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Buying a holiday smartphone? Here are 8 quirky iPhone and Android alternatives to consider

2013 has seen several startups launch new smartphones, and while many can't keep up with Apple, Samsung, Nokia and other OEMs on specs, they all manage to bring something unique.
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By Liam Tung, Contributor on
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1 of 8 Jo Best/ZDNet

Jolla

Born out of Nokia's bloodletting during its shift from Symbian to Windows Phone in 2011, the team at Jolla has just released its first smartphone.

While there's a bevy of alternative Android smartphones out there these days, what makes Finnish startup Jolla stand out is that the company has not only designed and built its own hardware, but it's also taken a punt on its own operating system — the Linux-based Sailfish OS — which picks up from where Nokia left off on the MeeGo OS.

It's one of a few alternative smartphones that have put a unique experience over specs, with the hope that its noble efforts to do something different will be enough for customers to part with a few hundred bucks.

Along with a different operating system, the Jolla device has an swappable NFC backplate that can be used to customise the UI and other elements of the phone.

The devices were put up for pre-order earlier this year, but now the only place you can get your hands on one is through Finland's smallest mobile operator.

Cost: €399 ($548), currently only available from Finnish operator DNA.

Specs: The 4.5-inch screen has 960x540 qHD display resolution. It comes with 16GB storage, a microSD slot, eight-megapixel main camera, two-megapixel front-facing camera, replaceable 2100 mAh capacity battery. It runs on a 1.4Ghz dual-core Qualcomm chip, has 1GB RAM and supports 4G LTE.

Hails from: Finland

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2 of 8 Oppo

Oppo N1

Chinese hardware maker Oppo has just released its third phone, the N1. It's a 5.9-inch Android 4.2 Jelly Bean phablet with some hardware and software components that elevate in beyond the average smartphone.

The N1 hardware looks polished, and like Jolla, the N1 aims for different experience — aiming at both the modder crowd and general consumers with its pre-loaded CyanogenMod firmware.

Two standout unique features of the N1 are its rear touch-panel for scrolling, tapping or snapping pics and the rotating camera, which can roll from a front-facing position to the back.

Cost: €449 ($599)

Specs: The 5.9-inch phablet has a 1080p HD display with 377 ppi, a 13-megapixel camera, 2GB RAM and 3,610 mAh battery. The N1 runs Oppo's Android 4.2 Jelly Bean with the Oppo Color UI, but also comes with support for CyanogenMod. It weighs 213g, with dimensions at 170mm long, 82mm wide and 9mm thick.

Availability: Europe and the US from 10 December.

Hails from: China

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3 of 8 Yota Devices

YotaPhone

Launched last week by a unit of Russian telecoms company Yota, Yota Devices, the YotaPhone became Russia's first homegrown smartphone.

Like Jolla and Oppo, specs take a backseat to differentiation, which in Yota's case takes shape in two displays: an LCD screen on the front and an e-ink screen on the back. Images like maps or documents can be saved to the e-ink screen, and the device will keep displaying them even on a flat battery. Widgets like the clock, battery level or notifications can also be placed there.

Yota's dual-screen prototype captured attention at this year's CES, but while the concept still impresses, Yota's implementation of the e-ink display in the finished product appears to need further work, according to ZDNet's sister site, CNET.

But, as Yota Devices CEO Vlad Martynov said at the release of the YotaPhone: "This is YotaPhone 1.0. Expect other big and new things to follow."

The next iteration is expected to arrive in late 2014.

Cost: €499 ($688)

Specs: The 4.3-inch YotaPhone has 720x1280 LCD main screen, while the back is a 360x640 EPD grayscale display. It has a 13-megapixel main camera and one-megapixel front-facing camera, 2GB of RAM, a 1,800mAh battery, FM radio, and LTE in the 800/1800/2600 bands. The YotaPhone runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.

Available: Russia, Austria, France, Spain, and Germany via yotaphone.com and in stores in December in Russia and Germany.

By early 2014 it is expected to be available in 20 markets, including the UK, but not the US.

Hails from: Russia

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4 of 8 Micromax

Canvas Turbo A250

Micromax has been making waves in India with its reasonably affordable and well-specced Android smartphones, the latest of which is the Canvas Turbo A250, a five-inch display smartphone running Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean which comes pre-installed with BlackBerry Messenger.

Local media reports claim Micromax is headed to Russia this month and if its launch there goes well, it may spread its wings to the rest of Europe. ZDNet has asked the company for a confirmation of its Russian and European plans.

Cost: 19,990 rupees ($324)

Specs: The five-inch Canvas Turbo A250 has a full HD LCD screen with 1920x1080 resolution, with a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB storage, a 2,000mAh battery, a 13-megapixel rear camera and a five-megapixel front-facing camera.

Available: India.

Hails from: India

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5 of 8 Geeksphone

Geeksphone Revolution

Geeksphone, the maker of early Firefox OS developer phones Peak and Keon, recently announced it was working on a new device called Peak+ that promised to be more powerful than Firefox OS smartphones on the market.

That is, until insurmountable troubles at its Asian suppliers over the past few months forced it to cancel manufacturing. With Peak+ off the table, the Madrid-based company plans to turn its attention to a new handset it's calling 'Revolution'.

Not much is known about the Revolution yet, however it appears it may run an Intel chip. Geeksphone released a video stating "This is what we are working on, but now with 4.8-inch screen", which showed an Intel Firefox OS phone outperforming one running on a Qualcomm ARM processor.

Also worth noting is that Geeksphone smartphones aren't officially running Firefox OS, since only devices sold by carriers can use the brand, such as the LG Fireweb, Alcatel OneTouch Fire, and ZTE Open sold by the likes of Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, and Telenor. Instead, Geeksphone developer phones are running Boot2Gecko.

Cost: expected to be around €149 ($205), the price of the Peak+.

Specs: To be confirmed.

Hails from: Spain.

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6 of 8 Fairphone

Fairphone

Want a smartphone made by people who were paid fair wages, using some materials derived from conflict-free minerals and Fairtrade certified gold? Netherlands-designed Fairphone might be the phone for you.

The handset wears its environmentally-conscious ethos front and centre with elements including a removable battery, no accessories included by default, and minimal packaging.

Unfortunatel,y all 25,000 phones in its initial run have been sold. And sadly for those that pre-ordered it, the Fairphone won't be filling anyone's stocking this Christmas.

"The first batch of around 11,000 phones leaves the factory on the 23rd of December 2013, after which it will make its way to your respective homes after Christmas," Fairphone Founder and CEO Bas van Abel said recently. "We want to apologise for the delay and that we won't make a Christmas delivery."

The second delivery leaves on 10 January next year, and the company is planning a further batch for the new year.

Cost: €325 ($446).

Specs: The device runs Android 4.2, has 16GB of storage and 1GB of RAM, and its 4.3 qHD screen comes with a 960x540 pixels resolution. The main camera is eight-megapixels, while the front-facing equivalent comes in at 1.3 megapixels. The battery is 2,000 mAh.

Hails from: Netherlands.

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7 of 8 Quecha

Quechua Phone

French outdoor clothing company Quecha has produced its very own five-inch inch rugged Android phone, the Quecha Phone, for the European market.

Launched last week, the ruggedised smartphone is now available in France, Spain and Germany via online retailer Decathlon.

Cost: €229.95 ($316).

Specs: The five-inch Quechua Phone's has a 840 x 480 resolution with a five-megapixel camera and 720p video recording. It's a 3G device, with Bluetooth and wi-fi connectivity, 4GB of onboard storage (expandable to 32GB), and a 3,500 mAh battery. It weighs 250g and runs on a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 8225Q processor.

Hails from: France

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8 of 8 Xiaomi

Xiaomi Mi3

Now one of the most popular smartphone makers in China, Xiaomi recently unveiled the successor to its hit MI2 S device, the Mi3.

Even in China Xiaomi still walks in the shadow of Samsung, but in places like Shanghai's Metro network, it's not hard to find a local holding one of Xiaomi's smartphones.

The three-year old Beijing-based company, which released its first device in 2011, regularly makes headlines for rapid sales, and in October managed to shift 100,000 Mi3 phones in 86 seconds.

Run by co-founder and CEO Lei Jun, it's also recruited former Android global VP, Hugo Barra as its VP, and has a strong management team of local talent, such as co-founder Lin Bin, formerly VP of Google China Institute of Engineering and Engineering Director of Google Global.

Cost: 1,999 yuan ($327/ €239)

Specs: The Mi3 comes with a Tegra 4 quad-core CPU and five-inch full HD screen. Its five-inch display has a resolution of 1920x1080, and there's a 13-megapixel camera with dual LED flash and 3,050mAh battery onboard. The device runs MIUI V5 Android.

Hails from: China

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