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2012 in Review: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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24th December 2012

2012 was another bumper year for high-quality devices, with very few handsets that failed to impress. This is our look at the best, worst and ugliest phones of 2012.

The Good: Honourable mentions

There were so many good smartphones and tablets this year that it's hard to come up with a shortlist. These are some of the devices that didn't quite make it: The Nokia 808 Pureview is Nokia's last Symbian smartphone, but it packs an awesome 41 megapixel camera sensor that puts almost everything else in the shade. The HTC One X+ is an impressive high-end Android device hasn't quite had the market recognition it deserves. At the beginning of the year, the Sony Xperia S was an impressive debut for Sony's new Xperia NXT range.

Although it is beginning to look a little dated, the Motorola RAZR MAXX appeals simply because of its impressive battery life. Another member of the RAZR family, the Motorola RAZR i is an attractive and speedy Intel-based phone that looks promising.

The Samsung Galaxy Note II sits somewhere between a tablet and smartphone and packs plenty of power. And for something completely different, the YotaPhone packs two screens, but we won't see it until next year.

There were some impressive Apple tablets this year too, the Apple iPad 3, iPad 4 and Apple iPad Mini demonstrated why Apple is so successful in this market.

But Samsung also came up with some impressive tablets with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and the built-for-Google Google Nexus 10. Another Google tablet also impressed this year, the ASUS-built Google Nexus 7.

Windows also got a look in with the Microsoft Surface, and Amazon pushed it's Kindle range further into tablet territory with the Amazon Kindle Fire HD.

 Apple iPhone 5 Good: Apple iPhone 5

We finally saw the Apple iPhone 5 this year, featuring a bigger screen, a much faster CPU and a refreshed design. The care and attention given to most features of the iPhone 5 are awesome and it is no wonder that Apple continues to support a loyal and enthusiastic base of customers.

It is just five years since the original iPhone was launched, and sometimes it is hard to remember that smartphones existing for a long while before Apple came and shook up the market. Over half the smartphones sold in the US are iPhones, which is an impressive achievement.

 Samsung Galaxy S III Better: Samsung Galaxy S III

The Samsung Galaxy S III is now the phone that all other manufacturers try to beat. With a big, gorgeous display and a powerful processor, combined with lots of sub-versions customised for local markets, the Galaxy S III is either the number one or number two best-selling smartphone in most regions.

The rivalries between Samsung and Apple have been well-documented over the years. These are both very different types of company - Apple is purely focussed on high-tech devices and Samsung is an industrial conglomerate. And despite the excellence of the Galaxy S III, it seems a bit soul-less compared to Apple's offerings.

 Nokia Lumia 920 Best: Nokia Lumia 920

It's a long time since Nokia have featured in our list, but the Nokia Lumia 920 is an incredible device in many respect. The best thing about it? The floating lens camera, of course. It also features wireless charging, NFC and just about every other feature you can think of, plus a beautifully sharp and large display. The drawback? Well, you'll have to learn to love Windows Phone 8 and at 185 grams it is just about the heaviest phone on the market.

The hardware is only part of the story though. Windows Phone 8 is radically different from any other mobile OS on the market, but it's a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it proposition at the moment. But as far as smartphones go, this combination of software and hardware are the most original and impressive that we have seen this year, and we a pleased to say that the Nokia Lumia 920 is (in our opinion) the best device of 2012.

The Bad

The mobile phone market is brutal, and companies that produce bad handsets.. well, they tend not to be in business for long. But we've managed to come up with three devices that seem to let their sides down in on way or another.

 Apple Maps Bad: Apple iPhone 5

It isn't the first time that we've had the iPhone listed as both "Good" and "Bad", and here we are again - the Apple iPhone 5 manages to be both impressive and disappointing at the same time. Although the screen is bigger than before, it's still relatively small compared to the competition.

Apple replaced Google Maps with Apple Maps, but even from launch this was a complete disaster, and has generated much criticism even in the mainstream press. Fortunately, Google produced its own Maps app for the iPhone and Apple customers are much less likely to get lost.

There are more problems when it comes to the hardware - the exquisitely designed case is very easily damaged and is a real pain for Apple's contractor's to build. Added to this, there's no NFC or wireless charging support, something that would have set the iPhone 5 apart from run-of-the-mill handsetss. Really, the iPhone 5 was utterly predictable and Apple will need to do something remarkable with the iPhone 6 to regain some sparkle.

 BlackBerry Curve 9320 Worse: BlackBerry Curve 9320

Why have we singled out the humble BlackBerry Curve 9320 in our hit list? It's an inoffensive device.. but that's the problem. When we compiled our year-end list we were shocked to find that the only new product releases this year from BlackBerry with the Curve 9320 and 9220 phones.

No matter how many times BlackBerry "upgrade" their operating system, it is still just like putting lipstick on a pig.. underneath, it is still a pig. Even with a bit of polish on top, it doesn't take very long until you come across a decade-old interface which should have been retired a long, long time ago.

Sure, BlackBerry have promised a new operating system for 2013, but basically they didn't bother making any sort of effort during 2012 and their market share has collapsed as a result. Deservedly so in our opinion.

Worst: Samsung Galaxy S III Mini

Although it's not a bad device in itself, the main flaw with the Samsung Galaxy S III Mini is that it simply isn't a mini version of the Galaxy S III at all. Where the Galaxy S III is a superlative device with high-end specifications that other manufacturers struggle to beat, the Mini is just another midrange and moderately specified smartphone from the Samsung parts bin.

Perhaps Samsung decided that the name "Samsung Galaxy Cynical Marketing Exercise" wouldn't wash with consumers. Anybody who buys this thinking that they are going to get a more compact version of the Galaxy S III is going to be sorely disappointed.

The Ugly

Ugly phones aren't necessarily bad phones. Sometimes they're just a bit too unfamiliar to look at, but sometimes it shows a lack of attention to detail.

 Apple iPhone 5 Ugly: Apple iPhone 5

Surely we can't have the Apple iPhone 5 here again? Well, yes, we have. The reason we have listed it that the iPhone has always been a fairly consistent form factor, but the iPhone 5 has been stretched to make it taller but not wider. As a result, it looks rather odd compared to other phones on the market, a bit like when a old friend suddenly turns up with a face full of botox or a hair transplant.

We suspect that there was some design-by-committee going on here. The unusually tall form factor of the iPhone 5 might make sense if it could dock with peripherals for the 4 and 4S, but it can't because the docking connector is different and you'd need an adapter.. and that would probably mess up the docking anyway.

 Panasonic ELUGA Power Uglier: Panasonic ELUGA Power

The most featureless slab of the year (in our opinion) was the Panasonic Eluga Power. While not being a bad device in itself, a handset like this was never going to scream out from retailer's shelves. Panasonic mis-judged the market somewhat, and have decided to pull-out of Europe (yet again) and concentrate on the Japanese market instead.

Of course, there is a limit to what you can do to a device which is little more than a screen enclosure and a bunch of internal electronics. It takes real effort to come up with something distinctive, but that's the sort of effort that manufacturers need to put in to remain competitive.

 Samsung Galaxy Camera Ugliest: Samsung Galaxy Camera

Perhaps it is a little unfair to list the Samsung Galaxy Camera here when the Polaroid SC1630 looks even dafter, but the Samsung is something you can actually go out and buy where the Polaroid looks like vapourware.

The Galaxy Camera is basically a compact digital camera welded onto a smartphone-sized Android tablet, if you are thinking "camera" then it looks less weird, but if you are used to smartphones and tablets then it looks very strange indeed.

But despite the looks, it turns out that this is a really good device for a certain types of photographer.. and secretly we would rather like one!



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