Top 10 smartphones to kick off 2012

It was a bit easier to pick my top 10 smartphones to start 2012 and I ended up with four of them being Windows Phone devices. Which is your current favorite?
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

As we head into April, I think it is appropriate to once again look at the current smartphone market and see what I consider the top smartphones available or coming soon to the U.S. market. CES and MWC is behind us with CTIA coming in May so the majority of new smartphones for the first half of 2012 have been revealed. This post includes phones that have been announced, but does not include any rumored devices in the top 10 list. Some do not have exact release dates or pricing, but they should all be here within the next couple of months. You can check out several product photos of these top 10 devices in my image gallery, but I also highly recommend you visit your carrier store or local electronics retailer to get some hands-on time with a device before you make your purchase decision.

Image Gallery: Check out photos of my top 10 smartphones to kick off 2012.
Image Gallery: Nokia Lumia 900
Image Gallery: HTC Radar 4G

Just so you know where my personal perspective is coming from I am a long time (over 10 years) T-Mobile subscriber with five phones on a family plan and also have a Verizon account with the Apple iPhone 4S. I had an AT&T account (mainly used only with data) for a couple of years and was a Sprint subscriber for about a year with devices like the HTC EVO 4G. I do have some experiences with each of the four major US wireless carriers and have also been purchasing SIM-unlocked smartphones for over 7 years. I personally will switch and pay the ETF to get a new device and jump to a carrier that offers me more for my money, but like most of you the quality and reliability of the carrier is more important than the device itself.

IMHO, smartphones today are all very good at helping you stay connected and get a lot done on the go and while I have some preferences I also switch around a lot and enjoy every mobile platform. So, without further rambling, here are my Top 10 Smartphones to Kick Off 2012.

Number 1: Apple iPhone 4S

The Apple iPhone is an extremely popular smartphone and after using my iPhone 4S on Verizon for several months I have to say it is one of my favorite phones ever. It may not give you all the customizability you want and the fastest data connection available, but the camera is fantastic, Siri is very useful, applications are outstanding, battery life is decent, signal strength is better than I have seen on any other Verizon phone, and the display is still better than anything else in the smartphone market.

You can now purchase an iPhone 4S on Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T so the majority of mobile phone customers can choose this device and stick with their existing carrier. I'm not sure what Apple can do to make the iPhone better, other than supporting LTE data, and imagine the next update will be focused on that aspect since everything else is already excellent.

Number 2: HTC One X

HTC announced that the One X will be coming to AT&T this spring and the device looks to take the lead as the top Android smartphone with amazing hardware, camera features that blow away nearly every other device, and audio enhancements that are sure to impress the audiophile. The HTC One X sports a Snapdragon S4 duel-core 1.5 GHz processor, 4.7-inch, 720p HD screen crafted from contoured Corning Gorilla Glass, HTC Sense 4.0 with Ice Cream Sandwich, Bluetooth 4.0, 8 megapixel camera with f/2.0 lens, and Beats Audio. Dropbox is integrated too so integrated storage isn't much of a limitation.

The HTC One X on AT&T will support their LTE data network so should be one of the fastest Android devices around. We don't know the price yet, but looking at other LTE devices I imagine it will be around $299 with a 2-year contract.

Number 3: Nokia Lumia 900

Regular readers know I am a major fan of Windows Phone and as we saw at CES this year, the Nokia Lumia 900 looks to be one of the best Windows Phone devices of 2012. AT&T just revealed the Lumia 900 will be launching for just $99.99 on 8 April and I am seriously considering adding an AT&T account and making this my Windows Phone device.

The Nokia Lumia 900 has that lovely form factor we saw on the N9 and Lumia 800 with a larger 4.3 inch AMOLED ClearBlack display. You can also find an 8 megapixel camera, 1 megapixel front facing camera, LTE, 1.4 GHz processor, and more.

Let's check out numbers 4 through 7 »

Number 4: Galaxy Nexus from Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus was the first device to come with Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, and I enjoy using my SIM unlocked model on T-Mobile. It is the best Android smartphone I have ever owned and I would have rated it in the top three if it would have came with a better camera and battery life. It is one of the best Nexus devices though with rather high end specifications that include NFC, a barometer, 1.2 GHz dual core processor, 4.65 inch Super AMOLED HD (1280x720) display, and HSPA+ or LTE support.

You can buy the Galaxy Nexus from Verizon for $299.99 with support for LTE. You can also buy the SIM-unlocked one to use on AT&T or T-Mobile through US importers, such as Negri Electronics.

Number 5: HTC Titan II

In addition to the Nokia Lumia 900 with LTE, AT&T customers are lucky enough to get to choose from yet another high quality Windows Phone device in the HTC Titan II. The Titan II builds upon the Titan with LTE support, a 16 megapixel camera, 4.7 inch Super LCD, 1.5 GHz processor, and 1730 mAh battery. I used the device a bit at CES and even though the display is 4.7 inches it doesn't feel that large due to the thin form factor.

The HTC Titan II will also launch on AT&T on 8 April for $199.99 with a 2-year contract. With the Nokia Lumia 900 coming in at half the price I have to believe most people will pick up the Lumia 900 with cool form factor and design.

Number 6: HTC One S

The smaller brother to the HTC One X is the HTC One S and it will be launching this spring on T-Mobile so I am likely going to pick one up to try. The One S has a smaller 4.3 inch qHD Super AMOLED display, 1.5 GHz dual core processor, 8 megapixel camera, Beats Audio support, and HSPA+ on T-Mobile's 42 Mbps network. Other than the display type and size, it is basically the same as the HTC One X. We don't yet have a launch date or price.

The HTC One S comes with HTC Sense 4 and Android 4.0 so it packs quite a punch in a smaller form factor that feels great in your hand.

Number 7: Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx

Motorola and Verizon launched the new Droid RAZR late last year and then just a couple months later released the Droid RAZR Maxx. The RAZR Maxx has an incredibly large 3300 mAh battery that should easily get you through a day or two without charging. The device supports Verizon's super fast LTE and comes with an 8 megapixel camera with 1080p HD video capture capability, 4.3 inch Super AMOLED display, dual core 1.2 GHz processor, and more.

You can pick up the Droid RAZR Maxx for $299.99 with a 2-year contract. It comes with Android Gingerbread, which is one reason I won't rate it higher than other Android devices since all new high end Android devices in 2012 should launch with Ice Cream Sandwich.

Let's check out numbers 8 through 10 and my closing thoughts »

Number 8: Samsung Focus S

I think the Samsung line of Windows Phones were the best available during the first year of this new operating system. Samsung upgraded their top of the line model with the Samsung Focus S and it is definitely a device to still consider on AT&T. The Focus S has the latest Windows Phone OS and comes in at only 8.5 mm thick. It has a 1.4 GHz processor, 8 megapixel camera, 1.3 megapixel front facing camera, 4.3 inch Super AMOLED display (Samsung knows how to make excellent displays), and support for AT&T's HSPA+ network.

This is not a LTE device and is priced at $199.99 with a 2-year contract. I think you should consider the Lumia 900 or HTC Titan II before this device, but some people enjoy Samsung smartphones.

Number 9: Samsung Galaxy S II

The Samsung Galaxy S II has variants on three of four major US wireless carriers (Verizon never ended up with one of these), and on several regional carriers, and is an extremely successful line that I still think deserves some consideration. The Galaxy S II is now getting the Android Ice Cream Sandwich update that makes it even better than it already was. The devices sports a 4.3 inch Super AMOLED Plus display, dual-core 1 GHz processor, 8.49mm form factor, 21 Mbps HSPA+ support, 8 megapixel camera, integrated memory and microSD card, 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 3.0, and more. The camera is much better than the one found on the Galaxy Nexus (there is really no excuse for what Samsung did with the Nexus camera).

The great thing about the Galaxy S II is that you can find it on every carrier ranging in price from $9.99 to $229.99.

Number 10: HTC Radar 4G

The HTC Radar 4G may not be one of the newest Windows Phone devices, but I have tried most of them and find it to be my personal favorite and one that I use every single day. It is inexpensive at just $99.99 with a contract and is a rock solid device that runs the latest version of Windows Phone without any problems or lag.

The HTC Radar 4G comes with a 1 GHz processor, 5 megapixel camera (takes decent photos), front facing camera, WiFi hotspot functionality, and support for T-Mobile's HSPA+ network.

Final thoughts on my top 10

It is clear that Android rules the smartphone world here in the US with carrier and device selection and as you can see in my list I have five Android devices. However, I also have four Windows Phone devices and feel quite strongly that this platform is a fantastic choice for consumers. I am seeing more and more people using these devices and think it is just a matter of time before Windows Phone gains dramatically in market share. Note that I have NO RIM BlackBerry devices included this year. Their BB OS 7 devices are decent, but cannot really begin to match other devices we see in 2012.

As you can see there are four devices from HTC, three from Samsung, one from Nokia, one from Motorola, and one from Apple.

I thought about putting the Samsung Galaxy Note in my list, but it is more of a tablet than a smartphone so it really stands alone. There are a lot of other Android devices to consider, but I think I honestly picked the top ones for my list above.

There are some other devices coming in 2012, either announced or rumored, that could be serious contenders for the top 10 of 2012 later in the year. These include the announced Nokia 808 PureView with 41 megapixel camera that has no release date or location or an estimated price, the likely Samsung Galaxy S III, and Apple iPhone 5.

Related ZDNet posts

[poll id="41"]

Go back to the beginning »

Editorial standards