Windows users moving to Android face an interesting dilemma when picking a new smart phone. Because most Android handsets are rarely if ever updated in any meaningful way, you’ll want to choose wisely.
The resaon? Android phones, like Windows phones, are subject to the whims of wireless carriers that would rather sell you a new device a year or two down the road rather than help you protect your existing investment with software updates.
On the face of things, that isn’t all that horrible, especially if you time your handset purchase close to the release of a major Android revision. After all, one to two years is a reasonable life cycle for both a phone and the OS software which it runs. (And maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t believe I’ve ever actually encountered an Android app that requires a version of the OS that is less than two years old.)
But if you’re coming from Windows phone—where we have the Insider program and the ability to regularly update Lumia handsets with both OS and firmware upgrades—or from iPhone, which is routinely updated, your Android experience may seem a bit stifling if you don’t choose the correct handset. For example, the recently-released Samsung Galaxy S7 is widely regarded as one of the very best smart phones on the market. But it will most likely only see a handful of minor software upgrades over the next two years, as Samsung and its wireless carrier partners turn their attention to the S8, S9 and other handsets instead.
There’s another issue with Android: Most of the top-tier handset makers customize the Android OS on their devices in order to differentiate them from the competition. Wireless carriers also add their own crap to Android phones, and in many cases those apps can’t even be uninstalled. The result is a non-standard—and substandard—Android experience.
If none of this bothers you, buy a Samsung or whatever other handset that catches your fancy. But if you want a better experience, there is a solution. I recommend choosing an unlocked handset that provides a stock Android experience, which is to say Android as Google intended it. There are two main suppliers of such phones, Google and Lenovo/Motorola. And both offer a range of hardware choices, with both flagship and lower-end offerings.
Google’s handset lineup uses the Nexus brand, and there are two devices currently: The high-end Nexus 6P phablet and the mid-range Nexus 5X. Both are excellent choices. And since I’ve written about these two phones, I’ll point you to my previous articles, where you can learn more:
- Google Nexus 6P + Google Fi First Impressions
- Google Nexus 6P + Google Fi: Week One Update
- Google Nexus 5X First Impressions
Nexus handsets are not expensive given the quality and performance of the devices. The Nexus 6P starts at $499 for a 32 GB model, and you can choose 64 GB ($549) and 128 GB ($649) versions if you need more storage. Each is available in aluminum (silver), graphite (black), frost (white), and matte gold bodies.
The Nexus 5X, meanwhile, starts at just $349, though that model offers only 16 GB of storage, which I feel is too little (especially since the Nexus devices do not include microSD expansion). But you can get 32 GB of storage for just $399, and the Nexus 5X is available in carbon (black), quartz (silver) and ice (teal) colors.
In addition to a pure Android experience, the Nexus handsets also provide access to Google’s version of the Windows Insider program, where you can test the next version of Android (called N) early. (And I’m doing just that right now, on my Nexus 6P.) And Google’s innovative and inexpensive Project Fi network is only available to Nexus users, another bonus.
As for Motorola, this company—which is part of Lenovo, the biggest PC maker in the world—offers three Moto-branded handsets that come unlocked and with a pure Android experience: The flagship Moto X Pure Edition, the mid-level Moto G, and the entry-level Moto E.
I own a Moto X Pure Edition and like it quite a bit—you can read my Moto X Pure Edition Review for more information—but the big advantage to this device is Motorola’s amazing Moto Maker online configurator, which lets you build the phone of your dreams, complete with a range of storage choices, different case colors, exciting soft grip, real wood, and genuine leather back choices, and more. Prices start at $399 for a 16 GB version. (And yes, the Moto X supports microSD storage expansion.)
While I do have experience with older Moto G and Moto E models, I’ve not used the latest versions. But pricing is reasonable—$180 and up for the Moto G and $120 and up for the Moto E—so there should be something for virtually any budget.
My personal choice? Google Nexus 6P is the clear winner in my book. And it’s probably worth noting that Mary Jo Foley has likewise chosen the Nexus 6P to replace her aging (and non-upgradeable) Lumia Icon. And being able to test N really matters: I find that the ongoing improvements to this mobile system are really starting to gell into something that’s not horrible to use. Yes, even for a former Windows phone user.
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