Another year is almost behind us and if you were following the smartphone industry, which continues to be the biggest market in consumer tech, it was quite a year indeed. Samsung extended its volume lead over other companies by such an incredible margin that it now sells more smartphones into channels each quarter than all of its top rivals combined. In fact, Samsung ships about 1 million smartphones each day. Apple debuted two new smartphones for the first time ever in 2013 and it sold 9 million new iPhones through their first weekend of availability alone. As for the rest of the major players in the global smartphone market, things are still not looking very good.
LG continues to struggle against South Korean rival Samsung and HTC is in even worse shape despite launching one of the best Android smartphones of all time this year. Windows Phone’s share of the market is still in the low single digits, though it’s finally gaining some momentum now that Nokia is attacking the low end more aggressively. As for BlackBerry, things grew bleaker than ever in 2013 and we’re still not sure how the company plans to turn things around.
But where smartphone users are concerned, 2013 was an awesome year with more terrific smartphones having debuted than ever before.
As the year draws to a close, we wanted to take some time to give a formal nod to the most impressive handsets that have launched over the past year. Competition was more fierce than ever before so rising to the top of the pile was more difficult than ever as well. But there are always some smartphones that shine brighter than the rest.
We created 10 categories this year and here are the first three:
This category was not easy.
Smartphones were sleeker and more stylish than ever in 2013 and there are a number of models from at least half a dozen vendors that were serious contenders in this category. Samsung’s Galaxy S4 is slim and light with a beautiful display, the BlackBerry Z10 is solid and has a great feel to it, and of course Apple’s iPhone 5s is among the most impressive smartphone designs we have ever seen.
But in the end, we went with the HTC One.
HTC really outdid itself with the One. The aluminum case is absolutely gorgeous and the convex back sits perfectly in the hand. Around front, the way the glass covering the screen spills over the sides of the phone and aligns perfectly with the chamfered bezel is masterful. And finally, the front-facing BoomSound speakers add to the look of the phone thanks to the micro-drilled aluminum covers, while also providing the best sound we’ve heard out of a smartphone.
We might have chosen the iPhone 5s but since it’s basically unchanged compared to Apple’s 2012 iPhone model, we went with a fresh face over the recycled design. And there’s no question — the HTC One is that fresh face.
Core counts and gigahertz took center stage in 2013 as quad-core mobile processors gained popularity and Samsung even released a few phones powered by an in-house eight-core chipset. But as it turns out, it only took two CPU cores to power our performance champ.
Apple’s iPhone 5s is more than just a pretty face. With a dual-core processor clocked at just 1.3GHz, the 5s seems like it shouldn’t be able to compete with the many Android smartphones on the market with quad- and eight-core processors clocked at well over 2GHz. But as extensive testing performed by well-respected device reviewer Anand Lal Shimpi revealed, Apple’s latest iPhone doesn’t just keep up with flagship Android phones when it comes to performance, it slaughters them.
A number of factors contribute to the iPhone’s impressive performance. Among them are optimizations in iOS and the fact that Apple’s Retina display packs far fewer pixels that the full HD screens on high-end Android phones. But the iPhone’s display is still among the best there is, hands down, and fewer pixels spread across a smaller 4-inch panel means it takes less oomph to power them despite an impressive pixel density of 326 ppi.
Now, it’s important to note that with Apple’s recent iOS 7 update, there are more hiccups on the iPhone than there have ever been before. Each new update trims a few though, and when it comes to app performance and user experience there is still nothing that rivals Apple’s flagship iPhone.
This was easily one of the toughest categories for us to call because there were so many smartphones with gorgeous displays released in 2013. Apple’s Retina display on the iPhone 5s is absolutely beautiful. The LCD panel on LG’s G2 has shocking clarity. The 4.7-inch full HD screen on HTC’s One touts superb contrast and an impressive pixel density.
But there can be only one.
This phone sports SAmsung’s brightest Super AMOLED mobile display ever. Tests show that the panel is 55% brighter than the Galaxy Note II’s screen, and colors don’t appear exaggerated like they do on the Galaxy S4. The clarity is stunning, the contrast is equally impressive and all in all, it’s the best display we came across this year.
Upcoming categories in parts 2 and 3 of this series include Best Phablet, Best Fit and Finish, and Best Android Phone, and we will also declare a single best overall smartphone in the final installment.