Welcome to Engadget's back to school guide! The end of summer vacation isn't nearly as much fun as the weeks that come before, but a chance to update your tech tools likely helps to ease the pain. Today, we're tapping away on our brand-new smartphones -- and you can head to the back to school hub to see the rest of the product guides as they're added throughout the month. Be sure to keep checking back -- at the end of August we'll be giving away a ton of the gear featured in our guides -- you can hit up the hub page right here!
It's a good time to be a student. Last year, there were some solid picks, but it was still very clear that those willing to scrimp and save a little longer had a much better experience. This year, it's a people's revolution. Thanks to cutthroat competition, there are some exceptional phones out there, even for those of you hoping to avoid eating ramen noodles for a month. Software has taken a leap forward too, with many phones now offering a vital way to remember when that term paper is due... or to procrastinate at the pub. We have nine choices of phones in our shortlist, spread out across three categories to serve everyone from the I-just-need-a-phone freshman to the overloaded doctoral candidate. While you're eying the selection, don't forget to enter our giveaway and potentially ease the burden -- who knows, you may get a phone you want rather than the one dictated by your student loan.
Prepaid / Budget
The Lumia 900 now sits in the budget category thanks to a price cut, although you almost wouldn't know it from the features. LTE? A 4.3-inch screen? A capable 8MP camera? Check. And while some look at that simple Metro interface and the smaller app market with a jaded eye, Windows Phone is a good pick if you're new to smartphones and like living in Microsoft's ecosystem.
Key specs: 1.4GHz single-core Snapdragon CPU, 4.3-inch WVGA display, 8MP rear / 1MP front cameras, Windows Phone 7.5.
Price: $50 on AT&T.com
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Don't be put off by the up-front price -- look at the $35 monthly plan on Virgin Mobile and you'll know how much you'll save in the long run. Mating a Retina display, a still-solid 5MP camera and iOS 5 with a cheap unlimited data plan? That's an easy choice if you're at all drawn in by iOS or just love a media-savvy smartphone.
Price: $550 (without contract) on VirginMobileUSA.com
HTC One V
It might be the baseline of HTC's 2012 smartphone triumvirate, but the One V is no slouch. That rigid design, 1GHz processor, pretty 3.7-inch WVGA display and capable 5MP camera add up to a compelling starter smartphone. Android 4.0 also stands out in a crowd full of basic devices running last year's Google OS flavor. Combine all those with a rock-bottom, off-contract price and the One V is hard to top for the money.
Price: $200 (without contract) on VirginMobileUSA.com
If it weren't for the need to (normally) use AT&T or T-Mobile instead of a low-cost carrier, this would be in the budget category. It's that much of a value. While the Galaxy Nexus is now strictly middling in terms of processing power, having the world's first Android 4.1 phone for this kind of off-contract price more than makes up for the difference. The new OS makes it exceptionally responsive, and Google Now will help you find out just how late you'll be to class if you miss the bus.
Key specs: 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4460 CPU, 5MP rear / 1.3MP front cameras, 4.65-inch Super AMOLED HD display, stock Android 4.1.
Price: $349 on Google.com
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Some will decry the smaller screen, down-clocked 1.2GHz chip and the lack of burst photography versus the One S at T-Mobile -- fair enough. But the lower price, better-quality display and LTE make this the more tempting mid-range phone. You'll still get a top-notch rear camera, a smartly customized Android 4.0 build and traditional expansion via a microSD slot.
Price: $150 on VerizonWireless.com
Outside of the battery life, the Atrix HD is a great value for the money: it's mating a 4.5-inch, high-quality display with a fast 1.5GHz processor, all at half the contract price of similar-spec handsets. Motorola has also smartly scaled back the customization to let Android 4.0 shine brighter. If you like the aesthetic of Google's new hardware brand, it's a winner.
Price: $100 on AT&T.com
Money's no object
Now that it's just $100 on a contract, the One X just edges out its Samsung rival as our pick for the top end. Yes, it sheds the removable battery and microSD slot -- we know the impact. But the One X delivers a leaner interface, higher build quality and arguably the best display of any phone, all at half the up-front price of its peers. Performance (both in the 1.5GHz chip and LTE data) is top-notch, and the 8MP camera enjoys both longer burst shots as well as a simpler, faster interface for capturing Frosh Week escapades.
Key specs: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 CPU, 1GB RAM, 4.7-inch Super LCD 2 display, unibody design, 8MP rear / 1.3MP front cameras.
Price: $100 on AT&T.com
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Don't worry, we still like what the Galaxy S III has to offer. A gigantic and beautiful 4.8-inch screen, a fast 1.5GHz processor with 2GB of RAM and all the removable expansion you'd like make it a go-to device for Android fans. The best part is knowing that you don't have to think much about your carrier: all the majors are offering it largely unchanged, so you don't have to compromise to get your Galaxy fix.
While it's likely going to be replaced partway into the fall semester, the iPhone 4S is still a pleasing pick even several months into its lifecycle. Get over the small 3.5-inch screen; the 4S is surprisingly fast, and it has what's still considered the gold standard for 8MP cameras. Siri may be quirky too, but it's handy for reminding yourself to study for that next exam.
Price: $199-399 on Apple.com
Engadget's Back to School Giveaway
No Purchase Required to Enter or Win
Eligibility: Engadget's Back to School Giveaway (the "Giveaway") is open only to individuals who are legal residents of the fifty (50) United States (including the District of Columbia) and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 years of age or older. Employees of Weblogs Inc. LLC, AOL Inc., their advertising or promotion agencies, those involved in the production, development, implementation or handling of Giveaways, any agents acting for, or on behalf of the above entities, their respective parent companies, officers, directors, subsidiaries, affiliates, licensees, service providers, prize suppliers any other person or entity associated with the Giveaways (collectively "Giveaway Entities") and/or the immediate family (spouse, parents, siblings and children) and household members (whether related or not) of each such employee, are not eligible. All U.S., federal, state and local and Canadian federal, provincial, and municipal laws and regulations apply. Void in Quebec, Puerto Rico and where prohibited by law.
Sponsor: The Giveaway is sponsored by Weblogs Inc. LLC, 770 Broadway, New York, NY 10003 ("Sponsor").
Agreement to Official Rules: Participation in the Giveaway constitutes entrant's full and unconditional agreement to and acceptance of these Official Rules and the decisions of the Sponsor, which are final and binding. Winning a prize is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements set forth herein.
Giveaway Period: The Giveaway begins at 12:00 pm ET on August 6, 2012 and ends at 12:00 pm ET on September 7, 2012 (the "Giveaway Period"). The Giveaway Period shall be divided into fifteen (15) separate Entry Periods:
Entry Period 1 begins at 12PM ET on August 6, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 2 begins at 1PM ET on August 6, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 3 begins at 12PM ET on August 7, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 4 begins at 12PM ET on August 8, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 5 begins at 12PM ET on August 9, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 6 begins at 12PM ET on August 10, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 7 begins at 12PM ET on August 13, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 8 begins at 12PM ET on August 15, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 9 begins at 12PM ET on August 17, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 10 begins at 12PM ET on August 20, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 11 begins at 12PM ET on August 22, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 12 begins at 12PM ET on August 24, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 13 begins at 12PM ET on August 27, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 14 begins at 12PM ET on August 29, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry Period 15 begins at 12PM ET on August 31, 2012 and ends at 12PM ET on September 7, 2012.
Entry: During the Giveaway Period, go to engadget.com/2012/08/06/back-to-school-giveaway and follow the instructions to submit your entry. The use of any agencies or automated software to submit entries will void all entries submitted by that person.
Drawing: At the conclusion of the Giveaway Period, Sponsor will select the name of one (1) Grand Prize Winner from each of the fifteen (15) Entry Periods in a random drawing of all eligible entries received during each Entry Period. The odds of being selected as a potential winner depend on the number of eligible entries received during the applicable Entry Period. Potential Winners will be contacted via email and asked to provide their full name, age and mailing address within a specified time period. If a potential winner does not respond within the timeframe stated in the notification email, the Sponsor may select an alternate potential winner in his/her place at random from all entries received during the Entry Period. Non-winning entries from one Entry Period do not carry over into subsequent Entry Periods.
Requirements of the Potential Winners: Except where prohibited, the potential winners will be required to complete and return an affidavit of eligibility and liability/publicity release (the "Affidavit/Release") and IRS W-9 form within seven (7) days of being notified. If a potential winner fails to sign and return the Affidavit/Release and W-9 form within the required time period, an alternate entrant may be selected in his/her place in a random drawing of all entries received. Acceptance of a prize constitutes consent to use winner's name and likeness for editorial, advertising and publicity purposes without additional compensation, except where prohibited by law. In the event the potential winner of any prize is a Canadian resident, he/she will also be required to correctly answer a time-limited mathematical question to be administered by email, mail or phone to receive the prize. Limit one (1) prize per household.
Prizes: Fifteen (15) Grand Prize Winners will each receive a Back to School Prize Pack containing the following items: HP Envy Ultrabook 4, Sony NEX-F3, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0), Samsung Galaxy S III (AT&T), Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, AiAiAi Capital headphones, Western Digital My Passport (1TB) hard drive, Timbuk2 Commute Messenger laptop bag, Flying Alarm Clock, AOC 16" USB monitor, Spotify Premium subscription (1 year), Satechi Energy Station, Edifier Tick Tock, Satechi 12-port USB hub, NuForce Cube, Withings WiFi Scale, Powermat 24-hour system, Carbonite Backup (1 year), AViiQ Ready Chips, and Targus Defcon 1 lock. Approximate Retail Value of each Prize Pack is $3,203. Subscriptions are subject to issuer's terms and conditions. Activation fees and monthly service fees not included with any smartphone/digital devices. No cash or other substitution may be made, except by the Sponsor, who reserves the right to substitute a prize or portion of a prize with another prize of equal or greater value if the prize is not available for any reason as determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion. Winners are responsible for any taxes and fees associated with receipt or use of a prize.
General Conditions: In the event that the operation, security, or administration of the Giveaway is impaired in any way for any reason, including, but not limited to fraud, virus, or other technical problem, the Sponsor may, in its sole discretion, either: (a) suspend the Giveaway to address the impairment and then resume the Giveaway in a manner that best conforms to the spirit of these Official Rules; or (b) award the prizes at random from among the eligible entries received up to the time of the impairment. The Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual it finds to be tampering with the entry process or the operation of the Giveaway or to be acting in violation of these Official Rules or in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner. Any attempt by any person to undermine the legitimate operation of the Giveaway may be a violation of criminal and civil law, and, should such an attempt be made, the Sponsor reserves the right to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law. The Sponsor's failure to enforce any term of these Official Rules shall not constitute a waiver of that provision. In case of a dispute as to the owner of an entry, entry will be deemed to have been submitted by the authorized account holder of the screen name from which the entry is made. The authorized account holder is defined as the natural person who is assigned to an e-mail address by an Internet access provider, online service provider, or other organization responsible for assigning e-mail addresses for the domain associated with the submitted e-mail address.
Release and Limitations of Liability: By participating in the Giveaway, entrants agree to release, defend indemnify and hold harmless the Giveaway Entities from and against any claim or cause of action, including without limitation, any third party claim, arising out of participation in the Giveaway or receipt, use or misuse of any prize, including, but not limited to: (a) unauthorized human intervention in the Giveaway; (b) technical errors related to computers, servers, providers, or telephone or network lines; (c) printing errors; (d) lost, late, postage-due, misdirected, or undeliverable mail; (e) errors in the administration of the Giveaway or the processing of entries; or (f) injury or damage to persons or property which may be caused, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, from entrant's participation in the Giveaway or receipt, use or misuse of any prize. Entrant further agrees that in any cause of action, the Giveaway Entities' liability will be limited to the cost of entering and participating in the Giveaway, and in no event shall the Giveaway Entities be liable for attorney's fees. Entrant waives the right to claim any damages whatsoever, including, but not limited to, punitive, consequential, direct, or indirect damages.
TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, THE PRIZES AND ALL ELEMENTS THEREOF ARE PROVIDED "AS IS" WITHOUT WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF ANY KIND. SPONSOR DISCLAIMS ALL EXPRESS AND IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION, OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, TITLE AND/OR NON-INFRINGEMENT. Some jurisdictions do not allow the disclaimer of implied warranties. In such jurisdictions, some of the foregoing disclaimers may not apply to you insofar as they relate to implied warranties.
Disputes: Except where prohibited, entrant agrees that any and all disputes, claims and causes of action arising out of, or connected with, the Giveaway or any prize awarded shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, and exclusively by the appropriate court located in the Commonwealth of Virginia. All issues and questions concerning the construction, validity, interpretation and enforceability of these Official Rules, entrant's rights and obligations, or the rights and obligations of the Sponsor in connection with the Giveaway, shall be governed by, and construed in accordance with, the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, without giving effect to any choice of law or conflict of law rules (whether of the Commonwealth of Virginia or any other jurisdiction), which would cause the application of the laws of any jurisdiction other than the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Giveaway Results: To request the names of the winners, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Engadget Back to School Giveaway Winners, 770 Broadway, Attn: J. Turi, New York, NY 10003. Requests must be received by September 30, 2012.