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Wearables Authors: Anders Wallgren, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Philippe Abdoulaye, Dana Gardner

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PSA: Don’t buy any mobile devices not on this list!


This Black Friday please don’t wait in line to buy garbage gear (via Plastic Jungle)

If you are out shopping this Friday, it’s likely you’ll see some awesome tech deals, but how can you know what are really deals? Here is a list of our favorite smartphones and tablets this holiday.

  • Smartphones – unfortunately, few smartphones really go on sale. The top iOS device (the iPhone 5) is rarely on sale, and neither the 4 or the 4S is worth purchasing. However, the iPhone 5 is the top Apple phone (even if a new one might be just around the corner). The iPhone 5 definitely gets the CTOvision “Stamp of Approval” for worthy devices. On the Android front, there is little that trumps the Nexus 4 right now, other than the measly supply of it. The Nexus 4 has all the specs, and the most important asset, Google Developer support. With all the cool stuff (Wireless Charging, NFC – you can ‘bump’ it), in a great package it is the Android phone to buy (so long as it is not from T-Mobile). This caveat is important, because the T-Mobile device robs you of Wi-Fi calling, as well it costs a lot more.
    • However, not everyone wants one of these two phones, and here are my top choices for the individual carriers
      • Sprint: This is tough, but I’d go with the LG Optimus G – the Optimus G is very similar to the Nexus 4, just with CDMA + LTE radios, as well as all the all details. However, you don’t know how long it will take for updates to come. But if you’re stuck with Sprint, might as well dive in with both feet.
      • AT&T: AT&T also has the LG Optimus G, it’s slightly different, but it is still a great device. This also has HSPA+ and LTE radios, so it will be good for the future. Once again, no idea when updates will come, but the phone is pretty squared away fro now.
      • Verizon: the HTC Droid DNA – this recently dropped (and quite impressive) 5″ smartphone has a 1080p screen (the first in a smartphone). It actually has the same processor in the Nexus 4, and both LGs (a Snapdragon S4 quad-core) as well as Verizon’s CDMA + LTE radios.
      • T-Mobile: Yes, T-Mobile will sell you the Nexus 4 for cheaper, but is it really worth the contract? T-Mobile does carry the Galaxy Note 2, a beast of a 5.5″ phone. This device is faster, and fits better than last years 5.3″ device. The Note is not for everyone, but it is still pretty neat.
      • Inexpensive option: The Samsung Galaxy S3, any carrier. Radioshak is offering this (still great) phone at deep discounts. It is not quite the powerhouse it was, but it is still fast, smooth and capable. If you are looking for a bargain price on a quality phone, there is no better choice. The S3 matches up well against the iPhone 5, and far surpasses any of the prior devices. While not quite as “future-proof” (as if anything could be) as the rest of this list, it is a quality option
  • Tablets – you might be able to find a tablet or two on sale this holiday, but honestly, you will probably not want them. Some bargains are available, but the experience on them will be devastatingly horrific. Both Apple and Google have great smaller (7-8″) and larger (10″) tablet options. The prices are similar, but Apple’s are (unsurprisingly) at least $100 more at every level. Both ecosystems are extremely mature, and the “tablet app” complaint many have for Android is overblown. While sticking to one ecosystem is no longer necessary, there’s still a lot to be said for keeping it “all in the family.” Your iPhone/Android apps will be available on the larger screen, but may not scale the way you hope.
    • 7-8″ Tablets – These are really my favorite tablets. They are light, easy to hold and work for surfing, email, reading (awesome!) gaming and more. While they do not possess the real estate (or pixel count) of their larger brethren, they are more portable and more functional in my opinion. In addition, they are far more affordable
      • The Nexus 7 – The pricing for these is $199/249/299 for 16GB/32GB/32GB+3G. They are a pure Google experience, replete with Android 4.2 (multiple user log-ins, Google Now, and more). The Nexus 7 fits great in your hand, is light a perfect gamer (which I’ve detailed before).
      • The iPad Mini – Pricing is $329/429/529 for 16GB/32GB/64GB and add $130 for 3G+LTE. The iPad Mini is the best iPad yet, it is functional and useful. Some might worry about how old the internal processing units are, as well as the lowered screen resolution, but it works. If you are a super-photographer, might not be the best for you, but that is that.
    • 10″ Tablets – Both the iPad 4 and the Nexus 10 are extremely quality devices. They both have over 1080p (FullHD) resolution, and offer extremely zippy and capable performance. While 10″ tablets are nice for video watching (well the Nexus 10 is at least) they do not offer much else. You really cannot go wrong with either tablet, they are both superb products, well crafted and capable.
      • The Nexus 10 – Google’s latest tablet is manufactured by Samsung and is powered by a dual-core Exynos processor (don’t let the fact that it only has two cores fool you, it’s quite powerful). The N10 sports a fantastic 2560×1600 10.55″ screen. It is easy to hold, as well as thin and light. However, it does only come in Wi-Fi modes, costing $399/499 for 16GB/32GB.
      • The iPad 4 – Apple’s latest iPad is a nice improvement from the hardly old iPad 3, they have included the Lightning port, sped up the processor, and kept everything that was right in the past, the same. Pricing is $499/599/699 for 16GB/32GB/64GB and again another 130 for 3G+LTE.

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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.

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