Top 10 smartphones to kick off 2013

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, Android, Apple, Google, HTC, iPhone, Nokia, Samsung, Smartphones

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  • Seriously you are doing a smart phone top 10 now?

    The week before MWC and you choose to do one now? I suppose this will give you reason to do a post show top 10 after MWC.
    • Don't expect anything at MWC

      Unlike previous years, I highly doubt we will see any high end smartphones at MWC. HTC and BlackBerry already announced, Samsung may be doing so in March, and Apple won't for a few months. Google will likely show something at I/O in May. What is it you expect to see at MWC? Seems to me it is a good time to compare, with the exception of the new Galaxy that I talked about.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
      • +1

        and may be Nokia has something to show or not.
        Ram U
      • various odds and ins

        Wish list:

        new Nokia phone
        Other various WP8 phones
        Samsung Galaxy Note 3
        Samsung Galaxy 4

        I could see either the Note or the SG4 but not both coming out for MWC. Nokia will have something new. hopefully it is not a mid tiered/lowend phone.

        Maybe a WP8 HTC One?

        It is just a really strange time to do a "top 10" right before a "major" industry event.
        • Nokia maybe, but not Samsung

          Samsung will have an event after MWC. There is no way HTC will announce a One WP device yet. Really not expecting much, especially for US market.
          palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
        • Nokia Lumia 7xx

          The Nokia Lumia 7xx series is still missing in the WP8 line-up.
          So I would expect that midrange phone (250$-300$) to be announced pretty soon.

          Also a aluminium limited edition of the Lumia 920 might be on the cards if romours are to be believed.
  • Seriously you are doing a smart phone top 10 now?

    The week before MWC and you choose to do one now? I suppose this will give you reason to do a post show top 10 after MWC.
  • Blackberry

    Number 6, out of 10; for a phone & Company that was written-off, summarily, by pundits
    not long ago, Blackberry is set to make a strong comeback. Since almost everybody hates
    Microsoft, they are in the most jeopardy from the new Blackberry Line. Windows 8 blows,
    by the way.
    • I can see why you're well sought after in the cell phone world.

      Oh wait, you're not?
      William Farrel
    • Re: Blackberry

      You know what, BlackBerry fanbois are still such a novelty on this site that I'm going to upvote this one, just for once.
  • The best = 7th place?

    How does the "best Android smartphone available" rank #7? That doen't seem balanced...
    • Because

      Because clearly BlackBerry had to be better than the best!
  • My List

    1. LG Nexus 4
    2. LG Nexus 4
    3. LG Nexus 4
    4. LG Nexus 4
    5. LG Nexus 4
    6. LG Nexus 4
    7. LG Nexus 4
    8. LG Nexus 4
    9. LG Nexus 4
    10. LG Nexus 4

    $350 for the phone and with $30 unlimited data per month with T-Mobile. Nothing beats that, Life is GOOD. Thank You!
    • Nexus 4 has worst camera and microphones of all ten phones

      I think the Nexus 4 should not be in this list.
      It's camera and microphones are by far the worst of all the phones in this top ten. At least ten high end phones not in this list can have better camera and microphones than the Nexus 4.

      It is fairly cheap but this is not a list of cheap phones but of the best phones.
  • I agree with most of the choices, except for the Galaxy Note II

    personally, for me it's a little too big to be using on a regular basis, and I really don't consider it a smartphone, instead a small tablet with calling capabilities.
    William Farrel
  • Too bad HTC is trying to be Apple

    Too bad HTC has decided to go the Apple route & make all their phones w/non-removable batteries & unexpandable memory (obviously so they can charge more for their higher memory options & make you buy a new phone when the battery dies). Such a shame because they look like nice phones. Unfortunately, I will NEVER buy a phone w/o a changeable battery. After a device's non-removable battery loses its ability to hold a good charge, the phone becomes unusable. Until HTC gets their head out of their a$$es & realize they do not have a cult following like Apple (which allows Apple to get away w/cr@p like that), I will not but any of their devices & recommend that all my clients stay away. I guess Samsung only for now...
    • If you're Apple....

      When the battery dies (and it will die, if you're a power user anyway, before your contract dies), Apple charges a cool $80 to replace a $5.00 battery (plus shipping, if you send it in rather than trek to an Apple store). That's a profit center.
    • Scoop on battery

      Most Li-Poly cells will last for about 500 full charge/discharge cycles.... "last" is officially the time to 80% of the original capacity, after which the cell dies very fast. If, like me, you charge your phone every day, take note that 500 days != Full Contract.

      If you're less of a power user, or recharge during the day, it probably lasts out your contract. And that's pretty much what Apple's counting on. In fact, some new phones offer your choice of maximum runtime or maximum battery life. Choose the later, and the phone won't discharge all the way, and will tell you its full when it's not. That's the same thing hybrid cars do... NiMh and Lithium cells lose most of their life near the charging extremes. Eliminate those extremes and you extend the life of the cell.

      That's completely in normal use. Lithium cells have a secondary problem; if they're ever discharged too much, they slowly self-destruct. Systems protect against this... this is different than the aging mechanisms.
  • No Sony?

    You must have been fairly unimpressed by the xperia z, though it has got praise from many... What are your reasons for,it not making the grade against several older phones?
    • Its just that I was contemplating getting one...

      be interested in your take on it.