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A Short Guide to Buying Android Devices This Holiday Season

One question that I am often asked about Android devices is, “which ones do you like?” I’m asked this because there are so many Android devices on the market it’s hard to know where to start your search for that perfect-for-you device. To help you decide I’ve put together a little list of my advice about buying Android devices. If you’re thinking about buying a new Android device for someone else or for yourself this holiday season, consider the following before swiping your credit card.

Beware of the cheap stuff!

I was recently looking through the advertisement flyers for Rite-Aid and CVS pharmacies. Inside both flyers were advertisements for cheap (under $100) Android tablets. My first thought was, “is anyone buying those?” That thought was followed closely by, “someone must be buying them or else they wouldn’t stock them.” The reality of buying the Android devices that you see in pharmacies, “dollar” stores, and similar places is that they are often selling products that have older versions of Android, have little storage, and use older processors. And if you can get your hands on them you may notice flimsy construction. That’s not to say that these devices won’t work, but you’ll probably be disappointed with their performance in the long run (six months from now).

Android 4.0 or bust!

Google keeps pumping out updates to the Android operating system. If you’re in the market for a new Android phone or tablet right now, you’ll want a device that is capable of running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich is the cute name for it) or higher. You will see some devices marketed as “upgradeable to 4.0″ and that can be acceptable too. Devices that aren’t running 4.0+ or aren’t labeled as upgradeable probably won’t be seeing updates and as such are the devices that we’re now seeing go for free or very cheap when you sign a contract with a cellular service provider.

The devices that I like right now!

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. I have the first version of this tablet and have loved it since the day that it arrived on my doorstep. The Galaxy Tab 2 runs on Android 4.0, has a storage expansion option, and the battery life is excellent even when I’m streaming Netflix.

The Google Nexus 7 tablet is another device that I own and love. The tablet fits in my hand (average American male hands) in a way that allows me to operate it with just one hand. The Nexus 7 is now running Android 4.2 which allows me to create multiple user profiles on it. I don’t think you’ll find a better tablet for $199. And because it is one of Google’s signature devices it’s sure to get the updates first whenever Google releases them.

The ASUS Transformer TF101 received a ton of rave reviews from gadget geeks when it came out. I’ve had a couple of occasions to use one and while I’m not overwhelmed by the software (it’s good, just not any better than what I have on Galaxy Tab) I am impressed by the form factor of the tablet. By that I mean when you pair it with the optional Transformer TF101 Mobile Dock you have a seriously rugged tablet. The mobile dock pairs perfectly to protect the tablet when it’s closed. When it’s open the mobile dock lays flat and provides you with a keyboard that is easy to touch type on. I think the keyboard is better than any keyboard on the netbooks that I’ve tried and owned over the years. The ASUS Transformer also carries two USB ports as well as SD and Micro SD card readers.

Phones!

Navigating the landscape of phone offerings from cellular service providers is daunting. If you bounce from carrier store to carrier store you could very well notice the same phone with two different names. It’s all a part of the branding and marketing games that manufacturers and service providers play. The only phone that I will recommend by name right now is the new Galaxy 4 sold by Google. Unfortunately, this device sold out in under an hour when it became available in the U.S. and the current wait time for it is 6-7 weeks.

If you are looking to buy an Android phone without waiting for Google to ship the Galaxy 4, here are my recommendations. As I mentioned above, look for a device that runs or can run Android 4.0 or higher. For best performance I’d also look for a phone that has a dual-core processor. A lot of manufacturers of cell phones are building custom features on top of the Android system. This is much like PC manufacturers who add things on to Windows when you buy their computers. Some of these custom add-ons are helpful and others just get in the way. Try them out at the store and decide for yourself if you like them. Personally, I uninstalled all the extras that came on my last phone.

One last note about phones. Depending upon how much you use your phone the version of Android that it runs may or may not be a deal breaker.  There are some solid devices running older versions of Android that can be had for reasonable prices. I’m quite content with my one year old Android phone (Motorola Electrify) that has a dual-core processor and is running an older version of Android, but I don’t use my phone all that often unless I’m traveling. When I’m at home I don’t have cellular coverage and so all of my communication happens through VOIP calling with Skype and texting through What’s App or Google Voice on my computer.

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  • http://twitter.com/simonwithey Simon Withey

    Dear Mr Byrne

    This year I bought 10 Transformer Primes (TF201) which are now running Jelly Bean 4.1. I just can’t wait for Jelly Bean 4.2 as we will get multiple user accounts. I teach in a small special needs school in the UK and 10 devices covers a whole year group plus teacher plus teaching assistant. The robustness and specification is why I chose these devices as they are made from spun aluminium so can take a bashing. At home I bought the “Cheap as chips” (of fries) Tabtronics 7″ capactive. We don’t need the robustness and I even bought one for my Mom (65 years old) who has never used a computer before and is now a whizz with Gmail and Skype and CatchupTV. You’re absolutely right it is “horses for courses” one device for one person is another person’s chagrin. The next move is to equip my whole school with 1 to 1 mobile devices with cloud computing using our Google Apps for Edu account that is seamlessly linked to our Edmodo website. Reasons for using an Android OS. Lots of free stuff that works. Thanks for all of your advice. Maybe we’ll meet up if I get accepted as a GCT next year. I wasn’t selected this year. All I need to do is to help other schools do what I’ve done for this school and I’ve achieved what GCT does anyway. I’ll be doing this via @codeclub for a primary school either close to where I work or where I live. The Raspberry Pi will have to wait. Just haven’t made the time to play with yet!

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