Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: The Year's Best Tech for Work and Play

Top 10 smartphones of 2013: There's One that's best

We have seen some fantastic smartphones in 2013 and one phone remained clearly at the top of my list. Another one recently knocked it out of my pocket, but it still remains in my collection.

htc-one-small
Image: HTC

Last month I posted my top 10 smartphones for the holiday season and wanted to look back through the entire year to see what other devices grabbed my attention.

As I was looking through the phones I have tried all year, some of my earlier opinions changed and in some cases phones that I ranked lower on my seasonal ratings have changed with extended usage.

We all have different opinions on what is the best, but I think most people will agree with the phones I selected even if they don't agree with the particular order of my rankings.

Number 1: HTC One

I frequently swap my SIM into different phones and it is rare for me to ever use a single phone for six months or more. Thus, I must rank the HTC One my top smartphone of the year and until about a month ago it was the best smartphone I have ever used .

The hardware is fantastic, HTC has done a great job updating the OS to the latest and greatest while also updating its Sense UI, you can pick it up in various colors, and it can be found for a good deal (as low as $50 with contract) with rumors of a successor launching in early 2014.

Number 2: Moto X

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Image: Motorola

This is one phone that I had ranked lower in earlier articles, but after extended use it truly is the 'iPhone' of the Android world and Motorola has shown an unprecedented ability to update it to the latest Android OS within weeks of launch. I just recently customized my Moto X with my Twitter handle and preferred colors and it was the phone to finally steal the SIM from my HTC One.

The in-hand feel, high quality construction, excellent custom Motorola functions (active notifications, Moto Assist, and touchless controls), personalization options, and reasonable price for an unlocked device make the Moto X one of the top devices of the year.

It didn't launch as low as we expected it to and compete with the Nexus pricing scheme, but Motorola has dropped it $100 and also offered a couple of $150 specials. In my opinion, it is worth the full price and I encourage people not to be afraid of the specifications.

Number 3: Apple iPhone 5s

1iPhone5
Image: Apple

Every year Apple releases a new iPhone and the iPhone 5s is clearly the best iPhone released to date. The improved processor, camera, and fingerprint-enabled Touch ID make it a compelling smartphone.

As smartphone displays grow larger, it is nice to still have an extremely pocketable smartphone with the iPhone 5s. While Android gets most of the newest apps and services, iOS still has an advantage here as most companies release iOS apps first and that is why I need one in my collection.

Number 4: Google Nexus 5

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Image: Google

LG's Nexus 5 was leaked well in advance of its release and it sold out quickly as soon as it appeared on Halloween. LG did a great job with the Nexus 5 and it is one of the best Android smartphones available today.

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.

Google has released a couple of software updates for the camera to improve its performance and it likely will continue to get updated and improved over time. I personally prefer the Moto X customizations and design, but the Nexus 5 is the next on my list of Android smartphones. It is available at a great price too.

Number 5: Samsung Galaxy Note 3

2GalaxyNote3
Image: Samsung

Samsung throws everything, but the kitchen sink, in the Galaxy Note 3 and I found the experience both rewarding and frustrating . It is an incredible device for the road warrior with a large replaceable battery, expandable storage, and a display that functions like a small tablet.

I found it to be too large for regular usage, but if you are a person who uses the S Pen then there is no other device that can beat the stylus experience. The improved Galaxy Gear and Note 3 make a great combo and I would still have them if there weren't so many other great devices competing for my attention.

Keep clicking through to see numbers 6 through 10.

Number 6: Nokia Lumia 1020

Lumia1020Yellow
Image: Nokia

I am still a fan of Windows Phone and it seems almost daily apps that I find essential, such as USAA bank, appear in the Windows Phone Store. While the Nokia Lumia 1520 is the newest high-end device, AT&T messed it up and it is just too large to be comfortable as a daily device so the Nokia Lumia 1020 remains my top Windows Phone device.

You can't beat the camera of the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the additional Nokia services make it a great smartphone option. I honestly like the hardware design of the Lumia 925 even better, but the 1020 has more memory and a better camera.

Number 7: Samsung Galaxy S4

GalaxyS4
Image: Samsung

Samsung rolled out the Galaxy S4 with a rather strange launch event, but millions of people purchased the device. The hardware is excellent and Samsung pushes the limits with its software.

Friends and family that purchased the Galaxy S4 earlier this year are still pleased with their smartphone purchase and the S4 deserves a place in the top 10 of this year.

Number 8: LG G2

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Image: T-Mobile

LG did great with the Nexus 5 and LG G2 in 2013.

The minimal side bezel, long battery life, and solid camera experience are compelling on the LG G2. The button design makes sense, but I couldn't get used to it while I was testing it out. I have considered buying another a couple of times though because of the great camera and gorgeous display.

Like Samsung, LG overwhelms consumers a bit with their software options. Then again, people who like to tweak and customize their device may enjoy the LG experience.

Number 9: Motorola Droid Maxx

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Image: Verizon

I own several phones from this top 10 list, but none of them can go longer than a day of heavy usage. Thus, the Motorola Droid Maxx deserves a spot as a top phone this year thanks to its large internal 3,500 mAh capacity battery that did let me go more than a day.

The Droid Maxx gets the great Motorola software functions with a large display. Unfortunately, it is only available on Verizon Wireless so it has limited appeal. It is well constructed, feels great in your hand, and offers an experience similar to the Moto X.

Number 10: BlackBerry Z30

BBZ30
Image: BlackBerry

BlackBerry hasn't had a great year, but their BlackBerry 10 OS is actually very useful for communications and I find their OS to be user friendly and enjoyable. Their best piece of hardware is the BlackBerry Z30.

I have used the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10 and enjoy going back to a full QWERTY solution from time-to-time. The Z30 improves on the Z10 with a larger five inch display, long battery life, dual speakers, and multiple microphones.

BlackBerry continues to struggle and figure out where it is going, but their operating system and hardware still meets the needs of many folks and deserves consideration in the top 10 of 2013.

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