In Search of a Good Mid-Range Smartphone

I have been using a Sony Ericsson W300i for almost four years, and while I love the form factor of that phone (it's clamshell, by the way), I've been thinking lately that it may be a good time to have it replaced for something better. I have been monitoring new models from almost every ecosystem since the beginning of the year, and I have managed to eliminate a handful of handsets from the pool of options.

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While I was able to bring the list down to about two, I'm not totally familiar with the handsets I have picked, and I may have missed some great models that you guys can recommend to me. But before I list down what I have chosen so far, and before you guys suggest me something, these handsets have to meet the following:

1. They have to be handsets available in international markets. Since I live somewhere in the Asia-Pacific, any handsets exclusive to US or European carriers are automatically off the list.

2. They have to be GSM models, and are available off-contract.

3. As the title suggests, they should be at a mid-range price point. Consider around $450 to be my 'hard-limit'

4*. They have to be software-upgradeable, or at least 'very likely to' to be software upgrade-able. This isn't the strictest requirement, but as a college student majoring in Computer Science, having access to the latest software is always nice. Plus, if you are reading the Verge, you probably already know the value of being able to upgrade to the latest. ;)

With the four requirements that I placed above, I found myself left with these two handsets:

1. Samsung Nexus S

2. Nokia Lumia 710

Why the Nexus S?

I am sure you guys are aware of how popular the Galaxy Nexus is. Hell, the Verge crew is just raving about it right now. And while I would like to get one as well, the Galaxy Nexus is probably THE most expensive smartphone out there, probably even more expensive than the 4S, so that's unfortunately off the list. Fortunately, I did manage to find a place where last year's Nexus S is still available for sale below $450. And since most of the praise of the Galaxy Nexus seems to be centered around ICS, which the Nexus S will be upgradeable to, I think this handset, despite being a year old, will be a worthwhile bargain.

Why NOT the Nexus S?

Some people do have knocks against the particular hardware of the Nexus S, particularly the build quality and the Pentile-style AMOLED screen. I haven't spent enough time with the device to really make a judgement on those, but if you happen to own one, please let me know what your experience with it is like.

Another thing that concerns me is the long-term upgradeability of the Nexus S. Considering that the Nexus One is no longer upgradeable to ICS. I have genuine concern that the Nexus S might have upgradeability issues in the near-future. If you can find any story that says otherwise, please let me know.

Why the Lumia 710?

While I actually want the Lumia 800 more for its excellent hardware design, it already goes beyond the $450 limit, so that's unfortunate. Nonetheless, the Lumia 710 has similar hardware at a lower price point, so that's great. I have heard almost nothing but praise for WP7, so it increasingly looks like a handset I can get into. A potential advantage that the Lumia 710 may have over the Nexus S is the increased likelihood of getting a software upgrade. I obviously cannot confirm this, but I have a gut feeling that the Lumia 710 is more likely to get WP7 "Tango" than the Nexus S is to get theoretical Android 5.0. Feel free to discuss it with me if you want.

Why NOT the Lumia 710?

While I really like how WP7 looks and operates, I do worry about the availability of apps on the platform, not to mention the long-term viability of the platform in the mobile market. Again, feel free to talk about your experiences with the platform if you happen to own a WP7 device. Another thing that I find conflicting is customizability. I somewhat have to choose between the "It just works" UI of WP7 vs the "do whatever you want" UI of Android. I would like to have a healthy debate on this topic if possible.

Other Handsets Considered:

-iPhone 3GS - I admit to having iPhone-envy, but I am not keen on using a device that is more than 2 years old.

-Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro - I like the form factor and hardware keyboard, but the screen is a little too small, and SE's track record on software upgrades is spotty at best. It starts out at a much lower price than the rest, though.

-Samsung Galaxy S - Pretty much like the Nexus S, but Samsung's track record on upgrades isn't really that good either.

I could probably go on and on, but I've probably bored you by now, so I'll just say anything extra once a thread starts. What do you recommend? Is there an awesome handset I may have missed? Anything else you would like to point out that could help my buying decision? Please do let me know.