The very best smartphones of 2011

Features Richard Goodwin 12:31, 7 Dec 2011

We take a look back at 2011’s very best smartphones to see which you should have at the top of your Christmas list

2011 saw the advent of dual-core processors, Android 4.0, an entire myriad tablet devices, a new iPhone from Apple and, of course, Windows Phone 7 Mango – all in all, it was a good year for smartphones. But it wasn’t just hardware that impressed. Services and bolted-on features, as well as design language, played a big part in this year’s range of market-leading devices.

We’ve reviewed all the big players, from the iPhone 4S to the LG Optimus 3D, so as 2011 draws to a close we thought it high-time to compile a definitive list of the very best smartphones that launched in 2011.

There are no budget devices in this list - it’s all premium-grade high-end stuff. But if you’re interested in a more general picture of this year’s best all round handsets, including budget options, check out our previous feature by clicking here.

So without further ado, here is Know Your Mobile’s definitive list of 2011’s very best smartphones.

Samsung Galaxy S2
Samsung’s Galaxy S2 handset was a revelation when it launched, combining Google’s Android operating system with some seriously compelling design language.

The handset itself was one of the thinnest on the market when it launched and oozed class with its slab-like minimalist design. Plus its 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus (480x800 pixels) display was one of the best we tested all year.

Inside it was much the same story, with a 1.2GHz Cortex A9 dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM and either 16GB or 32GB of internal storage providing ample spec-power.

One critique we did have about the Galaxy S2 was that it felt slightly plasticky in the hand, as most Samsung devices do. However, when you look at the dimensions (125.3x66.1x8.5mm) and its ultra-light weight (116g), it is very difficult to be too critical. The Galaxy S2 is 35g lighter than the Sensation XE, for instance.

All in all, the Galaxy S2 is easily the finest Android-powered handset of 2011. It has everything you’ll ever require from a device and plenty more. We like this device so much that we’d actually still buy it, despite it being nearly a year old. And you can’t say that about many Android devices.

The Galaxy S2 was our smartphone of the year.

Apple iPhone 4S
When Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S earlier on this year many people were disappointed, and rightly so. We were all expecting the iPhone 5, complete with a new design, built-in accountant and inter-stellar spaceport.

But what we got was the iPhone 4 with some improved hardware and a little chap called Siri locked inside it. It certainly wasn’t the shock and awe approach that everyone was expecting, but the iPhone 4S is still one of the best phones of the year.

First up the hardware: The iPhone 4S is now packing the same chipset as the iPad 2 - Apple’s A5 chipset, to be exact - and also features a significantly improved 8-megapixel camera and the ability to record video in 1080p at 30fps.

Apple also re-jigged the antenna to address that ‘call-dropping’ issue and integrated something called Siri, which is essentially a personal assistant you can talk to. Click here to read our in-depth review of Siri.

Apple’s iOS 5 also launched alongside the iPhone 4S and brought some pretty big changes to the fore, including iCloud, a new notifications system, a reminder application, Wi-Fi sync/software updating and a whole load more (around 250, according to Apple).

Couple this with 64GB of storage found on the top of the range iPhone 4S and you’ve got one of the most accomplished media devices on the planet.

HTC Sensation XE
HTC’s original Sensation was a decent handset, but it wasn’t without its problems. Thankfully, HTC went back to the drawing board and came up with the Sensation XE, which boasts inflated specifications and comes with Beats Audio technology embedded in its core. The handset also ships with a pair of Beats headphones, too, which are worth £80.

We tested quite a few HTC handsets in 2011 - the Sensation, EVO 3D, Rhyme, Radar, Titan and ChaCha to name but a few - and the Sensation XE was our favourite by a mile. It looks great, so long as you adhere to HTC’s design principles, features some of the best audio technology we’ve heard inside a smartphone, thanks to the Beats Audio technology, and is an extremely competent handset for every day use.

Chuck a 1.5GHz dual-core processor on the Qualcomm MSM8260 Snapdragon chipset, an 8-megapixel camera, Android Gingerbread and 1080p video recording at 30fps and you’ve got yourself quite a piece of kit.

Of course, the Sensation XE is slightly on the chunky side things, especially when compared with Galaxy S2 and iPhone 4S, but this still doesn’t detract from the fact that this is easily the best music phone that has ever existed.

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