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Back to School 2013: Smartphones

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The following post is sponsored by Best Buy. Head over to Best Buy for your back to school needs.

It’s time to pick out a backpack, find some pencils and get some fresh kicks. Back to school season is upon us and that means you have a perfect excuse to outfit yourself with some new gadgetry. We already brought you a few guides, including our top picks for laptops, tablets, gadgets and more, but now it’s time to address something you’ll have with you at all times: your smartphone. Your choice could tell a lot about you. Maybe you’re addicted to taking photos, or maybe you’re the type that’s jotting down every word the teacher says. Maybe you want a phone made out of wood that nobody else has. We have you covered, no matter your mobile personality.

To make it a bit more fun we’ve split the smartphones up into various categories. We’ve already told you our Top 5 picks for each carrier, so this time we’re highlighting the devices on what they’re best at, and for who. Trust us, any of these devices will suit most people just fine, but all of them have a few options that make them unique. Let’s take a look at some of the smartphones that will make even Ms. Frizzle jealous.

The Jock – Galaxy S4 Active

The Galaxy S4 Active is rugged enough to resist water and dust, which means it can take a decent beating without breaking. Go ahead, drop it in some mud, toss it in the pool during swim practice, or carry it out on the football field in the rain – it’ll be just fine. It packs all of the powerful features of the Galaxy S4, including a Snapdragon 600 processor and a stellar 5-inch 1080p display, but makes a bit of a sacrifice with its 8-megapixel camera and some added bulk. There have been some reports of damage, however, so make sure you keep those ports locked down and the battery cover sealed, ok?

The Photo Journalist – Nokia Lumia 1020

You won’t find a better smartphone camera on the market, which means the Lumia 1020 is your bet if you want the best photos for the campus newspaper or the yearbook. It sports a 41-megapixel camera and Nokia’s incredible software for tweaking your shots down to the most macro level possible. The software zoom is amazing, too — simply take a photo and then, thanks to its high resolution, zoom into the part of the picture that matters and save your crop. Other features include 32GB of storage, Windows Phone 8, free turn-by-turn directions and an awesome polycarbonate design. It’s the best Windows Phone yet.

The Note Taker – Note II

We really, really want to include the Note III on this list, but seeing as the device isn’t official yet we’re going to have to stick with the Note II. That’s OK, because it still ranks as one of our favorite phablets. The S Pen is an awesome touch if you like scribbling down your notes — ditch the paper notebook! — and Samsung’s software makes it a breeze to run multiple applications on the large 5.5-inch display. You won’t find a 1080p resolution here, or the improved camera and software features on the Galaxy S4, but you’ll get a great device for toting around to class.

The Scientist – Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One Google Play Edition

If you find yourself sitting in the science lab running experiments, then the Google Play Edition of the Galaxy S4 or the HTC One could be right up your alley. Both devices run pure Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and are wide open for tweaking with whatever customizations you want. No, you won’t get Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense 5 options, but you’re getting a phone that’s constantly going to be on the latest version of Android, which means you get to test it first. Both devices are fantastic, so really it comes down to whether you want a 5-inch display and expandable storage (S4) or a gorgeous aluminum handset with a 4.7-inch screen (HTC One).

The People Person – iPhone 5

We love the iPhone 5, but as Android progresses we find that it’s a bit more powerful than iOS for anyone who really likes to tweak their phones. That doesn’t mean the iPhone 5 isn’t a great fit, though. It’s super easy to use right out of the box and typically gets applications first (though that’s starting to change, we admit). Plus, with iMessage you’ll be able to stay in touch with anyone on a computer, iPad or iPhone using the same software just as easily. The iPhone 5 is a go-to recommendation, but you may want to hold out for the iPhone 5S, which Apple should announce on September 10.

The A/V Club – HTC One

The HTC One offers amazing video, photography and audio experiences. Sense 5 includes highlight reels, which composes a quick 30-second clip of 3-second Zoe shots and images. It also sports front-facing BoomSound speakers for loud and impressive surround sound audio at any time. Th 4-Ultrapixel camera also takes amazingly clear shots, both in daylight and in low-light situations. A stellar 4.7-inch 1080p screen, 32GB or 64GB of storage, an aluminum uni-body design and a speedy Snapdragon 600 processor all round out the HTC One’s first-class features.

The Fashionista – Moto X

The Motorola X has the most customization options of any smartphone right now. It’s soon launching on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular. AT&T will be the first to offer its Moto Maker software, and will allow you to choose between 16 different colors and 7 different accents. Eventually, you’ll be able to order it with a wood back, too. You can also choose 16GB or 32GB of storage, any etching you want on the back of the phone and even log-in to Google and set your wallpaper so it arrives ready to go out of the box. It has relatively mid-range specs, including a Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, but it has amazing software features that allows you to control Google Now from across the room, and more. We’re thinking of going with the lime green color, you know, to match our Vans.

Wrap-Up

There are plenty of other smartphones that would be perfect choices for back to school season, including the Optimus G Pro on AT&T, the rumored iPhone 5S or iPhone 5C, the Galaxy Note III when it launches and much more. But today, these are our top choices. It really doesn’t matter which one you pick — head to your carrier and see which one suits your lifestyle, but we can assure you that none of them will let you down. Now go do the boring stuff, like picking out textbooks.


Todd Haselton

Todd Haselton has been writing professionally since 2006 during his undergraduate days at Lehigh University. He started out as an intern with...

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