If you don't need that amazing Verizon network coverage or a family plan, though, as a smart consumer, you should make sure to look at these cheaper options. A One Touch Idol, OnePlus, or ZenFone goes very well with discount sub-brands like AT&T's Cricket and T-Mobile's MetroPCS, or virtual carriers like Wal-Mart's Straight Talk, Giv, and Ting. When you do the math over two years, you may find yourself saving hundreds of dollars over a standard plan this way.

Keep an eye on that $299 price point, too. Now that Alcatel and Asus have led the way, I expect to see great phones coming from Motorola and Huawei, at the very least, for $299-349 unlocked. (Samsung, LG, and ZTE are married to the carrier-sales model for now.)