Choose the best smartphone for 2014 with our reviews of top models
With high-quality smartphones from Samsung, Apple and Google, and other big names including Nokia, HTC and Motorola also in the running, choosing the right handset isn’t easy.
We’ve rounded up the best smartphones to help you choose which one to buy. Whether you’re after a top-of-the-range handset or a mid-range option, we’ve got you covered.
Top 10 Best smartphones for 2014
Nokia Lumia 1520
There are big phones, and there are BIG phones and the Nokia Lumia 1520 most certainly falls into the latter category. With its 6in Full HD screen it’s even larger than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and heavier, too. If you can cope with the size and weight, though, it’s an excellent smartphone.
As with the rest of the Lumia range, it’s beautifully made – slender, with a silky matte finish to its brightly-coloured plastic body. It’s the most powerful Windows Phone 8 handset we’ve come across, featuring a quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC and 2GB of RAM. It has a great camera – a 20-megapixel PureView unit – and good battery life too. All-round, it’s a superb piece of kit.
Sony Xperia Z1
Google’s Nexus 4 has been a huge success since it launched a year ago, but we think the Nexus 5 is going to be even bigger. It’s equipped with a larger, Full HD 4.95in display, and the design now mimics that of the Nexus 7 tablet, with a grippy matte-black soft-touch plastic finish. We prefer it.
It’s also equipped with a super-fast, 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 CPU – the same as in the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 – and performance is lightning quick. In addition, there’s the latest version of Android – KitKat – on board, all the wireless connectivity you could possibly wish for, and the only weaknesses are a slightly sluggish 8mp camera and battery life that’s a little below average.
The most enticing thing about the Nexus 5, though, is the price, which is a mere £300 SIM free, with free phone contracts starting at around £22 per month. It’s not hard to see why Nexus 5 replaces the HTC One as our A-List smartphone.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
With a huge 5.7in AMOLED display, you might think the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 would be too unwieldy to be practical, but that’s far from the case. In fact, Samsung has managed to trim the fat to such a degree that, even though it has a larger screen than its predecessor (the Note 2), the chassis is thinner and narrower.
Incredibly, though, Samsung has still found room for a pressure sensitive stylus, which stows in the phone’s bottom right-hand corner. This adds accurate photo editing, note-taking sketch scribbling and handwriting recognition to the Note 3′s already broad spectrum of capabilities.
That’s all very impressive, but it’s nothing next to the Note 3′s superb all-round performance and battery life. This is the fastest Android smartphone we’ve reviewed to date, and it retained 70% on the battery gauge after our usual 24-hour rundown test. Most modern smartphones can only manage 60% or 50%.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 isn’t the cheapeast smartphone around, but we absolutely love it. It’s an outstanding device.
Nokia Lumia 1020
It’s all about the camera with Nokia’s flagship Windows Phone 8 handset, the Nokia Lumia 1020. Boasting a 41-megapixel sensor, optical image stabilisation, full manual control and a Xenon flash, it blows every other smartphone’s camera away with its image quality.
It couples that stunning image quality with equally attractive design. The 1020 boasts a solid, high quality plastic body with a silky matte finish and a 4.5in Gorilla Glass 3 screen that’s gently curved at the edges. And as a smartphone it works well, too. Windows Phone 8 feels as slick as ever, and although the Windows Phone app store can’t match its Apple and Android rivals in terms of the variety of apps on offer, the array of software that comes bundled with the 1020 is second to none.
The Nexus 5, HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 all remain more accomplished all-rounders than the Nokia Lumia 1020, but if you’re after the best quality photos and video, this is the phone you want.
Apple iPhone 5s
Apple didn’t change much physically when it updated the iPhone 5 with the iPhone 5s, but boy did it do a good job upgrading the internals. The new iPhone is super fast, outstripping even the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 with its new 64-bit Apple A7 processor.
The fingerprint reader under the home button works rather well, and the camera has also seen an upgrade, delivering better low light performance and digital image stabilisation than before, plus a nifty slow motion video mode, which shoots 720p clips at 120fps, and a dual-tone flash that produces more natural-looking indoor snaps.
The iPhone 5s’ 4in screen remain unchanged from the last version – it’s still a super bright, top quality display – but it does look a little old-fashioned next to larger devices. Nevertheless, this is still a superb, if rather pricey, all-rounder.
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
It might look like any other compact camera, but in fact the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is a clever hybrid, combining advanced camera capabilities with a full-blown, 4G capable smartphone.
The S4 Zoom’s party piece is its 10x optically stabilised zoom lens, activated by twisting the ring around its base. This allows you to get closer to your subject than any other smartphone on the market right now.
For standard snaps, the Nokia Lumia 1020 produces better image quality in a smaller package, and the S4 Zoom is a little awkward to slip into a pocket, but we love the flexibility the S4’s zoom lens adds, and prices are currently very tempting.
Motorola Moto G
It’s all about the price tag with Motorola’s latest Android smartphone. You can pick one up from a very reasonable £120 SIM free, yet it has the specifications and performance of a phone costing much more. The 4.5in 720 x 1,280 display is top notch, and it’s topped with a Gorilla Glass front to prevent scratches.
Battery life is superb, and the whole thing is treated with a special coating that makes it water resistant. In short, the Motorola Moto G is a top notch budget smartphone, and it takes over from the Nokia Lumia 520 as our favourite budget model.
The HTC One is the best-looking phone we’ve ever seen, and it doesn’t only stand out because of its stunning aluminium exterior. The build quality is top-notch, and its 1080p screen delivers unmatched quality across the 4.7in diagonal.
The Snapdragon 600 processor is the most powerful we’ve ever seen in a smartphone, delivering benchmark results that are close to the Samsung Galaxy S4 (below). Battery life doesn’t suffer despite the extreme levels of power, and the latest version of Sense is excellent, too: smooth, easy to use, and with sensible additions throughout.
HTC has managed to pack in a decent camera and punchy, well-balanced audio, too. The One is a phone with very few weaknesses – if you want the ultimate smartphone right now, this is what you need to buy.
Samsung Galaxy S4
Launched at the beginning of 2013, the Samsung Galaxy S4 remains one of the best smartphones around. Its 5in, Full HD screen is pin-sharp and serves up rich colours, and its quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, although no longer the fastest around, is still quick enough for any application.
The thing that really sets the Samsung apart from its flagship rivals, though, is the ability to both expand the memory by adding an SD card, and replace or add a higher-capacity battery. Both of these factors make it a more flexible, if slightly pricier alternative to the Nexus 5.