Top 10 smartphones to kick off 2013

Summary:I post my top 10 lists of smartphones a couple times a year and now that the HTC One has been revealed I can provide you with my current top 10. I've had the iPhone at the top of my lists for quite a while, but not this time.

Now that HTC revealed their HTC One device and BlackBerry their Z10, both coming soon to most of the major US wireless carriers it is time to take a look at what I think are the best smartphones to consider in early 2013.

Samsung will eventually announce the likely Galaxy S IV with latest rumors stating that the event may be on 14 March. HTC has led Samsung in build quality, but their latest devices are quite good and I love my Note II (as you can see below). I think the GS IV may bump the iPhone 5 down from third and may bump the HTC One down from second. The smartphone market moves fast so this list is current for now, but may change in a month.

It's the first time I have included a BlackBerry device in my best of lists in a long time. It turns out I have six Android devices, two WP8 devices, one iOS device, and one BlackBerry device in my list. There are several more excellent Android devices I considered, HTC One SV, Droid RAZR Maxx, Lumia 620, but I would say the top six were actually pretty easy to pick.

Regular readers know I personally have accounts on T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon so that I can test as many smartphones as possible across the operating system and manufacturer spectrum. I jump around between several phones, but the ones that are with me for more than six months are the ones I personally find most compelling.

Here are my top 10 smartphones to start 2013.

Number 1: Samsung Galaxy Note II


I chose the Galaxy Note II in my last list, but put it into second place behind the iPhone 5. I must pick the Note II as my first choice this time as it continues to reign as my favorite device and may actually earn the title of best smartphone I have ever purchased. Fellow ZDNet writer James Kendrick also thinks quite highly of the Note II and many readers have backed up my choice of this device. Yes, it is a large device. However, as people use data more than make phone calls I think larger displays are getting more desirable and people are more tolerant of larger devices.

The Galaxy Note II has it all and I can't find it lacking in anything. You will find Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, 1.6 GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos processor, a whopping 2GB of RAM, 5.5-inch Super AMOLED HD display, 8 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 will also find some amazing software provided by Samsung that enhances the Note II experience, including multi-window support (use Twitter and Gmail at the same time), S Note (other S Pen enhanced apps too) for use with the S Pen, Smart Stay, customizable lock screen, and fun camera software.

You can find the Galaxy Note II on all four major US wireless carriers and it is definitely a device to consider. It's now available in prices ranging in price from to $199.99 (AT&T) to $369.99 (T-Mobile) with a 2-year contract . One reason I like the T-Mobile one is that it has the internal parts needed to support LTE when T-Mobile turns on this network in 2013 and it supports WiFi Calling now.

Number 2: HTC One


The newest device from HTC, available starting in March, is the HTC One. In a strategy that should hopefully help get HTC back in the game, the HTC One will be available around the world and from T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint here in the US. It will be the same device across the carriers, with the exception of the cellular bands supported, with the same name so that HTC was able to do what Apple and Samsung have done before. HTC was able to do this with the 8X Windows Phone, but that OS still hasn't seemed to gain much in popularity.

The HTC One hardware is fantastic and if my choice was based on outside hardware alone then the HTC One would be my first choice. 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 now they bring an awesome 1080p 4.7 inch Super LCD 3 to the HTC One. 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 includes a new user experience with Sense 5. While the traditional Sense UI is present with a swipe over, you can also experience their HTC BlinkFeed home screen where content you want appears and is refreshed as you specify. They also have a slick new camera capture capability called Zoe. A Zoe is a short video that can then be used to create highlight videos with images, Zoes, music, and themes to make the camera experience a blast. HTC put a lot into the One and we were told it will also be price competitive with other smartphones on carrier. I imagine this means we will see it in the $200 price range like the rest.

Number 3: Apple iPhone 5


I still think the iPhone is one of the best smartphones for the masses and recommend it to some family and friends. I also think the UI is getting a bit boring and have heard that from a number of others. I personally just jailbroke my iPhone 5 so that I could enjoy some advanced functions and am enjoying the experience.

Other smartphone manufacturers are innovating more and pushing the limits of smartphone design. Apple updated the internals and length of its iPhone product with the iPhone 5 and the design is excellent. It is still one of the most pocketable smartphones and easy to use with one hand.

iOS 6 offers many improvements and while it may not have some of the latest technologies, such as NFC or wireless charging, it does so many things right that it has to be considered one of the top smartphones today. Prices range from $199 (16GB) to $399 (64GB) on contract with a premium of $450 additional cost if you buy it without a contract. The iPhone 5 is available on all major carriers except T-Mobile, so it is accessible to most people. It (or another model iPhone) should also be available on T-Mobile sometime in 2013.

Keep clicking through to see numbers 4 through 10.

Topics: Mobility, Apple, Google, iPhone, Microsoft, Samsung, Smartphones


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

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