Top 10 smartphones for the 2013 holiday season

Summary:As people start to look for a smartphone for someone special this holiday season, there are a ton of outstanding choices.

My top 10 smartphones of the summer were posted in August and since then we have seen some major new releases. As we approach the holiday buying season, there are some fantastic smartphone options to consider.

While I ranked these phones from one to ten, I can honestly state that I could own any of them and be satisfied. It was tough to rank them and I am sure we all may have some slight differences in the order they appear.

We shouldn't see any new major smartphone announcements until Mobile World Congress in February. The only thing I think we might see is further carrier announcements of existing smartphones, such as the Moto X Moto Maker custom service coming to other carriers.

Given that Apple releases very few models, there is one iPhone in my list. I have eight Android phones and one Windows Phone rounding out the list. A couple other Lumia Windows Phones could be in the list and definitely more Android phones, but I limited my list to just ten.

Number 1: Apple iPhone 5s

Image: Apple

I sold my iPhone 5 to buy the Lumia 1020 , but recently picked up a new iPhone 5s and think it deserves my pick as the top smartphone for the holiday season.

The iPhone 5s has the same form factor as the iPhone 5, with an improved 64-bit A7 processor and the addition of a fingerprint-enabled Touch ID central home button that makes it convenient to unlock and purchase apps from the App Store.

The iPhone camera is one of the most popular cameras in use today and the iPhone 5s sees an updated camera appear to make the experience even better.

iOS 7 launched with the iPhone 5s and I am a fan of the control center, updated notifications, improved Siri integration, and multitasking reminiscent of webOS.

The iPhone 5s feels expensive in the hand, and it is, but the fact that most new apps and services first launch on iOS is a major reason I purchased one and selected it as my top smartphone. Thanks to Apple's strict control over the hardware, developers are able to roll out apps knowing they will perform consistently.

Prices range from $199 to $399 on contract or $649 to $849 with no contract. The iPhone 5s is available on all major carriers.

Number 2: HTC One

Image: HTC

I have been using an HTC One for about nine months and still think it is the best smartphone I have ever used .

So why didn't I give it the number one spot? The camera is fine for many situations, but there is very little "depth" in photos so details you find from other 8 megapixel or greater phone cameras are not there. If the camera is fine for you, then the HTC One may be the device to consider with fantastic hardware, Android 4.3 and the promise that 4.4 is coming, and a premium piece of hardware.

The HTC One hardware is fantastic and unmatched by any other smartphone, in my opinion. The metal body feels great in your hand and looks incredible. HTC's Super LCD displays have led the industry over the past year and manufacturers are still trying to match their awesome 1080p 4.7 inch Super LCD 3. It is powered by a quad-core 1.7 GHz processor and 2GB of RAM. While there is no microSD slot, there are internal memory options of 32GB and 64GB so that should be plenty for most people. You will also find dual mics, front facing stereo speakers, an ultra pixel camera with optical image stabilization (OIS).

In addition to top class hardware, HTC continues to offer a great user experience with Sense 5 updates and 5.5 coming soon.

You can buy the HTC One for as low as $50 subsidized on most carriers or $550 full price with no contract.

Number 3: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Image: Samsung

Samsung throws everything, but the kitchen sink, in the Galaxy Note 3 and I found the experience both rewarding and frustrating .

The hardware is better than the Note II and the software is optimized for the S Pen experience. Samsung softened TouchWiz and I enjoyed using many of the additional value-added services and apps provided by Samsung.

The Galaxy Note 3 has it all and is the most powerful and capable Android device available today. You will find a 1.6 GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos processor, a whopping 3GB of RAM, 5.7-inch Super AMOLED HD display, 13 megapixel rear camera, 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera, 16GB internal memory with microSD storage for up to 64GB more storage, huge 3,200 mAh removable battery so you can go a long time without charging, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE, NFC, and more.

You can find the Galaxy Note 3 on all major US wireless carriers and it is definitely a device to consider, especially for the road warrior who wants the ability to swap batteries and expand storage capacity on the go.

The Note 3 is priced at $299.99 on contract from most carriers with a full price of $699.99 without a contract.

Number 4: Nokia Lumia 1020

Image: Nokia

Windows Phone continues to slowly gain market share and the best device they have at the moment is the Nokia Lumia 1020 . The 1520 is coming before Thanksgiving and offers a larger display, faster processor, and lower resolution camera.

The Lumia 1020 is the phone to purchase if taking photos is one of your primary uses for your smartphone. Most top apps are available for Windows Phone, but there are still limitations on connectivity to accessories such as smartwatches and life activity trackers.

Nokia provides a number of services and apps on their Lumia devices. These include HERE Maps turn-by-turn voice navigation, Nokia Music+, advanced camera lenses and camera software, and many other Nokia exclusive apps.

Unfortunately, you can still only purchase the Lumia 1020, and soon the 1520, from AT&T in the US. The 1020 is now available for $199.99 with a 2-year contract. There are good alternative Lumias on other carriers (928, 925, etc.), but Nokia hasn't yet launched one device across all the major US carriers.

Number 5: Google Nexus 5

Image: Google

Google recently released the Nexus 5 with the latest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat. The devices is sold out on the Play Store with backlogs of 3-4 weeks so you better order now if you want one before Christmas.

The Nexus 5 has the latest and greatest internal specifications, including a Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB RAM, 8 megapixel camera with optical image stabilization, Qi wireless charging, and more.

The Nexus 5 is the first device with Android 4.4 and it is a solid Android update. It's not perfect, but it offers an enjoyable user experience.

The price of the Nexus 5 is fantastic, if you compare apples-to-apples. However, in the US most people buy their phones with a subsidy so the real value may not be realized as the Nexus 5 is priced nearly the same as the latest and greatest smartphones. $349 (16GB) and $399 (32GB) are amazing SIM-unlocked prices that are $200 to more than $300 less than other Android and iOS devices.

Keep clicking through to see numbers 6 through 10.

Topics: Mobility, Apple, iOS, iPhone, Microsoft, Samsung, Windows, Innovation


Matthew Miller started using mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host, with ZDNet's Kevin Tofel, of the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned more than 2... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.