The Ultimate Android Lover's Gift Giving Guide

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Christmas time is here, time for Android and time for cheer!

That’s right, Christmas is just around the corner and if your a late shopper like myself then what better way to spread some holiday happiness than getting you and your loved ones on the fastest growing mobile platform on the planet?  And just in time for the holiday season comes some fantastic Android devices that will make Santa’s elves absolutely green with envy.

New Phones!

If one of your loved ones are still messing around with their “dumb” phone and defiantly says they are just fine with it,  then the best way to get them to feel the joy that a smart phone can bring is to give them one as a present.  This can be tricky as options can change depending on your carrier,  so to help let’s look at the top Android phone this season on each carrier.

AT&T

If you are on AT&T then you can’t go wrong with the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket.  A friend of mine got one and kept raving at how much he loved it.  This phone not only has style, but is fast enough to make Superman’s head spin.  With a 1.5 Ghz Dual-Core processor and 4G LTE,  you’ll be zipping around the web and multitasking with ease.  And when you want to record life you can do so with an 8mp camera on back with built in flash and a surprisingly good front 2mp camera.  To store all those great shots or 1080p video recordings you take you’ll have a full 16 gigs internal storage and an micro SD that can be expanded up to 32 gigs.

T-Mobile

The deal hasn’t been completed and so T-Mobile is still standing separate from AT&T.  If you are on T-Mobile then you are in luck, because you too have the Samsung Galaxy S II on your carrier.  As a bonus, Samsung just released the white version so you have two different choices to fit your style.

Verizon

Santa was extra happy with Verizon this year (It must, because they both love the color red) and so Verizon customers are fortunate enough to get the Samsung Galaxy Nexus – The official Google phone of the year.  For those that don’t know what that means, here is a brief summary.

Once a year Google picks a phone maker and carrier to work hand in hand with to build what they see as the next generation of phones.  This is the phone that sets the bar – all other phones will need to match or beat it.

It’s also because it is a “Pure Google” phone, which means the Nexus line gets “stock” Android (meaning that the carrier/phone maker doesn’t try to change it and add their own junk which usually just makes a mess out of some great devices).  I say “usually”, because one of Androids newest features, Google Wallet, was removed by Verizon.  The Big V found it to be competitive to one of their own products they were developing.

The debate has been heated, but don’t let that keep you from gifting this great device.  This will be the first phone to officially have Android’s latest release Ice Cream Sandwich that geeks far and wide have been clamoring to get their hands on.  This also means it will be one of the first Android phones to not have the touch “buttons” (home, menu, back, search, etc.) on the bottom as these will be virtual and integrated into the OS.  In comparison to the Galaxy S II some of the specs may appear behind, (1.2 mhz dual core vs 1.5 mhz dual core, 5mp camera vs 8mp camera), but don’t be fooled, this phone has a lot to make people jealous still.

For instance that 5mp camera comes backed by Ice Cream Sandwich’s zero shutter lag exposure and decreased shot-to-shot speed.  Other phones will upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich, but may not have the hardware to support such a great feature.  And once you see a picture on the Galaxy Nexus’s 1280×720 16M HD Super AMOLED display, you’ll wish you thought to carry napkins to wipe up the drool.  Plus, you can store all those pictures and video on the large32 gig internal storage.  It just got released on December 15.

Sprint

Last, but definitely not least (especially since its a geeks last hope for unlimited data) we have Sprint.  With Sprint you actually have two great options, The Samsung Galaxy S II aka Epic 4g Touch and the HTC Evo 3D.  As you can probably tell Samsung has really dominated this past year with some great phones.  Sprint customers have the option to get on the Samsung wagon as well with their own version of the Galaxy S II the Epic 4g Touch.

This phone carriers all the great options we talked about above and should definitely be considered if you are a Sprint customer.  However HTC has a special place in my heart with their EVO line of phones.  I had the original EVO and loved it so much that I upgraded to the EVO 3D and have since been equally impressed.

Now this makes me a bit biased,  however I strongly suggest checking out this phone as well.  You’ll find in comparison their specs to be fairly close (the Epic 4g Touch does inch out the lead in a few areas), but there is one thing that EVO 3D has over its competition: the inclusion of 3D.  This “gimmick” has provided me with hours of entertainment and made me realize how much potential 3D really has.  If you are one of the lucky ones that can watch 3D without the headaches,  then try watching some YouTube 3D videos on this phone and you’ll be surprised at how much bigger a screen can feel with a new dimension added.  Not only can you watch 3D videos and 3D pictures (no glasses needed), but the dual cameras on the back allow you to record videos and take pictures in 3D as well.  Now that special memory can be preserved with depth that makes you feel like you are there again.  And if you are one of those that jumped into the 3D TV arena, then you’ll be happy to know there is a micro HDMI port so you can share those 3D memories with the family.

Tablets

Phones are always a tricky gift,  given that you are also tied to a carrier, plus the real hot item this year is Android tablets.  You’re in luck, because there are some great choices that will make jaws drop and squeal with excitement.  But you better act fast, because these are so hot and were rumored to sell out.

First up is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.  There is a reason Apple is trying to have this banned all over the world; its because it’s the first tablet to really make them quake in their boots.  The Android OS has proven itself to be an amazing operating system and hardware makers are finally catching up to the build quality it needs.  Coming in lighter and thinner than the iPad 2,  Samsung has shown exceptionable build quality with this device.  The insides will keep things peppy with its dual-core Nvidia 1 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM.  It comes with the 3MP back camera and a 2MP front camera perfect for clear video conferencing.  It also comes complete with A-GPS, gyroscope, accelerometer, and a compass to give your apps the sensors they need for precise operation.  And on those nights you just want to watch some videos,  this beauty supports a wide load of formats (including Xvid, DivX, H.264, WMV9, MPEG4, and lots more) and the playback will look great in Full HD 1080p @ 30fps on the crisp 1280×800 WXGA TFT LCD screen while sounding great as well over the surround sound speakers.  Price competitively at $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB, and $699 for 64GB this will ensure a happy holiday.

Next up is what I’ve been trying to be a good boy all year for (and what I will Craigslist my old iPad 2 to get money for if Santa fails).  The ASUS Transformer Prime is coming on December 19th and it’s already proving so hot that Amazon had to cancel some pre-orders.

This is THE tablet to have this year and the previews have already be largely positive. First off I have to say that ASUS has really stepped up their game in a BIG way. I’ve always loved ASUS motherboards and their support has been second to none.  Seeing them get into the laptop/tablet arena almost brings a tear to my eye.

Their first tablet dared to go where we all had dreamed about, a laptop that you can pop off the screen and use it as a tablet.  Sadly it was a bit early for its time and Android was still learning the nuances of the tablet computing vs. phones.  But now Android has their act together and ASUS took what they learned in that first release and used that to put themselves in front of the pack.  The design and quality is simply stunning, it will make you look sexy just by holding it with its brushed metal look that screams style and power.  But don’t let the ultra sheik slim design fool you,  this thing is a BEAST!

It has a whopping 4 core NVidia Tegra 3 processor in it that is so powerful its being marketed to gamers (Some GameStop stores have demos of it setup).  Given this much power,1080p HD video playback is a given, but what is surprising is the fact that even with such power it matches and often beats the battery life of the iPad 2, an often rare feat.

Other areas that it beats out the old iPad 2 is with its 1280×800 Super IPS screen, 1 Gig of RAM, 8 mega pixel rear camera (which reviewers have said is remarkably good for awkward tablet photography).  It has a built in GPS, Micro HDMI port, microSD card slot and STILL comes in thinner and lighter than their fruity competition.  And just in case you’re wondering it too has all the great sensors such as G-Sensor, Gyroscope, light sensor, and E-Compass.

With all of this you can easily see why I’m so excited for this release.  However, it still gets better! (There is so many good parts about this tablet it’s hard not to sound like an infomercial).  If it doesn’t ship with Ice Cream Sandwich (it was debated if they would be able to get it in before ship time), they promised it will be upgraded within weeks after. That means it will be the first tablet to ring in the new year with all the amazing features and power that Ice Cream Sandwich is bringing to the table.  Finally the part that makes me the most excited.  Remember above when I talked about the “dream” laptop to tablet device, well this is after all a “Transformer” and thus for a little extra money you can get the keyboard dock.  You might be wondering “why do I need a keyboard dock? or I have a bluetooth keyboard, can’t I just use that?” – well this isn’t like an Apple vision of a keyboard for a tablet in which the bluetooth drains your battery and has insufferable lag when typing.  The Transformer has a connector built in just for the keyboard and thus it provides a plethora of benefits.

First is that having the keyboard connected directly makes it lag free and you don’t have to worry if you have enough juice in it while you pound out those really long emails or documents.  This brings me to the second benefit, the keyboard dock – this will actually ADD another 6 hours of battery life to your tablet, making your tablet able to run for up to 18 hours!

Third benefit is that it gives you a USB port so you can plug in your USB storage to access those important documents or if you are like me and find it easier to use a mouse to select text and navigate with you can do so.  Finally, it adds protection by allowing you to close it clam shell style which will protect your screen as you throw it into your bag on the way out the door.  This tablet/keyboard dock combo is truly a modern day marvel that I can’t wait to get my geeky hands on.  Now, you’re probably thinking  something this new and powerful is going to be WAY out of budget and that’s probably the most shocking part of all.  The 32 gig version will be available for $499 and the 64 gig version for $599 (yes you are reading that correctly) both available in a dark purplish color and rich gold and the keyboard/dock will run an additional $150.  If you are lucky enough to get one before they are gone for the season then prepare yourself for loads of kisses and hugs.

There is one more Android device on the block that has quickly become a best seller and one that is on my night stand right now.  The Kindle Fire by Amazon has come out to a mix of reviews, all of which I find very amusing, because most of the reviewers didn’t really understand it.  The fact is that it’s just confusing to call it an Android device.  Just like the late Steve once said about the iPad, the same applies to the Kindle Fire; it is a media consumption device and that’s it.

So why the confusion?  Well, because most people don’t understand what Android REALLY is.  Android is an open source operating system put out by Google. Anyone can build on it, change it, enhance it, etc. as long as they provide the code back to the community.  This’s why an HTC Android device looks and functions slightly different than a Samsung or a Motorola Android device.

Most phone makers however only change the skin and don’t want to spend the time, money and effort at redeveloping the guts, because they work great already.  Amazon is different and because they have their own online eco system (movies, books, tv shows, music, etc.) they decided to take Android and completely redesign it to be a “media consumption device” for their eco system.  Because of this,  many reviewers went in expecting a Android tablet at an unbeatable price point and were disappointed at what they saw.  I want to explain that so you don’t go in with those same expectations.  I can assure you that the Kindle Fire is still a GREAT gift.

As mentioned, I have a EVO 3D and an iPad 2, which both easily speed rings around the Kindle Fire and can do a lot more, however I find myself using my Fire just as much and sometimes more than the other two.  Why?  Because it just feels right.  Amazon really nailed it with the size and feel of the Kindle Fire.  I love to read and sometimes watch a video or two.  My phone screen is too small for any heavy amount of reading and the iPad 2 just gets too heavy holding it for extended periods of time.  The Fire is comfortable enough for me to read with one hand and the rubbery grip keep it from slipping.  The screen size is perfect for reading and the resolution makes everything so crisp and clear that I have yet to feel eye strain while using it.

Even though it lacks hardware and software features (no gyroscope, GPS, camera, etc),  I often find it a good thing as usually those just provide distractions and keep me out of my book or video.  As for the “Android” part, the only piece you’ll recognize as being Android is the Apps. These are limited through the Amazon App Store as Amazon has to check each App it allows to make sure it works properly because the Kindle Fire doesn’t have the normal Android “buttons” for Home, Back, Menu, etc.)  However you should still be able to find all the best sellers and then some to keep you entertained.  And at a $199 price point, this is a gift you can afford to give and will surely bring just as many smiles.

With all this Android cheer going around, don’t forget the Apps!  You can get Apps several different ways, but the two most popular are through market.android.com and through Amazon.com.  Keep checking both sites all season (and after), as they are always providing great deals.  Amazon continues to give an App a day away for free and because of this I’ve been able to score all my favorite iPad apps on Android for free.  In fact, the Android Market just gave away a load of Apps at .10 cents apiece.  So once your loved ones have their Android devices, they will have plenty of options to fill those drives with great apps and games.

I hope this helps you with the shopping and have a jolly and safe holiday season!

Happy New Year or as we say in Hawaii – Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!