Smartphones have come a long way since the days of brick-like BlackBerrys and Treos. Today's devices offer large screens, solid battery life, lightning-fast broadband, innumerable apps, and cameras that come close to rivalling dSLRs. They serve as essential productivity tools, entertainment devices, and, of course, links to colleagues, friends, and family.
While new models hit the store shelves nearly every week, the best of the best stick around for the better part of a year before their manufacturers replace them. That's partly why the following five phones are solid picks -- they have plenty of shelf life left. Other reasons: strong design, apps, and quality. Nearly all can be purchased for $200 with a contract, and most are available through an installment plan if that's how you roll.
Apple iPhone 5s: The iPhone is the smallest smartphone on this list, but it is also one of the most finely crafted. Apple spared no expense in designing the device, and its materials and manufacturing are second to none. The iPhone 5s is fast, has a great camera, and is universally available from most network operators around the country. The iPhone 5s has access to a million apps and has an entire ecosystem of accessories supporting it. You can't go wrong with the iPhone 5s.
[How will HTC's newly redesigned One fare against Samsung's S5? Read HTC Posts Loss As Smartphone Sales Sag.]
HTC One: HTC has upped the ante with this newly redesigned device, and it offers a strong challenge to any Android phone in the market. Featuring an appealing metallic shell and a luscious 5-inch full HD screen, the HTC One also boasts premium design and high-quality manufacturing. The newest version of Sense (HTC's user interface skin) includes a vast array of customization features and a personalized social reading app called BlinkFeed. The HTC One is sold only in Verizon stores today, but it can be ordered online from the other big carriers. If you prefer Android to iOS and Windows Phone, the HTC One is well worth consideration.
LG/Google Nexus 5: The Nexus 5 doesn't offer a premium design, and its manufacturing and materials are average at best, but the N5 has something the others on this list don't: direct support from Google. The Nexus 5 is one of a handful of smartphones that run a completely stock version of Android. It is also the first to receive new operating system updates, a big plus for users who like to be on the cutting edge. The N5 has a 5-inch full HD screen, speedy performance, and a decent camera to boot. Aside from the OS factor, the N5 is sold directly from Google and comes unlocked. The best part? Its full retail price is just $349. That's $300 cheaper than the iPhone (purchased at full price). You can also pick one up at a T-Mobile store with a contract for even less.
Nokia Lumia Icon: This Windows Phone is a top-of-the-line device from Nokia. The Icon is exceptionally well made and sports a unique look, thanks to its aluminum frame combined with a strong polycarbonate panel. Like many phones on this list, it features a 5-inch full HD display. The 20-megapixel camera takes impressive photos, and the quad-core processor gives it plenty of oomph. The Icon is one of the first two Windows Phones to include a third row of Live Tiles on the Start screen. This boosts its utility and gives users more control over their home screen experience than other Windows Phones. The Icon is sold only by Verizon in the US.
Samsung Galaxy S5: Samsung's latest flagship device is a refinement of last year's model. Though it is slightly thicker and heavier, it's also waterproof and dustproof. The Super AMOLED display is gorgeous, the processor among the fastest available, and the classy design will fit most lifestyles. Like the iPhone, the GS5 will eventually have access to a wide array of accessories. Samsung's additions to the Android operating system are toned down a bit but still offer incredible functionality. The Galaxy S5 can be pre-ordered from all the major carriers today and hits stores on Friday, April 11.
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