The Top 5 Smartphones on Bell Mobility January 2014
Winter is a rather awkward time to choose a phone. Apple and Google tend to refresh their lineup in the months leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, the informal start of the holiday shopping season in America. Samsung, HTC and other smartphone makers prefer to launch their flagship phones in springtime, usually between March and May.
This means that Apple’s and Google’s offerings are relatively fresh, while phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One are already on their way out. In other words they are at a slight disadvantage, but let’s take a closer look.
The iPhone 5S may look like the old iPhone 5, but if you peel back its sleek aluminum skin you will find a brand new processor with two 64-bit Cyclone cores and an equally impressive graphics processing unit.
It also has a great 8-megapixel camera, arguably one of the best ever installed on a smartphone, along with Apple’s new Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Needless to say, it ships with iOS 7 and all the bells and whistles Apple has to offer.
Downsides include a very familiar design that is already showing signs of age. It is ageing well though, but the 4-inch Retina display could be a tad bigger and sharper. Prices start at $229 on a two-year plan and Apple is still charging a hefty premium for extra storage, no surprises there.
Sony Xperia Z1
The Sony Xperia Z1 is a strange beast. Launched three months ago, it is relatively new and it has the specs to prove it. It sports a 5-inch 1080p display, speedy 2.2GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and a massive 20.7-megapixel camera.
The megapixel count isn’t everything though, but the camera is still impressive nonetheless. The Z1 uses the huge sensor to create 8-megapixel images, using the extra pixels to improve image quality and reduce noise. If you want a good Android camera phone, look no further.
Oh, and there is another perk – it is dustproof and water resistant up to a meter, so it should be a great choice for avid outdoorsmen with a thing for photography. However, at 170g it is quite heavy and bulky, so it might not be that great for everyone. It’s free on a two-year plan.
BlackBerry is still alive and kicking, although it is not the juggernaut it used to be. BlackBerry phones are still loved by the business community and the Z30 is quite a looker. It has a 5-inch screen, 8-megapixel camera and the latest BlackBerry 10.2 software.
The Z30 is $49 on Bell’s standard Voice & Data Plus two-year plan. However, you can get $50 in-store credit if you trade in your old BlackBerry at a Bell store.
LG’s mobile business is booming and since it scored the Nexus 4 deal from Google, things have been looking up for the South Korean company. The G2 is arguably one of the finest Android phones on the market today. It features a speedy Qualcomm quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 13-megapixel camera and an impressive 5.2-inch 1080p display.
The Nexus 5 is Google’s latest crack at the mobile market and it is very good indeed. Built by LG with plenty of G2 DNA, the Nexus 5 features the exact same 2.2GHz Qualcomm 800 processor with Adreno 330 graphics, backed by 2GB of RAM.
It has a somewhat smaller 5-inch display and its 8-megapixel camera is not as good as the one on the G2. However, it has quite a few things going for it. Unlike the G2, it is free on a two-year plan and even if you decide to pay full retail without a long term obligation, it’s relatively affordable at $499.
Furthermore, like every Nexus device out there, it gets Android updates first, often months ahead of the competition. It ships with Android 4.4 KitKat and since it is a Nexus, it offers a pure Android experience, with no user interface tweaks and custom skins. It launched just a couple of months ago and that makes it even more interesting.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
A couple of years back Samsung launched the original Galaxy Note, which was practically the first “phablet” to hit the market. Consumers loved the idea of an oversized phone with a stylus and the idea took off. Samsung recently announced that it managed to sell ten million Note 3 phablets in just two months of sales, so let’s see what makes it so popular.
Let’s start with the obvious – it is big, very big. The Note 3 sports a 5.7-inch 1080p Super AMOLED display. A 2.3GHz quad-core processor is tucked underneath the huge screen, along with 3GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel camera and a microSD slot for expansion.
It is also one of a handful of phones with a stylus and Samsung ships plenty of apps capable of putting the stylus to good use. However, its size is also its biggest downside. At 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm (5.95 x 3.12 x 0.33 in), the Note 3 is downright huge, but at least it is not the heaviest phone around, tipping the scales at 168g. It costs $199 on a two-year plan and Bell is offering $100 off the Galaxy Gear smart watch if you choose the Note 3.
Samsung Galaxy S4
The Galaxy S4 has been around for a while, but it is still a very capable device and unlike most smartphones on the market it features a removable back cover, user replaceable battery and microSD memory card slot.
With over 40 million units sold over the last three quarters, the S4 is the best selling Android smartphone of all time. It has a 5-inch Full HD display, a good camera and a fast processor backed by 2GB of RAM.
However, one of its biggest selling points is also its biggest weakness. The removable back is very practical, but to keep the assembly light and simple, Samsung had to use plastics. In other words, if you put an emphasis on build quality, the HTC One, Nexus 5 or its arch nemesis, the iPhone 5, are a better choice. It’s $79 on a two-year plan, which does not make it a bargain at this point. The market has moved on.
Samsung Galaxy S3
The Galaxy S3 launched a year and a half ago and needless to say it is no longer the powerhouse it used to be. However, it is by no means obsolete. It has a 4.8-inch 720p display, dual-core Qualcomm processor and 2GB of RAM.
Like the S4, and all other S-series Samsung phones, it has a removable back, user replaceable battery and microSD slot.
Hardly surprising, it is free on a two-year plan, but it is by far the cheapest phone in our roundup, as it costs $299 if you are willing to pay the full price – and it is definitely worth it.
HTC has seen better days. The Taiwanese company was a pioneer in the smartphone business, but the last couple of years have seen it fall on hard times. You wouldn’t know that by looking at the HTC One, one of the most impressive Android devices to launch this year.
Unlike most Android phones, the HTC One features an all-aluminum body and truly exceptional build quality. HTC’s industrial design matches the top notch build. If you want an Android phone but don’t want to listen to your iPhone toting friends mocking your plasticky phone, the HTC One should do the trick.
It has the looks, but it also has the brains. Powered by a Qualcomm 600 processor, the HTC One features 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and a 4-megapixel Ultrapixel camera. Like we said earlier, megapixel count is not the only thing to look for in a good camera. HTC’s Ultrapixel camera features a much larger sensor than most phones. Individual pixels are bigger, so dynamic range and low-light performance are good. The camera also features optical image stabilization.
The HTC One is free on a two-year contract and the full retail price is $649.
Which one is right for you?
This is rather tricky. New models like the Nexus 5 and Xperia Z1 tend to stand out, along with the LG G2, iPhone 5S to some extent. The iPhone will have no trouble attracting users upgrading from older models, although iPhone 5 users may want to wait for the next update.
Sony’s Z1 is a very interesting package, with an impressive camera, robust waterproof body and great specs, but it does not come cheap and it is rather heavy. The Galaxy Note 3 is still a niche device in spite of record breaking sales.
The Blackberry Z30, Galaxy S4 and HTC One are a bit harder to recommend due to their age and price/performance ratio. The Galaxy S3 is even older, but although it is not as impressive as the rest of Bell’s lineup, at $299 it’s a steal and it is truly a great alternative to many mid-end devices.
However, if good value is what you’re looking for, but at the same time you are not willing to compromise on performance, the Nexus 5 is your best bet.
Luckily it is difficult to single out one phone as technically inferior. The smartphone industry is insanely competitive and every year we get more bang for our buck. LTE is supported by every high-end device and most mid-end devices, all phones feature high-resolution displays, plenty of memory and relatively good cameras.
This was not the case just a year or two ago, so it is quite understandable that many consumers are now looking for more value for money rather than specs. Keep this in mind when you make your choice. If you happen to be using a relatively old device or renewing a two-year contract, you might not need to spend a small fortune on a flagship phone to get a very capable device that will make your old phone look as obsolete as a coin operated telephone booth.