Why to never “just go with the free one”

Many of my friends, when it’s time for an upgrade, ask me “What smartphone should I get?”
My typical answer is, “What carrier do you have?” and we proceed to go online and look at that carrier’s selection of Android devices. I pick out a few, depending on their needs and preferences, usually mid-range in price, some with a happy mix of the best hardware and the best price, and some that appeal to their needs and taste.

But what they’re really asking is, “Tony, should I get an iPhone, or an Android?” When I picked out high-end phones for them, they thought “Android it is,” and proceed to go out and buy the cheapest, or even free phone, and then blame me when it’s not delivering them iPhone quality.
So I should preface by saying that if you want something that’s going to compete with the iPhone’s quality, you’re going to have to pay a similar price. Android is an awesome OS, and works amazingly when you have good hardware behind it.

So please listen when when you hear Android fanboys like me raving about how awesome Android devices are, how much better they are than iPhones, how much more they can do, or any of those things that I’m sure you’ve heard us go on about at some point or another. Just know that we’re not saying that you should go out and buy the cheapest phone just because there’s a little green Android on the info plaque at the store. Android is a lot of awesome things, but it is not magic, and it will not transform a low-end piece of junk into something that can rival the quality of a $600 iPhone.

So when you ask what phone to get on Verizon, and I say, “Get yourself a Droid 3,” that does not mean you should go look around at the store to see what is prettiest. You asked me for a reason, so please don’t blame me when you are stuck with an LG Ally that can’t even play Angry Birds without force closing you to death. If you’re trying to decide between an iPhone and an Android, you need to look at Androids that are going to cost about the same amount as the iPhone. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.

So let’s get on to the facts. Below we have one free Android handset from each of the most popular U.S. carriers, with some specs listed. Let me know if you start to see a theme.

Hit the names for the full technical specifications, courtesy of our friends over at Phone Arena.


LG Enlighten
Android Gingerbread 2.3
3.2 inch screen
800 MHz single-core processor
3.2 Megapixel rear camera
150 MB internal storage
Slide out physical keyboard



LG Optimus S
Android Froyo 2.2
3.2 inch screen
600 MHz single-core processor
3.2 Megapixel rear camera
140 MB internal storage


LG Phoenix
Andoid Froyo 2.2
3.2 inch screen
600 MHz single-core processor
3.2 Megapixel rear camera
150 MB internal storage


Samsung Dart
Android Froyo 2.2
3.14 inch screen
600 MHz single-core processor
3 Megapixel rear camera
160 MB internal storage

Now that you have an idea of what exactly you’re going to be stuck with for the next 2 years because you wanted a free phone, let’s take a walk down memory lane.
Let’s go back to the G1, the first Android phone. Keeping in mind the specs you read above for what you’re getting in your free phone nowadays, read on and see what you would have had 3 years ago.

T-Mobile G1

Android Cupcake 1.5
3.2 inch screen
528 MHz single-core processor
3.2 Megapixel rear camera
192 MB RAM 250 MB ROM
Slide out physical keyboard

Do you see something wrong here? As technology advances, the software becomes more complex, and requires better, faster, more robust hardware to run properly. But what you have now, running newer versions of Android, isn’t much of a step-up from the original G1. So they’ve dumbed down the OS and taken things away, just so they could say it runs Froyo or Gingerbread. It’s disgusting that people fall for this and never realize that if they don’t pay premium costs, they will not end up with a premium handset. Now let’s meet the Galaxy Nexus, arguably the best handset on the market today. The Galaxy Nexus runs around $189.99 with a new contract.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0
1.2 GHz Dual-core processor
4.65 inch screen
1 GB RAM 32 GB Internal storage
5 Megapixel rear camera 1.3 Megapixel Front facing camera
Talk time of 17 hours

That about sums it up. The whole idea here is that you’re going to get what you pay for, so decide now if that $29.99 Android phone with specs from 2009 is worth it.

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  • Rik

    Very true. Although here in the UK you can often get the best androids for free. My galaxy nexus was free on a 24 month contract with unlimited data. It works out cheaper over the length of the contract than what it does to buy the phone sim free and then subscribe to a service separately. It pays to shop around.

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  • Same here in Australia.  The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is free from Vodafone on a $49/month plan.

  • Angel De Marc

    Well said. Sharing on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook now!

  • Anonymous

    Dude, where can I get the G-Nex for $189.99?

    • Anthony M. McAfee

      At the time I wrote this, Amazon wireless.

  • Unfortunately nothing that is branded can’t compete with iPhone. Only phone that is close in terms of stability is Nexus S. All the rest is a big pain for the user in the end.

    I had Android, and I want to forget that buggy experience. iPhone just works.

    • Anthony M. McAfee

      yeah, and that’s totally fine, for people who just want a nice touchscreen phone.
      And Kuereg makes a great coffee maker, great coffee, if you only want to brew a cup at a time and pay $.75 for a cup of coffee you brewed at home. I admit I use a Kuereg at home, because I don’t drink a ton of coffee, and I don’t mind paying that comparatively outrageous price for the one cup of coffee I drink every other day. And Kuereg probably, honestly makes the best single cup coffee makers out there. But not everyone’s lifestlyle allows for a single cup coffee maker. A lot of people drink half a pot of coffee to themselves in the morning, and might want a little more bang for their but than paying almost $5 to feed their morning caffeine addiction. Let alone people who make coffee for others when they entertain, at $.75 a cup, entertaining 3 friends for an afternoon you might as well go to starbucks.
      We find ourselves in an age where most people’s multimedia and data consumption needs are far beyong that of a single use phone. iPhone’s have a great music player, if all you’re worried about is the delivery system for your music. But as far as raw computing power, versitility, and making multiple metaphorical cups of coffee at a time, the clear choice is android.

    • ever try the samsung galaxy s2 with an exynos processor? theres a reason why its the highest selling phone this year

      • Yep, played with it for a while. Even though it’s a good phone, it still has problems that come from TouchWiz UI and suffers a lot of Android related bugs.

        UI itself is still “twitching” when you are moving from page to page on home screen, proving that hardware without the proper marriage with software will not grant the results we want.

        Results being the smoothness and great user experience.

        • thats surprising that you would encounter that, ive messed with about 3 of them and every one of them was extremely smooth when transitioning between home screens, and thats because there is hardware acceleration due to the fact samsung makes its own processors and tweaks them to work well with android and touchwiz. stock ics will be much better then what any oems bring to the table but id definitely prefer touchwiz over sense or motoblur, imo

  • Shalabh Vyas

    Nice article!!

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  • Irish Yort

    Sorry, with the current levels of force quits and broken apps, it’s extremely hard for me to recommend any Android based product. If I put my kids in front of an iPad they will be playing for ages, put them in front of my Xoom with HC3.2, and they are handing it back almost every 10 mins with for e quits or freeze ups
    If Google did a large scale QC check like Apple does, there would be many better apps that actually work. Google need to pull their fingers out with the QC.
    At te very least, all apps should have devices tested on, and Android version tested on clearly written and seperated from all else for people to see and make sure their device supports the app.
    Until then, Andoid apps will always be a few steps behind the iOS ones.



  • When the Samsung Galaxy S3 will be released? Any Idea?

    • Anthony M. McAfee

      Nothing official on the pipeline as of yet, we’ll be writing when we hear, though, so keep checking back, I’d expect teasers shortly before the end of the first quarter of 2012. And I don’t personally believe that they’ll name it the galaxy s 3, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of the other writers.

  • carolyn sanders

    I JUST PURCHASED A SAMSUNG PHONE AND  downloaded the chomp pro and purchased a wallpaper for my emails. now i am being charged for something again and again. wth is this crap. no one will answer my question. i just want my money back dont want to join anything like androidguys .com sent email no answer from anyone. how can i cancel this crap

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