My favorite Android-powered stuff from the past twelve months
Working at Android Central means I get to play with a lot of cool stuff — phones, tablets, smartwatches and occasionally some wackier devices as well. And there's been no shortage of great Android-powered gadgetry in 2014, especially as Google's OS has made its way onto watches and ever larger handsets.
But when all's said and done, we still have to decide which devices to use on a daily basis, and what Android-powered technology we want to spend our money on. And so with 2014 drawing to a close, it's time to take a look at the AC editors' phone, tablet and watch picks for the year just gone.
Read on to find out which devices I recommend, and why.
My favorite Android phone of 2014 — the Samsung Galaxy Note 4
As I've said before, Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 is the first Note device to become my daily driver — the main phone I use every day. I've used previous Notes as secondary phones, however the Note 4's combination of power and feature set means that for me, it's the best Android handset out there.
It's true that really large phones aren't for everyone, but I've adjusted easily enough to the Note 4's 5.7-inch display. In fact, using a phone of this size — combined with the SwiftKey keyboard — has pretty much ruined me for typing on any other phone. While one-handed use is more challenging than rivals like the Moto X, thumb-typing on a display as large as the Note 4's is effortless and speedy. Then there's the fact that Samsung's packed in the best-looking smartphone display I've ever seen — SuperAMOLED at Quad HD resolution looks stunning, and the spacious display gives you more room to use Samsung's many multitasking features. Samsung's TouchWiz UI is a sticking point for sure, and while there's no denying it's not as slick as stock Android 5.0, trade-offs include split-screen and windowed multitasking, and an excellent camera experience.
Speaking of which, the camera is perhaps the biggest reason I chose to spend my own money on the Note 4. With an ample 16-megapixel sensor backed up by optical image stabilization, the Note 4 produces images rivaling the iPhone 6 Plus, and it's easily the most capable of capturing great-looking images in daylight and low light. Samsung's also managed to pack in all this stuff while maintaining battery performance, too — the Note 4 isn't a two-day phone, but with easy battery swapability it doesn't really need to be.
Finally, Samsung's long overdue build quality improvements make the Note 4 a classy-looking device, and a welcome break from the plasticky efforts of previous years.
Honorable mention — the LG G3
For me, choosing a clear runner-up was probably the most difficult decision for this article, as I've played with a lot of really great phones this year. I'm enjoying using stock Lollipop on the Google Play edition HTC One M8, and I agree with a lot of what Jerry said about Sony's excellent Xperia Z3 Compact. In the end, though, it has to come down to the device I was using the most before the Note 4 came along, and that's the LG G3.
Now the G3 isn't a perfect phones by any means. LG arguably sacrificed color quality to be first to market with a Quad HD display, and that super-high resolution also means the G3's prone to performance hiccups now and again. But it also manages to deliver a 5.5-inch display in an extremely one-hand-friendly design, along with wireless charging (in some countries anyway) and an excellent camera — probably the best Android camera outside of the Note 4. What's more, it's already been updated to Android 5.0 in some European countries.
More: Our LG G3 review
My favorite Android tablet of 2014 — the 2013 Nexus 7
Yes, my favorite tablet of this year is last year's model. The now superseded ASUS Nexus 7 (2013 edition, the one without the dimpled back) is a fantastic little device, and the decision to stop selling it directly on the Play Store is, in my opinion, completely crazy. True, there are larger and speedier Android tablets out there that'll give you better gaming performance, however nothing in the past year has come close to the Nexus 7's perfect combination of price, power and portability. And for 99 percent of the things I want to do on an Android tablet — mainly web browsing and movie-watching — the Nexus 7 is more than up to the task. The N7's sturdiness and relatively low cost also means it's a tablet I don't need to worry about babying.
Larger phones have undoubtedly eaten into the market for 7-inch tablets like the N7, which may have something to do with Google's choice to offer a 6-inch phone and a 9-inch tablet this year. But no worthwhile 6-inch phone is going to be as affordable as the Nexus 7, which is available for well under $200 at some U.S. retailers. Maybe the arrival of bigger, glitzier 4K tablets in the year ahead will sway me away from my Nexus 7, but for the moment I haven't found it wanting in any area.
My favorite Android watch of 2014 — the LG G Watch R
We're still in the early days of Android Wear, as evidenced by the arrival of underwhelming launch devices like the original LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live earlier this year. And Google's only just getting some of the kinks worked out with the recent Android 5.0 update for smartwatches. As such, the two big differentiators at the moment are display, battery life and design, and the LG G Watch R balances all three pretty well.
Of all the Android Wear watches available right now, the G Watch R looks the most like a traditional timepiece. That means it's the easiest to wear with just about anything without looking like you're brandishing some weird fitness band or futuristic bangle, or whatever the Gear S is supposed to be. The guts are contained in a classy (though not exactly ostentatious) black stainless steel body, while the bundled leather strap is understated and comfortable. The battery easily gets me through a full day, and sometimes through a second too. And LG's unique collection of watch faces complement its chunky industrial design. That, and the display is — mercifully — good enough to be used outside in direct sunlight.
We're guaranteed to see better, more refined Android Wear designs in 2015 as more partners get on board and the existing players hit their stride. For the moment, I'm happy enough with the G Watch R.
More: Our LG G Watch R review
You've seen my favorites, now share your own down in the comments. When you're done, be sure to check out Jerry's device picks for 2014 for a different take on the past year's Android gadgets.