In the smartphone universe you're going to have some sorting to do starting with the carrier your gift receiver is working with. More than likely you're a parent or a significant other if you're purchasing a smartphone on-contract for that special someone, this meaning you've got a fair understanding of which carrier they'll be working with. After that, it's all about finding the best device for them based on their specific wants and needs.
The first and probably most obvious place your mind should be wandering to is the iPhone. With this Apple hero device landing on three major carriers with the launch of the iPhone 5, it's almost a given at this point in our western society that a person wouldn't mind receiving an iPhone as a gift. If your special someone is out of the iPhone universe specifically for one reason or another, you'll want to head down one of two paths: Android or Windows Phone.
With Windows Phone 8 came the launch and relative re-birth of Nokia in an extremely vibrant and fun-loving wave of devices that hit most major carriers in the USA. The biggest and the best of these devices is the Nokia Lumia 920 which is exclusive to AT&T at the moment. After that you've got the Nokia Lumia 822 from Verizon, the Nokia Lumia 820 from T-Mobile, and more than likely one or two more additions to the Lumia line before the end of the year. Another heavy contender in this space is the HTC Windows Phone 8X carried by AT&T as well as Verizon and T-Mobile.
As for Android, you've got a fierce battle going on between lines and heroes, with four titans making up the entirety of our selections for best-of-the-moment. The most recent big-name drop has been the Google Nexus 4, one of two of LG's recent beast releases. LG also brings on the Optimus G with AT&T 4G LTE, a slightly more high-powered version of the hardware brought on in the Nexus 4, both of them working with one of the most powerful processors on the market, the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro. This Google hero phone is sold as a 2-year-contract-holding T-Mobile Nexus 4 and as a no-contract Nexus 4 sold online via the Google Play store - they're both exactly the same device, just different prices based on data plan acceptance.
HTC came out swinging this year and didn't let up all the way through to Fall with the HTC DROID DNA with Verizon 4G LTE, the current record holder for highest-definition-display on a smartphone. It's backed up by the whole HTC One crew, leading off with the brand new HTC One X+ for AT&T, a much more high-powered version of the original with a fantastic NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor in it - hot stuff! The original version is still out there as the HTC One X (without the +), exclusive to AT&T here in the USA. Next in line is the slightly smaller HTC One S carried by T-Mobile in the USA - this device has been upgraded to a much more awesome casing quite recently - a hot pick! The HTC One V is also floating around out there for those of you looking specifically for the HTC branding but not wanting to drop a ton of bills - though the One S is free at times, depending on when you're shopping - good luck!
Motorola was purchased by Google earlier this year and since they've had that extra bump of influence, they've made some fantastic handsets that retain their hardcore hardware build and bust out with a newly refined user interface on the inside. The Motorola DROID RAZR M has one of the smallest bezels on the market, making it appear to be just a wickedly bright display sitting in the palm of your hand. The M's bigger brother DROID RAZR HD sticks with the greatness that was the original DROID RAZR and boosts the processing power as well as the density of the display. The DROID RAZR MAXX HD crowns the collection with all that good stuff plus a massive, gigantic, beastly battery (and it's still rather thin!)
Then there's Samsung. If the person you're buying a gift for doesn't want an iPhone, chances are they'll be entirely stoked to get either a Samsung Galaxy S III or a Samsung Galaxy Note II. The big difference is in the ultra massiveness of the Galaxy Note II, that and it's build-in S-Pen for writing on the screen. The Samsung family of devices creates a friendly software and hardware compatibility ecosystem the lines of which you'll only otherwise find at Apple - and that's saying a lot. The Samsung Galaxy S III and the Galaxy Note II are available on most if not all of the major carriers in the USA and abroad - have a peek at the Galaxy S III here on Verizon as well as AT&T and T-Mobile. The Galaxy Note II we've also got several reviews of, hitting on the T-Mobile version and the Verizon version - and keep note that we'll be taking another look at the Verizon version likely by the time this post is published to see how lovely its data speeds are - otherwise the differences between each of these devices on each carrier is relegated to the carrier-pushed apps and the costs inflicted upon your person. Also the Verizon version of the Note II has a massive beast of a Verizon logo on the front button - it's fierce!
Another rather odd contender that will certainly surprise your gift-getter is the Nokia 808 PureView running Symbian - that's not Android, it's not iOS, and it's not Windows Phone. This device also has a 41-megapixel camera - truly the most intense camera phone in the history of the world.