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That's a theme for a lot of our honorable mentions: The tradeoffs that you have a lower-end LTE phone may not be tradeoffs that 1) you notice or 2) you care about. A lower-end camera may be plenty "good enough," for example. And a less powerful processor may still deliver all the speed you need.
One example, an "honorable mention" at Sprint, is the Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE, now $50 with mail-in rebate. Its display may lack the "wow factor," as PCMag says, but one customer review says it has "plenty of resolution for the size, plenty of RAM, an S4 processor [from Qualcomm], and decent design and decent-sized battery."
Speaking of battery, users in reviews are all over the map about whether battery life is acceptable (except for users of the incredibly long-lived Motorola Droid Razr Maxx and Maxx HD models). For almost any given LTE phone, you can find reviews that complain bitterly about short battery life and others that fulsomely praise its long battery life. Overall, look at the carrier's average for "battery life" ranking for a given model. Justified or not, most of these users give LTE smartphone battery life somewhat lower rankings than other features.
We also checked T-Mobile for its top five user-ranked HSPA+ 42 4G phones (the company's fastest offerings) with 20 or more user reviews. Here are the results:
1. Samsung Galaxy Note II, $369 with $50 mail-in rebate; 5.0 ranking, 53 reviews, 100% recommend
2. Samsung Galaxy Note, $250 after $50 mail-in rebate; 4.8 ranking, 35 reviews, 97%
3. Samsung Galaxy S III, both 16GB, for $280, and 32GB, for $330; 4.7 and 4.8 rankings, 1,200 to 1,700 reviews, 95-97%
4. Samsung Galaxy S II, $150 after $50 mail-in rebate; 4.7 ranking, 370 reviews, 94%
5. Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G, $100 after $50 mail-in rebate; 4.5 ranking, 298 reviews, 88%
Finally, keep in mind the following:
+ a two-year contract binds you to the phone for a lengthy period;
+ to get the true price of your phone, factor in the full cost of the contract and any additional one-time fees, prices for accessories, etc.;
+ LTE users invariably end up "doing more" with the higher connection speeds, often doubling their monthly data traffic; make sure your data cap, if there is one, fits your expected use and look for apps that can help you track usage.
Read more about wireless & mobile in Network World's Wireless & Mobile section.