September 1, 2014

Cell Phone Comparison Review: Samsung, HTC, Nokia and iPhone

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No-contract cell phone plans are common, but not widely talked about among business owners. Most of the time, you hear about the major carrier brands because they provide an “all you can eat” unlimited type plan and that appeals to the busy owner. However, those plans come with a hitch – you get a lower cost of entry, but overall higher cost.

In this cell phone comparison review, I take a fast look at six smartphones: Three from Boost Mobile, two from new kid on the block, Aio Wireless (owned by not-so-new-kid, AT&T) and one from Ting.

[From left to right: Samsung S4 from Ting; Samsung S3, HTC One, LG Optimus 7 from Boost Mobile; Nokia 720 Windows Phone and iPhone 5 from Aio Wireless.]

Four of the phones included in this cell phone comparison review are Android-based smartphones. Although they are running nearly the same operating system (OS), they are far from the same. Manufacturers decide to build their hardware for a specific version, let’s say Android 3.0, and then create an interface or skin that is unique to that particular device. The look and feel is mostly the same, but not entirely.

What May Not Be Obvious

In the no-contract cell phone world, you purchase your phone for cash. There is no subsidy from a major carrier here. There’s no long term contract (as the name implies) and usually no penalties if you decide to move to another plan or provider, depending on the phone. You pay on a month-to-month basis, and sometimes prepaying several months to a year ahead gets you a greater discount. Some of the no-contract providers have special offers, on a certain phone, that helps reduce the cost.

On the surface, all smartphones are relatively the same. Each of them is a powerful little computer that can do some or all of the tasks you might do on a laptop. In fact, I have used a Bluetooth keyboard with several of these to type out a document in Evernote as well as on the mobile version of Microsoft Word. I have built simple spreadsheets and recorded presentations.

As you can see in the image below, I have put the HTC One SV on a tablet stand along with a Kensington Bluetooth keyboard. The tablet stand is called the iSlider from Rain Design. I use it with a variety of mobile devices and find it works well and travels well. Some days, this is all I have in my bag. Sure, the screen is small, but it backs up to the cloud and I pull it up on my laptop when I’m back on my main machine.

cell phone comparison review

Now, to the cell phone and service reviews.

Cell Phone Comparison Review

Samsung S4

I wrote a review of Ting with the S3 and the company also sent me the S4 to review. Hands-down, this is the fastest, most powerful smartphone I have used and you can even hook your S4 and view it on a television.  I love their “Savings Calculator” to help consumers and business owners pick the options that work best.

I currently pay about $15/month for my base plan which includes 100 minutes, 100 Mb of data, and 100 texts ($3 for each option, then $6 for phone/line cost). Hard to beat. Loads of phones to choose from, including used ones and the ability to bring your own, if your existing phone works on Sprint.

Boost Mobile sent me test devices for the next three phones (pictured: white, red and black, in order). While the devices are awesome, it is the plan that really stands out. They offer what they call “shrinking payments” which allows you to reduce your bill by paying on time. You can get your bill down to $40/month for a pretty good unlimited plan.

Samsung S3

While this loaner is not mine, I have and use the S3 daily. I use the voice recorder constantly for dictating posts, but also love the powerful speaker capability on this phone. There’s a little sound “boost” option while in speakerphone mode that helps in noisy situations.

The S3 is not much different than the S4. Since I use both nearly every day (my wife owns an S4 that I mess with regularly), I only see small differences. As above, the S4 is faster. If I were purchasing another today, I would opt for the S3 because you get most of the goodness in a lower cost phone.

HTC One SV

A sweet, little phone that fits really nice in your hand. It has a slight velvet feel that gives it some grip. It is an Android-powered phone, but HTC has its own skin or theme that makes using it vary a bit from other Android phones and takes only a few minutes to get used to.

LG Optimus F7

Elegant and fast, I found this phone to offer the strongest and fastest data connection with better than average performance downloading files. That could be Sprint, but my Ting phone is on Sprint as well and the F7 was much faster.

Without getting too technical, I think LG has some advantages under the hood that Samsung hasn’t cracked yet on the data access part.

Nokia Lumia 620 Windows Phone

Okay, full disclaimer: You have to love Windows 8 to love this phone. If you have been using another operating system, it will take a bit of learning to adapt to this interface. However, it did have some neat features that neither Android nor Apple had.

You can point your phone at a nearby street or neighborhood and it will display all the area businesses at a glance. You can then click through to see more about that business. The overall interface is slick, but it just takes a bit of getting used to. Other than that, it works like any other smartphone.

Apple iPhone 5

One of the downsides to some of the no-contract cell phone plan providers is they don’t get the newest phones first – those go to the major carriers with more subsidy dollars to spend. However, hats off to Aio for coming out of the gate with great new phones.

At the time they sent me the media loaner, the iPhone 5 was the newest phone from Apple. Of course, this is a powerful iPhone and you’re either a fan or you’re not. But you really cannot go wrong with an Apple product.

Aio Wireless phones are very affordable and the smartphone plans start at $55/month. They have a ‘bring your own phone’ option too, if you have an eligible existing phone that will work with one of their SIM cards.

No contract plans are not for everyone, but for those who don’t mind paying upfront for their phone, it is a great option. You can save a bundle on the monthly costs and justify moving from most major carrier contract plans.

What provider/plan are you currently using?

10 Comments ▼
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TJ McCue - Product Editor


TJ McCue TJ McCue is the Product Editor for Small Business Trends and an entrepreneur who publishes Tech Biz Talk. TJ is a former Wall Street Journal columnist. He also writes for Forbes and American Express OPEN Forum. He loves learning about technology apps and software services - share yours with TJ.

10 Reactions

  1. Hi TJ,
    I like the “shrinking payments” concept. What would you say are the main pros and cons of going with a no-contract plan? Who would this be good for and who might this not be good for?

    • Great question Shawn. You save a bucketload of money is the main thing… There are not many real cons. But you sometimes have limits on data or voice or text, but on Ting, for example, I pay for what I use. To Ed’s point below, if you are truly maxing out your “unlimited” data plan, then you’ll want to stay with a major carrier’s plan. Many are not truly unlimited as they all cap or throttle your download speeds after you hit a threshold. There are so, so many variables.

      In a nutshell, if you are patient and flexible, you can make these no-contract options work without too much fuss. They really don’t differ all that much from major carriers and, in fact, are on those carrier backbones. They are just leasing space/time to these guys. I can’t think of who it won’t be good for, not without offending people…

  2. I couldn’t go with a no contract program, I use my devices more than most people. I will usually have three things going at once with multiple pages open on each.

    • I think it’s all about getting leaner. There are some ‘unlimited’ services that you don’t really need. Try to ask if you’ll pay less if you cut those services out. You may end up paying less which is also good for your business.

  3. I really like my Motorola Razr Maxx. Great battery life and I think it would compare favorably to these phones as well.

  4. Thanks for the comparison. I used to edit a site the did cell phone reviews and I’m always interested in reading new comparisons. Interesting thing about the iPhone. I’ve always believed that if it was possible to do a ‘blind taste test,’ Apple would lose. They do seem to lead in brand awareness, though.

  5. I have an iPhone 4S and got locked in a 24 months contracts (in order to get the phone for free) from a big phone co. in Scandinavia called Telenor. It would be good some new players on the markets in Europe, like Ting. It is a jungle to compare the different mobile plans.

  6. Nice comparison TJ.

    Since now there are new flagship phones from all mentioned manufacturers, would love to read one comparing Note 3, iPhone 5s, Lumia 1020, HTC One, and LG G2.

  7. Samsung S3 : my fav …Daily i play games on this smart phone…& njoyed very well.. okay nice comparison mate

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