The VERY Best Smartphones As Of RIGHT NOW

Reviews James Peckham 19:35, 22 Jan 2015

Apple. Samsung. Nokia. LG. OnePlus. Motorola –– who built the best smartphones of 2014?

It's been a good 12 months for mobile phone fans but things have really turned up a notch since the start of 2014. First we saw plenty of new devices launched in and around CES and Mobile World Congress 2014. Samsung, HTC and Sony all had releases at the start of 2014 and, as we moved through the year, Google, LG and Apple got involved resulting in one of the best years for mobile we've seen in a good long while. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were by far and away the biggest selling handsets of the year, shifting upwards of 39 million at last count. They were also pretty surprising releases too, representing Apple’s first stab at 4+in smartphones. In just a few months it will be, once again, time for MWC. At this year's expo we're expecting to see the HTC One M9 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 as well as the Sony Xperia Z4. It's going to be a hectic first quarter, but we wouldn't have it any other way. For now, here are the best handsets we've tested in the last 12 months. 

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

Key Specs: 

  • Dimensions: 127.3 x 64.9 x 8.6 mm, 129g
  • Display: 4.6in, 720 x 1280 pixel resolution
  • Processor & RAM: Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, 2GB of RAM
  • OS: Android 4.4.4 KitKat
  • Camera: 20.7-megapixel sensor
  • Battery: 2600mAh    

The Xperia Z3 Compact continues Sony’s Xperia Z1 Compact philosophy: to create a miniature handset packed with the same high-end specs as the flagship device. Compared to the Xperia Z3, the Z3 Compact comes with a pretty similar looking spec sheet. Both have the same processor, the same camera set up and the same software. The big change is the screen resolution – sadly there isn’t a full HD offering here to help save on the battery life.That said, Sony’s Xperia Z3 Compact comes with some of the best battery life we’ve ever seen on a smartphone. If you’re a power user this could be a good choice for that merely alone, it scored an impressive 70% in our battery testing.Sony’s UI does look dated but with Android 5.0 Lollipop just around the corner there may be a few changes there as well. All in all if you’re looking for a high-end smartphone in a smaller package with an easy to handle design, you’re in luck with the Xperia Z3 Compact. 

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Key Specs:

  • Dimensions: 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5 mm, 176g
  • Display: 5.7in, 1440 x 2560 pixel resolution
  • Processor & RAM: Qualcomm Snapdragon 805, 3GB of RAM
  • OS: Android 4.4.4 KitKat
  • Camera: 16-megapixel sensor
  • Battery: 3220 mAh   

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 was one of the best handsets in 2013 so the Note 4 has a lot to live up to. Luckily, the Note 4 starts where the Note 3 left off and continues to build on top of it refining the design and adding in new useful features.Samsung has been in the phablet game for a while now. It means the Note 4 design has had a lot of work and it is now streamlined to an impressively thin and easy to hold handset. Once again the display is impressive and the stylus has improved to make it more accurate than ever before. Under the hood is a hefty Snapdragon 805 processor allowing for powerful multitasking and strong performance whilst running high intensity apps. There is also more than enough storage for all your media as well; internally there is 32GB of space as well as microSD support up to 128GB. Android 5.0 Lollipop will be available on the handset in the coming months as well offering all of Google’s latest mobile features. The Note 4 is once again one of the best handsets we’ve seen this year and in some ways it’s the best Samsung has made too.

Moto X 2014 Edition

We really did love the original Moto X. Like any good Nexus device, the Moto X was all about offering the best possible user experience, free from as much bloatware and superfluous nonsense, at a reasonable price point. It was also one of the first smartphones you could really make your own via Motorola’s innovative Moto Maker service. The Moto X 2014, however, took things a good few steps further, adding in improved specs across the board and plenty of solid improvements to the battery, camera, display and connectivity. If you’re looking for a decent Android phone with plenty of customization options and a near-stock version of Android and you don’t like the look, price or feel of the Nexus 6 then, well, the Moto X is possibly THE handset you’ve been waiting for.We LOVE this device. 

Apple iPhone 6

Key Specs:

  • Dimensions: 138.1 x 67 x 6.9mm, 129g
  • Display: 4.7in, 750 x 1334 pixel resolution
  • Processor & RAM: Apple A8 Chipset, 1GB of RAM
  • OS: Apple iOS 8
  • Camera: 8-megapixel sensor
  • Battery: 1810 mAh  

The iPhone 5s was arguably one of the best handsets of 2013; Apple had some work to do to be able to improve upon the handset. The good news is Apple pulled it out of the bag.A much better sized display, an excellent battery life and some even better imaging quality has made for an all round upgrade to the flagship iPhone.This time around you can also pick up a 128GB version for the first time. The design has much the same language as before but has improved by being thinner, longer and more refined edges and corners the way round. Touch ID has also made a return on the home button at the bottom of the handset.Plus iOS 8 comes as standard with all the new features such as HealthKit and HomeKit. NFC technology is finally in the iPhone 6 as well but sadly the Apple Pay technology that makes the most of it isn't active in the UK just yet. It should be at some point during 2015.

BlackBerry Passport

Key Specs:

  • Dimensions: 128 x 90.3 x 9.3 mm, 196g
  • Display: 4.5in, 1440 x 1440 pixel resolution
  • Processor & RAM: Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, 3GB of RAM
  • OS: BlackBerry 10.3
  • Camera: 13-megapixel sensor
  • Battery: 3450 mAh

BlackBerry has been hard at work for the past few years scrabbling back from the brink. CEO John Chen has decided the best route will be to go down the path of quirky design and that has resulted in a square handset. The BlackBerry Passport comes with a design we’ve never seen on other handsets, it includes a 4.5in display above a full blown QWERTY keyboard across an almost fully square build.Lots of power can be found inside the Passport with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset and 3GB of RAM, plus the battery is impressive sitting up there with the best and doing better in our battery testing than a big selection of the current flagships.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Key Specs:

  • Dimensions: 132.4 x 65.5 x 6.7 mm, 155g
  • Display: 4.7in, 720 x 1280 pixel resolution
  • Processor & RAM: Exynos 5 Octa 5430, 2GB of RAM
  • OS: Android 4.4.4 KitKat
  • Camera: 12-megapixel sensor
  • Battery: 1860 mAh 

Looking purely at the spec sheet, you may not get a full feel for the Samsung Galaxy Alpha. Samsung has created a product with an excellent design; this time around it has opted for metal edges that give it a much more premium feel. You’ve still got the faux leather backing but on the front there’s a gorgeous 4.7in 720p display.On board there is 32GB of storage and a really impressive battery to keep it all ticking over. The camera isn’t bad either and stands up to photos taken with the Samsung Galaxy S5. On top of all that there's the latest and greatest Android software on board as well, Android 4.4.4 KitKat.Samsung has created an odd handset in the form of the Galaxy Alpha. It has all the makings of a flagship device but it isn’t the way Samsung wants to market it. Before you head straight to the Galaxy S5 or Galaxy Note 4 be sure to give the Galaxy Alpha a second look, you may be impressed." title="<--pagebreak-->" class="smart-paging drupal-content mceItem" data-mce-src="/profiles/dennis_distro/modules/contrib/smart_paging/plugins/wysiwyg/smart_paging/images/spacer.gif">We know, we know –– there's NO Windows Phone handsets on this list. Well, hold you horses because up next we have one of the finest Windows Phone devices ever created, the Nokia Lumia 930. AND because Microsoft is not updating any of the existing flagships until at least Q3 of 2013 it means the Lumia 1520 and Lumia 930 are likely to remain top dogs for quite some time to come. 

Nokia Lumia 930


Key Specs:

  • Dimensions: 137 x 71 x 9.8 mm, 167g
  • Display: 5.0in 1080 x 1920 pixel resolution
  • Processor & RAM: 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800, 2GB of RAM
  • OS: Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1
  • Camera: 20-megapixel sensor
  • Battery: 2420mAh

Nokia’s Lumia 930 reflects a real achievement for Microsoft’s new phone division. It’s got very similar specs inside to the Lumia 1520 but shrinks down the size and gives it a much slicker design. The camera is all the same as before, one of the most impressive on the market. There’s some really good battery life on board plus some seriously speedy performance compared to other Nokia handsets. Windows Phone 8.1 still has some serious issues but it’s grown a lot with this update and is on its way to becoming the OS it was always meant to be.

OnePlus One

  • Dimensions: 152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9mm, 162g
  • Display: 5.5-inch
  • Processor & RAM: 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801, 3GB RAM
  • OS: CyanogenMod 11S
  • Camera: 13-megapixel sensor
  • Battery: 3100mAh

Now for the new kid on the block. OnePlus is less than two years old and has spent all that time developing a new high-end handset with a cheap price. The OnePlus One is something stunning and will be launching in both the UK and the US during Q2.Much like this year's big flagship devices the One comes with a Snapdragon 801 chip with a quad-core processor clocked at 2.5GHz. On top of that there’s 3GB of RAM running behind the scenes.The display is 5.5-inch Full HD and has a pixel density of 401ppi. Operating system wise it runs on CyanogenMod 11S which is based on Android 4.4 KitKat. There’s a 3,100 mAh Li-Po battery inside to power it all and the camera is a powerful 13MP.The design of the handset as a whole is pretty stunning as well, there’s a full metal body encompassing the handset with dimensions of 152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9mm. Right at the bottom there’s some specifically designed JBL stereo speakers to boost the sound.To top it all off you can get both 16GB or 64GB versions but unlike other manufacturers there’s not a massive price jump between the two; the 64GB model costs just £40 more than the 16GB. Manufactures such as Apple will charge at least £100 for that kind of storage bump.The main problem with the OnePlus One, especially for those in the UK, is its incompatibility with some 4G networks. To learn more read our review which tells you exactly which networks aren’t compatible.


Key Specs:

  • Dimensions: 146 x 74 x 8.9 mm, 149g
  • Display: 5.5-inch, 1440 x 2560 pixel resolution
  • Processor & RAM: 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801, 2GB of RAM
  • OS: Android Jelly Bean 4.4.2
  • Camera: 13-megapixel resolution
  • Battery: 3000mAh

LG’s G2 was a stronger contender for the best Android handset of 2013 and the company has only improved it with the next iteration. An even larger 5.5-inch beautiful display is provided giving a fantastic screen resolution making pictures and video look gorgeous.The camera is pretty nifty and arguably takes better photos than some of the other flagship devices you can pick up today. Plus LG has entirely redesigned the look of UI with an even flatter but more colourful design.There’s still those buttons on the back which was a innovative new feature on the LG G2 and the Knock On/Knock Code features to turn your handset on have also made the jump. It’s not the cheapest phone on the market but if you’re looking for high performance, a gorgeous display and an interesting design the G3 could be for you.

HTC One M8

Key Specs:

  • Dimensions: 146.4 x 70.6 x 9.4 mm, 160 g
  • Display: 5-inch 1080 x 1920 pixel resolution
  • Processor & RAM: 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801, 2GB of RAM
  • OS: Android KitKat 4.4
  • Camera: Dual 4-megapixel camera
  • Battery: 2600mAh

When HTC released the HTC One in 2013 it did an impressive job in terms of design, but didn't manage to shift the phone in the quantities it wanted. As a result, the successor model is kind of a big deal for the company. Fortunately, with the HTC One M8 HTC really has stepped up to the plate. There’s an enlarged 5-inch Full HD 1080p display and a top of the range Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor to power it. RAM is still rated at 2GB to keep it ticking over and you get Android KitKat 4.4 out of the box.On top of that is HTC’s own user interface, Sense 6.0. It’s had an entirely new redesign with a handful of extra functionality, but most importantly it looks great. The whole handset is now one aluminium uni-body which feels great in the hand. To top it all off, it’s arguably the best looking mobile phone on the market.

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