2011 Holiday Gift Guide: Five Phones To Take Into 2012

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The holiday season is upon us, and no gift keeps on giving quite like a smartphone. Think about it — there’s probably nothing in your dear friend or family member’s life that he or she will use on a regular basis more than their trusty new smartphone. And if you happen to be a super controlling boyfriend or girlfriend, just think of this spent cash as the best possible way to keep dibs on your sweetie pie. Prices range from $50 to a whopping $300 so there should be something here for everyone. If not, check out the BlackBerry lineup at your nearest retailer because you surely won’t see it anywhere here.

Motorola Droid RAZR

The Droid RAZR currently takes the cake as the thinnest smartphone in the world. If appearances matter to your loved one, this is the phone you should be looking at. It’s super thin at just 7.1mm thick, with heavy-duty Kevlar fiber back casing and a unique shape with squared off corners. I have yet to see any Android-powered hardware differentiate itself as much as the RAZR, but under the hood things get even more impressive.

The phone is powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread and packs support for Verizon’s 4G LTE network. On the back you’ll find an 8-megapixel shooter capable of video capture in 1080p along with a 1.3-megapixel front-facing cam for video chat. Up front you can’t help but notice that 4.3-inch 540×960 Super AMOLED display and you’ll also find a number of pretty sweet pre-loaded apps out of the box too, such as Netflix HD and Motorola’s MOTOCast app.

The Droid RAZR will go for $299 on-contract from Verizon.

Samsung Galaxy S II

The Galaxy S II isn’t quite as new as some of the others you’ll find here (launched in late September), but it’s probably one of the most solid Android handsets I’ve used to date. Much like the RAZR, the GS II is pretty thin itself, with a 8.89mm waist line and rounded corners not unlike the iPhone 4. It sports a Super AMOLED Plus screen (4.3-inch at AT&T, 4.52-inch at Sprint/T-Mobile), runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread and features a 1.2GHz dual-core processor under the hood.

The GS II also has its photography bases covered, with an 8-megapixel flash-equipped rear camera (capable of video capture in 1080p) and a 2-megapixel front-facing shooter for video chat. You’ll also find support for HDMI out in case you want to relive the Holiday memories on a big screen.

The beauty of the GS II as a gift is that it’s available on three of the four major networks, including Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. If for whatever reason you’re able to start your loved one on a fresh contract with a new carrier, I’d suggest nabbing AT&T’s version of the Galaxy S II. T-Mobile’s model doesn’t keep the same killer design dress as the others, and at 4.3-inches the AT&T model’s screen has a greater pixel density than Sprint’s.

You’ll be able to nab the Samsung Galaxy S II for $199 on-contract from both Sprint and AT&T, though T-Mobile’s Qualcomm processor-packin’ version will go for a tad more at $229.99.

Samsung Stratosphere

The Samsung Stratosphere is stuck in the middle (with you). Not only does it have the median price point of all of our gift guide options, but it also seems stuck somewhere in between the future and the past. By that I mean, it has all the specs of any solid mid-to-high-end handset, but throws it back a bit in the keyboard department with a physical sliding five-row QWERTY. In fact, this is the only phone running on Verizon’s 4G LTE network to have a real-life keyboard so if your puddin’ pop simply can’t stand using your touchscreen keyboard, this may be what you’re looking for.

Past the whole keyboard thing, you’ll also find a 4-inch 480×800 Super AMOLED display, a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera with flash, a 1.3-megapixel front-facing shooter for video chat, and a 1GHz processor under the hood. Unfortunately, there’s no 1080p video capture on this bad boy, but the trade-off for keyboard-packing LTE speeds is worthwhile for anyone who’s still hooked on real buttons.

You can find the Samsung Stratosphere at Verizon for $149.99 on-contract.

Apple iPhone 4

This year, if you’d prefer to get a stunned gleeful expression instead of the usual “you really shouldn’t have,” I’d suggest the affordably priced iPhone 4. I don’t want to sound like some Apple evangelist or anything, but there are plenty of closeted fanbois out there just waiting for the right excuse to go buy an iPhone. It’s only a matter of time. So why not just nudge the process along with one of the most popular smartphones of all time.

Specs wise we’re looking at a 3.5-inch 960×640 Retina display, a 1GHz A4 processor, a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera capable of 720p video capture, and a VGA front-facing camera for video chat. But we all know it’s about much more than that. Along with some of the most expensive and high-quality hardware on the market, the iPhone 4 will ship with iOS 5 which comes with all kinds of awesome features like iMessage, a super slick Notfications Center, and iTunes Wi-Fi Sync. Plus, no one will be able to tell whether it’s the brand new 4S or the 4, which is a bit shallow but aren’t we all?

The iPhone 4 would be a great gift at its original price, but for $99 you’re pretty much out of excuses.

Samsung Focus Flash

Android and iOS are wonderful, sure, but if you’re anything like me you’re ready for a change. Luckily, there’s a new kid in town and he’s actually much cooler than you’d think. Windows Phone 7.5 is a welcome disruption in the mobile OS landscape, with threaded conversations across almost all messaging platforms, Xbox Live integration, and a tempting live-tile UI. But the Samsung Focus Flash is more than a mere vessel.

Even though it’s made of mostly plastic, a few hints of metal and a brushed dark grey finish give it a much more expensive feel, especially given the fact that the phone is a bit heftier than you’d expect. It sports a 3.7-inch Super AMOLED display, a 1.4GHz single-core processor, a 5-megapixel rear camera with LED flash and a front-facing camera for video chat. Plus, the IE9 browser in Mango is super snappy, and beat out my iPhone 4S just about every time in testing.

It sure doesn’t feel like it, but the Samsung Focus Flash costs $49.99 on-contract at AT&T.