Best smartphones to buy in 2014
We round-up the best smartphones to buy in 2014, from all our in-depth mobile phone reviews. No longer just used to make phone calls and send text messages – we use our smartphones to listen to music, watch movies, play games, browse the internet and more. So choosing the right one for you is crucial.
It’s been a busy few years for the smartphone market, as Apple’s iPhone has had to make way for a flurry of the best Android phones yet, not to mention the steadily growing Windows Phone OS. But which are the best smartphones in 2014, and what upcoming mobile phones should be on your radar? Read on...
Best smartphones 2014
The iPhone 5s has, as ever, divided opinion. Some say Apple has cleverly tweaked one of the best phones on the market, and made it even better. Others, that it hasn’t innovated enough to compete with the Android market.
We have to say, we sit firmly in the camp of the former. With a new processor, excellent new operating system, improved camera and of course, that fingerprint scanner, the iPhone is as desirable as ever - that's why we gave it our Smartphone of the Year 2013 Award.
The iPhone 5s is our favourite phone when it comes to sound quality, too. Songs are remarkably clear and packed with crisp detail, with a precision and rhythmic handling that most smartphones simply cannot match.
Sure, the iTunes experience divides opinion and can make things a fiddle but the flipside is the convenience of the iTunes Store and streaming music via AirPlay.
While we love the HTC’s stereo capabilities, when it comes to listening through headphones, the performance of the iPhone 5s cannot be beaten.
MORE: Apple iPhone 5s review
HTC's flagship 2013 smartphone, the HTC One, is an over achiever in almost every way. For a start, it has to be one of the nicest looking handsets currently available. Made from a single piece of anodised aluminium, it has a real premium feeling that plastic-body handsets, like the Samsung Galaxy S4, lack.
The display has to be one of the best we’ve ever seen on a smartphone too, making it great for watching movies on the handset’s 4.7in screen. Add to that two front-facing stereo speakers for seriously powerful headphone-free sound and you’ve got quite the portable movie experience.
The sound quality is great too, and browsing the internet is a suitably snappy experience, thanks to the quad-core 1.7GHz processor and 2GB RAM, and the battery life is solid. In fact, there’s very little we found we didn’t like on the HTC One.
MORE: Read our full HTC One review
LG can make great phones – the Google Nexus 4 is proof of that – but it’s been quite a while since a phone badged up with the LG logo has impressed us as much as the LG G2.
Of course, its ability to playback hi-res 24bit/192kHz files immediately grabbed our attention, but it carried on doing so with a thoughtful design, stunning screen, great 13MP camera, impressive battery life and intuitive interface.
While its audio performance may be one of its headline features, we’d still take the iPhone 5S over it for out-and-out music performance, but as an all round proposition, this is seriously tempting.
MORE: Read our full LG G2 review
NOW ADD THESE: Best AirPlay speakers
Best budget smartphone
LG and Google have joined forces once again to bring us the long-awaited Nexus 5.
As the first phone to run Android's latest 4.4 KitKat iteration, the Nexus 5 offers the purest form of Android, an experience that was much revered on its predecessor, the Nexus 4, and we love it here too.
In fact, there's a lot to love about the Nexus 5. Not only is it slick and easy to use, picture quality is outstanding and we love its way with music too. If only it's camera was a little bit better... but at this price, we can forgive it.
Because like its predecessor, the Nexus 5 has a very reasonable price tag compared to other similarly specced handsets, available at £299 (16GB) or £339 (32GB). Welcome to the 'budget' category of the smartphone world.
Spec-wise, it's got a larger 5in, Full HD screen with a super-crisp 445ppi, a quad-core Snapdragon processor, a choice of 16GB or 32GB of on-board storage and an 8MP camera.
Its also 4G/LTE ready, should you have a 4G-compatible SIM and contract.
MORE: Nexus 5 review
Best Windows Phone smartphone
Windows Phone has had quite the battle on its hands up against the mobile behemoths of iOS and Android, but the Nokia Lumia 925 is one of Nokia's more recent attempts to draw users over the WinPho way of life, alongside the likes of the flagship Lumia 1020.
In place of the Nokia Lumia 920’s shiny plastic shell, the Lumia 925 has opted for a slimmer, lighter and classier design, with a metal edge and understated matte polycarbonate back panel.
The camera is a key focus for the Lumia 925. It features six Carl Zeiss lenses and manages pinsharp snaps, with a fast autofocus and natural colour palette. Low light performance is admirable too.
The Nokia Lumia 925 is undoubtedly the best Windows Phone we've seen. While its unique interface and lack of apps may still struggle to turn the heads of iPhone and Android stalwarts, Windows Phone fans and keen converts will find it an attractive and capable option.
MORE: Read our full Nokia Lumia 925 review
ALSO CONSIDER: HTC 8S
More top smartphones for 2014
Here's a selection of more mobile phones that we think are worth looking out for during 2014, complete with links to relevant news stories and hands-on reviews.
Take a look at the long-awaited, much-rumoured "budget" iPhone 5C. A cheap iPhone, it is not, but it is indeed, as the rumours tipped, a plastic iPhone.
The iPhone 5C doesn’t feel like a plastic phone, and as the firm has gone to great lengths to explain, this is different. Rather like the M&S ads in fact, this isn’t just plastic, this is Apple iPhone plastic.
And on first impressions, they might just be right. The iPhone 5C is a quality, and slightly different product – and after playing with it, it's easy to imagine the 5C becoming Apple’s biggest seller, and the most popular iPhone ever released.
HANDS ON: iPhone 5C review
The original phablet is back and, Samsung says, better than ever. The Galaxy Note 3, launched at IFA 2013, comes with a new, soft-textured back panel, doing away with the infamous plastic casing and has an even bigger 5.7in screen.
On the inside you'll find, crucially, support for hi-res audio, as well as a new and improved S Pen stylus for tapping away on that big, 1080p Super AMOLED screen.
It launched alongside the Galaxy Gear smart watch, which talks to the Note 3 phone for emails and messages, but it's the sound and video quality of the new Note 3 that we're most interested in seeing in action.
HANDS ON: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review
Launched at IFA 2013, the Sony Xperia Z1 is Sony's new flagship and once again waterproof with it. It looks similar the Xperia Z but somewhat more premium and less angular. First impressions are good.
Inside it has had a much more thorough upgrade, with a 2.2GHz quad-core processor, 2GB RAM and 16GB of storage, which is expandable up to 64GB via microSD.
A 5in, full HD screen is powered by a monster 3000mAh battery, while there's also 4G support in the UK. But arguably the stand-out feature is the 20.7MP camera. We look forward to taking this Sony for a spin.
HANDS ON: Sony Xperia Z1 review
It has a 6.4in screen, which uses the same Triluminos technology seen in the company's 2013 TVs, and the latest Bravia X-Reality Engine. It's a 4G phone, too.
The Xperia Ultra Z price looks likely to be around £600 SIM-free, so it's not cheap, but it is a heck of a lot of screen. Too big? We look forward to finding out in a full review...
HANDS ON: Sony Xperia Z Ultra review
HTC has followed Samsung's lead in delivering a Mini version of its flagship phone (in this case, the HTC One). The HTC One Mini has a unibody design of anodised aluminium, although there is more plastic at the edges, and a 4.3in 720p display: not Full HD but slightly ahead of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini’s 960x540 resolution.
At the back is the same 4MP UltraPixel camera as used on the HTC One, although the One Mini doesn’t have image stabilisation. The front camera takes a hit, going from 2.1MP to 1.6MP. Sounds good, we look forward to bringing you a review ASAP.
Another mini-me phone, the S4 Mini has a 4.3in qHD Super AMOLED display, a 1.7GHz dual core processor and weighs 107g. It's 125mm x 61mm, and 8.9mm thin.
By comparison, the Galaxy S4 has a 5in screen, quad core processor and weighs 130g, and its dimensions are 137 x 70 x 7.9mm. So it's definetely smaller.
The S4 Mini comes with an 8MP camera and is also 4G LTE compatible, and will be available on the EE 4G network in the UK.
Upcoming smartphones in 2014
Apple iPhone 6
Apple is widely expected to launch its latest iPhone 6 phone in 2014, with a release date most likely to be set in September.
A larger, 4.8in screen and "key software improvements" are rumoured to come with the new iPhone.
Just like our TVs, it seems 2014 is the year our smartphones are going to be curved too. LG has announced the LG G Flex, available in the UK on 1 February, which will feature a 6in curved screen.
Other specs include a 2.3Ghz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of on-board storage and a 13MP camera. It'll be 4G ready as well.
MORE: LG G Flex review
Motorola already took the budget smartphone world by storm with the release of its Motorola Moto G handset late last year. Now, it has announced the Motorola Moto X to join it.
It'll feature a 4.7in screen, a 1.7Ghz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and will be 4G ready. It'll also have a few nifty tricks up its sleeve, with advanced voice recognition thanks to its 'always on' status and the ability to launch the 10MP camera with a flick of the wrist.
It's launching in the UK on 1st February, and we'll be getting hold of it soon for a full review.
Upcoming 2014 smartphones
Will this be the best-selling phone of 2014? Quite possibly. The Samsung Galaxy S5 was officially revealed at MWC and... well, we're a little underwhelmed.
There are clear improvements, refinements to the OS, improvements to the specs, the addition of some new features, but the plastic casing remains and despite a finger scanner and heart rate monitor, we hoped for more innovation.
Still, we will look forward to bringing you a full review and finding out how it measures up. In the mean time, check out all our pictures and first impressions in our hands on review...
HANDS ON: Samsung Galaxy S5 review
The Z 1 saw Sony pull up a chair at the top table where mobile phones were concerned in 2013, and the Z2 aims to manouevre Sony's Xperia range to the head of the table.
The new design is largely the same but with rounded edges and a slightly larger screen, which will help when it comes to watching video if maybe not holding the thing.
Also new is 4K video recording and noise cancelling technology, which very much tickle our sound and vision fancy. Undoubtedly a contender for tthe best smartphone award in 2014.
HANDS ON: Sony Xperia Z2 review
This is the phone that pits LG up against the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for phablet dominance. Yep, this is a phone for a big hand (or preferably two of them).
The G Pro 2 goes for the same rear button layout as seen on the LG G2 and G Flex, and elsewhere on the spec sheet: everything is big. From the processor to the battery, screen to the expandable memory, it shouldn't be found lacking if the specs are anything to go by.
We got hands on with the new device at the launch at MWC, so check out our full hands on review to find out our first impressions.
HANDS ON: LG G Pro 2 review
Phew! With these new mobiles to come and no doubt plenty more besides, we'll be keeping this page updated as and when we review new smartphones.
MORE: MWC 2014 phones
by Verity Burns