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Engadget's Holiday Gift Guide 2013 Smartphones

Who doesn't want a new smartphone? Even if you love the handset in your pocket, there's bound to be a newer, higher-specced device calling your name. If you're generous enough to give the ultimate mobile-tech gift, we'd like to help. We've lined up the hottest phones both on- and off-contract, from less than $100 to north of $500. Extra points if you foot the bill for the giftee's early termination fee.

ON THE CHEAP

Google Nexus 5

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One of the most hotly anticipated phones of the year has finally arrived, and the LG-manufactured Nexus 5 looks every bit as awesome as expected. With Android KitKat running on a 5-inch, 1080p display and a Snapdragon 800 chip under the hood, Google's flagship boasts some of the freshest specs in its class. Oh, and wireless charging is also on board, along with an improved rear camera. -- Sarah Silbert

Key specs: 4.95-inch (1,920 x 1,080) IPS display, 2.26GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU, 2GB of RAM, up to 32GB of internal storage, global LTE, 8MP rear/1.3MP front cameras.

Price: $42 up front and $17 for two years from T-Mobile; $50 on-contract from Sprint; $349 from Google Play

Nokia Lumia 620

One of the best examples of a Windows Phone device also happens to be one of the least expensive. Retailing for about $200 to $250 unlocked (that's the key here), the Lumia 620 is quite the steal with its 3.8-inch screen, 5MP camera and microSD support. The usual caveats about Windows Phone's relatively sparse app store apply, but the Lumia 620 is still recommended. Those looking for a bigger screen may want to check out the 4.7-inch Lumia 625, which boasts 4G and retails for a similar price. -- Philip Palermo, Copy Editor

Key specs: 3.8-inch (800 x 480) ClearBlack display, 1GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus, 8GB of internal storage, 5MP rear/0.3MP front cameras.

Price: From $200 on Amazon

LG Optimus G Pro

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True, it's no longer new, but the LG Optimus G Pro still takes the cake as one of my favorite phones, regardless of price. The 5.5-inch, 1080p IPS display is gorgeous, and the Snapdragon 600 CPU runs Android Jelly Bean without a hitch. And this is just plain cool: The LED notification light underneath the home button glows in an array of colors. Simply put, if you want to stay well below $200 and a stylus isn't necessary, the G Pro is a great alternative to the Galaxy Note 3. -- Sarah Silbert, Senior Editor

Key specs: 5.5-inch (1,920 x 1,080) IPS display, 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 CPU, 2GB of RAM, up to 32GB of internal storage, 13MP rear/2.1MP front cameras.

Price: $50 on-contract from AT&T; from $490 off-contract on Amazon

MID-RANGE

Moto X

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You can actually talk to the Moto X because it's always listening thanks to Google Now, the company's intelligent assistant software. Its use of Active Display notifications -- pull the phone out of your pocket and the display will automatically show any new notifications from the lock screen -- will ensure you never look at another smartphone the same way again. And then there's the whole customization element; you can design your phone with different back, front and accent colors via the online Moto Maker tool. -- Joseph Volpe, Senior Editor

Key specs: 4.7-inch (1,280 x 720) display, dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU, quad-core Adreno 320 GPU and two specialized cores (custom X8 architecture), 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, 10MP rear/2MP front cameras.

Price: Free on-contract from Sprint; $25 from US Cellular; $50 from AT&T; $100 from Verizon; $530 off-contract from Amazon

Apple iPhone 5c

Early adopters have flocked to the iPhone 5c's more expensive sibling, but Apple's multi-hued offering is still plenty gift-worthy. Humans are visual creatures, after all, and the five candy-bright colors available are sure to catch the eye. The steel-reinforced shell makes it sturdier than it looks, too. Throw in an impressive display and a speedy processor (on par with the iPhone 5), and we're sold. -- Melissa Grey, former Associate Editor

Key specs: 4-inch (1,136 x 640) display, A6 CPU, 1GB RAM, up to 32GB of internal storage, 8MP iSight rear/1.2MP front cameras.

Price: Free on-contract from Sprint; $50 up front and $20.83 per month for two years from T-Mobile; $100 on plans from AT&T and Verizon; $549 contract-free from Apple

HTC One

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This year's flagship from HTC is also Android's current crown jewel, as far as I'm concerned. The One's industrial design is simply world-class, from its luscious LCD to its precision-engineered aluminum chassis. Combine that with a powerful 1.7GHz quad-core processor, an above-par camera and LTE speeds, and you've got an Android phone that's just as covetable as that handset from the other side of the aisle. -- Nicole Lee, Associate Editor

Key Specs: 4.7-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display, 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, 2GB of RAM, up to 64GB of internal storage, 4MP rear/2.1MP front cameras.

Price: $50 up front and $23 per month for two years from T-Mobile; $75 on-contract from AT&T; $100 from Sprint; $150 from Verizon; from $575 unlocked on Amazon

MONEY IS NO OBJECT

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Samsung has set the phablet bar high ever since it first introduced the original Galaxy Note, and this year's iteration is an obvious pick for Android fans whose hands can manage a 5.7-inch screen. A Snapdragon 800 chip provides speedy performance, and a newly refined S Pen works with some genuinely useful apps such as S Finder. If you're also planning on picking up Samsung's Galaxy Gear, you'll enjoy integration via a companion app. -- Sarah Silbert

Key specs: 5.7-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display, 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU, 3GB of RAM, up to 32GB of internal storage, 13MP rear/2MP front cameras.

Price: $200 up front and $21 per month for two years from T-Mobile; $250 from Sprint; $300 on plans from AT&T and Verizon; from $700 unlocked on Amazon

Apple iPhone 5s

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If you're determined to win the "best gift" prize this year, you've got three choices. You can build your nearest and dearest a flying car, grab 'em a trip on a Virgin Galactic flight to space or buy Apple's latest iPhone. Carrying over everything that the world loved about the iPhone 5, the company also added a fingerprint scanner for more security, future-proof internals and an even better camera. Oh, and this year's model comes in gold, and if that isn't swag, we don't know what is. -- Daniel Cooper, Associate Editor

Key specs: 4-inch (1,136 x 640) Retina display, A7 CPU, M7 motion coprocessor, 1GB of RAM, up to 64GB of internal storage, 8MP rear/1.2MP front cameras.

Price: $100 from Sprint; $150 up front and $20.83 per month for two years from T-Mobile; $200 on plans from AT&T and Verizon; $649 and up contract-free from Apple

HTC One Google Play edition

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Yes, we like this phone so much we're including it twice. The original One is high on the list of breathtaking handsets we've ever laid our hands on, but it wasn't without its issues. At least one of those problems, HTC's continued insistence on customizing Android, is solved with the release of the Play edition, which runs the stock version of Google's mobile OS. As an added bonus, it comes unlocked and contract-free. Sadly, there's nothing we can do about the slightly bewildering button layout. -- Terrence O'Brien, Deputy Managing Editor

Key specs: 4.7-inch (1,920 x 1,080) IPS display, quad-core Snapdragon 600 CPU, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, 4MP rear/2.1MP front cameras.

Price: $599 from Google Play

Nokia Lumia 1020

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You've seen the commercial: parents jostling for the best front-row space to snap photos of their darling child's terrible primary school performance. Well, yeah, you too can be a smug smartphone owner sitting back and taking advantage of the 1020's 41-megapixel camera and incredible zoom. It's real, not hype. Apart from best-in-class image quality, the 1020 delivers the Lumia lineup's solid design and bold color options. -- Joseph Volpe

Key specs: 4.5-inch (1,280 x 768) display, 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus CPU, 2GB of RAM, up to 32GB of internal storage, 41MP autofocus with flash rear/1.2MP front cameras.

Price: $100 on-contract from AT&T; from $645 contract-free on Amazon

Updated with pricing adjustments on 11/22/13.

Giveaway

Sony Digital Noise-Canceling Headphones

The holidays are a perfect time to jump on the noise-canceling headphone bandwagon, wouldn't you say? Sony's over-ears will blur out the real world with your choice of airplane, bus and office modes. Enter the raffle below for a chance to win a pair, and make sure to check out our giveaway rules.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The rules:

  • Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
  • Contest is open to all residents of the 50 States and the District of Columbia, 18 or older! Sorry, we don't make this rule (we hate excluding anyone).
  • Winners will be chosen randomly. One winner will receive one (1) pair of Sony Digital Noise Canceling Headphones.
  • If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes a contact email. Social media contact details are not carried over into our system.
  • This unit is purely for promotional giveaway. Sony and Engadget/AOL are not held liable to honor warranties, exchanges or customer service.
  • The full list of rules, in all its legalese glory, can be found here.
  • Entries can be submitted until December 31st, 2013 at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!

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Engadget's 2013 Holiday Gift Guide: Smartphones