Back in December I wrote about my top smartphones of 2013. With all major first quarter new smartphones available from US carriers this week, it’s time to look at the best devices to purchase as we start 2014.
We can expect a new iPhone, the Xperia Z2, possibly a new Moto X, and more coming in the next few months. For now, there are at least 10 good quality devices — this list is based on my experiences and opinions. I am sure many will have different opinions about the ranking and am curious to see what your top devices are at this time.
All indications are that we will see a new iPhone, possibly with a larger display, announced in June at WWDC. However, after looking at the iterative updates from HTC and Samsung, it is difficult for me not to give my top pick to the Apple iPhone 5s.
With the iPhone 5s in hand, you get all of the latest apps and services first, a solid performing all-around camera, an extremely pocketable form factor, and a smartphone that is simply tough to beat.
The HTC One (M7) was my top smartphone of 2013 and I would have placed this new HTC One (M8) at the top of this list if HTC had done a bit more with the rear camera. It is honestly still the smartphone I would personally purchase myself at this time, but I understand not everyone wants a new device just because it has the best build quality over everything else available.
HTC improved its Sense 6 UI so that it honestly enhances, rather than detracts from, the Android experience. There is just the right amount of customizations, settings, and features without being overbearing like Samsung tends to do. You won’t find a better designed smartphone and HTC did a fantastic job improving on an already great device.
Samsung’s latest smartphone is available from US carriers this week and — as clearly stated in CNET’s full review — the S5 is one of the top two Android smartphones to purchase right now. It has some new features over the S4, such as a fingerprint scanner, heart rate monitor, upgraded 16 megapixel camera, and water resistant design.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is one of the only smartphones today that offers both a removable battery and microSD expansion card slot, which makes it handy for road warriors. There are plenty of options in the S5, but thankfully TouchWiz has been slimmed down a bit to offer a better overall experience.
While the Moto X was launched last fall, it remains one of my favorite smartphones of all time. The Moto X is great because of the things Motorola has done to make the overall experience fantastic, including active notifications, touchless controls, Motorola Connect, and Motorola Assist.
The Moto X is also one of the lowest priced smartphones you can purchase and is available on all US carriers via the Moto Maker customization site. Even though I continue to test out the HTC One (M8), my SIM keeps finding its way back into my custom Moto X because of the Motorola enhancements.
Windows Phone is gaining market share and the best overall Windows Phone available today is clearly the Nokia Lumia Icon from Verizon Wireless. It offers up the perfect mix of screen size, 5 inches, with great internal specs and a fantastic camera. You can’t beat a high end Nokia Lumia camera on a phone and the Icon doesn’t disappoint.
Nokia just announced the Lumia 930, which is the GSM version of the Lumia Icon for customers outside the US. Windows Phone has come a long way and will be getting even better very soon with the Windows Phone 8.1 update that was announced and shown off last week.
Samsung throws everything but the kitchen sink into 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.
The Note 3 was launched last fall, but remains the top phablet available today. If you use the S Pen or need a device with a very large display, then you really cannot beat the Galaxy Note 3. I am surprised by how many family and friends I see using the Note 3 on a daily basis.
LG did great with the Nexus 5 and LG G2 in 2013. It is likely we will see a new model, maybe the G3, this year, but the G2 is still an excellent option to consider.
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 one a couple of times though because of the great camera and gorgeous display, along with the now lower price.
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.
Many Android purists stick with the Google Nexus line and LG's Nexus 5 is a smart choice to consider with a reasonable price point.
The Nexus 5 has the excellent 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 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. You will not find a better camera on a phone than the one on the Lumia 1020 so that fact alone makes this device one to add to my top 10 list.
I disagree with Nokia’s exclusive US carrier strategy and it is a real shame that the Lumia 1020 is still only available on AT&T in the same way it is sad that the Lumia Icon is a Verizon exclusive. I would love to see Nokia release phones like Apple, Samsung, HTC, and LG tend to do with multiple carrier availability.
Sony’s flagship smartphones are not commonly sold via US carriers, but the Z1 came to T-Mobile in the form of the Xperia Z1s. I almost bought one because I find the waterproof design to be a nice bonus for the rainy Pacific Northwest. However, the washed out display killed that plan even though the camera, minimal Sony UI, and overall design are attractive.
Sony announced the Xperia Z2 that looks to improve in every area and I am excited to see it launch in the US. However, we don’t yet know when it is coming; so for now the Z1s variant sits at number 10 in my current list.