Best smartphones for 2013
Posted on 15 Nov 2013 at 15:20
Choose the best smartphone for 2013 with our reviews of nine top models
With high-quality smartphones from Samsung, Apple and Google, and other big names including Nokia, HTC and Motorola also in the running, choosing the right handset isn't easy.
We’ve rounded up the best smartphones to help you choose which one to buy. Whether you’re after a top-of-the-range handset or a mid-range option, we’ve got you covered.
Read our feature: Mobile data: how much do you need?
Google's Nexus 4 has been a huge success since it launched a year ago, but we think the Nexus 5 is going to be even bigger. It's equipped with a larger, Full HD 4.95in display, and the design now mimics that of the Nexus 7 tablet, with a grippy matte-black soft-touch plastic finish. We prefer it.
It's also equipped with super-fast, 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 CPU – the same as in the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 – and performance is lightning quick. In addition, there's the latest version of Android – KitKat – on board, all the wireless connectivity you could possibly wish for, and the only weaknesses are a slightly sluggish 8mp camera and battery life that's a little below average.
The most enticing thing about the Nexus 5, though, is the price, which is a mere £300 SIM free, with free phone contracts starting at around £22 per month. It's not hard to see why Nexus 5 replaces the HTC One as our A-List smartphone.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
With a huge 5.7in AMOLED display, you might think the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 would be too unwieldy to be practical, but that's far from the case. In fact, Samsung has managed to trim the fat to such a degree that, even though it has a larger screen than its predecessor (the Note 2), the chassis is thinner and narrower.
Incredibly, though, Samsung has still found room for a pressure sensitive stylus, which stows in the phone's bottom right-hand corner. This adds accurate photo editing, note-taking sketch scribbling and handwriting recognition to the Note 3's already broad spectrum of capabilities.
That's all very impressive, but it's nothing next to the Note 3's superb all-round performance and battery life. This is the fastest Android smartphone we've reviewed to date, and it retained 70% on the battery gauge after our usual 24-hour rundown test. Most modern smartphones can only manage 60% or 50%.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 isn't the cheapeast smartphone around, but we absolutely love it. It's an outstanding smartphone.
Nokia Lumia 1020
It's all about the camera with Nokia’s flagship Windows Phone 8 handset, the Nokia Lumia 1020. Boasting a 41-megapixel sensor, optical image stabilisation, full manual control and a Xenon flash, it blows every other smartphone’s camera away with its image quality.
It couples that stunning image quality with equally attractive design. The 1020 boasts a solid, high quality plastic body with a silky matte finish and a 4.5in Gorilla Glass 3 screen that’s gently curved at the edges. And as a smartphone it works well, too. Windows Phone 8 feels as slick as ever, and although the Windows Phone app store can’t match its Apple and Android rivals in terms of the variety of apps on offer, the array of software that comes bundled with the 1020 is second to none.
The HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 remain more accomplished all-rounders than the Nokia Lumia 1020, but if you’re after the best quality photos and video, this is the phone you want.
Read our full Nokia Lumia 1020 review
Apple iPhone 5s
Apple didn’t change much physically when it updated the iPhone 5 with the iPhone 5s, but boy did it do a good job upgrading the internals. The new iPhone is super fast, outstripping even the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 with its new 64-bit Apple A7 processor.
The fingerprint reader under the home button works rather well, and the camera has also seen an upgrade, delivering better low light performance and digital image stabilisation than before, plus a nifty slow motion video mode, which shoots 720p clips at 120fps, and a dual-tone flash that produces more natural-looking indoor snaps.
The iPhone 5s’ 4in screen remain unchanged from the last version – it’s still a super bright, top quality display – but it does look a little old-fashioned next to larger devices. Nevertheless, this is still a superb, if rather pricey, all-rounder.
Read our full Apple iPhone 5s review
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
It might look like any other compact camera, but in fact the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is a clever hybrid, combining advanced camera capabilities with a full-blown, 4G capable smartphone.
The S4 Zoom’s party piece is its 10x optically stabilised zoom lens, activated by twisting the ring around its base. This allows you to get closer to your subject than any other smartphone on the market right now.
For standard snaps, the Nokia Lumia 1020 produces better image quality in a smaller package, and the S4 Zoom is a little awkward to slip into a pocket, but we love the flexibility the S4’s zoom lens adds, and prices are currently very tempting.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S4 Review
The HTC One is the best-looking phone we’ve ever seen, and it doesn’t only stand out because of its stunning aluminium exterior. The build quality is top-notch, and its 1080p screen delivers unmatched quality across the 4.7in diagonal.
The Snapdragon 600 processor is the most powerful we’ve ever seen in a smartphone, delivering benchmark results that are close to the Samsung Galaxy S4 (below). Battery life doesn’t suffer despite the extreme levels of power, and the latest version of Sense is excellent, too: smooth, easy to use, and with sensible additions throughout.
HTC has managed to pack in a decent camera and punchy, well-balanced audio, too. The One is a phone with very few weaknesses – if you want the ultimate smartphone right now, this is what you need to buy.
Samsung Galaxy S4
The Samsung Galaxy S4 will be one of the year’s most successful smartphones, boasting the quality to put most of its competitors in the shade. The 5in, Full HD screen is pin-sharp and serves up rich colours, and it’s the fastest phone we’ve ever had in the Labs – its quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor broke most of our benchmark records.
It’s better than ever on the outside thanks to improved build quality, and it’s still possible to get inside to add extra storage or replace the battery. Samsung’s TouchWiz software is crammed with features, even if some of those feel too gimmicky for our liking. Only the HTC One can best the Samsung Galaxy S4, but this is a fine alternative.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S4 review
Google's latest home-grown handset sold out in 15 minutes when it first went on sale, and it's easy to see why. It has the latest version of Android, it's fast, and the hardware - made by LG - is top-notch. There's the price, too: both the 16GB and 32GB SIM-free models cost less than £300. If you're an Android fan and want a top-quality phone without a contract, look no further.
Read our full Nexus 4 review
Have you had a chance to look at BB10 dev handsets or had a sneak peek at the finished article? With the launch at the end of January it would be interesting to know how it holds up against these.
By JamesD29 on 30 Dec 2012
Appreciate the round up.
My iPhone4 contract is now up but really undecided about what to go for now so will wait a bit.
The iPhone5 doesn't really excite me tbh, its greatest quality would be ease of transition from old to new phone.
I was keen on Samsung Galaxy Note II, but tried one in Tesco and it seemed a little slow and the Stylus Pen slightly unresponsive. But then a Tesco display counter probably isn't the best place to test drive it.
Pondering waiting to see what Samsung Galaxy S 4 might offer but that means waiting till maybe second half of 2013!
Will wait a few months anyway.
By stormN on 30 Dec 2012
If the iPhone 4 is still working, why upgrade?
By big_D on 31 Dec 2012
I have a Lumia 920 (which I love) but the missus has a Note 2, and I am, at times, a little jealous! Don't worry about the Tesco lag, all their Android display models do that. Her's is buttery smooth and never slows down, it's really quite impressive. If you like it, then go for it, because it is a great phone.
By rushandy on 7 Feb 2013
and the next to come iPhone 5S is the winner im sure.
you can read more about it on my blog at www.imacintech.com
By iMaciNTech on 22 Mar 2013
I actually did quite a bit of research on these cell phone trade in programs, and www.smartphonecashin.com is definitely the highest paying site. They are also very straightforward and easy to use.
By rony4377 on 8 May 2013
top of the list
found site wrote Galaxy note 2 in on top-of the market and some are telling otherwise. Hope the ranking in not inspired by OS-hyped writers
By hailMe on 10 May 2013
Mobile Development India
I have got the good information about best smartphone for 2013 from this post that provide me great information about each smartphone features which might be very helpful for me. Thanks for sharing this information.
By ChrishTucker on 22 May 2013
Where is the Xperia Z?
By bet1001 on 24 May 2013
Where is the Xperia Z?
By bet1001 on 24 May 2013
what a joke!
This was written just days ago yet you have not listed the LG G2?! Its probably THE best android device right now PERIOD.. you have a freaking galaxy zoom that no one buys yet you do not mention the G2? What a friggin pathetic article.
By lordinfamous666 on 19 Nov 2013
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