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The Smartphone of the Year

There are so many contenders for Smartphone of the Year, it comes down to a subjective choice. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK delivers his verdict.

It has never been more difficult to decide which is the best smartphone of the year. Three years ago, the Apple iPhone 4 was head and shoulders above the rest. Two years ago, Apple’s 4S was an early sign of a slipping crown. A year ago, Samsung had leapfrogged Apple’s iPhone 5 with the Galaxy S3 even before the launch of the 5.

This year, every phone maker seems to have caught up in one area or another. The 2013 Smartphone of the Year is something like a 10-way tussle. We look at the high-end contenders, which typically cost R8 000 upward.

And the winners are:

1. Samsung Galaxy S4: This 5‚” trendsetter narrowly edges out the Xperia Z1 as phone of the year, due to its sleeker lines, featherweight 130g, and better integration of voice control and fitness applications. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 1900 quad core chip is not the fastest around, but given it has to be squeezed into a 7,9mm form factor, that’s easily forgiven. Less forgivable is appalling battery life when using connectivity options like Bluetooth and mobile data, but that applies to most of the flagship smartphones. The phone sets the standards for integration of sensors, from accelerometer and gyroscope to thermometer and barometer, and then some. Gesture control also sets it apart from anything outside gaming consoles.

2. Sony Xperia Z1: The solid aluminium frame speaks quality, but makes for 170g in the hand, an instant minus at a time when light is the new thin. That does allow for a bigger battery, with superb stand-by time. Excellent integration of Walkman technology with great sound draw elegantly on the Sony legacy. It’s water and dust resistant, and the dazzling screen is matched by dazzling images from the best camera on a smartphone outside of Nokia. At 20MP, with HDR and continuous autofocus added, the photo quality is beaten only by the Nokia 1020. Talking of which‚Ķ

3. Nokia 1020. Who would have thought Nokia would be up there again? The bulky lens will count against those looking for something that will slip into a pocket, but it is the only phone I’ve used that almost persuades me to leave my SLR camera at home. It whips the S4 (and most other cameras aside from the Xperia) in low light, and smacks the Z1 for detail and zoom functionality. The screen size (4.5‚”) counts against it, but when compared to its natural competitor, the 4.3‚” Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, it suddenly seems roomy. An optional extra camera grip adds to its camera credentials, offering bulk when its needed, and getting out of the way when you just need a phone.

4. LG G2. This is the surprise entrant of the year, arriving seemingly from nowhere to remind us that LG still makes smartphones, and adding a significant footnote to the memo: it now makes great smartphones. The stand-out features are a 5.2‚” display, making it the biggest screen of a phone that is not defined as a ‚”phablet‚”, and rear Lock and Volume buttons designed for operating with the index finger. Astonishingly, despite a larger screen, it is a smaller handset than the S4, and that gives it immense slippability, as in the ability to slip it unobtrusively into a pocket.

5. HTC One. This is the critics favourite, partly because it really is a great phone, but possibly also because it is so reminiscent of the iPhone. Call it the Android iPhone if you wish, but then you’d be vilified by those who swear this is the best ever build on a phone, that Beats Audio gives it the best speakers ever on a phone, and that HTC Sense is the best ever skin placed over Android. All of which may well be true, but the problem in South Africa is that the phone is missing in action. First launched here in May, it disappeared without a trace, from a public relations, marketing and availability point of view, followed a few months later by the closing of the local HTC office. Ingram Micro has now taken over distribution, but too late to save the One.

Honorable mentions go to:

Apple iPhone 5s, doesn’t make the grade because it sticks to the poky 4‚” display and provides few reasons to upgrade from the iPhone 5, given a wallet-swallowing R10 000 price tag:

Nokia Lumia 925, the best Windows phone on the market for those not buying the device for the camera:

Sony XPeria Z, the first contender for phone of the year when launched in February, but now thoroughly eclipsed by the Z1, despite being more compact worth buying if offered a knock-down price:

BlackBerry Q10, arguably the best keyboard phone of the year, for those who still love quaint old QWERTY.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, the most enjoyable phone to use as a camera, although a little too bulky when used only as a phone.

Naturally, everyone will have a view on which of these phones don’t belong on the list, and what should have come out on top instead of this selection. It is a subjective choice, based on using the devices and also considering their market context. Arguments for or against are welcomed.

There are also many great mid-range and entry-level smartphones on the market, but those are an argument for another day.

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Bear in mind, though, that these rankings are not based on popularity or loyalty. As you imply, there can be many perspectives. They are based on my own experience with the devices, combined with ecosystem factors, like pricing and availability, if those are seen as major issues for specific devices. Meanwhile, please provide your contact details or an address where we can find out more.

I wondered why the BB Z30 wasn’t mentioned, I am soon to get one & I felt it was worth mentioning…….maybe they launch it a tad bit too late ?

a couple weeks ago it was compared to all the top end smartphones but this week it got a huge miss…..I wonder if I should get this phone ?

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