Recommending a good phone for a new smartphone user...

A friend of mine had recently finally decided to upgrade from their feature phone to a smartphone and asked myself and others in our group who were already using Android phones and iPhones for some advice.

The main reason he now wanted to upgrade was so that he could browse the internet on the go. However, this being his first foray, he didn't want anything fancy and certainly didn't want to spend big to get the latest and greatest - though he did admit that might change later with use as he familiarised himself with the phone's various native functions and started downloading and using apps. Being an Android user from the get-go myself I could certainly understand where he was coming from and having started out with a mid-range handset I quickly learnt (the hard way) that you pretty much get what you pay for when it comes to the smartphone experience. Still, there was no convincing him otherwise. Dilemma... or perhaps not?

What would you advise someone who's looking to get their first smartphone on a limited budget?

Which ecosystem would you recommend? Are there minimum hardware specs one should stick to? Would your answer to the first 2 questions change if the newbie is likely to become a more sophisticated user down the track?

Taking my friend's criteria as an example, I would be recommending Android. An iPhone 4 would be out of his price range and a 3GS too old. A mid-range, or budget, Android phone would have the same 3.5" or (slightly) larger screen which would make internet browsing a lot easier. There are also I believe more free apps in the Google Play Store than in the others. The trickier decision to make I think is what the minimum RAM and processor speed should be and whether he should save his money and get one of many GB models or one of the few on ICS. GB may not be good enough for the next two years (at least) and although there are some budget handsets with ICS out of the box (or currently being upgraded to ICS) I not sure if such hardware which is typically around 512MB and 1GHz can cope sufficiently to give an acceptable experience when GB would run smoother. Alternatively, should he maybe wait for the next few months to the end of the year for 1MB ICS mid-rangers to drop in price or maybe even a bit longer in the hope an OEM will release something on JB. One exciting prospect I'm hoping for is an announcement by Google of a family of Nexus handsets later this year that would include a budget-friendly model, which I don't think is that unlikely especially considering the gambit they took with the Nexus 7.

So what do you all say? I would really appreciate some comments.