What is the best Android phone to buy as a gift this year?
Android phone gift buying advice
Buying a smartphone for someone can be tricky. A phone is about the most personal piece of tech anyone can use, and you need to take into consideration the network that person uses, the platform of their current handset and so on. If the person for whom you are buying is - for instance - a BlackBerry or iPhone user, they may have apps and media tied into those platforms. Moving to Android could cost them money - are you sure it is an Android phone they want? Also, remember that Android is a very fragmented market. Not all Androids are made equal, and different phones have different versions of the operating system. (See also: The 7 best budget smartphones.)
It's possible the apps they use aren't entirely compatible with every OS. And finally, although most Android phones use similar chargers and adaptors, different manufacturers have their own app- and media stores. For all these reasons, the first thing you should do is check with your intended recipient: what do they want? We appreciate this removes some of the romance from a surprise gift, but a phone is for life*, not just for Christmas. (*We mean the average lifespan of a hamster.)
Okay, that's the boring stuff done. Key things to look out for when buying any Android smartphone include the dislay, storage and, yes, the version of Android that is being run. Generally speaking you get what you pay for with Android phones, so check as many reviews as possible to get a good deal - especially in terms of performance, which is something only the initiated can gleen from specifications. (See also: The 14 best smartphones of 2013.)
For the display you are looking chiefly at size and resolution. Many high-end handsets now come with 5- or 6in displays. These are big devices. Drop down a price point or two and you'll find the screen gets smaller - this obviously has a negative affect on the ability view photos or type long emails, but if your gift recipient is likely to prefer a small handset a large screen is obviously worth avoiding. For this reason check the weight and dimensions too. In terms of resolution the more pixels the better. A good basic test is to use a pixel density calculator such as pixeldensitycalculator.com. Input the vertical and horizontal resolutions, and the screen size to find out how sharp the screen is in terms of pixels per inch. Higher is better here, but you don't need to worry unless the ppi is significantly below 200.
In terms of storage, again more is better - and it is worth checking reviews to see how much storage is available to the user after the OS is taken into consideration. Many Android phones also include a MicroSD card expansion slot, so you could increase the usable storage for just a few pounds. Look for such expansion.
Finally, the version of Android is critical. Later is always better, and ideally look for any 4.x flavour of Android. Android phones aren't automatically updated with the latest OS and the software has improved a great deal over time. So it is important to get a recent version. Also, not all versions of Android offer access to the Google Play app and media stores. If the person who wants to use the phone would like to be able to install apps, this is critical.
That's the advice. Here then, in no particular order, are 12 Android phones worth considering this Christmas. (See also: The UK's best Android phones of 2013.)
12 best Android phones for Christmas 2013
Huawei Ascend Y300
Quite simple a budget smartphone that performs everything at the £100 inc VAT price point. It does the basics well with Android 4.1 software with usable battery life at an incredibly low price. For the money, it's one of the best budget smartphone choices around. See also: Huawei Ascend Y300 review: no-frills value Android smartphone.
ZTE Blade 3
Drop down to £79 and you can pick up this stylish and well-built handset for a true budget price. The Huawei offers better performance, but costs more. Your choice. See also: ZTE Blade 3 review: A budget Android smartphone with a stylish design.
Our final budget smartphone choice is the MotoSmart. It also costs £100 and gets the basics right. We'd probably pick the Huawei given a straight choice, but the Motorola will be a good Christmas gift for any first-time smartphone owners. See also: Motorola MotoSmart review.
Samsung Galaxy S4
The Galaxy S4 is a great phone with outstanding hardware and performance. At £500 it's far from cheap, but those who like it love it. See also: Samsung Galaxy S4 review: the flagship Galaxy Android smartphone.
Sony Xperia Z
The £520 Xperia Z is the first smartphone which Sony has really nailed. We love the stylish, desirable and rugged design. The combination of excellent performance, a stunning screen and great cameras make the Xperia Z a force to be reckoned with. There is very little to say about this phone that is negative. See also: Sony Xperia Z review.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
We're not sure you need all the extra features that Samsung packs in to this £599 handset, and we could live without the S Pen. And not everyone needs or wants a smartphone with a 6in display. Neither is the camera all that great. But be in no doubt about it, the Galaxy Note 3 is a high-quality portable device, offering the best performance we've ever seen, a stunning screen and nice build quality. See also: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review: fastest phone a slim, well-built phablet with stunning display.
Spend £449 and you can get this handset. The HTC One is up there with the very best smartphones on the market today. It has superb performance, and excellent build quality spoiled only slightly by running hot in use. You can't fault the feature set, and it matches the other high-end products in terms of price. In terms of audio and visual output it is unsurpassed. The interface might be an acquired taste for some, and we weren't overly impressed with the camera. See also: HTC One review: great high-end Android matches, but can't beat the best. A good deal.
Sony Xperia Z1
Or shell out £599 for the Z1. Sony has upgraded its fantastic Xperia Z. The Xperia Z1 feels nicer but is unfortunately bigger and heavier. It's a powerhouse with an all-round impressive specification. Easily one of the best Android handsets around but the high price tag taints this slightly. Sony Xperia Z1 review: Xperia Z gets tuned but puts on weight.
LG has trumped the competition with the G2, at £349 our current Best Buy. The phone offers a combination of value for money with high-end features which we haven't seen from rival flagship devices. A great specification combined with impressive design and handy software features mean there's very little to dislike about this handset - only really the lack of a microSD card slot. See also: LG G2 review: The best smartphone you can buy.
HTC One X+
With a newer version of Android, fixed build quality issues and significantly increased battery life, the £450 One X+ is a polished and honed version of its predecessor. It's now an even better all-round quality smartphone with a reasonable price tag. See also: HTC One X+ review.
Huawei Ascend P6
The £309 Huawei Ascend P6 is a fantastic and desirable smartphone, whether it's an iPhone copy or not. It provides real value for money even if it is lacking NFC and 4G support. We particularly like the cameras and the customisable user interface. See also: Huawei Ascend P6 review: world's thinnest iPhone?
HTC One mini
The £379 HTC One mini isn't as good as the HTC One. Its performance is decent but not spectacular, and the addition of a layer of plastic has removed some of the original's chic. But this is a very strong handset at a decent price. Well worth a look. See also: HTC One mini review - smaller, lighter, much cheaper HTC One.