Smartphone SmackDown: The Best Smartphones of 2013

by Reads (17,760)

The smartphone market is still a two-horse race. Apple and Samsung have spent the last several months battling for the title of America’s number one smartphone maker, with comScore recently reporting that the two giants combine for more than half of the country’s smartphone market share. This is not without good reason: Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy handsets are top-shelf products, and both companies have quite a bit of marketing muscle behind them too.

\"iPhoneOne unfortunate byproduct of this duopoly, though, is the way it has overshadowed every other phone manufacturer. Whether it’s up-and-comers like Huawei and ZTE or fading hopefuls like BlackBerry or HTC, there are plenty of Davids poised to take on Apple and Samsung’s two-headed Goliath. And almost all of them are bringing promising new flagships to battle for the next many months.

There’s still no official word on successors to top-of-the-line phones like the iPhone 5, Nexus 4, Lumia 920 and Galaxy Note II – or rumored phones like Motorola and Google’s “X Phone” – but plenty of companies have already spent time flaunting their new golden childs. So let’s talk about them. Here’s a rundown of the year’s premium smartphones so far.

Samsung Galaxy S4

Samsung is king of the Android mountain. The Korean giant is a leader in many tech markets, but last year’s 1-2 flagship combo of the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II helped spring it into direct competition with its longtime rival from Cupertino.

\"SamsungA Galaxy Note III appears inevitable, but for now Samsung has only let one premium cat out of the bag: the Galaxy S4. Revealed at a bombastic event in New York City, the Galaxy S4 is more about iterating on the S III’s successes than innovating into something different. With a quad-core Snapdragon processor – the specificity of which is unknown, but an Exynos 5 8-core chip will arrive outside of the U.S. — 2 GB of RAM, 16/32/64 GB of storage and a 5-inch 1080p AMOLED display, the Galaxy S4 does make the expected specs upgrades, but this phone looks much too similar to the S III to not be about the software.

Samsung is dubbing the S4 as a user’s “life companion,” which is either going to sound ambitious of pretentious depending on how well its newest features are received. Some of them sound appealing at first blush — Dual Camera mode films with the S4’s 13-megapixel rear camera and 2-megapixel front camera simultaneously, while Air View lets users preview a thumbnail by hovering their fingers over it.

But for every seemingly useful new feature on the S4, there’s one that sounds a little more…out there. Smart Pause, for instance, pauses video whenever a user looks away from the screen, while Smart Scroll combines tilting the phone with built-in wrist-tracking and facial recognition tech to move through Web pages.

Are things like that really necessary? Time will tell. But for now the Galaxy S4 doesn’t look like it’ll be making any radical departures from its predecessor, merely a truckload of optional additions. That could be both good and bad, but TG will wait until it comes time to review the S4 before making a final verdict.

The Galaxy S4 will be available on all four major carriers plus U.S. Cellular and Cricket upon launch. AT&T has revealed that it’ll cost a relatively hefty $250 plus a two-year contract, with pre-orders starting on April 16. So don’t expect to this newest flagship to come S-cheap. Availability should be sometime around late April or early May, though nothing’s definite just yet.

Next up: HTC One

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  1. sooomitin

    “the Galaxy S4 is more about iterating on the S III’s successes than innovating into something different”
    you americans are too much fond of the term “innovation” without understanding the fact that innovation is good if there is a “need”, and i don’t see that smartphones may come up with too many innovatory features hardware-wise since this field is already saturated. now, all we need is some good tweaking and proper spec upgrade which samsung is doing pretty well.

    “The HTC One is designed to be that bandage. Sporting a gorgeous all-aluminum frame”
    so you think aluminum means design and premium feel; ridiculous (coming from an iphone, eh?). plastics can also give rise to good design (example, sony). you know where HTC fails? almost everywhere other than hardware design and sound…battery life (key feature of a “phone”), software, specs, marketing, all are not upto the mark…

    “The Z10’s “black slab” design isn’t going to turn heads at first blush”
    WRONG. Z10 actually looks gorgeous. the only and the biggest problem with BB is that they are too late to bring features and specs to the market (in this regard, iphone is falling short now-a-days), and the phones are pricey w.r.t. their capabilities.

    the only sound high-end smartphone competitors to iphone globally are possibly the ones from sammy and LG. since i can’t like iphone because of horrendous itunes and apple’s other restrictions, these are my current choices. LG disappointed me before when they came up with the LG vu but the new pro may have a different story; LG has definitely learned the lesson.

  2. Jeff Dunn

    Hey soomitin, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Even if I take issue with a few of them, I really do appreciate you taking the time out to comment. Few things here, though:

    -In general, I want to emphasize that many of the opinions in this article are either mine or those of our reviewers. If you disagree, that’s great. By no means are we the arbiters of truth here — but we do like to think that our opinions are well-informed.

    -On the S4, I totally agree. Innovation for the sake of innovation is mostly pointless. In fact, one of my early complaints with the S4 is that some of its new features sound silly. And I can agree that sometimes all users need in a phone is some spec bumps. But if that’s the route Samsung is going to take, I don’t think it can reasonably expect all of us to fall in love with the S4 the way some of us did with the S3.

    -On the One, I totally disagree. We’ve had the phone here in the office for a little while, and most of us agree that the thing is just beautifully designed. Plastics certainly can give way to good design too (I love the Note II), but the One is just comfy to hold, use and touch — to me at least.

    While the One’s battery life isn’t spectacular, it’s by no means terrible given its high-res display. Of course I’d rather have stock Android over Sense 5, but the latter is improved this time out. Its specs are top-of-the-line; I don’t know what more you can ask for there besides a bigger battery. And marketing? That doesn’t have all that much to do with the product at hand, in my opinion.

    -Also, no, I’ve never owned an iPhone in my life. I was using Symbian just a few years ago, but since then I’ve been all Android. Of course I use and test iOS for my job, but personally I haven’t jumped aboard just yet.

    -On the Z10, again that’s just my opinion. We’ve played with the Z10 *a lot* here in the office, and we generally like it (check out our review!). But the look is nice in a conservative way. It’s subtly good-looking, not as demanding as the One. I generally agree with your other assessments, though; the BB OS can’t hold up to Android or iOS or Windows Phone for most users outside of some in the enterprise.

    -On LG, from what I’ve seen, the LG Optimus G Pro looks like a more powerful Note II. To me, that’s a good thing, though I am a little weary of their Optimus overlay.