Engadget's Holiday Gift Guide: Smartphones

Welcome to the Engadget Holiday Gift Guide! The team here is well aware of the heartbreaking difficulties of the seasonal shopping experience, and we want to help you sort through the trash and come up with the treasures this year. Below is today's bevy of hand curated picks, and you can head back to the Gift Guide hub to see the rest of the product guides as they're added throughout the holiday season.

If your BFF's HTC has a code name like Blue Angel, Harrier, or Canary, trust us: the time has come to intervene and forcefully bring that particular chapter of their technological life to a close. It's 2009, after all, and with devices like the Pre, iPhone 3GS, and Droid all coming to market in the past few months, there's never been a better time to be a smartphone lover, buyer, or -- in this case -- giver. Of course, in the States, giving a phone as a gift isn't the easiest thing in the world since you've got contracts to worry about, but it can be done -- even if you've got to drag the lucky recipient kicking and screaming into the store and hold their hand to the dotted line. So let's get to it, shall we?


Stocking Stuffer

Samsung Omnia - As gifts go, it's hard to beat "free," especially if the free thing isn't a hunk of crap. Verizon's original Omnia was a pretty stellar smartphone when it launched last year, and it's every bit as good today -- especially when you consider that the launch of the Omnia II has pushed its asking price down into oblivion. Seriously, there aren't many smartphones that you can get on contract for less than a disposable plastic flip on contract, let alone good ones, and this time-tested old-timer should be a welcome freebie for anyone with contract room to spare and a penchant for Verizon.

Free - Buy from Verizon

Nokia E71x - Say what you will of S60, the E71 series is arguably the best phone Nokia has ever made -- and there were more when a few heartfelt cheers let loose when AT&T finally confirmed that it'd be bringing it in a particularly sexy blacked-out scheme as the E71x. The phone was a good value back when it launched at $99.99, but thanks to the magic of competition, price pressure, and time's merciless march, it's now down to $49.99 on a new contract. BlackBerry fans might cringe, but we dare you to find a BlackBerry that feels this good in the hand.

$49.99 - Buy from AT&T

T-Mobile Shadow - That Omnia up there isn't the only WinMo-based device that's a ridiculously good deal right now. T-Mobile's revised Shadow, sourced from none other than HTC, is just about the funkiest smartphone you've never heard of with availability in two colors, a sliding 20-key keyboard, and -- this is important -- compatibility with the carrier's WiFi calling service. Considering that it sold for $199.99 when it launched earlier this year, $29.99 on contract after rebate is a heck of a deal -- you can almost picture it in your teenager's too-baggy pants pocket, can't you?

$29.99 - Buy from T-Mobile

You shouldn't have

Palm Pixi - Alright, yes, we wish it had WiFi and a slightly faster processor -- and frankly, so will your giftee. But at the end of the day, the Pixi makes a fine Centro successor, and considering the Centro's epic popularity, it seems that the public at large is pretty enamored with this particular form factor. Plus, we're shocked by how much we like the Pixi's keyboard -- and webOS is still one of the prettiest smartphone platforms on the market today (if not the prettiest), which'll at least keep your loved one occupied from morning all the way through to holiday supper as they fiddle their way through cards, gestures, and app trials. That's a win in our book.

$99.99 - Buy from Sprint

HTC Droid Eris - The Droid Eris gets just a small fraction of the publicity and advertising dollars that its flashier brother from another mother gets, but what Verizon fails to properly explain is that this phone is perhaps the best Hero variant on the market today. The firmware is reasonably snappy, it carries over the 5 megapixel cam, and it's got a proximity sensor that you won't find on Sprint's version or any other -- and trust us, your lucky recipient will thank you for this each and every time they need to enter touch tones during a call.

$99.99 - Buy from Verizon

RIM BlackBerry 8520 Curve - The Curve line has been a tremendous success for RIM, and for good reason -- it kicks BlackBerry's buttoned-up image down a notch or three for that corporate hipster in your life while keeping all of the enterprise and security features that make their office IT guy happy. The 8520 ups the ante by throwing in an optical pad, a feature viewed with much consternation from longtime BlackBerry users that typically causes their icy heart to melt the first time they actually use it. While it's just out of stocking stuffer territory, it's still pretty cheap for a full QWERTY BlackBerry -- and the corporate raider in your life will be eternally grateful. Or, at least until the same time next year.

$129.99 - Buy from T-Mobile
$49.99 - Buy from AT&T

Palm Pre - Look, the Pixi isn't for everyone -- and frankly, if you tried to give it to a true WiFi-loving geek this holiday season, you stand a very real chance of getting a brand new phone thrown directly at your melon. If you want to give the gift of webOS but step up to a faster processor, 802.11b / g, and a sliding keyboard, you might want to pony up for the Pre which runs $50 more -- pricier, sure, but still $50 less than what it went for at launch.

$149.99 - Buy from Sprint

We can't afford the rent now, can we?

HTC Touch Pro2 / Tilt2 - HTC's latest full landscape QWERTY venture is a one-two punch of awesome: not only did we find it to be an absolutely fantastic WinMo device in our testing, but it's one of those mega-rare phones that's available on all four US national carriers, which means you can buy this sucker for your sweetie regardless of their carrier preference. You might call it a win / win / win / win. Be sure to write that in the card... and credit us for it.

$349.99 - Buy from T-Mobile
$199.99 - Buy from Verizon
$299.99 - Buy from AT&T
$349.99 - Buy from Sprint

Motorola Droid - It's impossible to escape this holiday season without a few mentions of Motorola's Android-laden beast, and odds are good that you know a couple people on your list that wouldn't mind stuffing one in their pocket. As a refresher, the Droid's got Android 2.0, a lovely capacitive WVGA display, 5 megapixel cam with LED flash, and OMAP3 horsepower -- better than the typical Android device's ARM11 core that's in widespread use these days.

$199.99 - Buy from Verizon

Apple iPhone 3GS - Oh, come on -- if you're telling us you can't think of a friend or family member that wants an iPhone 3GS on some level and hasn't yet taken the plunge... well, perhaps you've just done a really good job of equipping them with Pres and Android handsets, but the more likely scenario is that you're lying to yourself. What makes the iPhone particularly cool as a gift is that Apple offers gift cards specifically for the phone -- something carriers usually don't, which makes it a relatively painless process for your recipient.

$199.00 to $299.00 - Buy from AT&T, Buy from Apple