Help an iPhone user pick an Android phone [Updated]

Anyone who reads my columns regularly knows that I’m a die-hard iPhone user. Over the years, I’ve flirted with Android (and even Windows Phone!) from time to time. But at this point I’m neck-deep in Apple’s ecosystem lock-in, and as far as I’m concerned, the water’s fine.

That said, I do enjoy playing with and reviewing Android devices, even if they are not my platform of choice. But I always feel like I don’t really know enough about Google’s mobile operating system. I want to fix that.

I’m buying an Android phone. While I regularly get review units from both carriers and phone manufacturers, I want one that I can call my own – a device I can customize, modify and hack if I want to. And one that I can use to track the changes in Android over multiple version updates.

A contender: The Samsung A53 5G. Are you my Android phone?

I have my choices narrowed to two or three candidates, but there drawbacks to each that give me pause. So, I’d like your help.

Here’s my criteria:

  • It needs to get Android updates over at least three years. While no Android phone matches Apple in terms of OS support over time, several brands come close.
  • I want a new phone, not one from a year or two back. Since this will be used to watch the development of the platform, it needs to be up-to-date in terms of hardware.
  • This will not be my daily driver, though I’ll test networks using pre-paid SIMs. As such, I don’t want to pay a lot for a top-of-the-line device. At the same time, I don’t want a phone that’s so cheap that it’s a rehash of last year’s tech. My budget runs between $500 and $800-$900.
  • Ideally, I want as “pure” an Android installation as I can get, BUT … I also know that’s not what most people have. So, I’m willing to consider devices that have a tweaked interface or skin.
  • It needs to be unlocked; I want to be able to test different carriers’ networks.

Here are the smartphones on my shortlist:

  • Samsung A53 5G – At the higher end of Samsung’s mid-range line of phones, it’s got a decent camera system and display, good battery life and a responsive processor. It’s storage is expandable with an microSD card. It lists for $450, which is a great price. It will get four years of OS updates.
    But, it doesn’t have wireless charging, and Samsung’s skin makes significant changes to Android. It also has a notorious amount of crapware on it, some of which can’t be removed.
  • Samsung Galaxy S22 – Ideally, I really want the S22+, as I prefer larger-screen devices. But the bigger phone is $1,000 compared to the S22’s $800. Other than screen size, the two devices are very similar – high-end devices with Qualcomm’s latest processor, wireless charging and an excellent camera system.
    But does have the Samsung crapware burden and the tweaked OS. While it will get OS updates, it won’t get them as quickly as other brands, particularly Google’s Pixel line.
  • Google Pixel 6 Pro – This is probably the top contender for my dollars at the moment. While its $899 price tag is at my budget’s limit, it ticks most of my checkboxes: Large screen, great display, excellent camera system, three years of Android updates and as pure an Android installation as you can get, with updates that come as soon as a new version is released.
    However, as is often the case with Pixel phones, quick updates also mean owners are beta testers. Early versions of Android are notoriously buggy, and Pixel owners sometimes lose features until the issues surrounding them are fixed. This Android Authority writer plans to ditch his Pixel 6 Pro because of connectivity issues, for example. Update: However, I liked it when I reviewed it last year.
  • Google Pixel 6a – Even though this is a smaller phone, with a 6.1-inch display, I’m intrigued by the great reviews it’s gotten. And given that its release comes well after that of the Pixel 6 line, it may not have some of the issues in its bigger and more expensive devices. At $449, it’s a solid competitor to the Samsung A53.
    But it is still a smaller phone, and with a plastic back, it doesn’t support wireless charging. The camera system is less capable than the 6 Pro, and it only has 6 GB of RAM compared to 8 on the Pro.

As I said, the Pixel 6 Pro is the leading contender, followed by the A53. The S22 still feels a little too expensive, and the 6a is something of an unknown – how it will do over time has yet to be determined. I love the idea of pure Android on the Pixel phones, but most Android owners in the U.S. have Samsung devices, so there is something to be said for keeping an eye on their experience.

If you’re an Android user, which would you recommend? And if you have any suggestions for other devices that meet my criteria and work on all U.S. carriers, please let me know. Leave a comment here, or reply on Twitter or Facebook.

Update 7/26/2022: Choice made, phone bought. It’s the Pixel 6 Pro.

Thanks to everyone who offered advice!