While not every industry has experienced growth since the advent of the great recession, the smartphone sector is one that has bucked this trend. Recent statistics suggest that the global revenue generated by smartphones reached a staggering $264.75 billion in 2014, while an estimated 91% of all citizens now own a fully-functional mobile handset. Such demand and widespread growth has also triggered intense market competition, with the result that there remains an expansive selection of smartphones available for discerning consumers to choose from.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the existing marketplace and the top 10 outstanding handsets that deliver considerable value for the consumer’s hard earned money
10. The Lumia 930
Given the recent success of Windows Phones, Microsoft’s highly-publicized takeover of Nokia augers well for the brand’s existing and future handsets. Take the Lumia 930, for example, which offers considerable versatility, a huge range of purposeful apps and a 20 mega-pixel camera that is arguably the single most impressive on the market. There is also a vibrant OLED screen that provides incredible color and deep contrast, providing a visual experience that is both engaging and reassuring.
From safety-conscious applications that enable users to hire private hire vehicles in low-signal areas to the handset’s thick metal frame and polycarbonate back, everything about this smartphone hits at security and reliability. This is a crucial consideration when buying a smartphone, especially one that comes with a hefty £404 ($619.23 USD) price tag on the UK market. The qualities of the Lumia more than justify this retail price point, and offset the issues caused by a typically slow and cumbersome Windows interface.
Verdict: Despite featuring a relatively slow interface and being occasionally frustrating to use, the Lumia 930 is a reliable and versatile handset that remains one of the leading Windows Phone’s available.
9. The Samsung Galaxy Alpha
While Samsung may have pledged to revamp their smartphone output in the wake of plummeting sales that have reached a three-year low, some of their previous handsets remain standard bearers for aesthetic design and slick processing speeds. Take the Galaxy Alpha, for example, which boasts a high resolution 4.7 inch display, a purposeful camera and a surprisingly powerful battery performance. It is also easy to operate with one hand, while it enables users to seamlessly manage multiple applications simultaneously without the need for compromise.
Ease of use is a crucial design feature of all Samsung handsets, both in terms of handling and operation. The Galaxy Alpha is no exception to this rule, as it weighs just 115 grams and is extremely slim line with a thickness of just 6.7 mm. The only drawback of this smartphone is that it lacks a striking functional feature, which makes it slightly difficult to justify an average retail price of £549.99 ($843 USD). Despite this, it remains something of a flagship handset for the Samsung brand and a smartphone that delivers a slick and enjoyable user experience.
Verdict: Lightweight, slick and beautifully designed, the Galaxy Alpha embodies everything that is good about Samsung smartphones and is only let-down by a lack of outstanding operational features.
8. The Sony Xperia Z3
One of the strongest and most durable smartphones on the market, Sony’s Xperia Z3 is a triumph of understated and yet robust design. It also includes everything that you would expect to see from a piece of highly-evolved Sony technology, from the brands ‘Triluminos’ display to high resolution audio quality and an incredible 20.7 mega-pixel camera complete with 4K video capability. The handset is also water and dust proof, while its nylon corners helps to protect your investment should you be unfortunate enough to drop it during use.
So far, so good, and at this juncture is appears as though Sony’s Xperia Z3 model has the specification to fully justify its £549 ($841.48) price tag. Its precise position on this list is determined largely by its faults, however, which include a flawed and occasionally restricted operating system and an overheating camera function. While these faults may not completely hinder your everyday use of the phone, they provide an inconvenience that you would not expect from such a costly and well-designed model.
Verdict: Despite high quality audio and video , the Sony Xperia Z3 is let down by minor operating system flaws and camera bugs. Although these are relatively small details, they are worthy of merit when you consider the inflated retail price.
7. The iPhone 5S
As the dominant smartphone brand, Apple is renowned for delivering innovative and purposeful handsets that offer considerable value for money. The iPhone 5S provides a relevant case in point, as even though it is not a flagship smartphone it is an excellent device that is powered by purposeful software and exceptionally easy to use. While it was released too early to feature the innovative Apple Pay technology and an enhanced camera function, its compact size and iconic, sleek design offers a convenient and affordable smartphone solution to users.
The release of the iPhone 6 has also triggered an increase in demand for the 5S, as while the former provides incremental improvements in terms of the iOS 8 operating system and functionality its launch has helped to drive down the cost its predecessor. The iPhone 5S can be purchased for as little as £149 ($228.38) in the current market, and this price represents significant value even in an age of simple, affordable handsets. Even accounting for the recurring bugs that have blighted the iOS 7, this handset is ideal for those who are not in a position to purchase the iPhone 6 outright or upgrade their contract.
Verdict: While the iPhone 5S may have been overshadowed by the launch of the 6 and 6Plus handsets, it retains many of the design features that distinguish Apple from other brands. It is now also available at a bargain price and offers considerable value for users’ money.
6. The Nexus 5
Google’s much vaunted Project Ara promises to revolutionize the smartphone industry in 2015, as it will see the world’s first modular handsets released onto the consumer market. This is a development for the future, however, and for now Google are content to design and manufacture their own Nexus handsets in conjunction with leading smartphone players such as HTC, LG and Samsung. The best of these is the Nexus 5, which is a premium handset that incorporates the latest Android operating system and drives exceptionally quick processing speeds.
While Google is incredibly adept at developing and integrating software, it has enjoyed less success when launching new hardware onto the market. By tapping into the expertise of leading smartphone brands, however, Google have managed to combine slick performance and innovative app features with a stylish and robust design. This seamlessly built package is also available at a competitive price point, with Nexus 5 handsets currently being sold for as little as £295 ($452.16). Along with 2GB of RAM and a high resolution 4.9 inch screen, the Nexus 5 offers the perfect balance of style, function and affordability for customers.
Verdict: Google’s Nexus 5 is the brands leading smartphone to date, and one that is ideal for prolific users who like to access multiple applications simultaneously. Software fans can also benefit from incredibly slick performance and the very latest Android updates.
5. The Moto G Handset
Today’s mobile market is extremely diverse, as basic, low-end feature phones have been replaced with affordable handsets with smartphone capabilities. Some of these models are also among the finest on the market, with the Moto G providing a relevant example. Built solidly from plastic and equipped with a high resolution 4.5 inch screen, it is also powered by the latest version of Android and delivers outstanding audio quality. A high performance battery completes a comprehensive if largely unexciting specification, while also underlining the functional and practical design qualities of the Moto G.
If there is one unique feature that distinguishes the Moto G from its rivals, however, it is the price point. Despite a high end specification it can be purchased from new for as little as £135 ($206.92), which is 75% lower than the cost of the iPhone 6 or the Sony Xperia Z3. This represents an incredible saving, even in a market where low-budget handsets are becoming increasingly popular and technologically advanced. Undoubtedly the leading budget smartphone on the current market, the Moto G is an entry-level handset that has succeeded in rivaling Apple and Samsung.
Verdict: The market leading budget smartphone, the Moto G handset offers far more than a low-end price point. It is also robust, durable and functional, and boasts a specification that can rival the majority of best-selling smartphones on the market.
4. The Samsung Galaxy S5
We have already discussed Samsung’s recent struggles in the smartphone market, but these should not disguise the brands reputation for producing high specification handsets. Take the Galaxy S5, for example, which remains one of the best phones on the market even with a costly retail price of £579 ($887.46). The handset’s stellar feature is undoubtedly its ground-breaking 16 mega-pixel camera, which boasts dynamic range and a high performance Auto Focus function. The phone’s ridged, silver edging and perforated back also contributes towards a uniquely stylish design, while its range of wearable technology accessories such as the Gear Fit Fitness Band has only recently become fully appreciated.
This is the kind of innovation that will help Samsung to recover it’s market share, and the Galaxy S5 should serve as a template for the brands’ future smartphone launches. This handset is also worthy of consideration as it proved to be far more durable and easy to use than the previously released Galaxy S4, thanks primarily to a fortified resistance to dust, water and sudden impact. The high resolution 5.1 inch touchscreen is also exceptionally easy to navigate, helping the user to enjoy a slick and ultimately rewarding smartphone experience. If there is a minor criticism, it is that the slightly inflated price tag makes you feel as though you are investing primarily in the camera feature rather than an overall smartphone package.
Verdict: The primary example of what Samsung can achieve as a smartphone brand, the Galaxy S5 is well worth its place on our list. While there may be a handful of superior handsets on the current market, few boast the same quality of camera or image capturing technology.
3. The LG G3
While the LG brand may be synonymous with video streaming and 4K televisions, it has also developed a number of excellent smartphones. The best of these is the LG G3, which is available from £479 and can lay claim to being the premier smartphone with regards to stylish design and high resolution display. It also features a robust design, meaning that it is largely impervious to dust and water while it is unlikely to suffer significant damage when it is dropped or bumped. This is an important consideration, especially when buying such an expensive handset outright or agreeing to a costly monthly contract.
LG have also stayed true to their core expertise when designing the G3, equipping the handset with an excellent 5.5 inch display and an outstanding 13.1 mega-pixel, rear-facing camera. These features make it ideal for capturing videos and streaming them online, while they are also easy to use and access. The only negative aspect of the LG G3 is a number of minor operating system faults, which LG have pledged to resolve either through the release of a new handset or in conjunction with upcoming Android updates. If the brand manages to achieve this, it may have a smartphone that can claim to be the best on the market.
Verdict: Both stylish and easy to use in equal measure, the LG G3 is close to being the premier handset on the consumer market. It is certainly among the best when it comes to delivering a high quality visual experience and video streaming capabilities.
2. The HTC One (M8)
This is HTC’s flagship smartphone, and unquestionably the premier handset on the market until the latter part of 2014. It is definitely the best Android smartphone available at present, whether you consider its iconic, all-metal design or innovative HTC Sense interface which enables users to seamlessly navigate between apps, web pages and browsers at any given time. The 5 inch display is extremely high quality and delivers clearly defined imagery, whether you are reviewing pictures or streaming a movie online. The handset also boasts a wide range of useful widgets and applications, including a real-time weather feature and ‘Zoe’ (which enables the intelligent sharing of images, films in videos in a single space).
While the device is not cheap with a starting price of approximately £535 (820.02), it offers relatively good value when compared with handsets such as the Sony Xperia Z3 and Samsung’s Galaxy Alpha. It is slightly let down by a disappointing camera feature, however, which was one of the primary selling points used by HTC to market the phone prior to its release. Despite claiming to use ‘ultra-pixels’ as opposed to the industry standard ‘mega-pixels’, the image quality is decidedly average while the camera also lacks innovative or unique user features.
Verdict: Regardless of an over-hyped and slightly underwhelming camera feature, the HTC One is the premier Android handset on the market and an incredibly well-designed product. It also offers good value for money and outstanding versatility to users.
1. The iPhone 6
Apple’s iPhone series remains the most dominant player in the smartphone market, and the coveted iPhone 6 has only served to fortify this position of considerable strength. Thanks to the success of this product, iPhone’s now account for 39.5 of all British smartphone sales and this represents a rise of 10.4 during the third financial quarter of 2014. There are several reasons for the popularity of this product, aside from its relatively competitive Pay-as-you-go price point of £539 ($826.15).
More specifically, it has a larger higher resolution 4.7 inch display, a significantly improved battery life and a slimmer, more aesthetically pleasing design than previous models. It was also powered by the impressive and highly evolved iOS 8, which features an advanced graphics engine referred to simply as Metal and numerous, incremental improvements that contribute towards a more seamless user experience. So while it may lack the processing speeds of some Samsung and HTC handsets, its diverse range of applications, overall ease of use and compatibility with mobile gaming marks it as a multi-purpose smartphone that offers outstanding value for money.
Verdict: Functional, stylish and multi-purpose, the iPhone 6 has quickly and clearly established itself as the number one smartphone on the existing market. Launched alongside the iOS 8, it offers an enhanced user experience that no current smartphone can match as we enter 2015.
Featured photo credit: C2 Static / Flickr via c2.staticflickr.com