Best is a subjective term: What one person thinks is best, another person might declare hogwash. Asked to name the best smartphone, three people will give three answers. And none of them will be wrong. The top of the market has never been stronger, with great choices for every consumer. For ReadWriteWeb Recommends, though, there can be only one.
Five Great Choices
In making my choice of the best smartphone, I have taken into account hardware specs, user experience and polish. I admit, this is a decision I have been putting off making for months. I’ve been torn in so many directions that, really, I thought I might not have the nerve to step to the plate and take a swing.
I’ve reviewed or played with every major smartphone that has hit the market in the last six months. Even some that have not yet hit the market. Those are excluded from consideration, but I reserve the right to rewrite this recommendation later in the year. In May, I was ready to hand it to the HTC One X, but I wanted to test the Samsung Galaxy S III before deciding for real. Then, I wanted to wait for the iPhone 5.
In the end, the list of came down to this (in alphabetical order):
Three factors were necessary to limit the field of candidates. First, the device needs to be available today, either by ordering online or by purchasing through retail channels like carrier stores or Best Buy. You should be able to drive to the mall and get one of these devices today, if you want. The second is size. Nothing bigger than 5 inches was considered, which excludes the fairly new “phablet” (smartphone/tablet crossbreed) market segment exemplified by the Samsung Galaxy Note. Last, I considered only one device per manufacturer, leaving smartphones like, say, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus off the list.
The most important factor is user experience. That's a catch-all for other considerations such as hardware specifications and operating system, since those categories exist to provide a better experience. All the devices under consideration have fairly similar hardware specs from a battery and processor standpoint (some better than others) and the competition among manufacturers over screen resolution has given consumers great choices for screen quality.
An x factor was the vague notion of polish. This notion comes in two forms: hardware and software. Polish represents attention to detail in how the phone is built and how smoothly the operating system works. Ease of use and functionality were the top considerations in the software department. All of the devices under consideration have a high degree of hardware polish. These were the flagship devices from their respective manufactures at the time they launched.
The devices under consideration come in a variety of form factors. In terms of size, the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III are almost identical, while the Motorola Razr M and iPhone 5 have similar square builds and compact design. The Lumia 900 has a unique polycarbonate casing that is a joy to hold.
So, which one is best? Without further ado …
RW Recommends: HTC One X
You know you are carrying a quality smartphone when every time you take it out of your pocket, somebody says, “ooh, what is that?” People have asked me, in turn, if the One X is the iPhone 5, Galaxy S III or Droid Razr. Everyone is surprised to learn that it is an HTC device.
What sets the HTC One X apart? Foremost, people notice the size and the quality of the body. It has a 4.7-inch screen and a slightly curved ceramic-coated body. Opponents of the One X will note that it does not have a removable battery or hardware expandable storage but, then again, neither does the iPhone. The battery life is respectable (at 1800 mAh it is not the longest on the market, but still lasts all day) and storage is expandable through Dropbox integration. It has a dual-core, 1.5 MHz processor and 1280x780 screen (312 pixels per inch density) that stands up well against the Galaxy S III and iPhone 5.
The One X runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich with a likely upgrade to 4.1 Jelly Bean by the end of the year. HTC put a skin, Sense 4.0, on top of the ICS and this is where it differentiates itself with other Android devices. For many new users unfamiliar with Android, the operating system can seem difficult to figure out at first. HTC’s goal with Sense 4.0 was to make it visually appealing and easier to use. In this regard, it succeeds against Motorola and Samsung.
The Galaxy S III is very, very similar to the One X. Yet Samsung overreaches in adding extra apps and different ways to perform basic functions with its own Android skin, TouchWiz. Paradoxically, the extra layers and apps make the Galaxy S III feel like less. Some users love TouchWiz, Sense's usability gives HTC the edge in this case. The same concept applies when comparing the One X is the Razr M, which employs a fairly straightforward installation of Android 4.0. Android enthusiasts prefer unadulterated Android, but the operating system has a learning curve that can be difficult for some people. Sense 4.0 on the One X represents both approaches by providing functionality while also trying to simplify Android.
The iPhone 5 could have easily been the choice for this recommendation. Apple’s latest smartphone fits all of our criteria. From a hardware and design perspective, it has the most polish of any device on this list. Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS, is by definition easy to use and provides a quality experience. Where Apple falls short is iOS 6. Its promised upgrades to the operating system leave iOS feeling incomplete. Users have experienced usability issues with the new Maps app and the PassBook wallet app. The Maps issue is especially egregious, prompting Apple CEO Tim Cook to apologize to users.
The Lumia 900 is a quality device from Nokia, but I gave it demerits based for future considerations. The Lumia 900 runs Windows Phone 7.5 and will not be upgradeable to Windows Phone 8 when the operating system is available later this year. The 900 soon will be eclipsed by the Lumia 920, due out in the United States in Q4. The 920 will be better equipped to compete with the One X, Galaxy S III and iPhone 5. If you like the Windows Phone operating system, it will be a good option.
The HTC One X costs $99 from AT&T with a contract. Price was the least of considerations for this recommendation, but it is worth noting that a top-of-the-line smartphone doesn't necessarily cost much.
Any Of The Above
Any of the smartphones under consideration could be a great buy. I recommend the One X, but the choice of a smartphone is highly individual. If you are having trouble making a decision, see our recent six-part series on How To Buy A Smartphone.