The best of 2014

The Android devices of 2014 that I can't put down

2014 was a really good year for an Android fan. We saw great phones, tablets and watches from plenty of manufacturers, and chances are no matter what you were looking for, you were able to find it.

I'm lucky (mostly) because I get to play with many of these phones, tablets and watches. They are the tools we here at AC need to do our jobs. They're like a fancy socket set that can play Candy Crush.

But of course, we all like some more than others. And that's what this is all about — my favorites from the past year. It wasn't easy to pick just a few, because I've found that just about every Android device has a thing or two going for it that makes it great. There really are no wrong choices, and your list will probably be different from mine. That's a good thing.

Here's my list of favorite Android devices.

My favorite Android smartphone — the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

Xperia Z3 Compact

This shocks me as much as it may shock those that know me, but my top pick for an Android phone in 2014 is the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact — a phone that doesn't run "unmodified" Android. It squeezes out a win over the Moto X and the LG G3 (my other favorites) because of one thing — possibly the best thing any OEM has done in 2014 — it's a smaller device with full-size internals and performance.

The Z3C has the same guts as it's big brother the Z3, just behind a smaller screen. That means it plays games just as well (or better due to a lower resolution), can run any intense software you throw at it, and has the oompf needed to run future versions of Android and third-party apps.

It's also beautifully built with a glass back (until it breaks, I reckon) and soft rounded edges. It's water "proof", works wonderfully with my existing Sony dock, and has an excellent camera with it's own camera button.

Of course, not everything is perfect. Sony does some things that drive me nuts — co-opting the Google Now shortcut or bugging me about a PC-required available update — but for the most part the software is usable. There's a good bit of Sony bloatware (as expected) but none of it is intrusive on the level of something like CityID you would find on carrier phones, and it was easy to disable the things I didn't want or need.

Will I still be happy with the Z3C once all the Lollipop bugs are sorted and I don't have it yet? That remains to be seen. But for now, many of us have been wanting a mid-size device with high-end specs, and Sony delivers with the Z3 Compact.

Honorable mention — The Motorola Moto X

Moto X

This phone made my decision very difficult. I love the software on the Moto X — more than I like the software on the Z3C. I love the way the Moto X is built with an internal metal frame and a graceful curve. I adore the leather back (I went with black).

But I don't like the size bump.

Had Motorola kept the same size as the 2013 model, there would be no contest. I find myself switching between the Moto X and the Z3 Compact a lot, but I always end up liking the size of the Z3C better.

My favorite Android tablet of 2014 — the NVIDIA Shield Tablet

NVIDIA Shield Tablet

Another tough decision here. To me, there are three great choices in an Android tablet in 2014 — the Nexus 9, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S series, and the NVIDIA Shield Tablet. Each has their strengths and weaknesses (the screen on the Samsung is absolfreakinglutley amazing and the Nexus 9 CPU could power a monster truck), but the Shield Tablet edges the competition when it comes to the total package.

  • It doesn't have an iPad-esque 4 x 3 aspect ratio that squeezes my movies
  • It runs an almost "pure" version of Android
  • It plays games like a mofo

I've realized that these are the things I want in an Android tablet. Some folks want a tablet that can act as a laptop replacement, chock full of features like the Galaxy Tab S. Some want a tablet that can be productive when working, with a traditional aspect ratio like the Nexus 9. I want a tablet I can sit on the couch and play games or surf the web with, or watch something on Netflix without a huge letterboxing effect. That's the NVIDIA Shield Tablet.

My only regret is that I have the Wifi-only model.

My favorite Android watch of 2014 — the Moto 360

Moto 360

If I didn't care about how my watch looked on my wrist, I'd probably wear my G Watch more often. But I do care, and the Moto 360 wins because of its style factor.

All Android Wear watches have the same basic software and features, so the physical hardware is the way for manufacturers to stand out from the crowd. Sony's offering may have stand-alone GPS, or the 360 may have an ambient lighting sensor, but basically the apps and programs running on any Android Wear device are going to be the same as another.

The Moto 360 is far from perfect, but it has a look I like and feels comfortable on my wrist. That's really all I can ask for from an Android smartwatch right now. Things may change when I get more time with the ZenWatch.

2014 was a great year to be an Android fan. I have a feeling 2015 will be, too.

You've seen my favorites, now be sure to share yours in the comments below. There is no wrong choice here, and that's a great thing.