2013 has seen a number of excellent smartphones released on the Australian market. Which one was best?
Image: Intel Free Press
It’s an incredibly open question in my opinion, because everyone’s desires, expectations and needs differ slightly. Some people like iOS, others like Android, Windows Phone or Blackberry, and that’s fine. A market with lots of competition within it is one that everyone benefits from, because it encourages innovation and new ideas.
What that means personally is that I really don’t think that there’s a single “best” smartphone out there that would tick everyone’s “best” box all at the same time. No doubt plenty of sites will declare the single “best” smartphone, but I think that robs you of the exact choice that having a variety of form factors gives you.
There are some niches that are just too small. For example, if you want a smartphone with a physical keyboard, you can have the Blackberry Q10 and… erm… that’s about it. The market seems to have spoken in that case, but elsewhere competition is quite fierce.
With that in mind, rather than declare one “best” phone, then, here’s what I think were the “best” phones within a given market segment.
Best Small Smartphone:
Honourable mentions: HTC One Mini, Nokia Lumia 520, iPhone 5c
There really wasn’t much genuine competition if you wanted a pocketable but powerful handset in 2013. It’s still Apple’s preferred form factor, no matter what the rumour mills churn around, and in the iPhone 5s they produced an excellent handset. It’s a sign that the very similar (but overpriced) iPhone 5c, a phone with last year’s internals within it is worth considering in this space, because it’s otherwise one that competitors largely ignore.
Best Mid-Sized Smartphone
Honourable Mentions Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, Google Nexus 5, Sony Xperia Z1, Nokia Lumia 925
There were a lot of mid-sized powerhouses released this year, and many of them had high points that made them stand out, but for my money, HTC’s excellent HTC One is still the one*. Blinkfeed’s still not great, but aside from that, the HTC hit everything else out of the park, from excellent industrial design to smooth performance and solid battery life. HTC’s had a rough year, and not everything it has done has worked out, but the HTC One left a very solid mark on 2013.
*As Zathras would say. Bonus points if you know why.
Best large smartphone
Sony Xperia Z Ultra
Honourable mentions: Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Nokia Lumia 1020, Asus Fonepad
I don’t use the “other” term for such devices, but there’s no denying that larger screened smartphones have their place and devotees in large numbers. It’s a category that Samsung more or less created with the original Note, but I’d just give the nod to Sony’s excellent Xperia Z Ultra over the Note 3 by the slimmest of margins; I think the industrial Bravia-like design of the Z Ultra trumps that weird faux leather on the back of the Note 3, although if you are a heavy stylus user the Note 3 is still a solid contender.
Nokia’s Lumia 1020 isn’t quite as big — until you put the camera grip on it, at which point it’s a marked heavyweight. Asus’ effort shows just how far you can push the definition of a “large” phone before it gets silly, and just keeps on going from there.
Best Camera Smartphone
Nokia Lumia 1020
Honourable Mentions: Apple iPhone 5s, HTC One, Nokia Lumia 925
It only really occurred to me how much I take having at least a moderate-quality camera in my pocket at all times recently when testing the ZTE Open, which has a terrible camera on it. I have absolutely zero desire to go back to something that bad.
It’s still quite feasible to take a woeful photo with the best possible smartphone camera, but for overall quality I can’t look past the Lumia 1020. It faced some stiff competition, especially for the iPhone 5s, which I’d still place as an overall better smartphone device, but if photos taking is a core criteria for your smartphone buying the Lumia 1020 is the model to buy.