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2013 in Review: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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15th December 2013

2013 saw a large number of excellent devices coming to market along with a few clangers and one or two that were rather aesthetically challenging.

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.

The Nokia 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 iPad Air.

The Sony 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 G2 Good: LG G2

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.

 HTC One Better: HTC One

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 Best: 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 physical design.

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.


The Bad

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 Bad: 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.

 BlackBerry Z10 Worse: BlackBerry Z10

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 remember.

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.

 HTC First Worst: HTC First

Not to be confused with the excellent HTC One, the HTC 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.


The Ugly

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

 ASUS Fonepad Ugly: ASUS Fonepad

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 a Dom 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 Uglier: 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 thing.

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 Ugliest: 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 be announced.

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.

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