Engadget's back to school guide 2011: smartphones

Welcome to Engadget's Back to School guide! We know that this time of year can be pretty annoying and stressful for everyone, so we're here to help out with the heartbreaking process of gadget buying for the school-aged crowd. Today, we're tapping away on our 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 the month we'll be giving away a ton of the gear featured in our guides -- and hit up the hub page right here!

Engadget's back to school guide 2011 smartphones

Now more than ever, collegiate studies require a wide variety of devices to help you get that prized "A." The thirst for knowledge you so desperately seek can strike at any time, and you're not always going to have that desktop or laptop nearby to find the answer to a burning question. Perhaps you just need to hurl birds at pigs for a while to blow off your stress. Whatever the case, you'll need something to help you study, store (and edit) all of your important term papers, keep you in touch with classmates or family, and everything in-between. What better way to get all of that than with a smartphone? We've picked nine respectable candidates that can help you through your upcoming semester -- three for each budget level. Oh, and while you're looking, we're giving away $3,000 worth of essential back to school gear to 15 lucky readers, and you can be one of them by simply leaving a comment below! So, which phones are most likely to help you get smart? Head past the break to find out.

Prepaid / Budget

LG Optimus One


LG certainly made a big splash with its massive lineup of Optimus One devices, which spans several mobile providers in the US. Much of LG's success here is owed to its simplicity; instead of trying to be the best out there, the company seemed intent on making sure the One was the best-performing phone in the prepaid world. Even nine months after its debut, this phone is still making the grade.

Key specs: 600MHz CPU, 3.2-inch HVGA display, 3.2MP camera, Android 2.2

Price: varies by carrier

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Motorola Triumph

The Triumph is a curious name for a phone designed specifically for a prepaid provider, but nevertheless it's still a powerful device when you consider what you'll pay at retail (remember, prepaid = no contract). It comes with a punchy 1GHz CPU, 5MP camera and 720p HD video capture, and a 4.1-inch WVGA screen. And it'll definitely be the subject of jealousy among your roomates.

Price: $270 (without contract) on Amazon


HTC Merge

After a long wait, this Android handset finally has a home at US Cellular -- good news for anyone who would rather have a solid phone with a QWERTY keyboard than the latest and greatest slate phone on the market. Throw in an 800MHz CPU, 512MB of RAM, and a 5MP camera, and the Merge is a tempting deal.

Price: $300 (without contract) on US Cellular


T-Mobile G2x


The G2x may have started off on the wrong foot, but it's become one of T-Mobile's flagships for a reason. Also known worldwide as the LG Optimus 2X, it's a power-packed HSPA+ Android handset, and is one of the most reasonably priced dual-core phones you can find. Oh, and make sure you check out the Tegra Zone for cool games to play during a boring lecture.

Key specs: 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 CPU, 8MP rear / 1.3MP front cameras and 1080p video capture, 4-inch WVGA display, stock Android 2.3

Price: $150 on T-Mobile

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Samsung Nexus S 4G

With the recent drop in price, the Nexus S 4G is now the least expensive WiMAX-powered handset on Sprint's lineup. But don't let that fool you -- it's a high-quality phone despite the budget-conscious pricetag. Oh, and built-in NFC will make it easier to purchase decorations for your dorm room with Google Wallet.

Price: $.01 on Amazon


Samsung Focus

Android may dominate our list, but we don't want to forget Microsoft's recent push into the market. Windows Phone 7 may still be an underdog behind Android and iOS, but it's still a solid choice for school -- and the Focus has the hardware to back it up. With this fall's Mango update forthcoming, the package is even more appealing.

Price: $.01 on Amazon

Money's no object

Samsung Galaxy S II


Were you expecting to see an Apple device up here? We think it's a worthy contender, but with a pending (unannounced) refresh on its way, the iPhone 4 just didn't make the cut for back to school. This time, Samsung bested Apple as the class valedictorian with its Galaxy S II. It's currently available as an unlocked GSM device that will work -- and very well, we might add -- on any GSM network around the world. The GSII is one of the fastest (if not the fastest) devices we've played with to date, and fully embodies the term "superphone." The best news is that we can expect one on each major US carrier very soon.

Key specs: 1.2GHz dual-core Exynos CPU, 1GB RAM, 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display, 8.49mm thick, 8MP rear / 2MP front cameras

Price: $629 unlocked on Amazon

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Samsung Droid Charge

The Droid Charge is a wonderful choice to harness Verizon's blazing-fast LTE speeds, with a gorgeous Super AMOLED Plus display, excellent performance, and the best battery life among its Verizon 4G brethren. A winning combination for looking up last week's lecture notes online.

Price: $70-170 on Amazon


T-Mobile myTouch 4G Slide

It's got all of the specs you need to capture memories of tonight's frat party and get work done tomorrow: a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU and an 8MP camera with 1080p video record are just a couple reasons why we like the myTouch 4G Slide. Need one more? A stellar QWERTY keyboard for easy notetaking.

Price: $200 on Amazon

Engadget's Back to School Giveaway
Official Rules
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 12PM ET on August 2, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011 (the "Giveaway Period"). The Giveaway Period shall be divided into fifteen (15) separate Entry Periods:

Entry Period 1 begins at 12PM ET on August 2, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 2 begins at 12PM ET on August 2, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 3 begins at 12PM ET on August 3, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 4 begins at 12PM ET on August 5, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 5 begins at 12PM ET on August 8, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 6 begins at 12PM ET on August 10, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 7 begins at 12PM ET on August 12, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 8 begins at 12PM ET on August 15, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 9 begins at 12PM ET on August 17, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 10 begins at 12PM ET on August 19, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 11 begins at 12PM ET on August 22, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 12 begins at 12PM ET on August 24, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 13 begins at 12PM ET on August 26, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 14 begins at 12PM ET on August 29, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 15 begins at 12PM ET on August 31, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.

Entry: During the Giveaway Period, go to and add a comment 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 Pavilion dm1z laptop, Sony NEX-C3 digital camera, Samsung 7" Galaxy Tab, Motorola Photon 4G (Sprint) smartphone, Altec Lansing Octiv 650 speaker doc, Bowers & Wilkins C5 headphones, Nook E-reader, Timbuk2 Command Messenger bag, Elgato HDHomeRun TV tuner, Kingston Wi-Drive, 1-year Premium Spotify subscription, Scosche: goBAT II, iMainGo: X, G-Form 11" Extreme Sleeve, Canon X Mark I Mouse Lite, 1-year Premium Skype subscription, Sonic Bomb Alarm Clock, Red Swingline Stapler, Toddy Smart Cloth and Pogo Sketch. Approximate Retail Value of each Prize Pack is $3,151. 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.


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, Zach Honig, 770 Broadway, New York, NY 10003. Requests must be received by September 30, 2011.