2013 saw a large number of excellent devices coming to market along
with a few clangers and one or two that were rather aesthetically
The Good: Honourable mentions
There were so many good devices this year that it is quite difficult
to pick out the best. Samsung impressed us with the Samsung
Galaxy S4 smartphone and the Samsung
Galaxy Note 3 phablet. The Google
Nexus 5 smartphone and mid-sized Google
Nexus 7 II tablet were also high-quality devices and came with
a very competitive price tag.
Lumia 925 also impressed, and the Nokia
Asha 500, 502 and 503 phones looked fabulous. The Nokia
Lumia 2520 is Nokia's first modern tablet device and in our
view is a really attractive and distinctive device. Apple came up
with some useful improvements to its product line with the Apple
iPhone 5S and Apple
Xperia Z1 demonstrated that Sony was determined to compete with
the best in the market, and the Motorola
Moto X brought a refreshing degree of customisation to consumers
but it sadly never reached Europe.
LG bounced back from a bad 2012 with the LG
G2, a smartphone that was just a little bit better
all around than the competition, and it probably has
the shortest name of any phone on the market.
It managed several impressive feats including an
almost impossibly big HD display squeezed into its 2.7"
wide frame, a blazingly fast CPU, impressively big battery
and the novel feature of moving all the side buttons
to the back of the case.
Let down somewhat by rather uninspiring looks, the
LG G2 is certainly one of the very best smartphones
on the market at the moment, and it demonstrated that
LG was determined to fight it out with the market leaders.
In recent years smartphones have tended to be black
slabby devices, but the HTC
One looks very different from the competition and
is an attractive device with a powerful feature set
which means that it can also fight it out with the best.
HTC took a brave decision to fit a 4 megapixel "ultrapixel"
camera, which sounds pretty modest but in practice is
one of the best camera phones during 2013.
Another handset with a refreshingly short name, it
does raise the question.. what comes next? The HTC Two?
Nokia Lumia 1020
The headline feature with the Nokia
Lumia 1020 is the epic 41 megapixel camera, but
the 1020's Windows Phone 8 operating system is much
sleeker than the competition and it comes in an attractive
package that features Nokia's understated minimalist
Where other phones might beat the Lumia 1020 in terms
of some raw features, the Nokia manages to look fresh and
interesting and it comes with digital imaging features
that competitors simply cannot match. In our view the
Lumia 1020 is the best handset of 2013.
One of the problems with trying to market any product worldwide
is choosing the name, and with the otherwise inoffensive Samsung
Galaxy Win, Galaxy
Young and Galaxy Fame it's clear that the names weren't really
designed for English-speaking markets where they sound very odd. Another
odd sounding-device is the Samsung
Galaxy Gear, a smartwatch which largely fails because it tries
to do far more than the tiny battery allows.
Apple iPhone 5C
A rare flop for Apple, the Apple
iPhone 5C took last year's iPhone 5, gave it a fresher
looking OS and wrapped it in a colourful and inexpensive
plastic shell. But consumers stayed away and went for
the more upmarket iPhone 5S instead.
Despite being cheaper than the 5S, the 5C is still
an expensive device (it costs only 15% less than the
5S) but it manages to look quite cheap at the same time.
It seems that Apple customers would either like to go
for a top-of-the-range device like the 5S, or if they
want a cheaper option go for an older model such as
the iPhone 4S which is still available.
Although the 5C is actually a pretty capable and
useful device, Apple misjudged the market to a significant
degree and had difficulty selling stock of the 5C where
the 5S flew off the shelves.
Like the iPhone 5C, the BlackBerry
Z10 is a pretty decent device but the Z10 stands
out as one of the biggest handset flops that we can
Part of the problem is that the BlackBerry Z10 is
just too darned late. Built on the new BB10 operating
system, the Z10 might have made a difference if it was
launched in 2010 or 2011, but not 2013 when most people
who wanted a full-touch device had already moved to
Android or Apple smartphones.
At launch the hardware was beginning to look dated
(partly fixed by the bigger screen on the subsequent
Z30), the interface was both clever and confusing at
the same time but the key problem was that nobody
really wanted one. As a result of BlackBerry's over-estimate
of the number of units they would ship, the company
had to write-off nearly a billion dollars worth of Z10
inventory as sales continued to slide.
Not to be confused with the excellent HTC One, the
First was a device that looked great on paper, combining
pretty decent hardware specs with Android and close
integration with Facebook. So what went wrong?
What made the First different was the sheer level of integration
with Facebook, which applied an application called Facebook
Home over the stock Android experience. Essentially
the phone booted directly into Facebook and it even
had a Facebook feed on the lock screen. But despite
a huge press fanfare and the obvious popularity of Facebook,
sales did not take off when it was launched on AT&T,
leading to a worldwide launch being cancelled and the
HTC First rapidly became an orphan device.
In the hands of AT&T, the First lasted for only
a month on sale and it was effectively canned after
about six weeks, possibly the most spectacular case
of mobile phone crash-and-burn since the Microsoft
KIN. For this reason we have decided that the HTC
First is the worst product release of 2013.
Ugly phones aren't necessarily bad phones, and because most phones
are simply touchscreens with an enclosure round them then there
isn't much scope for a mobile quasimodo these days, although the
incredibly unexciting Samsung
Galaxy Star and Galaxy Pocket Neo are possibly the two dullest
smartphones of the year
A seven-inch tablet that thinks it is a smartphone,
there's a lot to like about the ASUS
Fonepad.. especially the price.
But as a phone it is comically big and it weighs
an epic 340 grams, which is great if you want to do
Joly impression but isn't so great if you want
to look.. well, normal.
It isn't helped by industrial design that looks like
it was designed very late on a Friday afternoon by a
bored trainee. In short, you really don't want to wave
something like this around your head. In any case, you
might hurt yourself.
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
Samsung have been making hybrid tablet/digital camera
devices for a while, and whereas the expensive Samsung
Galaxy NX allows you to do all sorts of clever tricks
with Android apps, it is basically a very smart camera.
The cheaper Samsung
Galaxy S4 Zoom is actually a phone.
The S4 Zoom appeals to a certain very limited market
and it's actually quite a clever fusion of the two types
of device. But as with the Fonepad, you are likely to
get some very odd looks if you start talking into the
On the plus side, if you are on the train talking
into your digital camera then there's a good chance
that nobody will want to sit next to you.
Samsung Galaxy Round
There's been a lot of buzz about curved displays
recently, and the Samsung
Galaxy Round was the first truly curved panel to
The problem with it is that it seems to be curved
the wrong way. With LG's rival LG G Flex the curve follows
the side of the user's face. For no apparently logical
reason, the Round curves the other way and it looks
like the phone has warped somehow.
Although the Round seems to have a good feature set,
we suspect that you would quickly get bored with asking
the question "what happened to your phone?!"
and as a result we name the Samsung Galaxy Round as
the ugliest phone of 2013.