In terms of smartphone offerings, this year is shaping up to be one of the most impressive ever. Not only are manufacturers managing to pull together some of the most advanced specifications into a single device, they are also (finally) focusing on things like user experience, software optimization, and sheer performance. And to top it all off, some are giving design and hardware more attention than in past years.
The end result is stellar smartphones, all of which run well, look gorgeous, and offer a horde of useful features.
Don’t get me wrong. While these phones are more well-rounded than ever before, they aren’t perfect. Each phone has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. It’s up to us as individual consumers to pick and choose which matter most to us.
Back in April, we here at Pocketnow came together to offer our individual top smartphone picks for spring 2014. Adam Doud chose the Lumia 930 and Michael chose its next of kin, the Lumia Icon; Adam Lein picked the Lumia 1020; Anton chose the Xperia Z2; Joe is still swooning over the wallet-friendly Nexus 5, and rightly so; Stephen opted for the rebellious OnePlus One; and I went with the metal-clad HTC One M8. The wide array of recommendations and vastly different picks in the comments should serve as an indicator of how great the options are this year.
A few weeks before that, I compared some of the newest Android flagships of the time – HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy S5, and Sony Xperia Z2 – in great detail. I compared them in specifications, displays, cameras, ruggedness, software features, and pricing and availability. At the very end, I said my money would likely go towards the Xperia Z2, though I still hadn’t had any hands-on time with any of the handsets.
A lot has changed since then, though. All of the major flagships are out and available for purchase, in one way or another. We’ve reviewed most of them and are working on reviews for some others, and I’ve managed to have some hands-on time with pretty much all the flagships so far.
The real question is, now that we have some experience with most of this year’s heavy hitters, which is the best of the best? Do we still stand by our original picks? Or has the reviews desk changed our minds?
The Galaxy S5, for one, was no more impressive than I anticipated it would be. The camera, in great lighting, is amazing. Low-light is atrocious. The phone is extremely quick and the new TouchWiz software is just as conflicted and half-baked as it was on the Galaxy TabPRO 8.4 I reviewed earlier this year. And, of course, the hardware is just as unmoving and forgettable as most of us predicted.
The Xperia Z2, which I didn’t even have for two whole days, felt incredibly nice in the hand and offered an above average experience in most areas. Michael said it was “worth every penny” in our review. The camera was surprisingly great, the hardware was predictably solid, and the display was greatly improved from previous Xperia models. Still, I’m personally not a fan of the flaps which accompany the IP58 certification, and while the speakers sound great, the water-resistance rating likely plays a part in how low the volume is. Plus, the software on the Xperia Z2 is the most basic and feature-light. The Xperia Z2 is undoubtedly a fantastic phone, but it lacks the soul other competing flagships have.
The HTC One M8 resides among one of my favorite phones of all time, primarily due to the design and in-hand feel. It’s gorgeous and feels like the premium handset it is. HTC improved the software dramatically and I can say for the first time that I like Sense UI. The speakers are phenomenal, the display is gorgeous, and the performance is off the charts. However, I’ve been having trouble with battery life on my personal unit and while the camera has impressed me more than once, it could certainly be better (and less gimmicky).
The LG G3 is the one of the only major flagships that I haven’t tried yet. There’s one sitting in my office about 20 minutes away, and as soon as I hit publish on this piece, that’s where I’m headed. But I can go on Michael’s first impressions of the LG G3, which he published yesterday. The phone looks more refined than any LG smartphone we’ve ever seen. The software has its moments and looks better than last year’s, but it could still use a little spit shine. And the camera looks rather impressive, though it seems to ramp up the saturation to 11. I just can’t wait to get my hands on that quad-HD display. I’m sure the rear-facing buttons will continue to throw me for a loop, though.
The OnePlus One is also an extremely tricky device to get some hands-on time with, but its performance in initial reviews are promising. It packs all the best specifications in a casing not too different from the Oppo Find 7a, which I really liked (save for the lack of cellular service on my review unit and Oppo’s ColorOS).
Which is the phone for me? Well, I’m obviously still very smitten with the One M8. Design goes a long way in my book, and I like a phone that looks and feels as premium as it claims to be. That alone makes me wary of the G3. The Xperia Z2 has surprisingly dropped off my radar, and the Galaxy S5 was never on it. But I’ll definitely be interested to see how the G3 fares, even if its mostly plastic build doesn’t make me all warm and fuzzy inside like the One M8′s brushed aluminum does.
It’s not all about specs, but if it were the G3 would take the cake, no doubt. For now, my vote stays with the One M8. I’m very pleased with it so far, even if the LG G3 will likely be the more well-rounded package we all dream about.
Take our poll below and tell us which 2014 flagship you’re saving your pennies for!