I kicked off this year listing my top ten smartphones and then updated my list around tax day with ten more excellent smartphones. As we enter the final month of summer break and start thinking about going back to school, I thought it would be appropriate to list the current top smartphones available or announced.
I have used all of the phones in the list, except for the new Moto X and LG G2. I read several articles about these two devices and placed them where I thought they would fit at this time. Unfortunately, some of these top picks are carrier exclusives, which I always hate, so there is limited access for consumers not willing to change their carrier. Every one of the top ten is a perfectly usable smartphone though so your really can't go wrong with any of them.
It is likely we will see a Note III soon, Apple will also reveal some kind of successor to the iPhone 5, and we may see a new Nexus from Google. However, we don't know any official details yet so this list is current as of today.
We previously saw quite a bit of consolidation as Apple, Samsung, and HTC rose to the top, but the field is broadening once again as the mobile operating systems evolve and vendors release stronger competition. Samsung and Nokia were the only vendors with multiple devices in my list with others from HTC, Apple, LG, BlackBerry, Sony, and Motorola. Android still rules with six of the top 10, two Windows Phones, a BlackBerry, and an iOS device.
Number 1: HTC One
I have been using an HTC One for nearly six months and still think it is the best smartphone I have ever used so it was easy for me to give it the top spot. The HTC One is now available on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint with the Verizon one likely coming this month. You can buy a Developer Edition or a Google Play Edition and even do what I did and give MoDaCo.SWITCH a try and run both Sense and Google experiences on one device.
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 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.
You can buy the HTC One for $200 on most carriers or for as low as $599 for the Google Play Edition with no contract obligation.
If you like the HTC One, but still find it to be too big then you may want to check out the HTC One Mini. My wife found many advantages to the smaller form factor and just moved to it from the larger HTC One.
Number 2: Nokia Lumia 1020
The Nokia Lumia 1020 launched exclusively on AT&T and while I usually don't buy locked devices the camera is just too fantastic to pass up. As I wrote in my review the Nokia Lumia 1020 is the best Windows Phone device ever made.
Nokia has always excelled at imaging and last year when they rolled out the Nokia 808 PureView I picked one up for the camera experience. Unfortunately, the Symbian OS limits me a bit and I don't use that device much. The Nokia Lumia 1020 brings that PureView experience to Windows Phone 8 and I am loving the entire experience.
Nokia provides the best low light experience along with a manual Nokia Pro Camera utility that takes camera phone imaging to the next level. Nokia also offers several more helpful camera lenses (utilities), wireless charging with a simple shell, HERE Maps turn-by-turn voice navigation, Nokia Music+, and many other Nokia exclusive apps.
The Lumia 1020 comes in a matte finish and is a rock solid device. If there was no app gap and the 1020 was a bit more sleek, like the Lumia 925, then I may have ranked it first.
You can pick up the Lumia 1020 for $299.99 under 2-year contract with AT&T.
Number 3: LG G2
The LG G2 was just announced yesterday, but after checking out the hands-on previews and details I decided to give it the third spot. I really like the Optimus G Pro as well, but it is an exclusive and there are too many other great devices to put it in my top 10 list. The G2 will launch on all four major US wireless carriers, likely rolling out this month.
The two primary features that grabbed my attention were the large 5.2 inch display with just 2.65 mm bezel and the removal of all side buttons from the phone. You will find that LG placed the buttons on the back of the phone. The G2 also has the fastest mobile processor available, 2GB of RAM, a 13 megapixel camera with OIS, and 3,000 mAh battery. It is truly a powerhouse of a device and I cannot wait to test one out.
Number 4: 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. iOS 7 will be coming soon and the iPhone 5 will get that update so this phone is still a contender. I sold mine to buy the Lumia 1020, but have an iPad for iOS work.
Other smartphone manufacturers are innovating more and pushing the limits of smartphone design and I gave them some credit in my top ten list. 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.
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.
Number 5: Samsung Galaxy S4
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the successor to the extremely popular Galaxy S III with improvements across the board. It is available on most carriers for $200 with a contract and also available as a Google Play Edition for $649.
The Galaxy S4 has a 5 inch display and yet still feels great in your hand. Samsung provides some flexibility with a microSD card and removable battery too. They also include plenty of software enhancements that make the S4 unique compared to many other Android smartphones.