Sunday, June 2, 2013

Best Android phone - which one should you buy?

There's one key way in which Android is massively different from its Apple-branded smartphone competition - the number of phones out there running Google's hot mobile OS.

We're now seeing the latest wave of phones rocking up on Android Jelly Bean, while Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich gets swept under the carpet.

Samsung makes loads of them. Sony's cut the Ericsson ties but still is cranking out the Google-branded handsets. Then you've got Android-powered phones from Acer, LG, Huawei, ZTE and many others, and while HTC has ceased the practice of releasing more phones than centipedes have shoes (they do wear them, you know) it's still one of the more prominent Android manufacturers.

The many variations in screen size, processor power, software features and design makes finding the best Android phone for you extremely tough.

Do you physically and emotionally need a QWERTY keyboard? Are you the sort of oddball who prefers the rough pressing needed to make resistive touchscreens work? If so, you won't find much luck here, as those technologies are sadly phased out of the Android world as buyers get enamoured by fancy, glossy capacitive touchscreens.

Are you struggling to work out which are the best Android Widgets? Or even stuck wondering: "Actually, what IS Android?"

To help find the best Android phone for you, we've rounded up the best Android handsets out there today, rating the phones on hardware performance, OS upgrade potential and, of course, how shiny and nice they are to have and boast about to work colleagues.
So here they are - the best Android phones money can buy today. For many, many different reasons.

10. Sony Xperia T

This is James Bond's phone apparently. Well, he was seen using it in Skyfall, so that's good enough for us. It packs some lower specs than others on this list, but combines them in an attractive unit.

The Xperia T heads back to the design language of the Xperia Arc, meaning it's got a lovely curved back that sits comfortably in the hand, and the large and expansive screen provides great video playback thanks to the Bravia Engine.

Sony has produced another impressive smartphone that offers the functionality and performance we're looking for in a top-level handset.
That being said, when compared with the earlier Sony Xperia S, or some of the other Android handsets, the difference is negligible - with the Xperia Z far, far superior.

Quick verdict

The Sony Xperia T is a very, very good phone. Despite opting for a dual-core processor over a quad-core option, the Xperia T doesn't lag and navigating the interface is smooth and easy.

9. HTC One X+

The biggest and most boastful of HTC's 2012 Android models, the One X arrived powered by a quad-core Tegra 3 chipset for the ultimate in portable kudos.

And now HTC has taken that design, thrown out the bits that don't work and had another go... while adding a "+" on the end to show it's all new and shiny. Plus some red flashes for effect.

It's addressed storage concerns with a boost to 64GB, improved the web browser efficiency and the always reliable HTC keyboard – although the battery is still a bit of a sore point, despite it being all "efficient-ized."

The design may not be any different, but we like that as the One X+ was already a handsome looking handset, with the unibody design exuding a premium air of superiority.

The beefed up processor along with the Android 4.1 and Sense 4+ UI updates makes the One X+ an even slicker, smoother and more powerful customer than its older brother.

Quick verdict

HTC's latest version of its Sense interface is great here, with the display, fancy modern case construction and performance all combining to make a superb phone - and now we're looking at more storage and a better OS to play with too.

8. LG Optimus 4X HD

LG's attempt at stealing some of the high-end market is a rather impressive monster of a phone, combining a quad-core processor with a large 4.7-inch display that runs at a 1280 x 720 resolution.

The result is a big yet slim phone that ticks all the boxes. It's fast, it's great for web use and the keyboard's a pleasure to use on the larger screen, and although there are no stand out physical or software elements to make it a complete must have, the LG Optimus 4X HD is a slick, powerful phone that does everything well.

However, it pales in comparison to the Google Nexus 4 - although we do like the overlay LG chucks on top of its phones to hide the Android OS below, which is the main reason you'll buy this phone.

Quick verdict

A great all-rounder, but lacking some of the polish and features that make HTC and Samsung the class leaders. Very close to greatness, though.

7. Samsung Galaxy S3

With the Samsung Galaxy S4 now launched, the S3 has predictably fallen down the rankings thanks to there being a better phone to recommend, but don't worry it's still a wondrous phone.

There's so many plus points on the S3 we're not even going to try and list them all here, but things to bear in mind are its excellent battery life, processor speed and multimedia capabilities.

Would we recommend you buy one if you're hankering for a spot of Samsung? Yes, but only if the S4 is out of your price range, as it's a much better version of the S3.

The design didn't impress us as much as when we first laid eyes on the S2, but that's the only big issue we could find - and seeing as it's sold by the millions it proves the S3 is still a cutting edge smartphone.

Quick verdict

You won't be disappointed by the Samsung Galaxy S3. It's fast, it's sleek and it packs some great technology at a price that will get your pulse racing, but not your wallet's.

6. HTC One S

The HTC One S is every bit as capable as the larger One X, only here you get to enjoy the power of Qualcomm's S4 processor.

It can feel even faster in use than the One X, plus the more modestly proportioned display results in a phone that's a little more pocketable and easier to use with just the one hand.

It's now rocking not only Android Jelly Bean but also an updated version of the HTC Sense overlay, bringing more power to areas such as the camera.

The camera and imaging tools are almost identical to those found on the One X+ and the metallic chassis (with "micro-arc oxidisation") feels cool in the hand. It feels like a little rocket.

Quick verdict

The mid-sized option of HTC's One range is a winner, combining cool construction with Android and HTC's latest, greatest software. Seriously, we dare you to stroke the back of this super svelte device, and not be tempted by the overall power and aesthetic.

5. Samsung Galaxy Note 2

Samsung took screen size to a ridiculous new level with the Galaxy Note, offering us a huge 5.3-inch display that's by far the largest of any smartphone out there today.

Now that trick has been taken to the next level, by offering a 5.5-inch screen within the same footprint. The S Pen Stylus has been updated to include more than 1,000 pressure sensitivity levels, and the screen resolution is impressively boosted, too.

As with many of Samsung's Android phones, the Note II is a solid performer, and also came complete with Android Jelly Bean out of the box, along with updates to the Touchwiz overlay.
The Super AMOLED HD Plus resolution, combined with a more intuitive S Pen and greater range of software, shows we writers don't always know what we're talking about: Samsung has made a success of a category most of us had written off.

Quick verdict

A great phone, as long as you're not easily embarrassed by whipping out something so comically huge in public. The power and customization may be too much for some, but for others this is the hypercharged handset they'll want to try.

4. Google Nexus 4

Google and LG have worked together to bring to market a fantastic offering, one that even Apple fans can't help but coo over when they hear the price.

The fact of the matter is that this is a handset with world class specs – yet it's at a cost you'd expect to get a budget phone for. Sure, there are a few things that could have been done better, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.

The Nexus 4 is beautifully designed with a stunning display and rocking the latest version of Android. It has more connectivity than a telephone exchange and even excels in the simple matter of making calls.

We're not fans of the lower memory allowance, and it's not got the best screen on the market, and there will be a few that see stock Android 4.2 as too stripped-down to consider it a valid phone OS choice, but that doesn't mean it's not a fantastic handset - it would have competed even without the insanely low price tag.

Quick verdict

Make no mistake – this is the best Nexus handset so far by a long shot. We love it and can't recommend it highly enough.

3. Sony Xperia Z

Sony's new handset is most definitely the most impressive the firm has launched either in its current guise or as Sony Ericsson.

You can see the Sony influence throughout the handset as it oozes quality and build from the large screen, which fits close to the edges of the bezel, to the intelligent camera that allows you to snap some really premium photos without needing to fiddle about with the settings.

And it's water and dust resistant too, which makes it excellent for general life business, plus it's packing a microSD card slot in an impossibly thin chassis, for which we laud the phone even higher.

Add to that the Bravia Engine 2, which can upscale standard definition movies and bring your content to life, and you've got a real matchwinning phone in your hands.

Quick verdict

While it doesn't quite pack the clout of the phones from HTC and Samsung, the Xperia Z is a phone that says Sony is definitely back at the sharp end of the smartphone game.

There's still (a small amount of) room for improvement, as the screen can look a bit washed out from some angles, but there's no doubt that if Sony keeps us this pace it will be vying for the top spot in no time at all - we just don't know what Sony will call it.

2. Samsung Galaxy S4

Hold the phone, what's happen here? Samsung may have been top dog in 2012, but this year the sultry stylings of the HTC One have proven too strong against a phone that's a slightly-better-version of its predecessor.

Ok so it's only really looks that the S4 is too similar, and sadly that was one of the biggest issues most users had with the S3. It's not the biggest smartphone crime, but that coupled with some other minor niggles means it misses out on being number one.

There's a lot to love with the Samsung Galaxy S4 with its super sharp screen, powerful camera, long-lasting battery and fluid user interface - it's got everything you could ever want in a smartphone.

It may be a little more costly than some of its direct rivals, but thankfully it's still cheaper than the iPhone. If only it was made out of something a little more premium...

Quick verdict

There's no doubt that this is one of the best smartphone ever made - it's clear, powerful and does everything we'd expect a flagship Samsung mobile to do.

It's just a shame that the perceived 'innovation' doesn't really add anything, but make no mistake you'll love the Samsung Galaxy S4 if you decide to plump for it.

1. HTC One

Well, here's something of a shock if you're a Samsung fan – after nearly two years of dominance, the Korean brand has fallen from the top spot.

It's nothing to do with the quality of the S4 – it's still an outstanding phone – but more the fact HTC has managed to bring out a smartphone that's worthy of any user's consideration with a supreme aluminium chassis, Full HD screen and simplified version of Sense 5.0 sitting on top of Android Jelly Bean.

The new innovations are also pleasingly more than just marketing gimmicks; Zoe functionality allows the creation of delightful video highlight reels, and the Ultrapixel camera means you've got a much wider range of shots available thanks to being stunning in low light.

The only reason this isn't a five star phone is the slightly off-key battery, which can leak juice if you're power-creating videos or watching reams of video, but for day to day use it will be acceptable for most.

Quick Verdict

With power, poise and beauty all combined in this innovative phone, HTC has proved it can more than still cut it with the big boys when it comes to bringing out a lust-worthy flagship smartphone.

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