Note: The site described in this blog entry no longer exists. The market has diversified a great deal meaning that there was more than one obvious choice for people in a catagory, and no one used this site. So I took it down.
Which cell phone to buy has become an increasingly difficult question to answer. Not because there are more options now than ever before, but because it matters now in the age of smartphones. 6 years ago, all phones sucked, full stop. If you wanted a smartphone, your options were a device running Windows Mobile, Blackberry OS, or Palm OS, all of which had terrible user experiences. You were also in a fairly elite category of users, and likely had the resources to properly research your purchase. For everyone else, there were crummy feature-phones that didn't do anything well, save voice and SMS.
That all changed in 2007 with the advent of the iPhone. The smartphone was elevated to a level of polish, simplicity, and approachability that they'd never seen before. Ordinary, non-nerd users started wanting smartphones. And with the advent of Android, there were tons to choose from, most of them terrible. So I created "Which Phone do I Buy?", a tool to help non-nerds choose a cell phone. There's really only a couple choices worth considering for each carrier based on a few simple criteria. Are you a non-nerd who wants a great smartphone? Give it a try—it'll only take you 3 minutes or less.
There are a couple of caveats. I don't care about price, because American carriers subsidize everything so any phone worth having costs around $200 out of pocket with a 2-year contract. It's never worth going for a cheaper phone; if you go the $100 route, you will have either an old device or a crummy, low-end device that will make you miserable for the better part of 2 years. Isn't $4.17 a month worth your personal happiness?
Also, if you have opinions about whether or not a phone's radio has full receive diversity, a replaceable battery, access to your filesystem, is easily unlockable, has a great selection of third-party ROMs, supports your favorite wireless charging standard, has an NFC radio, has OpenCL drivers, etc., you're a nerd. In fact, if you understand any of the above, this guide is not for you. This is for people that just want a quality phone to use day to day, and don't want to devote the time poring over tech journals, such as The Verge and Anandtech, and trying out a dozen handsets before making a purchase.
I consider camera quality, hardware build quality, software, app ecosystem, speed, polish, and reliability. There's only 4 phones I currently recommend to non-nerds, and these change month to month. Most people at the time of writing are better off with an iPhone 5—it's simple, high quality, and if anything goes wrong, you bring it to the Apple store to have it serviced, often for free. That's hard to beat. It's not my personal choice for myself. In fact, my phone isn't even on the list of 4 phones I currently recommend to normals. But in case you haven't noticed, I'm a bit of a nerd.