By taking top honors for user interface, special features and selection, Samsung wins big as the best smartphone brand of the year. In fact, Samsung placed first, second or third in every category except design. During the last year, we’ve praised Samsung for offering excellent and helpful extras that redefine what a smartphone can do, from pen input and split-screen multitasking to innovative gestures and camera modes. And we expect to continue to see great things from this brand in the year to come.
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There’s no doubt the smartphone race is a tight one at the top, and sales of the iPhone 5 prove that this brand hasn’t lost its luster. Apple took top prize in the reviews, design and camera categories, and it placed among the top three for user interface, battery life, display and audio. Only a relative lack of special features held Apple from the top spot, tying the brand with HTC for second place in our overall showdown. However, iOS 7 and the next iPhone could catapult Apple past both HTC and Samsung.
A best-in-class display, a toned-down Sense interface and excellent audio on the HTC One helped this brand earn a two-way tie with Apple for the silver in our first showdown. A second- or third-place finish in every other category (including cameras) didn’t hurt, either. HTC also does a fairly good job juggling multiple platforms. The Windows Phone 8X proved to be a quality device both in terms of design and performance.
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Having made the commitment to Windows Phone 8, Nokia’s Lumia phones look and feel unique in the marketplace. And Nokia adds plenty of value to Microsoft’s easy-to-use platform with its PureView camera and useful apps and services. Nokia placed in the top three for both special features and design, helping the brand to place 4th overall. While lackluster battery life and weak audio performance held Nokia back, we expect much better things from the company’s next crop of phones.
Special features such as QuickRemote and Video Wiz separate LG from some other brands. Sadly, below-average camera performance and design prevented this brand from earning a higher score. The Optimus G Pro proved to be a solid big-screen phone, but middling battery life and a lack of widespread availability put LG smack in the middle of the smartphone pack.
Not known as a top-tier smartphone maker in the United States, Sony’s middle-of-the-road performance in reviews, user interface, special features and battery life resulted in a ho-hum sixth-place finish (out of nine). Sony does offer very good cameras, and we like that the Xperia Z is water-resistant, but the company should really work on display viewing angles and carrier distribution.
While the long battery life of the RAZR Maxx HD was enough for the brand to earn a second-place finish for that category, poor cameras held Motorola back from a better showing in the overall rankings. The fact that the now-Google-owned Motorola didn’t release a compelling device in the last nine months didn’t help matters, nor did its lack of carrier support. We hope the upcoming Moto X Phone will turn things around.
A company cannot come in dead last for its smartphone reviews, battery life and displays and expect to do well overall, as BlackBerry can attest. The company previously known as RIM has had a tough year, in which a lot was expected to happen. BlackBerry 10 hasn’t proved to be the panacea the Canadian-based smartphone maker had hoped. All that combined with a lackluster showing in the camera and design categories relegated BlackBerry to second-to-last in our smartphone brand showdown.
At least for now, Google produces only one phone, the Nexus 4, which is made by LG. And, sadly, that phone didn’t score well across multiple categories, leading Google to the very bottom of the barrel in terms of smartphone brands for 2013. Also, now that you can get a pure Android experience from Google Play Editions of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, the Nexus line is less relevant. Here’s hoping Google does better next time around.