If you're getting someone an Android phone for the holidays--or if you got one for yourself--the next step is to accessorize. Accessories make great companion gifts that are not only thoughtful, but are super useful to boot. Here are a few handy accessories to make that new smartphone even more awesome. In fact, they're so handy that they'll fit perfectly inside that stocking hanging from your fireplace mantle.
Sure, it's a shame to keep your shiny new smartphone covered up, but failing to give it a protective case leaves the device vulnerable to smudges and scratches--or, worse, shattered glass and bent metal. A case is an excellent companion gift to any Android phone.
Whichever type of case you choose, make sure it doesn't block its speakers, headphone jack, microphones, charge port, camera lens and flash on the back, or any other button or port--unless, of course, the case is designed so that you remove your phone to use it.
Similarly, if you like to use dock-cradle accessories, make sure the case is easily removable, as many of the docking accessories, such as speaker systems, are not compatible with cases.
Cases come in a variety of styles, from basic shells that add a rigid layer of protection to the entire phone to extra-rugged cases that can be used underwater. Our list of favorite cases for Android phones runs the gamut, but here are a few that stand out:
- OtterBox Defender Series for Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, HTC One, and several other Android smartphones. ($50)
- Incipo Feather Shine for LG G2, LG Optimus G Pro, Motorola Moto X, HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy Note II, and Samsung Galaxy Note 3. ($30)
- Dodocase Durables Wallet for Motorola Moto X, Google Nexus 4, HTC One, and Samsung Galaxy S III. ($50-$60)
Since your smartphone can be used for much more besides making phone calls, you'll want a good set of earbuds for listening to music and other content. Use your ears--literally--to tell if a pair has a good sound quality and provides a comfortable fit, instead of relying on reading specs. Opt to try out a pair at a brick-and-mortar store first, if you can. (For more tips, check out our headphone buying guide.)
Although earbuds don't generally produce outstanding sound, they're conveniently compact, and most are relatively inexpensive. They're perfect for use on the go and for casual listening. Here are a few that stand out:
- Polk Audio UltraFit 1000 (earbuds with earclips; $50)
- Urbanears Medis Plus ($60)
- Sennheiser/Adidas Sports PMX 685i (earbuds with neck band, designed for exercise; $80)
Most high-end Android phones have pretty solid built-in cameras and photo-editing apps, but additional lenses can make the camera even better. We like Photojojo's lens series, and the $49 Sampler is a killer gift for amateur and experienced photographers alike. It comes with four lenses to get you started: A fisheye lens, a polarizer, and a two-in-one wide-angle/macro lens.
These four lenses bring new depth to your run-of-the-mill smartphone photos. The fisheye lens is outright fun, adding distortion to photos that no photography app can properly mimic. On the practical side, the wide-angle lens adds a helping hand when you're trying to photograph something large and you can't physically back up. Unscrew the top of the wide-angle lens to find the macro lens, which helps capture detail from really close up. And the polarizer reduces glare to make colors brighter and more saturated, resulting in a crisp, vibrant photo.
What makes Photojojo's lenses so great is that they can fit on any smartphone, with or without a case. An adhesive metal ring fits around the smartphone's camera lens and flash, and then the external lenses magnetically clip onto the ring anchor.
For hands-free calls and map viewing, a smartphone mount or stand for the car is essential, for both ease and safety. I like Kensington's Car Mount ($30), which can clip to your dashboard's air conditioning vent or stick to the windshield.
Just clip your phone into place before you start driving, and you're good to go. The clip provides a tight grip to keep your phone in place during bumpy roads, and the stand can pivot for both landscape and portrait viewing.
When you're away from an outlet, but need extra battery juice, a battery-boosting accessory is a lifesaver.
Battery cases, like the Mophie Juice Pack ($100), are great. The Juice Pack adds substantial power to your phone with its 2300 mAh charge. It consists of two pieces that easily snap around your phone, and the bottom piece connects to the phone's charging port, which is how it provides juice.
To charge the Juice Pack, plug it into a wall adapter or USB port; to charge the phone itself, toggle the case's power button. If your phone is inside the Juice Pack and you plug in the case to recharge it, your phone recharges first, and only afterward does the case start charging. Overall, the Juice Pack adds minimal bulk and weight to the phone as far as battery cases go, and its press-through button overlays are comfortable and easy to use.
Instead of a case, you could also opt for a portable backup power supply. TYLT's PowerPlant ($90) is made with the smartphones in mind, with an embedded Micro-USB cable that charges your phone without needing your own cord. Additionally, it has charging sockets for USB and Micro-USB cables, in case you want to charge something else as well. It packs enough power to recharge your phone twice, and fits in the palm of your hand.