My favorite phones, wearable and tablet for the year
In the week that we transition to 2015, it's as good a time as any to reflect on some of our favorite Android things from the previous year. I've already highlighted all of my favorite apps for 2014, and now it's time for devices. We always get to play with an exorbitant amount of Android-powered phones and tablets each year, but with the addition of Android Wear we now have yet another category as well.
After using all of the latest devices as they came out in 2014, I narrowed things down to pick my favorite phone, tablet and smartwatch of the year. Even with all of the choices we're given, we always end up settling on the few that really work for us — read along and see which devices worked for me in 2014.
Favorite Android phone of the year — Moto X (2014)
I never actually owned the original Moto X, but after seeing the new Moto X unveiled at Motorola's headquarters in Chicago I knew it'd be my go-to device. I bought a customized one with a wood back, and continue to carry it daily with my SIM in it and my G Watch connected — the two signs that its my primary phone. I'm really not super happy with the bump in size over my Nexus 5, but the improvement in build quality makes it worth it. I like the metal frame and my wood choice, and the whole thing feels well built.
Motorola has done a solid job with the software once again, of course, and the transition to Lollipop wasn't all that painful. I still wish that Motorola could've done something a bit more seamless to integrate trusted Bluetooth and automatic silencing with the Moto app into the system, but I have a feeling their hands may have been tied a bit. After using it for a number of months now I'm still upset with the subpar battery life and lack of wireless charging, but it's not enough of a knock to not use the phone entirely.
Though it isn't perfect, it's good enough for me to use every day, and offers the fewest number of compromises for me and how I use phones. I realize that might not be the most shining endorsement, but it says something when this is the phone I actually carry in my pocket daily after using all of the flagships released in 2014.
Honorable mention — Galaxy Note 4
Falling tightly behind the Moto X for me is the Galaxy Note 4. I reviewed this phone for AC and have kept it around as a regular device, though it rarely sticks around as a day-to-day phone due to two main points — size and software. I absolutely adore the Note 4's screen, really like what the camera is capable of, enjoy many of its features and really don't even mind the hardware navigation keys that much.
The fact that I haven't elevated the Note 4 above the Moto X to daily driver level (and therefore my favorite device of the year) is really due to it being far too large for me to use on a regular basis. Even with my big hands the Note 4 is just too unwieldy for me. I just can't use a phone that feels insecure in my hand, ready to slip out and onto the ground at any moment. When I have two hands free the Note 4 is great, but walking down the street or trying to tap out a quick one-handed message is a chore, and I can't make that sacrifice regularly.
Of course the software is another pain point for me — as I noted in our Note 4, two months on article — though it's mostly mitigated by a change of the launcher and keyboard. But some of Samsung's painful design still gets through to my eyes, and it's still not the experience I want to see.
Samsung has most of the equation right here, and if a few more changes were made these two phones could be swapping positions.
Favorite Android Wear watch of the year — LG G Watch
I got an LG G Watch shortly after it was released and honestly haven't found a need to go with any other Android Wear model. Though the round Moto 360 caught my eye and the slick-looking ZenWatch is neat, they both do just about the same things as my G Watch, and the better looks of those models just aren't enough to justify getting something new.
No matter how nice the Moto 360 and ZenWatch look, if I want to wear a nice watch for a certain occasion I wouldn't be wearing a digital watch of any kind — so getting one of these two over my G Watch at an added cost of another couple hundred dollars just doesn't make sense. The G Watch is comfortable, doesn't stand out much and gets great battery life, so there's really not much pushing me to get something else.
Plus I really enjoy LG's charging implementation, letting me have a dock that sits on my desk and quickly accepts the watch each night (or two if I'm lazy) for charging. No funky docks, clips or clunky apparatuses to deal with. At this point I'd understand if someone who didn't have an Android Wear watch decided to go with one of the newer models, but if you're on the fence and can pick up a G Watch for a good deal I think it's still worth considering.
Favorite Android tablet of the year — NVIDIA Shield Tablet
It's pretty easy for me to say that the Shield Tablet is my favorite of the year, though that's not the biggest award out there considering how little time I actually spend with a tablet in my hands. I currently have a Shield Tablet LTE, and do a pretty good job of keeping it charged up, updated and "around" to be used every few days.
I like to casually browse, read Twitter, play games and just kill time with my tablet, but it's ever been a go-to device like my phone and laptop(s) are. In that case I'm really not using the Shield Tablet to its full potential, and could easily get by with my Nexus 7 had I not picked up the Shield Tablet for my own use. Having the LTE model has been handy from time to time, particularly running as a hotspot, but that's available on other tablets also.
The Shield Tablet, for the price, offers a pretty great package particularly if you're using it harder than I do. The screen is a little disappointing compared to the competition and I'm still not a fan of how tough it is to push the power and volume keys — but the power under the hood, the software, Tegra-optimized games and the optional cover are all top-notch and really make the Shield Tablet stand out for me in 2014.
Bonus (non-Android) pick — Toshiba Chromebook 2
I know this isn't an Android device, but as a regular Chromebook user I couldn't go through a year-end list of my favorite devices without mentioning my favorite in this category. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 was definitely my favorite Chromebook of 2014, as it got a lot closer to being an "ideal" device than any other in the year. The build quality is a bit lacking, but the screen is fantastic by Chromebook standards and at $329 (MSRP) you're getting pretty good specs on the high-end model. I definitely would've preferred an option for 32GB storage and a step higher in processing power, but maybe that'll be reserved for next year.
I still often prefer my more portable and powerful 11-inch Acer C720 (with 4GB RAM and an upgraded 128GB SSD) for just tossing in a bag and using casually, but I think the Toshiba Chromebook 2 will be a better choice for a vast number of people out there looking for a primary laptop.
These are my favorite devices of 2014, and you can see the rest of this series (including favorite apps) right here as well. We're always interested to hear what you think of our picks and how they align with your own as well — let us know in the comments what you think!