To say that 2013 has been an interesting year in the world of Android would be putting it mildly, but has it really been a banner year? The release of Android-oriented products like Google Glass, Google Hangouts/revamp of Google+ and the beginnings of Google Retail led the way for a whole new approach for Google to take on the competition.
As we look back at the Android-based smartphones that launched in 2013, there isn’t any one handset that truly stands out as a market revolution. Instead, 2013 saw improvements and innovation on existing brands and lines that were already incredibly popular. For example, the Galaxy S 4 which kicks off our list below didn’t really raise the bar over the Galaxy S III in a truly big way, but it did improve on an already market-leading experience from the Galaxy S III.
So without further adieu, here are the 9to5Google’s top Android smartphone picks for 2013:
The Galaxy S 4 is the latest Galaxy smartphone to carry the torch of its successors, all of whom did impressive sales compared to one generation earlier. Aside from the fact that Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 press announcement was one of the strangest events I’ve ever been to, the phone is definitely an evolution of the Galaxy S III. Keeping the plastic shell has been an issue of much discussion but the overall experience of the Galaxy S 4 is definitively better than that of the Galaxy S III.
Samsung took the opportunity to experiment with new “things,” some of which we’ve long since forgotten but it showed the company’s willingness to push the envelope of what or may not be a wild successor new feature. New additions like Air Gesture, Smart Scroll and Air View brought a new experience to the Galaxy line, but failed to really make more than a splash early on. Still, the Galaxy S 4 is arguably one of the best smartphones ever to hit store shelves and paves a difficult road for Samsung moving forward. The Korean giant will really have to pull a rabbit out of their proverbial hat to impress us with the Galaxy S 5 when you consider just how good the Galaxy S 4 truly is.
Around here, we’re particularly partial to the Play Edition because of the quick updates and lack of Touchwiz.
The HTC One, oh the HTC One and all its promise to return HTC to former glory. This device was so widely anticipated that HTC CEO Peter Chou staked his career on it, offering to resign if it was a failure. Well, the device was definitely not a failure and most comparison posts against the Galaxy S 4 favored it overall, at least on hardware. Unfortunately, the device with its “ultrapixels” and aluminum casing did not make a dent in the Galaxy S 4 juggernaut even if it offered an arguably better Android hardware. It’s clear that HTC went back to the drawing board with the One and came back with what they will call the “ultimate phone design.” In a world where Apple leads the pack with hardware, HTC pushed out a device that felt extremely sturdy in the hand and felt “rich.” Still, the One is a fantastic device and while HTC may be riding the train a little too long with the release of the HTC One mini and HTC One Max, there’s little question this was a handset that showed what the Taiwanese company is still capable of. Again, given the option, we’d pull in a Google Play edition which we loved even more without Sense. Now, HTC just needs to remind the audience that Samsung isn’t the only boat docked in the harbor.
The Nexus 5 was easily one of the most anticipated handsets of 2013. While the Nexus name still has yet to find itself in the vernacular of the general smartphone buying public, it’s absolutely the Android die-hard device we hoped for. While the device launched with what many called a sub-par camera, even after Vic Gundotra promised superb Nexus cameras this year the Android 4.4.1/2 update showed us that Google is working to improve the software side. The hardware may not be flashy from a design standpoint, but the device itself is extremely practical, especially for a device that costs $350 for 16GB and $400 for 32GB. There’s plenty of reasons to buy a Nexus device, perhaps no reason is more important than the promise of early Android updates. Google has done a fantastic job of working to narrow the gap of software releases, but if being first with Android updates is your biggest priority, the Nexus 5 is the only device that should be on your wish list.
The Moto X marks the first true Android device to be released by the now Google-owned Motorola. Motorola took the opportunity with the Moto X to focus less on specs and more on what a device could do. In a nod to the Late, Great Steve Jobs, the company tried to return to the idea that specs, cores, megapixels and display mattered less than the overall experience. With Active display and always on Google-Now there were a few “firsts” with the Moto X and they resonated deeply with reviewers. The Moto X was arguably one of the best-received devices of 2013 even if the camera left something to be desired. Like the Nexus 5, Motorola released a software update that bumped the camera from “ok” to “good” and promised to work more to refine it in future updates. Add in the opportunity to customize the look and feel of your device with Moto Maker and you have a unique Android device that is unlike a lot of the “me too” devices we are used to seeing hit store shelves. As the only other device to receive Android 4.4 outside of the Nexus 5, it’s good to know that a device purchased from the Google-owned Motorola won’t be far from the latest software update. Throw in the $350 deals or recently-released Bamboo backplate and you’ve an incredibly solid device made in the USA.
The Galaxy Note 3 marks the next-generation of Samsung’s don’t call it a phablet-phablet that took everything that was good about its successor and made it better. Like the Galaxy S III and Galaxy S 4, the Note 3 was more evolution than revolution but that isn’t a bad thing at all. Launched in unison with the Galaxy Gear, the Note 3 is Samsung’s way of leading the pack in the 5″ and above category and they are leading by a mile. The device launched with a faux-leather backing and is now available in a half dozen colors. The combination of the S Pen and 5.7″ display is a dream for the on-the-go soccer mom or business owner. With Action Memos, Screen Write, Pen Window and multi-window functionality the device is unlike many non-Samsung devices on the market is yet another example of how Samsung likes to experiment with new features that we can often expect to see filtering through the company’s hardware line in the future. There is little wrong with the Galaxy Note 3 and unless you want to own a device that is more pocket-friendly, there is little reason not to recommend the Galaxy Note 3 as the combination phone/tablet you never knew you really needed.
The LG G2 is unfortunately not nearly as popular stateside as it should be. With its unique rear-button style, beautiful display (best we’ve ever seen), excellent battery life and camera, the LG G2 never took off in the way LG had anticipated. Described as a phone “inspired by you” the specs are better than both the Galaxy S 4 and HTC One and in tech publication shootouts between the devices, the G2 almost always came out as the clear winner. Powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor, the device is called LG’s most advanced smartphone. The 5.2″ display is gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous and with a 3,000 mAh battery you can power the device throughout the whole day even as the Full HD 1080p display offers a superior 423ppi experience. Even with all of its under-the-hood horsepower, the LG G2 failed to hit with audiences in the US and ended up in the hands of the technical savvy who understand just how powerful the device truly is. The Nexus 5 is clearly emphasized by what LG was able to produce with the G2 and its unfortunate that word appeared in recent weeks that the device had failed to hit the company’s sales expectations. The ever-important holiday season will certainly be on LG’s mind as it hopes to turn around the fortunes of the G2.
Our very own Editor-in-Chief Seth Weintraub calls the Moto G a game-changer thanks to its ridiculously low price tag. Motorola announced the device with intent of showing the world that you don’t need a premium price tag to offer a premium device. Offering many of the features of the Moto X save for Active Display and always-on Google Now, the Moto G is a tremendous device for its $179 price tag. If you’re a premium smartphone buyer that has to have the $500 plus smartphone every time, the Moto G likely won’t be earth shattering to you, but offering a comparable experience with a sub $200 price price is definitely going to have the Moto G filling up some stockings this year. There is still somethings we’d like to see Motorola improve on, mostly the camera but we have to remember that at this price there will be some tradeoffs. Still, Motorola is clearly looking to conquer the low-end market with a premium experience and they are certainly on their way.