Did you know: these were the best phones five years ago (2010)


What did smartphones look five years ago? What were the best smartphones available five years ago, and how did they look?

These were the questions we asked ourselves, as we contemplated on the fact that these days it seems more and more like Android devices are increasingly becoming very similar to each other and the pace of progress has slowed down, or at least does not manifest itself in the great leaps that we were used to seeing in previous years.

Coincidentally, five years ago brings us right back to 2010, a very busy (arguably the busiest) and extremely important year in mobile. Just to name a few events to give you an idea of how big of an announcements we were dealing with:

- the first 'Retina' display
- the first phone with 4G connectivity
- the launch of Windows Phone 7 and first WP devices
- the arrival of Android 2.3 Gingerbread
- the arrival of the first AMOLED displays on mobile phones
- the year when Nexus phones ditched microSD memory expansion slots

And the list just goes on and on. 

2010 was a melting pot of revolutionary ideas, giant leaps in technology, and tons of amazing devices. Maybe not from the modern day perspective, but just look at this list of the best phones of 2010. Look at the variety, the competition: we still had Nokia, Windows Phone was launching, Palm was full of promise... And after looking at it, tell us: doesn't 2015 look a bit less mundane in comparison?

Apple iPhone 4


Release date: June 24, 2010

The Apple iPhone 4 launched in the summer of 2010, and it was the last iPhone with a summer release date (Apple started introducing new iPhones in early fall ever since 2011). It was the big story of 2010: after the first three generations of the iPhone showed that Apple is on the right track in terms of software, the iPhone 4 was the first iPhone to show that Apple has some huge aspirations in the design department. The iPhone 4 was made of sturdy metal frame and featured glass panels on both the back and front, all premium elements in a time when plastic phones were the norm.

This was hardly its biggest highlight, though: the most stunning feature of the iPhone 4 without a doubt was its 'Retina' display, a high-resolution display that showed no sights of pixelization when used at regular viewing distances. The iPhone 4 also marked the new era of focus on cameras: it featured a 5-megapixel camera (a bump up from the 3-megapixel one on the 3GS), and its launch was followed by the arrival of Instagram, one of the most popular photo services of our age.



Samsung Galaxy S (GT-I9000)


Release date: June 2, 2010

The Samsung Galaxy S started Samsung's most successful 'Galaxy' family with a blast: we still remember seeing the gigantic (for the times) 4-inch 480 x 800-pixel display using the novel Super AMOLED technology, and just staring at the perfect blacks and great viewing angles that it provided. Sure, from the objective and rectifying perspective of time, one can argue that the Pentile screen was not perfectly sharp and there were color calibration issues, but the feeling back in 2010 was one of looking at a small revolution.

The Galaxy S was powered by a single-core processor clocked at up 1GHz, features 512MB of RAM, and a 5-megapixel camera capable of recording 720p HD videos (quite the feat for the time!). It also aged well with multiple custom ROMs, and tweakers have managed to update it to Android 4.x and still use it years after its original release.


Motorola Droid X


Announcement date: June 24, 2010

The Motorola Droid X was one of the first big 'Droid' launches on Verizon Wireless, and it was one of the most successful ones. The big highlight was Android itself, but also the fact that the phone is equipped with a bigger than most, 4.3-inch display. Here is a short excerpt of our review from back in the day:

"Not only does it have a large 4.3” TFT WVGA display, 1GHz OMAP 3630 processor, 8MP autofocus camera, and 8GB of internal memory, but it’s also the first Verizon smartphone to record 720p videos and come with a HDMI output for connecting to an HDTV."



HTC Evo 4G


Release date: June 4, 2010

The HTC Evo 4G was indeed a notable phone in the summer of 2010: it was the first phone in the United States to ship with 4G connectivity and it was Sprint who was first to that race. Unfortunately, it turned out that it picked the wrong 4G technology: WiMax rather than LTE. Nonetheless, it had unmatched browsing and download speeds at the time, and a neat kickstand that made it stand out. Here is what we wrote about it in our review:

"This is how it was supposed to go. Back in November of 2007 Google announced their Android operating system and the game was supposed to change. A year later T-Mobile and HTC released the platform’s first handset, the G1. We had high hopes, to say the least, but the impact was not immediate. The revolution grew slowly, but now it is coming to a head.  ... The EVO 4G has specs that are unmatched by any phone before it: 4G connectivity, 1GHz Snapdragon processor, HDMI out, HD video capture, dual cameras including an 8 megapixel main sensor, 4.3” display, mobile hotspot, YouTube HD, kickstand…the list goes on. All of this is backed by Sprint’s growing 4G network which gives users up to 10x the speed of 3G."


Nokia N8


Release date: October 1, 2010

The Nokia N8 was supposed to be the savior for Nokia. Maybe savior is not the right word, though, as at the time Nokia was the world's largest phone (and smartphone!) manufacturer by a long stretch, and the iPhone seemed like still quite a distant threat. Nonetheless, Nokia knew that Symbian was showing age and needed a true 'hero' phone.

The Nokia N8 was born: a phone with a sturdy aluminum body, a focus on design, and an outstanding 12-megapixel camera accompanied by a powerful Xenon flash. In terms of pictures, the phone was a true revelation, but when it comes to the performance and apps, it was a disappointment: we already knew how well optimized iOS and Android were, and apart from a few loyalists, the first adopters had already flocked to Google and Apple.



Samsung Wave


Release date: April 21, 2010

The Samsung Wave was probably the most exciting alternative smartphone of 2010: it ran on Samsung's bada operating system that looked promising, but more excitingly for technology geeks - it was the first Samsung phone with an AMOLED display. Yes, those deep blacks and great viewing angles certainly looked impressive. And so did the overall construction of the Samsung Wave: it was a metallic phone with a sturdy, solid construction. Unfortunately, bada was not on par with Android and iOS - it ran fairly smoothly but it lacked in functionality, and even more sorely in apps.


Palm Pre 2


Announcement date: October 19, 2010

The second generation of the Palm Pre - the Pre 2 - was also a big story in 2010. We felt an almost irrational affection for Palm's creation and the awesome webOS built around the web and open standards. 

The phone continued using the pebble like design and featured some impressive technologies like wireless charging (still not present on many current day flagships!). It used a 3.1-inch display and ran on a 1GHz processor, and featured a 5-megapixel camera.



Google Nexus S


Release date: December 16, 2010

The Google Nexus S served as the launch platform for Android 2.3 Gingerbread, one of the most widespread versions of Android that long time dominated the Android charts as devices took quite a while to get a bump up to Android 4.x Ice Cream Sandwich, and later. While Gingerbread was still a platform that had quite antique looks, it came with some notable improvements to the user experience on Android, including a brand new keyboard with new text selection tools that were a vast improvement over the earlier versions.

The Nexus S also - quite notably - featured a 4-inch display with a slight curve to it (the 'Contour display'). In terms of hardware, the Nexus S is the unfortunate first member of the Nexus phone family to ditch the expansion microSD card slot, and that's something that all Nexus phones in following years have also done. Still, it did feature a plentiful for the times 16GB of internal storage, and a very decent, 5-megapixel camera.



First Windows Phone handsets:

Samsung Omnia 7 | LG Optimus 7

Release date: October 21, 2010

Finally, we had one big announcement at the end of 2010: Windows Phone 7. The new, completely overhauled version of Microsoft's mobile platform came amidst high expectations and a flurry of new smartphones by the leading manufacturers - Samsung, LG, and HTC. The new Live Tile interface was the main highlight, and we also came away impressed with the smoothness of animations and transitions, but the platform lacked the apps and the richness of features that were by then available on iOS and Android.

The phones did not pick up much of a steam as you can see that all the Android and iOS rivals released before that were quite ground-breaking, and eventually the Windows Phone platform as a whole could not get traction. Fast forward to today, and it holds a meager 2.5% market share in the global market, having fallen further below.


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78 Comments

1. BobbyBuster

Posts: 854; Member since: Jan 13, 2015

You know what? I still have a GS1, only because I wasn't able to sell it to anyone after just one week from the purchase date. It's the worst POS I ever saw. And it didn't even get ICS. What a POS in every aspect!!! Shame on you Sammy.

3. abdane

Posts: 507; Member since: Oct 07, 2011

old iphones get new updates, they get slower. old androids get new updates, they get faster. #Differnece

5. neela_akaash

Posts: 1239; Member since: Aug 05, 2014

Mr. PottyBuster, why don't you sell it on eBay for $25..

62. MSi_GS70 unregistered

jesus what a bricks .. that n8 i almost smashed onto wall ..

19. frustyak

Posts: 248; Member since: Mar 08, 2010

Assuming your old Android got a new update at all.

56. monoke

Posts: 1172; Member since: Mar 14, 2015

Not true with kitkat vs lollipop. Real world usage such as apps launching , transition animations, multitasking show kk is slightly swifter if not equal to lp. Forget antutu points.

67. sgodsell

Posts: 7431; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Lollipop has a ton of animation transitions compared to KitKat. Oh, and you can easily turn them off, and things really speed up for lollipop. Since its Android you don't have to root it or install anything to remove the animations. The joys of Android, because it gives you tons of features. Something still not found on most platforms. The people I see complaining, should stick to a simpleton OS or pick up a feature phone.

73. AlikMalix unregistered

You dont need to jailbreak to get rid of animations on ios either... my 2 year old 5s shipped with iOS7 and now on iOS 8.4.x and it's been smooth and quick thru it all... I expect iOS 9 to be much more improved even...

59. f_u_006

Posts: 121; Member since: Mar 19, 2014

This comment just made my day! God bless you abdane.

63. jeroome86

Posts: 2314; Member since: Apr 12, 2012

Guess that explains why my Nexus 7 is DOA

79. iCameToBashYou

Posts: 16; Member since: Feb 26, 2015

People who use hashtags on PA are slow....mentally. hashtagtool

9. Mena13Suvari

Posts: 32; Member since: Sep 25, 2014

That model have one of the best DAC ever when it comes to smartphones. You can use it as hi-fi media player, google "Voodoo sound".

14. Ordinary

Posts: 2454; Member since: Apr 23, 2015

Seems like samsung hurt you really bad and now fast forward 5 years you are still as*hurt about it.

37. tedkord

Posts: 17410; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

They're still hurting him, every time he Googles "best smartphone" and sees page after page of nearly every tech review site rating the Note 4, S6 and Note 5 as the best available.

18. XperiaFanZone

Posts: 2278; Member since: Sep 21, 2012

@PA: there were smartphones with 'retina' displays since 2008, including sony xperia x1, lg gd880 mini and Samsung jet

27. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

But nobody called it a Retina display until 2010, so technically PA is correct, despite how absolutely meaningless the fact is.

31. buccob

Posts: 2974; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

So according to your logic, no other phone provided "Airdrop" functionality (only WiFi Direct, Bluetooth Sharing, DLNA)... No other phone gave you a "hands off" feature, only real time sync... There are no "iSight" in any other phone only "Cameras".... In reality all those Apple terms are great marketing but it is just that... The tech is the same used on other devices, sometimes years earlier

47. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

According to my logic "Retina display" is an Apple brand that first appeared in 2010. So yes, PA is absolutely correct to say the first Retina display existed in 2010. That's like saying the first iPhone came out in 2007: sure there were smartphones that existed before the iPhone, but the iPhone is he first phone to be called an iPhone, so the iPhone is the first iPhone.

35. XperiaFanZone

Posts: 2278; Member since: Sep 21, 2012

Your logic is quite flawed, as proven above.

45. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

Unless you're implying that Sony, Samsung, and LG also called their displays "Retina" I'm not sure how my logic is flawed. I was simply arguing semantics. I never said it was a meaningful argument. Please, tell me how my logic is flawed. Enlighten me.

48. XperiaFanZone

Posts: 2278; Member since: Sep 21, 2012

PA states that the first smartphone with rd was introduced in 2010, so by saying that they're correct would mean none other were introduced before 2010, which isn't true. it's like saying the iPad isn't a tablet because "nobody"calls it a tablet.

50. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

It is true because no other companies branded their screens as Retina Displays before Apple did. I'm aware that other phones had very high-res displays before 2010, but you can't call them Retina Displays because that's an Apple trademark.

51. XperiaFanZone

Posts: 2278; Member since: Sep 21, 2012

With the definition that Apple gave, you can. If PA is gonna put a trademark name as the first, they might as well do the same for other smartphone companies

52. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

Agreed, it's a meaningless fact to include. I also agree that the term "Retina Display" to describe a high-red screen has been genericized by media who are too lazy to use any other words (probably to Apple's chagrin) which is why I initially qualified PA as only "technically" correct, by the literal definition of Retina Display.

36. frydaexiii

Posts: 1476; Member since: Dec 01, 2011

What? Were you being a cheapo buying it after the GS2 got released? Because not being able to sell it after 1 week when there is no immediate successor flagship sounds alot like bullsh*t, or should I say Sheepsh*t...

66. javy108

Posts: 1004; Member since: Jul 27, 2014

Dear Bobby youre gonna me cry ... Keep that device maybe it will be really expensive in many years.

70. darkkjedii

Posts: 31286; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Stop lying

71. darkkjedii

Posts: 31286; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Stop lying

2. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3147; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

The HD2 was the best phone released in 2010. In the US at least.

11. Podrick

Posts: 1285; Member since: Aug 19, 2015

HTC was so good back then.

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