Google's new version of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), brings enough new features that it's worth making sure your phone will get an update if you're buying a new one for the holidays.
Some manufacturers have been more open than others when it comes to planning their ICS upgrades. Of course, if you get the Samsung Galaxy Nexus whenever it comes out on Verizon Wireless, you'll get ICS first—although as our full review shows, it will lack Facebook integration and Mass Storage support, which other phones may have.
HTC has announced that several of its high-end smartphones will get ICS upgrades in 2012, and that's sure to include HTC's Sense overlay, with its better social-networking integration and improved lock screen. No carrier is left out: You can choose from the HTC Vivid (AT&T), HTC Sensation and Amaze 4G (T-Mobile), HTC Rezound (Verizon Wireless), and the HTC EVO 3D and EVO Design 4G (Sprint).
Sony Ericsson has committed to ICS for many of its phones, but most of them aren't available from U.S. carriers. The only one we've seen in carrier stores has been the Xperia Play gaming phone, available in both Verizon and AT&T models.
Motorola says the Droid RAZR and Droid Bionic, both for Verizon Wireless, will get ICS updates. No word on the rest of the company's phone product line.
Samsung has been less forthcoming, confirming Ice Cream Sandwich only for the unlocked Galaxy S II, and with no particular date. AT&T's model is the closest to the international unit, though, so it's the most likely U.S. Galaxy S II to receive the update.
If you're a killer geek, of course, you'll probably be able to push ICS onto almost any phone you can get your hands on. Hackers have already adapted ICS for the Samsung Nexus S, which may be your best no-contract budget buy for the new OS; it's available in T-Mobile ($99.99 at Wirefly), AT&T, and Sprint ($99.99 at Sprint) flavors.
We're sure to hear more about Ice Cream Sandwich upgrades now that the OS has been open-sourced. But if you want to assure yourself of a smooth upgrade, it's best to go with one of the phones that you know will be getting the new software.
The HTC Vivid is a powerful Android phone with a beautiful screen and fast 4G LTE data on AT&T's brand new network.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play 4G is an excellent phone for gaming, and a solid phone in its own right; just make sure it has games you want to play.
HTC EVO Design 4G
The HTC EVO Design 4G is a comfortable world phone that offers solid performance and 4G speeds at a good price.
Samsung Nexus S 4G
We found the Nexus S 4G's call quality and reception to be sorely lacking, but you can't deny that it's been the darling of the "pure Google" geek crowd, and it's the first phone to get new hacks.
HTC Sensation 4G
The HTC Sensation offers a great balance of dual-core power with the elegance of HTC's Sense UI extensions to Android.
HTC Amaze 4G
The HTC Amaze 4G has a big beautiful screen, a great camera, and fast HSPA+ 42 speeds, making it a top choice for Android smartphones on T-Mobile.
Motorola Droid RAZR
The Motorola Droid RAZR is stunningly thin for a 4G LTE smartphone, made from cutting-edge materials to deliver a slim body without sacrificing power.
The HTC Rezound is an amazing Internet and multimedia machine that fits into your pocket, but it's a bulky piece of kit
Samsung Galaxy S II
One of the finest Android smartphones available today, the unlocked Samsung Galaxy S II delivers in almost every way. Thing is, it's so expensive, it almost prices itself out of the market.