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Best Android smartphones (October 2014 edition)

Here is a selection of the best Android phones currently available on the market. Whether you're after a handset for personal use, or one suited to BYOD, there's bound to be an Android handset here for you.

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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 10 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Introduction

If you're in the market for an Android handset, I have good news for you – there's never been a better time to buy. Not only are there a number of awesome handsets out there, but there's also a smartphone to suit everyone's needs, taste, and even pocket!

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2 of 10 Amazon

Amazon Fire Phone

As we'd expect from Amazon, we have a device built using quality – but on the whole generic – parts, but with the emphasis put on delivering a product that is itself unique, functional and tightly bound to the Amazon ecosystem.

The screen is, and is always the case with Amazon products, the highlight. It is a 4.7-inch industry-leading ultra-bright display making the handset suited to use in bright sunshine. It features dynamic image contrast to keep the image clear – as opposed to just altering the brightness which is what most smartphones do) and also features a circular polarizer to reduce glare.

The camera too is a big feature. The F2.0 lens gives it excellent low-light capability, beating what Apple and Samsung can go in tests carried out by Amazon.

It's clear that Amazon has once again put the hardware focus on the bit that users see the most – the screen.

  • Quad-core 2.2GHz processor
  • Adremo 330 GPU
  • 2GB RAM
  • 4.7-inch IPS 1,280 x 720 retina display with 315 pixels-per-inch, dynamic contrast and circular polarizer for outdoor use (the rumored 3D display turns out to be a software-driven dynamic perspective effect as opposed to true 3D) 
  • Gorilla Glass 3 scratch-resistant screen with rubber frame
  • 13MP rear-facing camera with F2.0 five element lens (giving it good low-light capability) and optical stabilization, and can capture full HD video at 30FPS
  • Four 120-degree field-of-view front-facing cameras with IR illumination for head tracking for the dynamic perspective feature
  • Sensors include: Dynamic Perspective sensor system with invisible infrared illumination, gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, barometer, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor
  • Fire OS 3.5
  • Dual-stereo speakers
  • Tangle-free flat cabled headphones
  • 32/64GB internal storage
  • 2400mAh battery offering 22 hours of talk time, up to 285 hours of standby, up to 11 hours of video playback, and up to 65 hours of audio playback.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • A different, quirky handset
  • Tightly bound to the Amazon ecosystem – if you're into that

Cons:

  • Sales appear to have tanked badly
  • Very gimmicky
  • Expensive (off-contract, contract price npw only $0.99) when compared to other Amazon hardware products
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3 of 10 Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Bigger and better than the Galaxy S5, Samsung's new flagship handset is an all-round improvement on its predecessor.

It's not out yet in the US, but if you're in the market for a high-end device, this is certainly worth waiting for.

  • KitKat (Android 4.4)
  • Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor
  • 5.7-inch 2560 x 1440 display with 515 pixels-per-inch
  • 3GB of RAM
  • Stylus (a pro or a con depending on your view of them)
  • 16MP rear camera
  • 3.7MP front camera
  • 4G LTE
  • NFC
  • 32 internal storage
  • microSD card slot for expansion
  • 3200mAh battery offering 21 hours of talk time, up to 420 hours of standby

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Fastest, most powerful smartphone on the list
  • Fantastic display
  • Storage expansion
  • Great battery life
  • Stylus (depending on your view of such things)

Cons:

  • Large handset
  • Stylus (depending on your view of such things)
  • Part plastic build 
  • Poor fit and finish on some handsets
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4 of 10 LG

LG G3

Building on the success of the G2, LG looks to take on Android smartphone giant Samsung with the G3. LG has taken the good points of the G2 and made changes such as adding a microSD card slot and removable battery, features which users had asked for.

A solid, well-rounded phablet.

  • Android 4.4.2 'KitKat'
  • 2.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor
  • 5.5-inch QHD IPS 2560 x 1440 display featuring 534-pixel-per-inch
  • 13MP rear camera
  • 2.1MP front camera
  • 16/32GB internal storage
  • microSD card support
  • 3000mAh battery offering 21 hours of talk time, up to 550 hours of standby

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Storage expansion
  • Awesome display
  • Excellent battery which is also user-replaceable

Cons:

  • A huge handset
  • Plastic construction
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5 of 10 Google

Google Nexus 5

Not only has it been put together using some of the best components currently available, it also offers the purest Android experience possible, and gives owners access to the latest Android 4.4 KitKat. Owners also will get their updates direct from Google and won't need to wait for hardware OEMs or carriers to release customized updates (or just never receive updates, as is still the case with many handsets).

I've always found Nexus-branded hardware to be solid and reliable, but I'd give this a few weeks for Google to shake out any potential bugs before recommending it to anyone other than hardcore Android enthusiasts.

  • KitKat (Android 4.4)
  • 2.23GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU
  • 4.95-inch 1920x1080 display with a pixel density of 445 pixels-per-inch
  • 8MP rear camera
  • 1.3MP front camera
  • 16/32GB internal storage
  • 2300mAh battery offering 17 hours of talk time, up to 300 hours of standby

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Good price
  • Powerful hardware
  • Stock Android

Cons:

  • No microSD expansion
  • Poor battery life
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6 of 10 Samsung

Samsung Galaxy S5

The flagship Galaxy handset sees an upgrade and the addition of new sensors.

While I have little doubt that Samsung was influenced by the iPhone 5S – the fingerprint reader and motion sensors kinda gives that away – there's also plenty of originality in the Galaxy S5 too.

  • KitKat (Android 4.4)
  • 5.1-inch Full HD Super AMOLED with a pixel density of 415 pixels-per-inch
  • 2.5GHz quad-core processor with Adreno 330 GPU
  • 16MP rear camera
  • 2MP front camera
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • Air Gesture support
  • Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, temperature, humidity, gesture, and heart rate sensors
  • 16/32GB internal storage
  • microSD card support
  • 2800mAh battery offering 21 hours of talk time, up to 390 hours of standby

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Excellent display
  • Powerful hardware
  • Water resistant
  • Excellent battery life
  • Removable battery

Cons:

  • Fingerprint reader is hit and miss
  • Plastic design
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7 of 10 Sony

Sony Xperia Z3

Sony seems to be perpetually revamping the Xperia Z line, and the Z3 is yet another fine handset. One of its stand-out features is that it is IP68 certified, which means it is dust proof and water resistant to 1 meter for 30 minutes.

  • KitKat (Android 4.4)
  • 5.2-inch IPS LED display with a pixel density of 424 pixels-per-inch
  • 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor with Adreno 330 GPU
  • 20.7MP rear camera
  • 2.2MP front camera
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD card support
  • 3200mAh battery offering 19 hours of talk time, up to 740 hours of standby

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Excellent display
  • Water resistant
  • Excellent noise cancellation
  • Storage expansion

Cons:

  • Weighty handset
  • No HDMI output
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8 of 10 HTC

HTC One M8

Looking like the original HTC One, the One M8 features an unibody aluminum shell which gives it a firm feel, unlike the Samsung Galaxy S4 with its plastic shell.

Inside the shell is everything you'd expect from a modern Android smartphone – a large, high-pixel-density display, a powerful quad-core processor, plenty of storage, good cameras, and a microSD card for storage expansion which supports cards up to 128GB.

  • KitKat (Android 4.2.2) with HTC Sense
  • 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
  • 5-inch Full HD, 1080p display (441 pixels-per-inch)
  • 4MP rear camera
  • 4MP UltraPixel front camera
  • 16/32GB internal storage
  • microSD card slot
  • 2600mAh battery offering 20 hours of talk time, up to 495 hours of standby

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Powerful hardware
  • Excellent finish
  • Exceptional display

Cons:

  • Not very durable
  • Rear camera can be hit and miss
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9 of 10 Sony

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

Sony zaps the Zperia Z3 with a shrink ray to make it more suited to people with small hands and pockets.

You still get a powerful handset, but you get it in a more portable form factor.

  • KitKat (Android 4.4)
  • 4.6-inch 1280x720 TRILUMINOS display
  • 2.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor
  • 20.7MP rear camera
  • 2.2MP front camera
  • Water and dustproof
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD card support
  • 2600mAh battery offering 14 hours of talk time, up to 920 hours of standby

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Small and lightweight
  • Powerful hardware
  • Excellent battery life
  • Storage expansion
  • Dust and waterproof

Cons:

  • Small display
  • Pricy
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10 of 10 Samsung

Samsung Galaxy S5 Active

Like Samsung's Galaxy S5, but without the fingerprint reader and with the addition of a more durable shell.

  • KitKat (Android 4.4)
  • 5.1-inch Full HD Super AMOLED with a pixel density of 415 pixels-per-inch
  • 2.5GHz quad-core processor with Adreno 330 GPU
  • 16MP rear camera
  • 2MP front camera
  • Air Gesture support
  • Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, temperature, humidity, gesture, and heart rate sensors
  • 16/32GB internal storage
  • microSD card support
  • IP67 certified (dust and water resistant up to 1 meter and 30 minutes) and MIL-STD-810G certified (salt, dust, humidity, rain, vibration, solar radiation, transport and thermal shock resistant)
  • 2800mAh battery offering 21 hours of talk time, up to 390 hours of standby

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Storage expansion
  • Powerful hardware
  • MIL-STD-810G certification

Cons:

  • Could be more robust
  • No fingerprint reader

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