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.
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.
Keep clicking through to see numbers 6 through 10.
Number 6: Samsung Galaxy Note II
I chose the Galaxy Note II as the top device in a couple of my previous lists and it is still an excellent device. However great it is as a utilitarian device, the size got to me so I sold it and moved to the better built HTC One.
The Galaxy Note II has it all and I can't find it lacking in anything. You will find a 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. Then again, the rumors are quite strong that a Note III will be announced very soon.
Number 7: Moto X
The Moto X was just recently announced and will be launching on all major US wireless carriers this month. It looks a lot like the HTC One, as far as the design of the back and sides go, but doesn't have the highest end specifications. While it may have some mid-range specs, I understand the experience is fantastic and consumers should appreciate the new gestures and voice control capability.
The only pricing info we have is for AT&T, but the $199.99 subsidized price is a bit disappointing. I expected it to be more than the Nexus 4, but less than other typical carrier smartphones. It is assembled in the US, which is a selling point for a veteran like myself. I look forward to testing out the Moto X and after testing it out for a longer period of time we may see it rise up on my list of devices.
Number 8: Sony Xperia Z
The Sony Xperia Z is available now on T-Mobile for $600 full price or free up front and $25 for 24 months. The Xperia Z has integrated water resistance and is a great option for field workers.
It has a gorgeous 5 inch display, 13 megapixel camera, and water resistance that lets you take your phone with you when you get thrown into the pool. The design is a bit blocky for me, but I do appreciate some of the design elements found in the smartphone.
Number 9: Nokia Lumia 925/928/920
The Nokia Lumia 920 launched last year and this year we have variants for T-Mobile and Verizon. The T-Mobile one is the Lumia 925 and in my opinion has the best form factor. The Verizon model is the Lumia 928. They are all essentially the same with Windows Phone 8, Carl Zeiss cameras with OIS, Nokia applications and utilities, and more.
The Lumia 925 has an extra camera element and launches with some advanced camera software while the 928 supports Verizon's LTE network. Nokia has a range of Lumia phones, but the 92x series is the flagship for all carriers except for AT&T who has the 1020.
Number 10: BlackBerry Z10 and Q10
The BlackBerry Z10 is a solid device that I still find better than the QWERTY Q10 that is also available now. There are many more apps after a couple months of using the device, but there is still a gap between BB10 and iOS/Android.
The BlackBerry Z10 has a 4.2 inch display at 1280 x 768 pixels resolution, 8 megapixel rear camera, 16GB internal storage with a microSD card that supports up to 64GB microSD cards, dual core 1.5 GHz processor, 2GB RAM, microHDMI port, 1800 mAh removable battery, NFC and more. The display is smaller than most Android and Windows Phone device, but still larger than the latest iPhone. I like that you can easily expand the memory and the removable battery is appealing for enterprise users who are out and on the go.
BlackBerry is working to get BB10 devices out into consumers' hands, but so far the financial are not showing it to be a very successful strategy and Windows Phone has now passed up BlackBerry. The Z10 and Q10 can be found for about $100 on contract.