Top 10 smartphones for the 2013 holiday season

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.

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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

1iPhone5
(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

htc-one-small
(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

2GalaxyNote3
(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

Lumia1020Yellow
(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

5Nexus5
(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, Android, Windows Phone, Verizon, AT&T, Samsung, Nokia, iPhone, iOS, HTC, Apple, The Year's Best Tech for Work and Play

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35 comments
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  • not really suprised but

    No BlackBerry?
    Georgefly97
    • No BlackBerry (major oversight too)

      Seriously, it is a highly underrated phone. I upgraded to a Q10 (I still prefer a physical keyboard) a little over a week ago and am very impressed with it. The BB10 o/s is super responsive and the Hub is a major timesaver for anyone that is a message-heavy user. The AMOLED screen is extremely crisp and the browser is very fast, waaaay faster than previous BB models (although that is an easy measure to beat). I'm synced to multiple mail systems, which was drop-dead simple to setup, and the integration with outlook.com / hotmail / live.com is seamless. It took a few hours to get used to the user-interaction with the new BB, which I think is partially why it "shows" poorly in a hands-on user demo, but once you understand it you really learn to appreciate it.

      If your life revolves around games and apps, don't bother, because BB is meant for communication, whether that be phone, text, BBM or email, which it does extremely well.
      DBRem
      • BB10

        We tried it, but out of 5 devices sent 5 came back. On top of that we had to have two BES servers and a traveler server between it and our notes. Part of the beauty of BB was how BES just handled everything. When they added the needless complexity it made the decision to move to other devices leveraging other MDM's that much easier.
        Johnpford
  • thanks for not having a zdnet slideshow!!!!!!!!!!

    signed,

    everyone
    everss02
    • No slideshow!

      Totally agree with you...thanks for no slideshow. Please listen to your readers.
      roger.marin@...
  • chcek

    hello
    caraar
  • Overpriced, overpriced, and overpriced...

    You can get a THL W100 phone, completely unlocked for $150 - that's less than half of even the Nexus. No contract. Done. And it's a super Android phone, free of vendor crapware. Works on the AT&T network in the USA.

    You can get much better deals if you get off the mainstream vendor/service provider subsidized route. Paired with a pay-as-you-go provider, I do almost all my calling and surfing on wifi, so my monthly cost is only about $4/month for service.
    cosmolee501
  • You missed one

    I have been waiting for a Windows Phone Phablet forever. The Nokia 1520 will be arriving just in time for the holidays. Hopefully they will have a nice Black Friday offer. My girlfriend wants the Nokia 1020 and that means that we will both be leaving Verizon to get the phones that we want. Unfortunately the three kids will still be on Verizon until their contracts expire.
    Burger Meister
  • Can Nokia be a choice

    Interesting article, but the enlistment of Nokia at the top rung may draw eyebrows of many. Though Nokia has been striving hard for their survival with Microsoft boost, but they are still much behind in the competition. An Interesting article discusses about the decay of Nokia - if one searches with the string "Lessons from the Nokia debacle"
    tulaipaul
    • Have you tried the Lumia 1020 or read a review?

      They are only behind the competition in sales numbers. Feature wise, they are lightyears ahead.
      kstap
      • I've tried a Nokia Windows phone...No thanks.

        What features are you referring to?

        The ugly, off center graphics? The nonexistent apps?

        How about not being able to easily swap out that keyboard?
        How about Microsoft's shameful partnering with Apple on the arrogantly named 'rockstar' patent troll group?

        Microsoft is trying to compete by suppressing the competition.
        Josh Destardi
    • Have to agree.

      The Nokia just are not prime time players, a step above BB but not in the big boys league no matter how much some wish they were.
      KBabcock75
      • Just because you said so...?

        Please elaborate on:

        "not in the big boys League"

        So many of my friends now have Nokia Lumias of alla models and not one are dissatisfied. So we are eager to hear what we are missing from "the big boys League"?
        brhorv
    • Nokia is in transition

      No matter how good the phone is, there has to be some doubt about what the new owner is going to do to customers in the transition.
      symbolset
  • I get it

    that you're writing for an American audience but the statements aimed at the US market don't really mean much for the rest of the world eg that the Lumia 1020 is only available on certain networks in the US.
    KRP1950
  • Great ranking

    Awesome to see that HTC beats Samsung! It's unfortunate to see that the actual bestseller rankings do not closely resemble this list due to manufacturer-carrier incentive arrangements and marketing budget differences.

    However very surprised to see the vast difference between the galaxy S4 and Note 3! Does the stylus make that much difference?
    Truffol
    • vast difference between the galaxy S4 and Note 3!

      Stylus?
      The screen size, CPU, SD card, 3 GB RAM, Android 4.4, did I mention the 5.7" screen. Oh, yah, i think it also has a stylus stuck inside somewhere.
      Compared to my old Nexus It can actually make calls and connect to the internet.
      bwexler
  • Asus Padfone is missing!!!

    Your missing the ASUS Padfone II its the perfect travel companion, in the bus in the plane.....
    The option to change from the small screen to the big screen is perfect without having to seperate devices.
    And the additional battery in the Pad keeps you going for Days where other Phones just die.
    All the Phones above are nice but for traveling the Padfone 2 beats them all
    Datasign
  • Holiday season?

    Do you mean Christmas? You should be more aware of the rest of the world: here in Europe the holiday season is usually the summer
    DavidHarrisLH
  • Mostly okay, but....

    .....the order of best to less best is messed up. :)
    rfarrah@...