We've hit a point in the year where most of the major manufacturers have had their biggest devices out in the market for a bit, and even the late-comers have dropped their entry into the 2013 smartphone game. This is about as "mature" as the market is going to get in the year before a new wave of devices gets ready to hit, so it really is a great time to evaluate where each one stands.
Manufacturers have started to focus a bit less on specs in 2013 (or so they'd like you to believe) and have really pushed forward new features and experiences on their devices, giving a variety of interesting outcomes. There are a robust number of great choices in the market, and we're also reaching a point where U.S. consumers have a variety of options regardless of their carrier.
It's been almost three months since our last "best Android phones" roundup, and now it's time to re-evaluate the ranks in late August. In the end there has to be one winner, so read along with us after the break and see which phone comes out on top.
The best Android phone you can buy — the HTC One
When it was released earlier this year, the HTC One raised the bar for what we expect from smartphone manufacturers in 2013. The all-aluminum construction is both stunning and sturdy, with a design that is solid ergonomically even with massive front-facing stereo speakers. The new 1080p Super LCD display is fantastic.
A great camera that will perform whether you leave it in 'auto' mode or like to tinker with settings.
While its move to a 4
megapixel Ultrapixel camera isn't all good, the OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) and dedicated ImageSense processing chip give the HTC One the ability to capture images that over phones just can't. Put that together with the specialized software features like Zoes and Video Highlights, and you have a great camera experience that will be able to perform whether you leave it in "auto" mode or like to tinker with settings.
We give the HTC One a few extra points for now having a Google Play edition available for those wanting the "Stock" experience to go along with this great hardware, but even in its standard Sense configuration (the way a vast majority of users will experience it) the HTC One offers a compelling set of features. Along with the aforementioned camera features, Sense provides a consistent look and feel that is user friendly and creates its own identity without throwing Android's out the window completely.
The HTC One is still the best device you can pick up right now.
With the launch on Verizon as of Aug. 22, the HTC One is also now available on all four major U.S. carriers with very little distinction between the models, and can even be had on smaller regional carriers. Worldwide availability is widespread as well, which means there's very little barrier to getting yourself this fantastic handset.
Our fondness for this phone has continued now several months after its release, and we have to say that the HTC One is still the best device you can pick up right now.
Runners-up - Samsung Galaxy S4, Motorola Moto X
It's hard to believe that Samsung could climb any higher in its amount of mind and market share amassed with the Galaxy S3, but when it released the Galaxy S4 it just continued upward on the same path.
On the hardware side Samsung has stepped up its game a little bit with the Galaxy S4 when compared to its predecessor the S3, but we still have a hard time enjoying the glossy plastic feel of the device when there are many other high-quality options out there. Samsung packed every bit of necessary processing power under the hood, however, and it still remains as one of the best all-around cameras out there.
A great all-around phone with all of the headline features, a solid screen and great camera.
Although it had a few stumbles with software lag and instability out of the box for many people, those issues have mostly been fixed and Samsung takes the crown for offering as many features as possible in one device. Whether you want your phone to watch your eyes to see if you're looking at the screen or respond when you swipe your hand over it, the Galaxy S4 has what you're looking for. The downside of so many features is a bit of software fatigue that can only be described as frustrating. Samsung's software has gotten a little long in the tooth lately, and is our main complaint about the device.
If you're looking for a great all-around phone with all of the headline features, a solid screen and great camera, Samsung has you covered with the Galaxy S4. You'd be hard-pressed to find a carrier or retailer in the world that doesn't carry the handset either, which means just about anyone reading this could buy one if they so desired. It comes in behind the HTC One and Moto X in this list, but is still a great choice for many.
Alas, the first true Motorola product after the Google acquisition, and it's quite the device. We've just wrapped up our in-depth review of the Moto X and came away extremely impressed with the build quality and experience on offer.
The Moto X offers a great software experience without bleeding-edge specs.
Motorola may not have packed bleeding-edge specs into the Moto X, but what they have put inside does the job without any issues. It turns out that a dual-core processor isn't as big of a deal as it would seem in late 2013, and the upsides of of these internals are better battery life and a few neat features as well. Those features like Active Display and Touchless Control can range from gimmick to lifesaver depending on the user, but the great part about them is how well they work when you do use them, and how they disappear if you don't.
Although Motorola has put together a pretty amazing system called Moto Maker for customizing your own device, it is only available on AT&T for an undetermined amount of time. Furthermore, even though the other major carriers have announced that they will carry the Moto X, it has only been released for sale on AT&T as of this posting (and if you're in Europe, you can stop asking now). We hope everyone gets the choice to experience Moto Maker soon, it really is an awesome feature.
An above-average camera, but one that can't perform well in all situations.
On the camera side, Motorola's new "Clear Pixel" camera technology doesn't completely live up to the hype of creating beautiful, well-lit photos in all situations. While the ceiling of what this camera is capable of may be high, it can fall flat with dull and over-processed images when taking indoor and extremely low-light photos. We have to say that overall it is an above-average camera, but this isn't going to be replacing your point-and-shoot any time soon.
From an ergonomics, design and experience standpoint there's really nothing to complain about here, you just need to decide if the few lackluster specs are going to be enough to turn you away. As a complete package, the Moto X makes a compelling argument to be worth your $199 on-contract with the carrier of your choice. Unknown, though, is how it'll hold up in the long term.
Best oversized phone - LG Optimus G Pro
It's getting harder and harder to define what an "oversized" phone is nowadays. Screen sizes keep creeping up by fractions of an inch, but bezels and overall device sizes seem to get smaller or at least stay the same. No matter where you draw that line personally, there are still many people out there for which phones of the Optimus G Pro's size at 5.5-inches just won't work on a daily basis.
The Optimus G Pro beats the Galaxy Note 2 in terms of display, camera and raw performance.
That doesn't mean that it isn't a great choice for those who are willing to make that size tradeoff. The Optimus G Pro has leapfrogged the Galaxy Note 2 in terms of display, camera and raw performance (considering that it was released many months after the Note 2) and offers a compelling package overall. Although its availability is limited in the U.S. to just AT&T, with international availability looking a bit better, the Optimus G Pro is the better choice if you have the chance.
We're coming right up on IFA where we expect Samsung to take the wraps off of the Note 3, but right at this moment if you need to get your hands on an oversized phone, the Optimus G Pro is the one to get.
Best value - LG Nexus 4
The Nexus 4 may be nearly a year old, but it still ranks highly with any of the handsets in this list.
Google released the Nexus 4 with every bit of quality specs required for late 2012 — Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB of RAM, 768x1280 4.75-inch display — along with a svelte glass and plastic design with just a little bit of flair that fit the "Nexus" name perfectly. The Nexus 4 may have been on sale now for almost 11 months, but we still think it ranks right up there in terms of quality with any of the handsets in this list. As our own Jerry Hildenbrand said, "The Nexus 4 is still the best way to experience Android," and we still agree with that sentiment.
When you add in the fact that you can buy one unlocked right now for either $299 or $349 direct from Google Play, it's the best deal in smart phones today. We know that it may not have the fancy camera and speakers of the HTC One, or the crazy laundry list of features of the Galaxy S4, but if you're an Android purist and need a phone that just works the way you expect it to day in and day out, the Nexus 4 should be on your list.
While the above phones take top honors for being the best phones available, it's really unfair to not give the nod to a few other great devices that have their own redeeming qualities.
HTC One Mini
Many of the reasons why we still love the HTC One carry over to its smaller sibling, the HTC One Mini. It is essentially the same device, with a few hardware omissions to keep the size and price down. Stepping down to this 4.3-inch handset, you'll lose the IR port, NFC, a bit of processing power and OIS on the camera, but we found that the experience on the Mini is still nearly identical to its larger counterpart.
You're still getting a fantastic screen and build quality, front-facing stereo speakers that sound great (albeit not as loud as the original) and a camera that is more than acceptable with the same software features that are fun to use.
The HTC One Mini has been available only internationally until now, but has also made its way to AT&T for $100 on-contract. It packs a slightly higher price tag than its mid-range counterparts from other manufactures, but we can still easily recommend it as a great option for someone wanting a less expensive or smaller handset with great build quality and features.
Sony Xperia Z and Xperia ZL
Sony's latest high-end devices, the Xperia Z and Xperia ZL, were announced all the way back at CES in January and took a while to come out, but they have a lot going for them even now in August. Both handsets are basically the same, with slight differences in build materials and availability, and offer very high quality cameras and a great software experience.
Unfortunately, both Xperias come up short in terms of display quality when compared to the leading panels on phones like the HTC One. But if you're okay with a middle-of-the-road display you'll be rewarded with a great overall experience in these devices — they have solid battery life, design and camera quality going for them.
You can find both from a variety of sources internationally, and for those of us in the U.S. you can pick up the Xperia Z directly from T-Mobile or buy either model unlocked from Sony directly (for once).
Motorola Droid MAXX
Motorola is taking its latest Droids in a new direction to fall in line with the new Moto X, and the experience is vastly improved over what you traditionally find for Verizon's Droid-branded phones. The software experience is much the same as the Moto X, with all of the latest features that you've been hearing about and a quality camera to boot.
The Droid Mini, Ultra and MAXX all have different strengths, but we find that if you're willing to spend the money the Droid MAXX is the best choice of the three. You're getting better build materials, an insanely great battery, 16GB of additional storage and wireless charging when compared to the Droid Ultra, making the extra $100 in price seem like less of an issue.
If the up-front price really is that big of a factor (we encourage you to do the math and consider otherwise), you're going to get a good experience with the Droid Ultra at $199 as well.
At this point in time we have a seriously solid set of devices to choose from no matter your location, carrier or feature preferences, and that's the best part about making up these lists. For the months ahead, we'll be looking forward to the impending announcement of a Galaxy Note 3, an HTC One "Max" and whatever the next Nexus phone may be, but we're not expecting the phone landscape to drastically change until we push towards 2014. Shout out in the comments and let us know how you feel about the choices we've made for the best Android Phones as of August 2013.
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