10 top smartphones: 5 for dads and 5 for grads

Smartphones make great gifts for tech-minded dads and students achieving their goals. Here are five handsets to consider for each group -- including one device that makes an ideal choice for either dad or grad.
1 of 11 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Top smartphones for dads and grads

It's that time of year: Students are graduating and we also spend a day honoring dear old dad. A smartphone is a very nice gift for both grads and dads, and I offer up my top five picks for each group in this image gallery.

Many dads are fans of mobile technology and for this group I picked the best high end smartphones that are available today. One phone is not yet available from a carrier in the US, but is readily available from online vendors,  including Amazon. Three phones are available on all major US carriers.

Students are more concerned about pricing, like to use their phone for social networking, and also are more likely to drop a phone given they are carrying them around campus, in backpacks, at parties, and on the bus.

As you can see in my image gallery, I have one phone that I picked across both lists and that is the iPhone 5s. I know it is very expensive, but it is also still my top smartphone of the year and offers superb functionality with little compromise across the board.

2 of 11 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Dad pick: Sony Xperia Z2

I spent a lot of money last month on a Sony Xperia Z2, but still feel it is the best Android smartphone available today and maybe even the best phone available today. You can find it for about $650 online, which is less than the iPhone 5s and about the same as all the other high end smartphones.

Your dad will love the high end glass and metal design, solid camera, and awesome media experiences. Make sure to pick up a docking cradle that lets you charge up the Z2 without removing any covers while also serving as a photo frame on his desk.

3 of 11 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Dad pick: HTC One (M8)

If amazing design is the first priority for your father, then the HTC One (M8) is a device to consider. HTC knows design and their full metal jacket feels wonderful in your hand. The BoomSound speakers are also sure to blow him away.

The HTC One (M8) is the zippiest performer I have used running Android and has the Sense 6 user interface that never disappoints. The Duo Camera offers some fun effects and is excellent for capturing moments to share on your social networks.

4 of 11 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Dad pick: Samsung Galaxy S5

My wife tells me daily that she loves her new Samsung Galaxy S5 and if I didn't like my Z2 so much I would likely pick one of these up too. The S5 has an awesome camera, feels light in the hand, has a gorgeous display, and is also waterproof.

If you want to buy a device that is guaranteed to perform well for a couple of years, it is nice to get one with a removable battery like the S5. Samsung has plenty of software utilities and the S5 is great for the dad who likes to spend time discovering everything on a phone.

5 of 11 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Dad pick: Apple iPhone 5s

You really can't go wrong with an iPhone and the iPhone 5s is an awesome smartphone. The display is one of the smallest available on a smartphone today, but that also means it is one of the most pocketable devices available as well.

The camera always performs well, the TouchID button is a great security feature, every app you can imagine seems to launch first on the iPhone and most function extremely well. There is likely a new iPhone coming this fall, but the iPhone 5s will also be getting an iOS 8 upgrade so there is not much risk in buying one now.

6 of 11 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Dad pick: Verizon Nokia Lumia Icon

If your dad is on Verizon and wants a rock solid phone with a unique smartphone user interface then you might consider the Nokia Lumia Icon. It will soon be receiving the Windows Phone 8.1 upgrade that adds many improvements to an elegant operating system.

Nokia phones cannot be beat when it comes to camera performance so if your dad only takes photos with his phone then the Lumia Icon is the one. It is a rather heavy smartphone, but it is well designed and still feels great in the hand.

7 of 11 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Grad pick: Republic Wireless Moto G

If you are looking for a low cost phone and a low cost carrier plan, then it is difficult to beat the Republic Wireless Moto G. Given that colleges have extensive WiFi networks, this is a perfect device for the high school student moving on to college. At less than $180 for the higher capacity model, the Moto G offers an excellent value.

The form factor is great for your pocket and in-hand comfort while the performance and Motorola customizations enhance the user experience. I still pop my SIM in my Moto X to take advantage of the Motorola software and would consider a Moto G too.

8 of 11 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Grad pick: LG G2

LG just announced their upcoming G3, but it won't be available until at least the end of June at the full high end smartphone price. The LG G2 may be last year's phone, but it is one of the best. If your grad takes lots of photos, the LG G2 13 megapixel camera is tough to beat.

LG continues to update the G2 and it can be found for a deal on most carriers. The button design is unique, but for young adults who like to try out new things it may be quite appealing. There is a lot of software and capability packed into a device that optimizes the display from side-to-side.

9 of 11 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Grad pick: HTC One (M7)

The HTC One (M7) was my favorite smartphone of 2013 and it is still a worthy device to consider. HTC is just about done updating all of these models from last year to the latest and greatest Android operating system with Sense 6 and the camera is just about the same as the new HTC One (M8).

The HTC One (M7) is a marvel of design, has a wonderful display, and excellent BoomSound speakers to rock any dorm room. It is available in multiple colors and now at a great price given that the new 2014 model is out.

10 of 11 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Grad pick: Google Nexus 5

Google's reference design phone is a great choice, especially for those students who want to make sure to have the latest operating system updates and like a pure Google phone. The Nexus 5 is available for a reasonable price and offers high end specifications.

The camera gets better with software updates and comes with OIS to help you capture those moments when you are moving. It has a large 5 inch display so information is easy to see on the IPS display panel.

11 of 11 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Grad pick: Apple iPhone 5s

Many students spend way too much time on social networks and also like to have what their friends have so the iPhone 5s has to be considered. It is a very expensive phone and I have seen more broken iPhones than any other phone so you may want to buy the AppleCare+ insurance in case it drops on campus.

I wouldn't ever recommend saving $100 for the iPhone 5c and already made that mistake with one daughter. The iPhone 5s takes great photos, offers up all the applications a student could ever need, and has a 3rd party accessory market that cannot be beat.

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