Tech Talk: Toy story, 2013 style

David Behrens looks at hi-tech Christmas gift options

LG's 400 G2 phone has a beautiful 5.2-inch screen

THE upcoming festive season used to be a cue to take kids and grandchildren to the nearest toy shop, sit on Santa’s knee and write a letter to the North Pole. But unless the youngsters in your family are still toddlers, the novelty value has well and truly worn off. Today’s toy shop is your local mobile phone store.

It’s not just children who like mobiles, either. The usefulness and versatility of today’s models – far more so than those of even five years ago – has made them indispensable. They’re all-in-one music and video players, emailers, cameras, sat navs and web browsers, and that’s before you even factor in phone calls and texts. But above all, for youngsters at least, they’ve become fashion accessories – and you know how fickle fashion is.

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So if someone in your household is making noises about wanting a new phone in seven weeks’ time, here’s what you need to know…

Smartphones today come in four flavours but only two of them are truly popular. These are iPhones (made exclusively by Apple) and Android (developed by Google and made mostly by Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony and Motorola). For the record, the other flavours are Windows 8 mobiles – developing some traction with design-conscious teens but aimed really at the business market – and BlackBerries, which despite new touchscreen models are relics of a decade past.

How much you pay for any of these depends on whether they come with a contract – but it’s Christmas gifts we’re dealing with here, so let’s assume you’re purchasing outright.

The good news is that you don’t need to pay Apple prices – up to £709 for its new iPhone 5S – to walk away with something decent. Apple’s own iPhone 5C, which has most of the functionality of its big brother, can be had for £470 and comes in a variety of teen-friendly colours.

But if you think that’s still an awful lot for a present, it’s the Android market to which you should turn. More manufacturers mean more choice, and a reasonably capable handset like the HTC One SV can now be had for just under £200 on the high street. It’s less powerful than some of its rivals – but for day-to-day texting and YouTube watching, it’s fine. It also has the latest 4G mobile connectivity, but don’t let that sway you: the cost of using it is still prohibitive.

A better choice if your budget can stretch to it is LG’s recently-launched G2, which at £400 has a 5.2-inch screen – far bigger than any iPhone – and a 13-megapixel camera. Battery life is never great on smartphones, but this one has more capacity than most.