back to school phones

As important as it is to have a good laptop for school, it’s almost as important to have a good phone. We need them to text, check Facebook, go online, set alarms and reminders– heck, most of us could probably take better notes on our phones than on a laptop (if we were allowed)!

So in this issue of our back-to-school series we’re gonna take a look at some of the best cell phones available now on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon that you should definitely consider when you’re looking for a new phone for this upcoming school year.

We’re gonna cover all four of the big carriers here, and we’ll break our recommendations down into three sections: below $100, $100-$150, and Above $150, with the place to get the best deal on it listed below. Let’s start with AT&T.

AT&T

Below $100

Samsung Focus

samsung focus

We got to spend some more time with the Windows Phone 7-running Samsung Focus recently and we were really impressed. Like all Samsung phones, the Focus has a sharp 4 inch Super AMOLED screen, fast 1 GHZ processor, 5 megapixel camera, and a very thin design that feels great in your hands. Even more impressive to us though was the Windows Phone 7 OS, which we found to be not just fast, but also extremely easy and enjoyable to use. It’s got one of the best on-screen keyboards we’ve ever used (right up there with Swype and the iPhone’s) and of course support for Xbox Live games and Zune Music. And it’ll only get better later this year once Microsoft releases its big Windows Phone “Mango” update which will bring a whole bunch of new features like multitasking.

Place to buy: Best Buy (where it’s free on new 2 year contract and data)

Honorable mentions: HTC Status (free with new 2 year contract and data plan from Best Buy)

$100-$150

Samsung Infuse 4G

samsung infuse 4G

We loved the Infuse 4G when we reviewed it a couple of months ago. It’s awesome 4.5 inch Super AMOLED Plus screen and ridiculously thin design, great cameras (8 megapixel on the back, 1.3 megapixel front) and support for AT&T’s HSPA+ 4G network puts it right up there with the iPhone 4 as AT&T’s best phone. And like the Focus and iPhone, it will also get better later this year once AT&T gives it the latest version of Android, version 2.3 Gingerbread, through a software update (AT&T is also bringing the update to the Atrix 4G, Inspire 4G and any other Android phone released this year). If you want something with all the goodness of an iPhone but with a (much) bigger screen, this is for you.

Place to buy: Amazon or Best Buy ($150 with new 2 year contract and data plan)

Honorable mentions: Motorola Atrix 4G ($100 from AT&T), Samsung Nexus S ($100 from Best Buy)

Above $150

iPhone 4

Even though we all know that the iPhone 5 is most probably just around the corner, if you need to get a new phone right now we still have to recommend the iPhone 4. It’s amazing Retina Display, excellent cameras (5 megapixel on the back with a second front camera for video chat), thin design and iOS 4 make it one of the top smartphones out there in our opinion. And like the Focus and Infuse, it’s only going to get better later this year with iOS 5 (which we know is coming to the iPhone 4 unlike with most new Android phones where we never know if it will get the latest OS). As the commercials say: if you don’t have an iPhone, then well, you don’t have an iPhone.

Place to buy: Apple ($200 for 16 GB, $300 for 32 GB)

T-Mobile

Below $100

Samsung Sidekick 4G

tmobile sidekick 4g official

Put simply, we think this is one of the best deals out there right now for T-Mobile users. We found the Sidekick 4G to be one of T-Mobile’s best phones when we reviewed it– and that was when it was $49.99 with a new 2 year contract and data plan. Now that T-Mobile’s lowered the price to free on two-year contract with data plan, it’s even more amazing and a great choice if you’re on T-Mobile and looking for a fast Android phone with a great slide-out keyboard (and don’t need all the power of the HTC Sensation 4G and LG G2X).

Place to buy: T-Mobile (free with new 2 year contract).

$100-$150

LG G2X

lg g2x

 If the Sensation 4G isn’t for you but you still want a powerful phone the G2X is your guy. It has everything you’d expect from a top of the line phone: 4 inch high-res screen (not as sharp as the Sensation’s but still pretty great), thin design, 1 GHZ NVIDIA dual-core processor (so everything from multitasking to 3D gaming runs, looks and plays as you’d want and expect), 8 megapixel back camera with 1.3 megapixel front camera for video chats, Android 2.3 Gingerbread, and T-Mobile 4G. We were very impressed with the G2X when we saw it back at CTIA and it’s an equally excellent choice for anyone on T-Mobile.

Place to buy: T-Mobile ($150 with new 2 year contract and data plan)

Honorable mentions: Samsung Nexus S ($100 from Best Buy)

Above $150

HTC Sensation 4G

htc sensation 4g

Even though we only got to spend a few minutes with HTC and T-Mobile’s superphone, we love it and it’s in our opinion the best T-Mobile phone out there today. It’s dual-core 1 GHZ processor with Android 2.3 Gingerbread is crazy fast, the insanely thin unibody design feels like it was made to be in your hand, and it of course has those great cameras (8 megapixel on the back, 1.3 megapixel on the front), sharp 4.3 inch Super LCD screen, and support for T-Mobile’s 4G HSPA+ network. Put simply, it’s a phone you’ll be more than happy to carry around for the next two years.

Place to buy: T-Mobile ($200 with new 2 year contract and data plan)

Honorable mentions: HTC myTouch 4G Slide (aka the Sensation with an even better camera and slide out keyboard. Also $200 from T-Mobile).

Sprint

Below $100

Samsung Replenish

samsung replenish

While it’s not as powerful as the EVO 3D or Photon 4G, the Samsung Replenish is a decently spec’d and cheaper 3G Android phone with a full QWERTY keyboard that should be more than enough for texting, Facebook and Angry Birds. The big thing about the Replenish though is that it can be charged through solar power (with an optional $30 back cover. And yes, we’re talking about charging through the Sun). And it’s not just great for the environment– Sprint will also take $10 off your bill each month so it’s not just good for the environment but your wallet too.

Place to buy: Best Buy (free with new 2 year contract and data plan).

$100-$150

Samsung Nexus S 4G

nexus s pic 3

If you want an Android phone that you know will be getting the next version of Android the moment Google makes it available this is for you. The Nexus S is Google’s next generation of the Nexus One and runs an uncustomized version of the latest Android 2.3 Gingerbread. It’s not as powerful as some of the more recent Android phones, but it’s still pretty solid with it’s 1 GHZ processor, thin design, support for Sprint’s 4G network, sharp 4 inch screen Super AMOLED screen, and dual cameras (5 megapixel on the back, VGA on the front for video chat). But again, the big thing here is the fact that you know it will be one of the first to get any major new Android update Google releases (and they’re planning a big one for later this year called Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich).

Place to buy: Sprint ($100 with new 2 year contract and data plan).

Above $150

HTC EVO 3D

htc evo 3d

You can’t get a much more powerful phone on Sprint than the HTC EVO 3D. It’s got all those great features of the Sensation 4G (with the obvious swap of Sprint 4G for T-Mobile 4G) and of course, that glasses-free 3D screen with the ability to take pictures or videos in 3D. Yeah, this will definitely “wow” your friends.

And even if you don’t plan on using the 3D, that 4.3 inch qHD screen, 1 GHZ dual core processor and dual-5 megapixel cameras are some of the best out there and keep it on the same level as the iPhone 4, Sensation 4G, Droid Charge, and other top phones available today.

Place to buy: Sprint ($200 with new 2 year contract and data plan).

Motorola Photon 4G

motorola photon 4g first look in hand

This is pretty much like the EVO 3D without the 3D, and if you’re looking for the EVO 3D’s power but really hate 3D this is your phone. Like the EVO 3D, the Photon has a powerful 1 GHZ dual-core processor with 1 GB of RAM (for great speed), 4.3 inch qHD screen (so everything looks awesome), dual cameras (8 megapixel back camera with second front camera for video chat), the latest and greatest Android 2.3 Gingerbread and Sprint 4G. The Photon also has support for a SIM card which makes it great if plan on taking a semester abroad.

We liked the Photon in our brief time with it a few weeks ago and found it to be right up there with the EVO 3D as Sprint’s top phone (which is why we have both here– their both too just too similar for us to choose one over the other).

Place to buy: Sprint ($200 with new 2 year contract and data plan).

Verizon

Below $100

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

sony xperia play

The Xperia Play is one of the best gaming phones out there today, which is what you’d expect from a phone with PlayStation games and a slide-out PlayStation keypad. It’s 1 GHZ processor, Android 2.3 Gingerbread and 4 inch screen make it a solid Android phone as well, and at just $0.01 from Amazon with a new 2 year contract and data plan it’s a great choice for those looking for a good, cheap smartphone on Verizon.

Place to buy: Amazon

Honorable mentions: HTC Droid Incredible 2 ($80 with new 2 year contract and data plan from Amazon).

$100-$150

LG Revolution

lg revolution

The LG Revolution is one of Verizon’s most powerful phones currently available with specs like a 1 GHZ processor4.3 inch Super LCD screen (like Samsung’s Super AMOLED this screen will also make everything on it look great)Android 2.2 (with an upgrade for Android 2.3 Gingerbread hopefully coming sometime later this year), dual cameras (5 megapixel on the back with a 1.3 megapixel one on the front for video chat), 16 GB of built-in memory (upgradeable through microSD to 32 GB) and of course, support for Verizon’ blazing fast 4G LTE network. At only $150 from Amazon (with new 2 year contract and data plan) this is a great deal for those that want to be on Verizon’s latest and greatest 4G network but don’t want to pay the usual Verizon 4G phone price of $250+.

Place to buy: Amazon

Honorable mentions: Motorola Droid 3 ($150 with new 2 year contract and data plan from Amazon).

Above $150

iPhone 4

iphone 4 verizon pic 2

See everything above about the AT&T iPhone 4 and just add that it’s finally available on Verizon.

Place to buy: Apple ($200 for 16 GB, $300 for 32 GB)

Samsung Droid Charge

samsung droid charge

This is pretty much like the Verizon version of the Infuse 4G, and like the Infuse 4G it’s a great alternative to the iPhone 4. It’s got a great 4.3 inch Super AMOLED Plus screen, solid cameras (8 megapixel back, 1.3 megapixel front for video chat), pretty thin design (not iPhone 4 thin but one of the thinnest of Verizon’s 4G LTE phones), good battery life and of course, support for Verizon’s awesome 4G LTE network. Like the Revolution, this part alone makes it worth considering as of course of the next two years you’re gonna have this phone we think you’re really gonna be glad you had a true 4G phone instead of one that ran on Verizon’s much slower 3G network.

Place to buy: Amazon ($190 with new 2 year contract and data plan).

Wrap Up

So there you have it, our top picks for the best cell phones available today on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon. Now if you’re not sure if any of these are the phone for you, and you’re willing to wait for something else, stay tuned as over the next couple of days we’ll post our top picks of the best phones worth waiting for.

In the meantime, you like any of the above phones (and if you have one of them, what do you think of it)? Let us know in the comments.

Have some tips you think can help you’re fellow students and readers for this upcoming year in school? We’d love to hear’em! Send them over to tips@teenstalktech.com with the Subject line “Back To School” and we’ll see if we can include them in an upcoming post!