2012 smartphone Christmas buying guide

The best smartphones your money can buy this Christmas

Christmas is almost upon us yet again and what better way to spoil a loved one (or yourself) by giving them the gift of a new smartphone?

Competition in the smartphone market has never been so fierce. Apple's iPhone remains one of the most popular choices in Australia, but Google's Android platform continues to grow at a rapid rate with excellent handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S III. Then there's the new kid on the block, the refreshing and vibrant Microsoft Windows Phone 8 software used by the once dominant Nokia (and a handful of other manufacturers).

If you're looking for a smartphone this Christmas for a family member, a friend or even for yourself, we've rounded up the best choices on offer for all types of people. Whether you just want the best of the best, you're on a strict budget, or you're just looking for great value, here are the best smartphones for Christmas 2012. Remember to click on the image of each phone to read our full review.

Best of the best

If money is no concern and you're just after one of the best smartphones on the market, these are just the selections you should consider.

Top pick: Apple iPhone 5

The iPhone 5 is without a doubt the best iPhone Apple has produced. It's stunningly thin and light, has an excellent screen and an outstanding camera. It also has the largest and most comprehensive library of third-party apps and the widest range of accessories available. If you're already ingrained in the Apple ecosystem, or you're looking for a fully featured smartphone that's a cinch to use, the iPhone 5 is your best option.

Alternate pick: Samsung Galaxy S III

The popular Galaxy S III was one of the most hyped smartphones of the year and for very good reason. Samsung's combination of impressive hardware and excellent, intuitive software makes this phone a very compelling package. It has a much bigger screen than the iPhone and Google's Android platform makes it far more flexible. A great gift for anyone at Christmas.

Worth a mention: Nokia Lumia 920

If you can get past its sheer size and hefty weight, Nokia's new Lumia 920 is a compelling option. It's superbly constructed, has the best camera on the market and comes with a excellent display. You'll have to live without some third-party apps due to the limited Windows Phone ecosystem, but once you do you'll find a fast, functional and intuitive smartphone that has come compelling built-in features and services.

Great value

If you're looking for a smartphone that offers excellent value for money, here's the options you should consider. These selections provide great bang for your buck.

Top pick: Google Nexus 4

If value for money is what you're looking for this Christmas it's simply impossible to overlook Google's latest Nexus smartphone, the LG-manufactured Nexus 4. It features a 4.7in IPS screen, has an 8-megapixel camera and comes with the latest version of Android. It lacks 4G connectivity and doesn't have any expandable memory but at this price you can't complain. The problem will be finding one, as they sold out from Google's Play Store within an hour of going on sale. More stock is expected soon but it's a lottery as to whether you'll be able to nab one before Christmas. If you've been good to Santa, you might be lucky!

Alternate pick: Motorola RAZR M

Smartphones are getting bigger and bigger in size but if you're looking for something a little more compact, Motorola's RAZR M should fit the bill. Proving that bigger isn't always better, the RAZR M sacrifices little in the way of performance or features to achieve its compact and ultimately impressive design. Anyone who likes smaller phones should seriously consider it.

Worth a mention: HTC One S

The HTC One S may be smaller than the flagship One X, but it certainly doesn't look or feel inferior. A lower resolution display is the main differentiator, but the One S makes up for that with a design that's more comfortable to hold and it offers better battery life than the more expensive model.

Top cheapies

If you want a cheap but capable smartphone and you can't afford to break the bank, here's the devices you should take a look at.

Read more: Christmas gift guide: the best tech gadgets and more for family and friends

Top pick: Huawei Ascend G300

You've probably never heard of the brand Huawei before, but don't let that worry you. The company's Ascend G300 successfully redefines how much value you can expect to get from a smartphone. While not perfect, it has an excellent design, a great screen and intuitive software that performs well. Now retailing for under $150, this is without a doubt the best budget smartphone on the market. A great stocking filler.

Alternate pick: HTC Desire X

If you can stretch your budget a little further, Optus might tempt you with the HTC Desire X. For $299 you get the distinctive style of the company's higher end devices on a low-cost, pre-paid phone. The lack of a front-facing camera and some annoying software issues aside, the Desire X is a winner thanks to an excellent design and a great display.

Worth a mention: Huawei Ascend Y100

How much smartphone does $79 buy you? Huawei answers that question with the Ascend Y100. It has a tiny screen, a mediocre camera and average performance. At this price, however, can you really complain? This is a fully featured Android phone for a fantastically low price. It would make an ideal second handset or a low-cost Christmas gift.

Need for 4G speed

If you absolutely must have 4G connectivity, here's our selections. Do note that only Telstra and Optus (along with Virgin Mobile) currently operate a 4G network. Vodafone will launch its 4G network sometime in 2013).

Top pick: Samsung Galaxy Note II

Can over 10 million people be wrong? That's how many Galaxy Note smartphones Samsung has sold worldwide since its release last year. It's already sold 5 million of its successor, the Galaxy Note II. It has a larger 5.5in screen, a faster, quad-core processor and runs the newest version of Google's Android platform, 4.1 Jelly Bean. The Galaxy Note II is one of the best Android phones we've ever used.

Alternate pick: HTC Windows Phone 8X

HTC has partnered with Microsoft to promote its new 8X as a "signature Windows Phone". The Windows Phone 8X by HTC is a polycarbonate slab that offers excellent performance and features one of the most attractive physical designs on the market. There's no expandable memory, some odd design ergonomics and a limited Windows Phone third-party app ecosystem, but this is a refreshing alternative.

Worth a mention: Motorola RAZR HD

Boasting a huge 2530mAh battery, 4G connectivity and a large 4.7in screen, Motorola claims the RAZR HD is an "all day" Android phone. The RAZR HD definitely lasts a little longer than many of its competitors, giving it a slight advantage in the battery life stakes. The RAZR HD's industrial look and feel won't strike a positive chord with everyone but it's a well-built smartphone with some intuitive software.

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

PC World
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