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The best free smartphone from every Canadian carrier Add to ...

After spending some time shopping online and wandering a couple of malls, I’ve compiled a list of the best free smartphones available from each of Canada’s nationwide carriers, more likely than not, there’s a handset here that you’ll be happy to own.

Bell: HTC Desire 601

The HTC Desire 601 doesn’t have the most up-to-date version of Android, but thanks to HTC’s Sense 5.0 overlay, you won’t even notice. Sense is one of the few custom Android skins out there that doesn’t make working with the operating system a nightmare. It shares the same design cues as the aluminum HTC One, but comes in jet-black plastic instead. The Desire boasts a 4.5-inch display, front-facing stereo speakers, 8GB of onboard memory (not great, but it can be expanded to up to 64GB through the use of a MicroSD card) and an entirely adequate Snapdragon 400, dual-core, 1.4GHz processor. And while its five megapixel camera isn’t the apex of photographic technology, the inclusion of a number of different proprietary photo and video editing applications make shooting video and photos enjoyable. In short, it’s not the best phone out there, but it’s great for a free phone.

Rogers: HTC One Mini

HTC recently updated its flagship One line with new M8 series hardware, but that’s no reason to look down on the original HTC One Mini. HTC packs a lot of value into a compact body, including front-facing stereo Beats Audio speakers, a sleek aluminum body, a scratch-resistant 4.3-inch display and a four UltraPixel rear-facing camera capable of shooting 1080p full HD video. It’s worth mentioning the phone’s processor is a little pokey compared to the hardware being announced these days, and the 16GB onboard memory is also a pretty low. But the HTC One Mini is still more than enough phone for most people to perform everyday mobile computing tasks. The One Mini is available for free with Rogers when you sign up for select two-year contracts; at no cost, you’ll be hard pressed to find a handset with a tougher, better-looking build.

Telus: Nokia Lumia 1020

Let’s not split hairs: with its 41 megapixel camera, the Nokia Lumia is simply the finest camera phone currently on the market, and if you’re a Telus customer, you can get it for free. In addition to an outrageous amount of photographic horsepower, the Lumia 1020 is a Windows Phone OS handset and comes equipped with a 4.5-inch Gorilla Glass display, 32GB of onboard storage and a forward facing camera for making Skype video calls. Over the past year, you may have heard some bad things about the number of apps available to Windows Phone users, but don’t worry: the days of the platform’s app store being a barren wasteland are a thing of the past. There’s no shortage of games and apps available to use on the Lumia 1020, including a mobile iteration of Microsoft Office. (Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Lumia as Lumina, we regret the error.)

Koodo: Motorola Moto G

There’s not a lot of free handsets on offer from Koodo that I’d want to get stuck using for a couple of years. But I did manage to find one great zero-cost handset you can snag from them: The Motorola Moto G. Universally liked by tech reviewers (and we don’t agree on much of anything) the Moto G was designed to be a low-cost alternative to the oceans of expensive smartphones that seem to dominate the market from year to year. Its internal specifications are nothing to write home about: eight gigabytes of internal storage (and 50 free gigabytes of Google Drive cloud storage,) a 4.5-inch display, five megapixel camera, front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera and respectably sized 2070mAh battery that’ll easily get most users through a full day of use. But here’s the thing: Its operating system is the closest to an unskinned version of Android 4.4 KitKat that you’re likely to find this side of a Nexus phone or Google Play Edition handset, and it’s great. Android, stripped down and used as Google intended, is a beautiful, fast and insanely functional thing. (And now, the Moto G with LTE support is coming to Canada, which could be a welcome upgrade over the G’s 3G limitations).

Virgin Mobile: Nexus 5

Priced at $349 unlocked, Google’s excellent Nexus 5 handset (manufactured by LG) comes with 16GB of internal storage, a five-inch 1920 x 1080 Full HD IPS display. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, 2.26 GHz CPU and Adreno 330 and 450 MHz Graphics Processing Unit pack more than enough power to play the latest 3-D games. The Nexus comes with a reasonable 8 megapixel rear-facing camera with Optical Image Stabilization, designed to help you take better pictures of fast moving subjects.

Wind Mobile: Huawei Ascend P6

Wind Mobile customers can snag themselves a Huawei Ascend P6 at no cost when they sign up for a new contract. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with Huawei. Their hardware made its debut in Canada relatively recently. I can tell you that they’re well known in tech circles for producing thin, stylish gear that looks like it’s from the future. The crazy-thin 6.18mm Ascend P6 continues this tradition.
An Android handset with a sturdy aluminum frame, 4.7 inch 720p display, 1.5GHz quad core processor, 2GB of RAM, 8GB of on board memory and an mi-croSD slot, the Ascend P6 comes with a respectable eight-megapixel rear-facing camera and an unusually powerful five megapixel front facing camera that makes it perfect for selfie takers. 
That said, Huawei’s decision to place the handset’s headphone jack on the side of the handset and Ascend P6’s slightly busy user interface might not be every-one’s cup of tea. It’s also worth mentioning that Wind Mobile also offers the Motorola Moto G (a very capable handset that’s also on offer from Koodo) for free.

What about an iPhone?

Just about every carrier in Canada offers the iPhone 4s as an option for people looking for a free handset. But I don’t think you should get one. 
Sure, the iPhone 4s has beautiful design, high build quality and a glut of apps, music and videos available to download via the iTunes App Store. But that can’t make up for the fact the handset is getting long in the tooth: it was released in 2011, which makes it an absolute antique in the rapidly changing world of smartphone hardware. While the handset is capable of running iOS 7.1, the latest iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system, one has to consider that in order to get the phone for free, it's necessary to sign up for a two year contract. By the end of that contract, your free iPhone will be five years old. Is it likely that you’ll still be happy with it in the face of more recently minted hardware? Will it still run most or all of the apps available for newer iPhones? Most likely not.
If you have your heart set on picking up an iPhone the smart money’s on two different options: Bite the bullet and pay the premium to secure a more recent handset like the iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c, or wait. In March, Apple retired the iPad 2, which was released in the same year as the iPhone 4s. I’m willing to speculate that the iPhone 4s will soon suffer the same fate, and another, newer, option from Apple will be offered up for free by Canadian carriers.
Editor's note: This has been updated, an earlier version of the guide featured some out of date information. 

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