UPDATED on 2014-03-28
When it comes to phones I advise my family to buy (in order of preference):
- The latest Google Nexus phone from Google Play or the latest iPhone
- Other Google Experience phones from Google Play
- Some other option that will vary a few times a year
- A Google Nexus phone purchased from a telecom
The latest Google Nexus phone from Google Play or the latest iPhone
My top suggestion is either a Nexus phone from Google Play or an iPhone. this is to make sure that my family have the best phones currently on the market for their dollars, and thus probably last the longest as well as have the best features. It also means they will get updates the longest for these phones, once again leading to them lasting longer.
Google Nexus from Google Play
I'm an Android user. I prefer Google's policies for their app store, the fact Android's source code is available, etc. For these reasons I use Android instead of iOS.
If that's what you decide you want to use then I advise you make your Android phone be the latest Nexus phone available on Google Play. By purchasing a Nexus phone you make sure you are getting a phone which the latest version of Android was designed around. That means that version of Android will best on that phone.
By buying the phone on Google Play you get to make sure that the phone is unlocked. This means you can go to any carrier that supports that phone type (if you live in the States the types are AT&T/T-Mobile, Verizon, or Sprint; in Canada you only have one type). Typically the telecoms will give you a monthly discount for bringing your own phone (usually about $10), which can make buying your phone outright a money saver depending on how long you use the phone.
Another benefit of buying a Nexus phone on Google Play is that Google controls the updates to the phone. That means you are guaranteed 18 months of timely updates to the phone from Google. That also guarantees your phone will be updated to the newest version of Android at least once after you buy it.
Lastly, when you buy an Android phone on Google Play you are getting what is called a Google Experience phone. That means there is no junk installed on there by the phone manufacturer or the telecom. It also means I can help you with the phone as I only use Google Experience phones since they are a much more pleasant experience to use than non-Experience phone (phone manufacturers mean well, but they just don't spend the same amount of time and money as Google to make sure the software experience is great).
If you would rather have an iPhone, that's fine. Just make sure you buy the latest version so it will be supported the longest. I can help you somewhat but not nearly as much as on a Google Experience phone. Luckily there are enough people who own iPhones you can probably find a friend to help you with it.
Any Google Experience phone
If you are not interested in either a Google Nexus phone or an iPhone, then a Google Experience phone is your next best option. Compared to a Nexus phone, the latest version of Android is not explicitly designed for the phones. Google also does not directly control their updates.
But being a Google Experience phone does make sure updates are timely (think 2 months after the Nexus phone gets an update). They are also unlocked, and have no phone manufacturer crud on it, meaning I can still help you with the phone.
Some other option
Since phones change so frequently, there is a chance there is another option that I don't list here which means you can ask me before you go looking for a new phone to see if there are alternatives. There is a chance that e.g. Motorola has a really good phone out, or that Sony has a phone that you can get without a lot of crud on it. But since this changes a few times a year you will simply have to ask me if any alternatives to the phones listed above are available.
A Google Nexus phone from a telecom
If you simply cannot afford any of the previous phone options and can't wait to call me to choose a phone, then a subsidized Nexus phone from a telecom is probably your best bet. While they will be locked, have its updates controlled by the telecom, and probably have some bloatware installed on it by the telecom, it will be as close as you can get to a Google Experience outside of Google Play since Google won't put crud on the phone. This is also the cheapest upfront way to get a good Android phone, although you do pay for that upfront loan for the rest of your phone contract since its baked into your monthly bill.