Meet the most impressive smartphones we have reviewed in 2014 so far
Boy, does time fly! It feels like it has been ages since we reviewed the amazing Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, all the way back in January. A ton of other devices have gone through our hands since then, and we thought it's time we gave the best ones yet another nod of approval, in case you somehow missed them.
But first, a fair warning: we're talking about devices we reviewed in 2014 only. The extremely solid Nokia Lumia 1520 would have had a place on this list, for example, were it not for the fact that we reviewed it at the end of 2013, which excludes its entry on a technicality. In any case, and without any further ado, it's time to start the countdown.
15. Apple iPhone 6 Plus
For the longest time, Apple not only refused to jump on the bandwagon and go for a larger-screened devices, but also going as far as claiming that larger than 4-inches makes no practical sense, Cupertino finally caved in, and introduced a phablet alongside the iPhone 6 – the iPhone 6 Plus. There's little that differentiates the two, though the 6 Plus' homescreen can be put into landscape orientation, and you do also get an extra hardware perk with the iPhablet – optical image stabilization for the camera.
Unfortunately, the iPhone 6 Plus is not flawless – Apple didn't spend much time optimizing iOS for phablet use, and we can't say that battery life is particularly impressive. That's not all, of course, so you should take a look through the review.
- It has the highest resolution screen in an iPhone
- High quality display produces accurate colors & strong brightness
- Enhanced layout in landscape with certain apps make it more productivity focused
- For a phablet, it has one attractive design & sturdy construction
- Battery life is underwhelming in comparison to other flagships
- Camera lens sticks out
- No 4K video capture
- Few apps make use of the optimized landscape layout
14. Apple iPhone 6
While battery life disappoints with the iPhone 6, and we often catch ourselves venting about the sticking camera lens at the rear, we still have to admit that, on the whole, Apple didn't let us down with this year's offerings.
Most notable of the changes is the switch, as mentioned, to a larger form factor – we're now looking at a more rational, 4.7-inch display. The unit is color-correct on the whole and delivers strong brightness, allowing us to use it even in the sunlit street. If that wasn't enough, the camera has also received an update, and is now better than ever at low light photography, not to mention that i can now shoot clips at the amazing 240 frames per second – an industry first.
- Premium construction makes it one of the more quality-made phones
- The screen delivers accurate colors and a strong brightness output
- Rounded edges and slim profile make it comfortable to hold
- New Apple A8 chip is really snappy with its performance
- Improved low-lighting camera performance
- 240 FPS slow motion capture has a slick look
- Battery life is underwhelming against its rivals
- Decent pixel density with its screen, but it could be better
- Camera lens sticks out
- No 4K video capture
13. Huawei Ascend Mate7
Those of you who haven't had time to switch gears and adjust to the idea that non-mainstream contenders like Huawei can produce quality handsets, better take a look at the Ascend Mate7 – an all-aluminum device with an industry-leading fingerprint scanner implementation, snappy processor, an optically-stabilized camera, and great battery life. Where Huawei could have done better is the image department – while worthy of calling itself a flagship snapper, the 13-megapixel rear cam could nevertheless use some work.
- Metal and sturdy construction
- Industry-leading fingerprint scanner on the back
- Attractive, lag-free interface
- Record-setting battery life
- Support for a large number of LTE bands
- The camera could use some work – shots often suffer from improper exposition and color abnormalities
- Minimum brightness is too high for comfortable viewing in dark environments
- Lacks 4K UHD video recording
12. Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Until just days ago, Sony's Xperia Z1 Compact was basically unrivaled in its niche -- a compact handset with very powerful hardware packed into it. Now that Samsung has outed the Galaxy Alpha, the Z1 Compact will feel the heat, but that's a different topic altogether. We tested the Z1 Compact, and just loved it. Indeed, with some minor hiccups here and there, the 'mini' version of the Xperia Z1 proved to be a very desirable piece of tech if you are looking for something pocket-friendly.
- Stylish, compact design
- Cutting-edge performance
- Great camera
- Water- and dust-resistnace (IP 58)
- Relatively small display
- Minor UI issues
11. Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
If you were expecting Sony to plug a compact device within the Z2 slot, you were likely somewhat surprised to see the company jump from a Z1 Compact straight to a Z3 Compact. Thankfully, the device was well-worth it, as it's an improvement over its predecessor in practically every way – a more premium and thinner build with smaller bezels that allowed Sony to fit in a larger, 4.6-inch screen, a snappy Snapdragon 801 processor, and battery life to-die-for. Considering that the handset also costs a third of what you're charged for your typical flagship, it should be no surprise to see the Z3 Compact end up as one of the most impressive devices of 2014.
- Stylish design: tempered glass, captivating translucent sides, lively colors
- Fast, smooth performance
- Good camera
- Water-proof with IP68 rating
- Very good call quality
- Excellent digital video stabilization
- Fantastic battery life
- Display is not accurate and is noticeably bluish
- Camera interface is cluttered
- Speakers sound a bit muffled
10. Oppo Find 7a
We found that the Oppo Find 7a, especially considering the discount in asking price when compared with mainstream flagships, is one heck of a proposition from a company whose products we tend to respect, even though we don't necessarily see them in the West often. In any case, the Find 7a is well-rounded package -- not without its weaknesses, yet the pros definitely outweigh the few annoyances (come on Oppo, either crank the brightness, or use a less reflective glass for the display!)
- Attractive and ergonomic design
- Simplistic manufacturer skin with double-tap-to-wake functionality
- A performance powerhouse
- Great camera overall
- Rapid charging is awesome
- Relatively affordable, at $499 unlocked
- Direct sunlight makes the display hard to operate
- Blueish screen
- Battery loses too much juice in standby mode
9. LG G Pro 2
With its (relatively) compact and lightweight body, the G Pro 2 is one awesome device for the phablet lovers out there. Sure, its biggest competitor -- the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 -- is an equally sound buy, but we we were really impressed with the G Pro 2 nevertheless. The device is well-built and sturdy, and honestly leaves very little to desire.
- Relatively easy to handle
- Great display
- A performance powerhouse
- Great all around camera
- No stereo speakers
- Software still could use some fine-tuning
8. Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
We rated the Note Edge less-favorably than its brethren, the Note 4, and that has a lot to do with the fact that Samsung is asking for quite some dough to get one in comparison, and for what? In our experience, the Edge screen served little purpose.
But that's not to say that the Note Edge isn't an overall amazing device – it pretty much has to be, seeing as it's based on the Note 4. We definitely dig the color-correct "Basic" screen mode, the Edge screen draws a lot of "oooh's" and "wooow's", and the camera produces as impressive stills and video. This device will feel right at home in the hands of the more adventurous of you, especially if you don't see $100 more as a big deal.
7. Samsung Galaxy S5 Active
If, in your head, the only thing missing from the Galaxy S5 is a sturdy enough construction to brave even the most inhospitable places on earth, while working jobs that most of us consider impossible, the S5 Active is the device to have right now. Sure, it's not exactly pleasant to look at, but we've already established that you value function over looks, so there you go!
- Tougher construction so it’s not as brittle as the Galaxy S5
- Most of the specs and features have been left intact
- Activity Zone is great for the outdoorsy folks
- Similar overall performance to the Galaxy S5
- Slippery feel in the hand
- Design language isn’t as pleasant
- Low lighting camera performance is underwhelming
6. Google Nexus 6
Google can be proud of the Nexus 6 – the first Nexus phablet, made by Motorola, is quite the beast, though it's not without its weaknesses. So, while we appreciate the sturdier, more noble construction in comparison with previous Nexus devices, and definitely can't complain about the optically-stabilized camera or its stereo front-facing speakers, we do wish the Motorola/Google duo spent some time developing phablet-centric features for the Nexus 6.
- Sturdier construction than the previous two Nexus smartphones
- Quad-HD resolution gives its screen plenty of detail
- Support for multiple users with Android 5.0 Lollipop for smartphones
- Camera captures some nice looking photos and videos
- Dual front-firing speakers have a potent punch
- No enhancements for a device pegged as a phablet
- Phone’s plastic body feels extremely slippery
- AMOLED screen is rather weak with its brightness output
- Slow focus with video recording
5. Samsung Galaxy S5
Sure, devices like the Galaxy S5 Active have their own, tight following, but for the rest of the world -- the standard Galaxy S5 will do. And do it does! Among the big releases this year, the S5 is one of the most impressive, all-around bundles that Samsung, or anybody, has managed to put together. True, the TouchWiz software still is something of an acquired taste, but the good definitely outweighs the bad.
- Nice and inviting Glam design
- Water and dust resistant
- Vibrant and punchy screen
- Unsurpassed performance in the high-end Android class
- Streamlined and feature-rich user experience
- Wonderful camera
- Lack of premium construction materials
- Unbalanced screen colors
- Fingerprint and heart rate sensors could be better
4. LG G3
Technically, the LG G3 is tied for the second spot with the Sony Xperia Z3 and the Motorola DROID Turbo, and while it is the oldest of the three, it is definitely aging very well. If we were asked to change two things about the G3, however, we'd waste no time and point in the battery's general direction, and also note that general navigation could have benefited from a less-heavy custom overlay. Indeed, while this is avery impressive smartphone regardless of how you look at it, LG could have applied just one more thin layer of polish and steal the show.
- Massive screen with great resolution
- Elegant design
- Well-organized user interface with a plethora of features
- Exhibits some UI lag
- Some gimmicky features
- Lack of stereo speakers
3. Sony Xperia Z2
Yep, that's right -- the Sony Xperia Z2 shares the crown with the LG G3, and it deserved every bit of the accolades it accumulated. The water-proof, glass-and-metal Z2 retains Sony's signature OmniBalance design, and packs some serious hardware muscle underneath the exterior. Perhaps the most unpleasant part of the Z2 is its size -- it's a pretty bulky device for its display diagonal, but considering what you get in return, we'd say that's a deal worth taking.
- Solid and eye-pleasing design
- Large and vibrant display
- Streamlined and polished user experience
- Quality camera
- A bit bulky
- Slightly oversaturated screen
- Average speakers
2. Motorola DROID Turbo
As far as the flagship league is concerned, Motorola's DROID Turbo is the first device to have us staring in awe. Sure, it landed second on our list of best devices of 2014, but it sure is one hell of a pick if you're looking for a relatively manageable flagship. Considering the bleeding-edge hardware packed within and its record-setting battery life, the only real complaint we have here is Motorola's unfortunate choice to release the Turbo as a Verizon exclusive.
- The specs sheet is long, massive, and impressive
- Battery life is one of the best
- QuadHD AMOLED screen packs a lot of crisp details
- Same exact, focused software features of the Moto X that are useful – not overwhelming
- Solid construction
- Improved quality with its still image shots
- Turbo charging technology recharges the battery quickly
- Display has a weak brightness output, making it hard to see outdoors
- Inaccurate color production
- Subdued audio recording when shooting videos
- Headphone jack delivers muted audio tones
- Panorama photos are awful
1. Samsung Galaxy Note 4
No other device attained as high a rating as the Galaxy Note 4, and that's honestly not surprising. Just look at that thing – it's awesome in pretty much every possible regard, and that's impressive considering its predecessor, the Note 3, was one hell of a phablet, too. This time around, Samsung chose a color-correct, 5.7-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED panel, fitted in a beastly Snapdragon 805 processor with 3GB of RAM, finally made use of an OIS gizmo for (relatively) shake-free video, and obviously worked hard optimizing both the software and hardware sides of the equation in order to get great battery life. Sure, the Note 4 is not perfect, but it is darn close.
- Beautiful AMOLED display
- Cutting-edge Snapdragon 805 SoC
- Feature-packed software experience
- Great stylus with useful capabilities
- Superb camera
- Uninspiring appearance
- Inconsistent software design
- Limited 4K video recording