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Top Android smartphones (July 2014 edition)

Time once again to take a tour of a handful of the best Android phones currently available on the market (July 2014). Here are a handful of the best Android-powered handsets currently on offer, some new, some old, so whether you're after a handset for personal use, of one suited to BYOD, there bound to be one here for you.
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1 of 13 ZDNet

Introduction

See also12 ways to improve Android battery life

Time once again to take a tour of a handful of the best Android phones currently available on the market (July 2014). There are a few new handsets, including a couple for all you pure Android fans. Carrying space limited? If so, you might want to check out the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact with its 4.3-inch display!

Here are a handful of the best Android-powered handsets currently on offer, so whether you're after a handset for personal use, of one suited to BYOD, there bound to be one here for you.

We have a few new kids on the block. Amazon's Fire Phone, the LG G3, and a new "Active" version of the Galaxy S5.

If I had to choose one of these, I'd still more than likely go for Google's Nexus 5 because it is a powerful, fully-featured handset packed that offers the purest Android experience possible. It's the only handset that will guarantee that I see Android updates over the course of its lifespan.

However, I have to admit that some of the features present on the Samsung Galaxy S5 make it a great choice for the BYOD crowd. Not only is it water- and dust-resistant – something Samsung doesn't talk much about – but it is also crammed with cool features and software. If you like to geek out over smartphones, this is the one to geek out over.

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2 of 13 Amazon

Amazon Fire Phone

As we'd expect from Amazon, we have a device built using quality  but widely used 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.
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3 of 13 Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

The Galaxy Note 3 is, as you can probably gather, a sequel to the Galaxy Note 2. It brings a whole raft of improvements to the table, and it also supports Samsung's new Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

Probably the biggest downside to this handset is that it feels plasticky and a little bit cheap in the hand, this shouldn't put you off.

  • Jelly Bean (Android 4.3)
  • 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor
  • 5.7-inch 1920 x 1080 display with 388 pixels-per-inch
  • 3GB of RAM
  • Stylus (a pro or a con depending on your view of them)
  • 13MP rear camera
  • 2MP front camera
  • 4G LTE
  • NFC
  • 32/64GB internal storage
  • microSD card slot for expansion
  • 3200mAh battery offering 21 hours of talk time, up to 420 hours of standby
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4 of 13 Sony

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

A newcomer to the list. Sony's Xperia Z Ultra packs a lot of cool features under the hood, sporting the sharpest LCD panel on the market, and a 13-megapixel camera capable of capturing HDR video.

This handset is also thin, coming in at a svelte 6.5-milimeters. But don't the thinness fool you; the Xperia Z Ultra is tough, featuring tempered glass, and a dustproof and waterproof build, rated to with IP58.

This is the smartphone you need if you want to be able to submerge it in 1 meter of water and still have a working handset.

Note: A pure Android "Google Edition" version is also available.

  • Jelly Bean (Android 4.2)
  • 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor
  • 6.4-inch TFT 1920 x 1080 display, powered by an updated Sony Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2 with 342 pixels-per-inch
  • 8MP rear-facing camera
  • 2MP front-facing 1080p HD video capture
  • 16GB internal storage
  • Compatible with the Sony SmartWatch 2
  • microSD slot
  • 3050mAh battery offering 16 hours of talk time, up to 820 hours of standby
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5 of 13 Motorola

Motorola Moto X

I used to be pretty partial to Motorola handsets back before the iPhone. They were well built, and while they relied heavily on gimmicks, delivered decent performance and long-term reliability.

The Moto X is interesting, not because it is manufactured by Motorola – now owned by Google – but because it takes a new approach to computation power. Rather than one chip with multiple cores doing the work, the Moto X has a total of eight cores spread over four different chips, each doing a different thing. This is supposed to both speed up the handset and make the battery last longer.

Oh, and it's also built in the U.S.

  • Jelly Bean (Android 4.2.2)
  • Motorola X8 computing system, consisting of a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro dual-core clocked at 1.7GHz, a quad-core Adreno 320 GPU, and two low-power processors, one that is used for natural language and the other for contextual computing
  • 4.7-inch AMOLED HD 720p display
  • 10MP rear camera
  • 2MP front camera
  • 16/32GB internal storage
  • NFC
  • 2200mAh battery offering 13 hours of talk time, up to 575 hours of standby
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6 of 13 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 2,560x1,440 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
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7 of 13 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, and this is no different now that the operating system has seen a few updates.

  • 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
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8 of 13 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
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9 of 13 Sony

Sony Xperia Z2

Another new entry that was unveiled at this years MWC bash.

The water and dust-resistant Xperia Z2 comes only six months after the previous Xperia Z1 flagship was released, but this update has everything you'd expect – larger display, faster processor, better camera and support for the latest Android 4.4 KitKat release. Also in are stereo speakers and noise cancellation technology.

  • KitKat (Android 4.4)
  • 5.2-inch IPS LED display with a pixel density of 424 pixels-per-inch
  • 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdradon 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
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10 of 13 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
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11 of 13 Sony

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

At a time when smartphones are lowly being transformed into devices with the surface area of an aircraft carrier, it's good to come across a device with a more modest display.

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact packs the same quad-core processor, 4G LTE connectivity and 20-megapixel camera as the Sony top-end Xperia Z1 but in a device with only a 4.3-inch display.

  • KitKat (Android 4.4)
  • 4.3-inch 1280x720 TRILUMINOS display
  • 2.2 GHz Qualcomm MSM8974 processor
  • 20.7MP rear camera
  • 2MP front camera
  • Water and dustproof
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD card support
  • 2300mAh battery offering 18 hours of talk time, up to 670 hours of standby
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12 of 13 Motorola

Motorola Droid Maxx

At 5.4 inches tall and 2.8 inches wide, Motorola's Droid Maxx is a pricey handset is a big handset, but if you want a slab of a handset clad in Kevlar, then this could very well be the handset you are looking for. On top of that you get a 48-hour charge, lots of power, wireless-free charging, and 65GB of Google Drive storage.

  • KitKat (Android 4.4)
  • 5.0-inch HD 720p (720x1280 pixels) display
  • Motorola X8 Mobile Computing System, which is comprised of a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4Pro family processor (1.7GHz Dual-Core Krait CPU, 400 MHz quad-core Adreno 320 GPU), a natural language processor and a contextual computing processor
  • 10MP rear camera
  • 2MP front camera
  • 16GB internal storage
  • 3500mAh battery offering 48 hours of talk time, up to 600 hours of standby
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13 of 13 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

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