Both the Ruger SR40 and Smith and Wesson M&P would come in under the $600 mark. I own an SR40 and a M&P in 9mm and both are superb pistols. There are several others that would come in under your dollar mark so I would say hit up the stores in your area and hold a few see what feels good in your hands. Even better is if a friend/range has one and will let you try it out.
S&W M&P, Glock 22, Ruger SR40, and Springfield XD/m are my top 4 and in that order. They all feel distinctly different in hand, so I would suggest going to a gun store and holding them all to see what you like.
Any of the offerings above are excellent.
Your deciding factor should be how the gun fits in your hand. It would be even better if you could rent and test fire all of those, and see which has the best feel for you.
IMO, when it comes down to it ergonomics is what makes a gun "best" for any given individual.
The SR40 works for me, but I'd never talk anyone out of a Glock, Sig, XD, or M&P.
The human is a beautiful & terrible creature, capable of limitless compassion & unfathomable cruelty
Well, guys. How do I tell you this? I guess I have to just get it over with. Here goes:
I went to the gun shop today. The only one I trust for new, modern firearms. Let me explain. There are two main gun shops that I frequent, and both of them are run by great people. The closest shop to me is a really fair trader and seller who mainly carries hunting rifles, shotguns and simple handguns, and most of them are used, I've bought some great stuff there, but since most of it is used, I have gotten a gun or two with some problems that were created by a previous owner, and everything in the store is "as is". When I'm looking for oldies but goodies, and basic, old school stuff, I go to him. But when I'm looking for something new, and anything semi-auto flavored, I go to the other place.
The other place with all the modern stuff, is run by another wonderful person and fair businessman (I'm really lucky to have two honest guys like this in my neck of the woods) who steers you toward the best thing that he knows you can afford. His advice has always been sound, and when I do what he suggests, I never regret it. When I try to go the cheap route, and ignore his advice, I always regret it. I'll pick something up that I like the look of , and the price of, and he'll give me a look like "don't do that to yourself, man.", and I'll know to hand it back to the clerk.
Well, I went looking for a new .40, and that was the first thing I knew wasn't going to happen, because every single .40 he had left after he got slammed on Friday was a compact or subcompact. I was after a full-sized auto-pistol more than even a .40 and I was going to get one. There is another gun shop in that town, but the service is lackluster and the clerks are pushy. You look at a gun for more than three or four minutes and they slap a yellow form in front of you and an ink pen and go to the next person. I like my service just a bit more personal, so I only buy ammo there because they carry a lot of obsolete calibers and interesting loads that nobody else carries. But If I want a gun, I go
where I know I'm going to get treated right.
So I let the owner steer me and he steered me to a couple of choices, one was a great gun that was just a little more expensive than I wanted, but it was a compact .40. I tallied up my funds and added rough tax and I could barely have afforded the gun and my gas tank would have been empty before payday. The other gun was a full sized, familiar to me because I used to own the compact version of it, 9mm with 2 hi-cap mags and felt much better in my hand than the compact .40. The owner then pointed out that ammunition for the .40 was significantly more expensive than for the 9mm and that I would get to shoot the 9mm much more often than the .40, and that clinched it for me.
I walked out the door with a new Ruger SR9, and two boxes of S&B ammo. Thanks for the input guys, at least the advice to hold the guns and see which one felt best did pay off.
'There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.' -Sherlock Holmes