We also checked the smartphone ratings by Consumer Reports (registration/subscription required) for CR's top-rated phones. CR gives high marks to Apple iPhone 5; HTC EVO 4G LTE, HTC One X and One S; LG Viper; Motorola Droid Razr, Razr M, Razr Maxx; Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note, Galaxy S III, Galaxy S II Skyrocket, Galaxy S Blaze. A number of the most recently released phones, including, for example, the Samsung Galaxy Note II and Droid Razr Maxx HD, have not yet been reviewed by CR.
Somewhat surprisingly, given the media attention, the iPhone 5 so far rarely makes it into the top five user-ranked LTE phones on the Big Three -- in fact, only on Verizon, as No. 5, with a user ranking of 4.6, and a recommendation rate of 85%. Those are solid numbers, but there are plenty of other, mainly Android, LTE phones that have the same or better numbers from users.
The Samsung Galaxy Note II, and the older Note, both rank high: Users love the Note II's 5.5-inch screen and the Note's only slightly smaller 5.3-inch screen. The newer model starts at $300, the older at $200.
Most of the top user-ranked phones were a mix of top-end, mid-range and budget devices. In addition to the Samsung models just mentioned, there is the Sprint $200 Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE, the only user-ranked phone with a sliding full qwerty keyboard, and several Verizon-based Motorola Droid Razr models: the Maxx HD, priced at $300, and the Razr HD, at $200, and of course, iPhone 5 starting at $200 on Verizon.
But if those models are outside your budget, the lower-priced LTE phones included a number of pleasant surprises.
AT&T's Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate, designed as a low-end LTE phone, won a 4.7 ranking and a 96% recommendation rate from its 28 reviewers on the AT&T website. It's currently priced online at just $1 with a two-year contract. Users were impressed with its quality, performance, display, and the upgrade to Android 4.0. So are tech sites like PhoneDog, which concluded, "For the price, the Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate is nearly unbeatable. Sure, AT&T has better phones available, but if you're not willing or able to spend upwards of $150-200, then the Exhilarate is an excellent choice."