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Photos: Top five smartphones of the year

2011 saw a deluge of smartphones released but which handsets stood out as something special?
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By Natasha Lomas on
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1 of 5 Samsung

Samsung Galaxy S 2

2011 saw a deluge of smartphones released but which handsets stood out as something special?

Smartphone adoption has continued its onward march this year, with more than a quarter of adults and close to half of teens now owning a smartphone. New devices have poured into the market, with the vast majority powered by Google's Android platform.

But which of 2011's shiny handsets caught our eye? Does Apple's iPhone still make the grade or has it been bested by rivals? In no particular order, we round up five of the best smartphones on offer this year.

Samsung Galaxy S 2

Samsung has had a very good year indeed, snatching the number one smartphone seller crown from Apple this autumn.

The Samsung Galaxy S 2, pictured above, is one of the devices that has helped the mobile maker dine out on Apple's lunch. With its 1.2GHz dual-core chip, 4.3-inch Super Amoled Plus screen (with a resolution of 800x480), eight-megapixel camera and svelte 8.49mm thin form factor, the Galaxy S 2 has much to recommend it.

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2 of 5 Aloysius Low/CNET Asia

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Samsung has been firing on all cylinders this year and its latest offering, the Galaxy Nexus, also makes the grade. This smartphone was created in close collaboration with Google and boasts the latest iteration of Android, known as Ice Cream Sandwich, unencumbered by any UI skinning. Hardware-wise there's a 1.2GHz dual-core chip, a gigantic 4.65-inch Super Amoled screen and a not-to-be-sniffed-at five-megapixel camera.

The Galaxy Nexus' massive screen is matched by a huge resolution of 1,280x720 pixels - comparable to laptop resolutions. If it's a cutting edge smartphone you're after, they don't come much sharper than this.

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3 of 5 Apple

Apple iPhone 4S

Apple iPhone 4S

Apple kickstarted the touchscreen smartphone revolution back in 2007 and the iPhone remains a seriously powerful piece of kit. This year, Apple released the iPhone 4S - an update to its 2010 model, the popular iPhone 4. Critics may have moaned the 4S wasn't a big enough update on the iPhone 4 but sales defied the complaints. More than four million iPhone 4S devices were sold in the first three days of launch, despite the handset having no design update on the iPhone 4's glass-and-steel looks.

The iPhone 4S runs the latest iteration of Apple's operating system - iOS 5 - and boasts a dual-core A5 chip, an eight-megapixel camera and an improved antenna design so no more 'death grip' problems of the kind that plagued the iPhone 4. There's a 3.5-inch screen with Apple's Retina Display: 960x640-pixel resolution at 326 ppi - and more than 500,000 iPhone apps on Apple's App Store.

The iPhone 4S also includes verbal user interface called Siri - allowing mobile users to access native apps by voice commands and perform actions such as scheduling calendar appointments and dictating text messages. Apple's slick combination of hardware and software show Cupertino is still a force to be reckoned with in mobile.

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4 of 5 Bonnie Cha/CNET

Motorola Razr Android Gingerbread

Motorola Razr

Motorola's mobile year climaxed with Google announcing plans to acquire the company's handset division for $12.5bn. The company has had a tough time in recent years, competing in a fiercely competitive mobile market with the likes of HTC, LG and Samsung. It wasn't always so: the original Motorola Razr was a feature phone sensation in its day, shipping more than 50 million units in 2006 alone and becoming Moto's trusty cash cow for years before the rise of the smartphone changed the mobile game.

In 2011, Motorola has revived the Razr brand for its latest Android smartphone, pictured above: a beast of a device with a 1.2GHz dual-core chip, a 4.3-inch Super Amoled display and an eight-megapixel camera. At its thinnest point the handset is mere 7.1mm. Moto's updated Razr is certainly a worthy addition to 2011's smartphone crop.

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5 of 5 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Nokia Lumia 800

Nokia Lumia 800

In recent years, Nokia has struggled to compete in a rebooted smartphone market alongside Apple's iPhone and Android devices. Indeed, early this year the once Mighty Finn was forced to relinquish the number one smartphone-maker crown to Android. Finding its feet in a software-driven market has been the big bugbear for Nokia and its legacy OS of choice, Symbian.

But early this year Nokia made the decision to throw its lot in with Microsoft by signing up to its Windows Mobile operating system. The first mobile fruit of this alliance is pictured above: the Nokia Lumia 800.

The Lumia shows Nokia can still deliver on hardware design - with its distinct looks and curved 3.7-inch glass screen this is a smartphone with plenty of design smarts, even if it doesn't pack the hardware punch of 2011's dual-core handsets. The handset's Windows Phone OS also offers something different to the Android/iOS two-hander of much of today's smartphone market - and that's to be applauded.

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