Most of you young’uns in Canada are just starting your school year, and have a wealth of excuses with which to bug your parents for a new cell phone, while others might not be so lucky and have to get something on a budget. Lucky for you, our ear is continually to the ground for all of the newest devices, and since student life isn’t so far beyond memory, I think we’ve got a good handle of your sensibilities.
So, here’s our take on the top 5 smartphones for Canadian students, starting with the cheapest, since you need cash for boozamahol textbooks, right?
Huawei U8100 – $140, contract-free from Wind Mobile
The Huawei U8100 is the most attainable Android phone in Canada right now. It’s not much to look at when it comes to specs, what with a 2.8″ QVGA resistive touchscreen, and 3.2 megapixel camera with no flash, but it runs Android 2.1, and as such, gives you access to a wealth of apps second only to the iPhone App Store, and excellent integration with Google services of all varieties. Wind Mobile’s plans are just as much (if not more of) an attraction than the U8100. Unlimited calling between home zones means that if your folks are also on Wind, you can talk as much as you want with them, even if you’re going to school in an entirely different part of the country. No contracts means that you won’t be stuck with Wind (or an abusive early termination fee) if you want to switch to somewhere else later in your academic career for whatever reason. There’s a great half-off promo on data plans until September 15, offering you 500 MB for $10/month – that’s really unheard of anywhere else. Voice plans are also very reasonable, starting at $15/month, meaning that in the long term, you’re saving a lot of money.
The one caveat is that you’ll need to be in one of Wind Mobile’s home zones (Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, or Vancouver) to really get the full benefit of their services, and even within those zones, coverage can be spotty. Of course, Wind is continually improving, and has a history of listening to and working with customers if things don’t go your way. For anyone who has spent time with the Big Three, you know this can be a rare treat. If you’re looking for something higher-end, we hear Wind Mobile will be picking up the Motorola Milestone XT720 soon – maybe something you fenangle from the folks as an early Christmas present…? You can find the Huawei U8100 chilling out at the Wind Mobile online store.
INQ Chat 3G – Free on two-year contract from Telus, $179.99 contract-free
The INQ Chat 3G is about as low as you can go while still counting as a smartphone (and even then, it’s a stretch), but that’s not a bad thing at all. There are few, if any smartphones in Canada that you can get for free on a two-year contract, and the INQ Chat 3G is one of them. It offers a whole lot of social networking capabilities, including Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live Messenger, Skype, and lots more. It even has BlackBerry-esque push e-mail, which can be especially handy for getting those occasional lecture cancellations that have a bad habit of hitting your inbox just as you head out the door.
The INQ Chat 3G won’t have the same application market you might expect from most standard smartphones (BREW apps are locked to specific devices and carriers), but it does allow for data tethering for those times you need internet access on your laptop and the campus Wi-Fi isn’t in reach. As is, the thing is pretty cheap, but if you’re looking for additional options, it’s also available on Telus’ sub-brand, Koodo, which can charge you for the hardware over the length of your service, bill-by-bill. This is a solid option if you don’t have a lot of cash at the very moment you need a new phone, and are wary of even a two-year contract. Take a look at our hands-on videos for a closer look, or head over to Telus to pick one up.
BlackBerry Curve 3G 9300 – $29.95 on a three-year contract from Bell, $349 contract-free
BlackBerry is always a great option for folks who want to be productive, nevermind if it’s at home, at work, or in school. The variety of full-bodied social networking apps will make sure you can keep up with your extra-curricular activities at all times, and the immediacy of push e-mail will make sure you get last-minute plan changes from study partners or vital assignment information from profs as quickly as you need it. If you can convert your friends, BlackBerry Messenger can turn your group into a well-oiled party machine, taking and sharing pics, organizing meet times, and keeping in touch with new BlackBerry-toting friends. Sending sneaky messages in the middle of lectures is a nice bonus. The BlackBerry 9300 in particular isn’t the flashiest of the BlackBerry phones out there, but of the newer ones, it is the most affordable. You could always go with the slightly older 8520 or 8530 if you’re really scraping for dough. The 9300 is available on the whole range of carriers – Rogers, Bell, and Telus, so even if you already have active service, odds are you’re in a good position to pick one up, and maybe even latch on to your parents for a family plan. Our review is over here, if you think you’re going to pick one up.
HTC Desire – $79.99 on a three-year contract Telus, $449.99 contract-free
The HTC Desire is arguably the best Android phone available in Canada, and still manages to stay affordable at $79.99 on contract. As the direct successor the the Nexus One, the HTC Desire is in a great spot for updates from Google – why Vodafone already has 2.2 rolled out, and we’ll probably see it in North America soon. The Android operating system and standard screen size will also provide a lot of of options for computer science students who want to dabble in writing apps in a relatively easy-to-learn language. Even those who simply have a habit of tinkering will find an online community ripe with ROMs to try out on the Desire.
The less technically-inclined will still be able to appreciate the excellent screen, decent camera, solid build quality, and variety of useful custom software enhancements offered by Sense. The HTC Desire is also a natural destination for those immediately turned off by Apple and everything they stand for. Debates about the openness of Android and the tyranny of the Mac lifestyle have a good chance to flare up among liberal arts students who are packing either the Desire or iPhone, so be forwarned. The one downside to running with Android is there are some services that have yet to come up to Canada, like voice search and Google Voice, and that will likely not change any time soon. Take a look at our review of the HTC Desire here, or head on over to Telus to buy one.
iPhone 4 – $159 on a three-year contract from Rogers, Telus, and Bell, $649 contract-free
You’ve probably already seen it around school, and pined openly for one. The iPhone 4, if nothing else, will provide you with a status symbol that even your non-techie schoolmates will recognize. An absurdly crisp screen, excellent camera, and an avalanche of applications to keep you occupied and enamored with the iPhone 4. If you’re a Mac owner, the iPhone will be a natural choice, and even if you just use iTunes on a PC, you’ll already be well-acquainted with how to sync and load up your iPhone 4 the second it’s out of the box.
Yeah, it handles the usual stuff like web browsing, e-mail, calendaring and your address book, but the iPhone 4 will truly excel at distracting you when you’re trying to write a paper. Gaming on the iPhone is unsurpassed, and you may have a hard time explaining why Plants Versus Zombies is showing up on your parents’ credit card bill; time to milk that biology course for all it’s worth. To be fair, there are some great legitimate resources in the App Store, like the Wolfram Alpha computational engine, and iBooks could provide some required reading. On top of academic purposes, if you’re moving abroad Facetime will be a boon to both homesick kids and moms with an empty nest.
You shouldn’t worry about that antennae issue, since Apple is still offering free bumpers until the end of the month, and it’s a problem that seems to affect surprisingly few owners. I’d be more worried about the phone cracking after dropping it, since all of the parts are crammed together so tightly. The iPhone 4 is, however, pretty expensive (especially if you need a data plan to support your inevitable app-downloading habit), so you’ll probably need your parents’ help on this one, unless you’ve worked hard over the summer and have some extra room in the budget. You can find the iPhone 4 hanging out at Rogers, Telus, and Bell. Take a looksee at our unboxing to get a feel for it.
And that’s it for our take on which new smartphone Canadian students should consider picking up for the new school year. There’s of course a lot of handsets out there for varying tastes and needs, so be sure to try out as many different phones you can before signing any contracts, and if you can at all help it, skip the contracts altogether, because odds are you won’t be able to afford to pay an early termination fee for awhile with any student loans looming over your head.