Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011: smartphones

Welcome to the Engadget Holiday Gift Guide! We're well aware of the heartbreaking difficulties surrounding the seasonal shopping experience, so we're here to help you sort out this year's tech treasures. Below is today's bevy of 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.

Jack Frost nipping at your phone and you need a new one? We know it can be difficult to decide on a smartphone to add to your holiday wish list, but if you're going to be hitting up all of the New Year's Eve parties, you don't want to be using something that's too embarrassing to take out of your pocket. This season offers a lot of tempting options: Ice Cream Sandwich, Windows Phone Mango and iPhone 4S are all worth drinking a lot of eggnog over. Unfortunately, there are so many tantalizing possibilities that we aren't able to include every single handset, but we've whittled it down to a mere nine devices that we think even Old Man Winter would enjoy. Join us after the break to help ring in the holiday cheer.

Note: Prices are subject to change. Amazon, for instance, is holding a week-long holiday sale (from November 21st to 28th) in which almost every smartphone is a penny.

Prepaid / Budget

HTC Wildfire S

Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 smartphones

We wonder if the "S" stands for stocking stuffer. HTC's following in the successful footsteps of LG's Optimus One lineup, bringing the handset to multiple prepaid and postpaid carriers. Is this going to be the fastest device you've ever used? With its 600MHz processor, we doubt it -- it's not a game-changer by any stretch, but the Wildfire S is still a reliable device that will satisfy anyone looking to get their first smartphone, and it's a great choice that'll give you a lot of bang for your tiny buck.

Key specs: 600MHz CPU, 3.2-inch HVGA display, 512MB RAM, 5MP camera with LED flash and Android 2.3.

Price: varies by carrier

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Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 smartphones

Samsung Conquer 4G

A smartphone with a 1GHz CPU and WiMAX for a mere copper cent? Yes, please. The Conquer earned our praise, packing a blizzard of functionality into a postpaid device that won't cost you a heckuva lot.

Price: $.01 (with contract) on Amazon

Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 smartphones

LG Optimus Slider

If you're going to be wearing gloves a lot this season, pulling them off to type on a capacitive touchscreen may result in a little frostbite. The LG Optimus Slider may let you keep those mitts on, with some nice features to boot.

Price: $200 on Virgin Mobile


Samsung Epic 4G Touch

Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 smartphones

Remember when Samsung's Galaxy S II graced the top of our Back to School guide? It's still on top, but -- much like the temperature -- its price has cooled down substantially, now that it's available on three of the four national players as a subsidized option. While all three come with our highest recommendation, the Epic 4G Touch is available for a truly mid-range price that provides a tannenbaum packed with righteous goodies underneath.

Key specs: 1.2GHz dual-core Exynos CPU, 8MP rear / 2MP front cameras and 1080p video capture, 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus display.

Price: $100 on Amazon

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Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 smartphones

Motorola Atrix 2

On the second day of Christmas, your true love may be getting you the sequel to Motorola's game-changing Webtop phone. The Atrix 2 comes with similar features but has a fresh design, better camera and the same performance for a lower price.

Price: $50 on Amazon

Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 smartphones

HTC Radar 4G

Android is by far the dominant force on the list, but Windows Phone refuses to be ignored. Its latest update, Mango, is featured on HTC's new offering for T-Mobile, the HTC Radar 4G, and is a great option if you're still looking to find a heartfelt gift.

Price: $100 on T-Mobile

Money's no object

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 smartphones

If there's one handset that won't be getting shipped back on Boxing Day, it's the drool-inducing Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Gaining notoriety as the first device running Android 4.0 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich), it has a gorgeous HD display and plenty of other top-notch specs. And don't underestimate the power of that Roboto font. We're still eager to see it come out to play on Verizon, but it's currently available in the UK.

Key specs: 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4460, 1GB RAM, 4.65-inch HD Super AMOLED display, 5MP rear / 1.3MP front cameras with 1080p HD video capture.

Price: $100 on Verizon

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Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 smartphones

Apple iPhone 4S

Now offering a 1GHz dual-core CPU with an 8MP rear camera, 1080p HD and best-in-class Siri voice recognition, the iPhone 4S still gets high marks -- even if some of its thunder was stolen by the Galaxy Nexus.

Price: $199-399 on Verizon, AT&T, Sprint

Engadget's holiday gift guide 2011 smartphones

HTC Vivid

The Vivid is one of the first LTE smartphones on AT&T's true 4G network, affording you super-fast virtual sleigh rides. Its sack of goodies is packed with a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU, 4.5-inch qHD display, 8MP rear cam and 1080p HD.

Price: $160 on Amazon