The final countdown to Christmas and the New Year has very much begun, and while half of you are planning a Christmas eve feast, the other half are thinking about dusting off "The Final Countdown" in preparation for the big night. meanwhile, we've created our very own countdown to wrap up the year that was. Here are the Android smartphone highlights of 2013: did you score one of the best?
Huawei Ascend P6
Here is a device that had a pretty rough task ahead of it on the Western mass market and yet shone through brilliantly. From the beginning, the Ascend P6 was compared with the iPhone, which seemed unfair or even insulting to some and blatantly obvious to others. The Chinese technology giant Huawei was obviously inspired by Apple in some ways when it came to designing the Ascend P6, but still managed to bring out something unique that also happens to be among the thinnest smartphones in the world. It scored a lot of press, a lot of fans and will score an Android 4.4 update early in the New Year. It was also perhaps the first Chinese smartphone to which so much attention was paid that it may well be looked back upon as the device that heralded a new era of Chinese smartphones dominating in international markets.
Google Nexus 5
From the perspective of an Android magazine, the biggest highlight of 2013 was without question, the launch of Google's Nexus 5, the smartphone that also ushered in Android 4.4 KitKat. Rarely has a device caused such hype in the tech press, for months before its official release, which was, again, a press release and Play Store availability affair. The interesting thing is that the Nexus 5 doesn't pretend to compete with flagship devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4, but, as you can read in our Nexus 5 review (and anyone else's for that matter), the Nexus 5 is not only the best Nexus yet, but the best device in its price range. Shortcomings remain, quite understandably for such a low cost phone, but a rapid update from Google to Android 4.4.1 laid to rest the major issues (camera and speaker) that were noted at launch, making the Nexus 5 even more clearly the best smartphone of the year.
Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung is responsible for two smartphone highlights this year, the first of which is the Galaxy S4. The S4 was the undisputed king of hype before the Nexus 5 and not surprisingly, quickly became the best-selling Android smartphone. It will be succeeded by the Galaxy S5 early in 2014. Samsung were a little disappointed with the sales of the S4, hence the early release of the S5, and not every Samsung fan thought there were enough improvements on the S3 to make the upgrade, but any way you cut it, the Galaxy S4 is a seriously excellent smartphone.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
The same can be said about the Galaxy Note 3. Whether you are a Samsung fan or not, and whether you use a digital stylus or not, there's no getting around the supremacy of the Galaxy Note 3, as you can see in our Note 3 video review. The stylus-supported phablet sets a wicked standard in terms of performance and software support regardless of what you compare it to. It's no wonder either, considering the Note 3 is the world's first smartphone with 3 gigabytes of RAM and has loads of innovative S Pen features. As far as stylus integration goes, the Note 3 is the reference model against which the competition must measure themselves.
The G2 has, shamefully enough, not received nearly as much attention as some other major devices of the year. This lack of attention is particularly unfair, because perhaps no other smartphone has been described so often in the press as the best Android smartphone on the market. Technically, it is at least as good as the competition, but impresses even more than most with an excellent camera, the most powerful battery in its class (with the exception of the Sony Xperia Z1) and the largest display area in relation to the device's total footprint. In addition, LG got creative when they moved all of the control keys onto the rear panel, making an eye-catching and super thin smartphone. Whether the G2 has flown a little under the radar, or it's manufacturer is simply not as showy as, say, Samsung, we don't really know. But the G2's highlight of the year status is suitably earned without the need for hype and endless advertizing.
The Chinese-made phablet has only been available since December 10th in Europe and the US, and yet it has already left quite an impression, an impression which has, at the last possible minute, managed to earn it a place in this highlight of the year summary. The Oppo N1 offers three truly unique aspects: it has a rotating 13 MP camera, a rear-mounted track-pad for touch control, and it is the first smartphone to be delivered to market with the popular custom ROM CyanogenMod pre-installed. A laundry list of innovations like these is plenty enough to make it to the highlights of 2013 list.
Motorola Moto G
While most of this year's highlights have come from the top shelf – the high-end, premium smartphone range - not everyone has $700 to burn on smartphone. And that is where Googlerola's Moto G - the scaled-down, international version of the much-discussed Moto X - represents a clear winner. The majority of our editorial team has been thrilled by the price-performance ratio that the Moto G brings to the table and have happily crowned it the best low-cost Android smartphone available. Of course, a device under the $200 price line should not be expected to have the same high-end specifications offered by devices that cost four times as much. But the software expertise of Google and the hardware know-how of Motorola have been combined and optimized in such a way that the Moto G offers unpparalleled performance at an unhead of price. Highlights need not always be Champagne and caviar. Sometimes potato chips and Chateau de Cardboard are just as good.
PS: Of course you could easily include a number of other devices on this list, for example, the excellent HTC One or the Sony Xperia Z. And then there are great smartphones beyond the Android world view, like the iPhone 5S or several Lumia devices from Nokia. Do you think we missed something? Any undiscovered gems out there?