HTC One M8
The M8 is an even better version of 2013’s HTC One — already a very solid phone. We appreciate the improved performance and battery life, and we think HTC One fans will, too. What’s more, photography buffs will have fun with the Duo Camera feature for tweaking depth of field and adding other post-production effects. The design’s a bit too slippery for our liking, though, so we’d advise against mixing the M8 with alcohol.Price:
Samsung Galaxy S5
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is the top Android phone-maker’s flagship phone — and that about sums it up. It’s a solid device, with a great display, good battery life and a comfortable, if uninspired design. Some features, including the fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor, are still a bit half-baked, but if a reliable Android handset is what you’re after, the S5 fits the bill.
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Usually, any phone with “mini” or “compact” in the name indicates watered-down specs, but that’s not the case with the Xperia Z1 Compact. Here, we get a well-built device with a great camera and long battery life. It’s a bit more expensive than other “mini” phones, but it’s short on compromises.
You’re sure to find plenty of iPhones and flagship Samsungs on campus, but the OnePlus One? They’ll be few and far between. A slick, $300 piece of hardware from a fledgling Chinese company, this phone’s still in stealth mode — you need an invite to get one — but if you’re lucky enough to join the club, we’d recommend doing so. We like the hardware, and the custom CyanogenMod firmware lets you tweak settings to your heart’s content.
Motorola Moto X
We don’t blame you if these mid-range options are all catching your eye, but if you’re into customization, the Moto X might just be the phone for you. True, the bamboo-wood backing (just one of many options available through the Moto Maker tool) might have lost some novelty by now, but even if colors and textures aren’t your thing, you’ll appreciate the long battery life and display notifications.
Google Nexus 5
The OnePlus One is encroaching on this territory, but the LG-made Nexus 5 is still king when it comes to inexpensive phones with flagship specifications. You’ll love the high-res display and the quad-core processor’s reliable performance. What else would you expect from a phone with Google’s name on it?
Nokia Lumia Icon
Currently a Verizon exclusive, the Lumia Icon hits all the right notes for a top-of-the-line Windows Phone. That means a lovely 1080p display, long battery life, and the stellar imaging experience you’d expect from Nokia. Its 5-inch screen is also more manageable than the Lumia 1520’s 6-inch display.
Apple iPhone 5S
The iPhone 5s is a well-made, fast-performing device, and it’s also pretty dang popular. The Touch ID fingerprint scanner works as advertised, and there’s global LTE support on board. That said, there are plenty of great devices running Android or Windows Phone, so it comes down to your software allegiances. Oh, and the iPhone 6 is pretty much just around the corner, so there’s that to consider. Once that handset’s available, the 5s and 5c will likely be available at a discount.
LG’s been on a roll with phones lately, and the G3 is our favorite thus far. The Quad HD screen is brilliant, the camera turns out great images and battery life doesn’t leave much to be desired. Those with small hands might want to pass — it has a 5.5-inch display, after all — but most other Android fans will find the G3 to be among the best options.
Nokia Lumia 520
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: There’s no front-facing camera on the 520, nor is there a flash module for the rear shooter. But you wouldn’t be considering this cheapie if you needed superb photos, anyway. For even less than the Lumia 620, this guy makes a great first smartphone — especially for a student who just needs the basics and won’t push battery life to the limit.