk about them.

Ten years ago, smartphones were reserved for the geekiest of geeks and the bankiest of bankers. Serious tablet technology was just a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ turtleneck.

In the space of a few short years (while you were too busy playing Angry Birds or something) mobile technology has leaped ahead. Suddenly we find ourselves shoving very serious pieces of hardware into our pockets; NASA engineers in the 1950s would have killed for half the computation power tucked away in bras on the average Thursday night in Claremont.

With all these advances in technology, allowing you to tweet your breakfast literally thrice as fast as last year, where can you turn for advice? Should you go for the retina CPU, the 1080P battery or the 8-megapixel wooden unibody frame?

Wait, are you even smart enough for a smartphone?

Have no fear. Whether you’re in the market for something new, something old, or something blue, this guide is your ticket to understanding the latest and greatest in little computers.



The good:


The bad:

Don’t buy a Blackberry.

The takeaway:

2007 called you on its Blackberry and said, “Really bro? Are you even serious right now?”


iPhone 5:

The good:

Holy pixels batman, what a sexy piece of aluminum. The Apple of the Tim Cook’s eye, this rounded rectangle looks tremendous and feels even better. Lighter, faster, stronger, taller, and thinner than its predecessors, the iPhone 5 is a clear buy for many consumers. This is the first iPhone with 4G speeds.

The bad:

This expensive endeavor is armed with Apple Maps, a complete and total embarrassment for a map service (especially when compared to Google Maps, which iPhones used to have built in). This phone is also lacking some key technologies that are becoming standard among its competitors, most notably NFC (Near Field Communication) chips that allow phones to pass information through touch. Lastly, it should be noted that Apple has put a lot of limitations on what kind of software you can run on this device and made it so you can’t charge it without a new charger (only sold by Apple).

The takeaway:

As always, Apple produces a great product. This is already selling like hotcakes.


Samsung Galaxy S III:


The good: 

With a 1.4 GHZ quad-core CPU roaring under the hood, this Ferrari of a phone runs laps around the Apple store without breaking a sweat. It sports NFC capabilities, 4G LTE connection speeds, and the newest and most delicious version of the Android operating system: “JellyBean.” In terms of technical specs, this is the phone to beat. And although iPhone users will tell you that a bigger screen doesn’t matter (it’s how you use it), Samsung lovers can’t help but laugh at that sentiment while buying the “MAGNUM” size screen-protectors at CVS. If you think Android is alluring, or you have a need for speed, this one’s a winner.

The bad:

The S3 is housed in a plastic, rather than aluminum, body. It feels a lot cheaper than the iPhone, although it costs the about the same. In the same vein, the physical home button on the front of the device is an unwelcome addition for veteran Android users. In general, it’s clear that there’s less attention to detail on the S3 both in terms of hardware and operating system. For instance, Samsung has somehow managed to make its Siri knockoff creepier than Siri, and this phone would probably win a “participant” ribbon in a usability competition. Last but not least, and probably for totally irrational reasons, your friends won’t be as impressed when you pull this out at Collins: This phone is not the iPhone 5.

The takeaway:

Amazing piece of technology, though perhaps not as sexy as the iPhone. This phone is very popular.



A note on other Android phones:

There are binders full of them.

The latest and greatest Android phones include the Samsung Galaxy Note II (huge screen), the Motorola Droid Razr HD (long battery life), and the HTC One X (fastest processor out there). These phones have many of the same pros and cons as the Galaxy S III, so there hasn’t been any additional space devoted to them here. But beyond the top-of-the-line devices, there are hundreds of other Android phones by dozens of hardware makers. They can’t all be reviewed here, but most are much less technically impressive (yet cheaper) than the newest phones.

If you’re into Androids, be sure to continue your research beyond Samsung.


Nokia Lumina 900:

The good:

The hipster of the mobile crew, this flagship Nokia phone is packed with the same muscle in terms of processing power, camera quality, and battery life as its peers at the top of the phone market, but it looks much different—in an awesome way. If you’re looking for a phone that will turn heads (and rile up Android and iPhone fanboys), look no further. The phone’s Windows user interface with its flat, modern look and dynamic tile widgets is in stark contrast to the static buttons you’ll find everywhere else. Also, boring colors? Way too mainstream. The 900 is available in hot pink and bright blue.

The bad:

Unfortunately, the application selection in the Windows Store is pretty thin. Yes, you’ll be able to download Facebook for the 900, but many of the best apps out there are only available for iPhone or Android phones. Third party apps are the core of the smartphone experience, making the lack of a serious app ecosystem a serious bummer. Also, Nokia is also about to begin selling a newer version of this phone (the 920), so now might not be the time to buy.

The takeaway:

Beautiful design front to back. Powerful technology inside. Probably not enough third party offerings to make a Windows phone worth it today.


iPhone 4/4S:

The good: 

Since the iPhone 5 was released, Apple has slashed prices on older versions of its smartphone. Low prices on quality hardware mean serious deals for you. These phones have been tested by millions out in the trenches of phone ownership; there is no question that these bad boys make the grade. And the price is right: Pick up an iPhone 4 today for $0 (and a two-year commitment).

The bad:

In terms of specs, these phones are already a few years behind the newest phones. This means that if you buy an iPhone 4 today, it will feel old and slow by the time you are done with it. Also, Apple has a tendency to drop support for older devices faster than consumers would hope. The iPad 1 for instance, is already chopped silicon to Apple—which no longer supports software upgrades for the device. In that sense, picking up last generation hardware is riskier.

The takeaway:

Older and less technically impressive. But the quality per dollar ratio simply can’t be overlooked.



  1. I’m sitting my office, waxing nostalgic about CMC, and indulging the nostalgia by reading the Forum. This article made me literally laugh out loud, which outed me to my coworkers as a procrastinator with a CMC enabler. My favorite of the many gems: “NASA engineers in the 1950s would have killed for half the computation power tucked away in bras on the average Thursday night in Claremont.” As Muldoon admiringly mused in JP: clever girl. Or dude, in this case.

  2. Problem: What about people with clumsy/chubby/sweaty/combination fingertips? Not one of your smartphone options has a real keyboard. I know people who are sticking with their Sony Ericssons and Motorola Razors because they’re reluctant to give up the real keypad for a screen.
    From an objective perspective, the Blackberry Bold 9900 is a decent smartphone for people who like the feel of real keys or who want to text while their skiing without getting their hands frostbitten. The 9900 has a larger screen than previous Bolds, it’s a touch screen, and it also has the keypad for ease of typing. That deserves a couple good points.
    That, and the fact that it supports Google Maps.

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