Man, 2013 has been a wild year. It also seems to have flown by. I remember CES2013 like it was yesterday. Where NVIDIA announced the Tegra 4 processor and Shield (Project Shield at the time). Along with Vizio announcing some crazy tablets, that never actually came to market. And Sony announcing the Xperia Z and ZL. Of course, there were other announcements there, but that's when the year really kicked off. This year was probably one of the biggest years for Android. Mostly because there was no "best" phone out there. And the fact that almost every flagship is available on every carrier here in the US. That's something that hasn't happened in a while. It used to be that if you wanted a specific phone, you had to go to that carrier. But now you can choose your carrier then your phone. So let's take a look back at this year and see what kind of phones were announced.
Sony Xperia Z/ZL
The Xperia Z and ZL were announced back at CES in Las Vegas. The Xperia Z was really the first water-resistant phone to be released running Android. It featured a 5-inch 1080p display, Snapdragon S4 Pro processor inside, and 2GB of RAM. It was actually a pretty nice phone, even if it didn't make it a US carrier until the summer-time. However both the Xperia Z and ZL were available unlocked through various channels like Amazon, Sony Store, Expansys, etc.
This was the phone I was most excited for in the first part of 2013. I've always been a HTC fan, and have been hoping they could come back. The HTC One was a great phone. It had great specs, even if the battery wasn't as big as we all hoped it would be. The HTC One featured a 4.7-inch display, Snapdragon 600 processor, and 2GB of RAM. It also had some nice features, yeah the 4MP UltraPixel camera wasn't the best choice for HTC. Hopefully they learned their lesson with their 2014 Flagship. But the front-facing speakers, that was probably the best decision they've made in a long time. I loved those speakers!
Samsung Galaxy S4
The Samsung Galaxy S4 was announced shortly after Mobile World Congress. The Galaxy S4 really didn't surprise me much. I pretty much knew it would have top of the line specs, and plenty more features that Samsung built in. Although the event was pretty over the top. The Galaxy S4 had a 5-inch display, Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of RAM as well. It did have some problems shortly after launch, but Samsung did fix those pretty quickly.
Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One Google Play Editions
In May, Google announced the Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition and shortly after the HTC One joined in. These phones were pretty confusing to us. We were all excited to see the Galaxy S4 available with stock Android and the same for the HTC One. But we were kind of expecting prices like what Google does for the Nexus devices, around $350. Well that didn't happen. Instead they sold for full retail price. $650 and $550 respectively.
Sony Xperia Z Ultra
This past summer, Sony announced their first phablet. The Xperia Z Ultra, which has a 6.44-inch 1080p display, Snapdragon 800, 2GB of RAM, etc. It was actually a pretty nice looking device, even if it was pretty large. The Xperia Z Ultra was also water-resistant, which has become a major selling point for Sony this year. Also, the Xperia Z Ultra allows you to use anything as a stylus. That could be a pencil, a pen, an actual stylus, anything.
Motorola Moto X/Droid Ultra/Droid Mini/Droid Maxx
I'm lumping all three of these into one section, because they are pretty much the same device, with minor differences. In August, Motorola finally announced the Moto X. Their first device in almost a year. The device wasn't all that exciting at launch, but after reviewers got their hands on it, that's when the real excitement came. The Moto X has a 4.7-inch 720p display, 2GB of RAM and a Snapdragon S4 Pro dual-core processor. So not exactly the high end stuff we all wanted. But where it excels is in the experience. The Moto X is actually my daily driver now, and I love it. Touchless Control, Active Display, etc., those are all awesome features.
The LG G2 was one of the most interesting devices of the year, at least in my opinion. LG did some new things with the G2, that most other manufacturers have never done. For example, they put the power and volume rocker on the back. While controversial, it was genius. The LG G2 was a beast too, featuring a 5.2-inch 1080p display, Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM. This thing flew through anything you threw at it. Yes the UI wasn't all that good looking, but a lot of the features were really great.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
Here we are at IFA 2013. Samsung takes the stage to announce the Galaxy Note 3. Which featured a 5.7-inch display, Snapdragon 800 and 3GB of RAM. Talk about a beast. The Galaxy Note 3 also brought along for the ride, a ton of new features. Which we basically already knew were going to be coming. So far Samsung has already sold 10 million Galaxy Note 3's. Which honestly, I'm not surprised. They've spent the past three years marketing the crap out of their Galaxy line, and so 10 million units sold in 2 months is not really surprising to me.
Sony Xperia Z1
Sony also announced the Xperia Z1 at IFA in September. This phone is basically the same as the Xperia Z, except it's got a more powerful processor and more megapixels in the camera. The Xperia Z1 has received mixed reviews so far (I haven't had a chance to review it so I can't comment from personal experience). Some people say it's great for taking pictures, while others disagree. Either way, a 20MP camera in a smartphone is crazy.
Google Nexus 5
The Nexus 5. The holy grail of all smartphones. This is the smartphone we wait all year for. This year, LG got another crack at the device. They didn't change much from the Nexus 4, but this one included a 5-inch 1080p display, Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM. It's definitely a speed demon. But as usual with Nexus devices, the camera and battery sucked at launch. With the update to Android 4.4.1 and then 4.4.2, the camera did see major improvements. Especially speed-wise. However the battery is still not that great, unless you use WiFi all day long.
Xperia Z Ultra Google Play Edition
This one surprised us, but in December, Google announced the Sony Z Ultra Google Play Edition. Which is the Xperia Z Ultra, but with stock Android 4.4 – KitKat on board. And it costs $650. Not too bad, but I'd definitely like to see it cheaper.
A lot of people have been asking me what my favorite phone of the year is. And it's actually a pretty hard choice. I really liked the HTC One, Galaxy Note 3, G2, Moto X, and the Nexus 5. While the Moto X is my phone of choice right now, I'd have to say the best phone was the G2. It really surprised a lot of people, and I'm excited to see what LG does in 2014.