If folks on your holiday shopping list are lucky enough to be getting new smartphones, their timing couldn’t be better. The best smartphones 2013 has to offer are miles above what was available last year. And the best smartphones last year were pretty good, so that’s saying something.
Technology is just moving that fast, with both Apple (AAPL) and Samsung (SSNLF) forcing everyone else to not only compete on technology, but on product design as well. The result is a crop of new smartphones that shines.
There is no bad choice among this group, but if you’re trying to decide on the best smartphones to buy for your specific situation, there are a few variables you should consider in addition to the hardware.
For example, does the recipient have a strong OS preference? If so, buying a new Apple iPhone for a Google (GOOG) Android fanatic is probably not a good idea, no matter how good that shiny gold iPhone 5S looks. Carrier also plays a role. The best smartphones are supported by all the carriers, but some might be offering deals or exclusive colors.
It was tough to pick the top new smartphones, as there are plenty of worthy options like the LG G2, Sony (SNE) Xperia Z and even the BlackBerry (BBRY) Q10 (for QWERTY keyboard diehards). But only five could make the cut as the best smartphones 2013 has. We can’t make the choice for you, but we can at least help to narrow it down.
Best Smartphones 2013 – Apple iPhone 5s
When it comes to the best flagship smartphones, the iPhone has always been the one to beat. And the new Apple iPhone — the iPhone 5s — is once again on the top of the heap. With a 64-bit A7 processor, benchmarks say it’s the fastest smartphone available.
Apple set an opening weekend record this year, selling 9 million of the new Apple iPhone 5s along with the slightly cheaper iPhone 5c. Plus, the supply of the gold-colored model has been constrained (my wife waited well over a month for hers).
Besides being a speed demon, the latest flagship iPhone is one of the best smartphones thanks to features like the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, an improved camera and iOS7 Apple’s latest mobile operating system. As an iOS device, this new smartphone also has access to iTunes and Apple’s App Store. One of the best smartphones overall, the iPhone 5s is the top choice for any Apple fan.
On the downside, this definitely isn’t the best smartphone for folks looking for a big display. The new Apple iPhone 5s has the smallest screen of the bunch at just 4 inches.
The new Apple iPhone 5 unlocked will cost you $649, so it is priced as a premium device. But still, there’s no doubt of its place among the best smartphones 2013 has to offer.
Best Smartphones 2013 – HTC One
What is the best Android smartphone? There are three on our list to choose from (sounds like a lot, but after all, Android does make up over 80% of the Android market), and the HTC One is the first.
In fact, it is the first of the trio to be released, hitting shelves in March. It is one of the best smartphones thanks to its power; the HTC One features a quad-core Qualcomm (QCOM) Snapdragon processor running at 1.7 GHz. Plus, it offers a full HD 4.7-inch display.
Being slightly smaller than other Android flagship phones means the HTC One has a higher pixel density (468 PPI) and is among the best smartphones available for people who want a big smartphone … but not overwhelmingly big.
Other features also used a unique HTC One camera that has only 4MP resolution but uses UltraPixels for improved low light performance. And if you’re shopping for someone who loves music, the HTC One is one of the best smartphones thanks to dual front facing speakers and Beats Audio.
Not only was the new smartphone among the fastest mobile devices tested, but its aluminum design earned it recognition as being one of the best smartphones 2013 had seen to date based on looks alone. Mind you, you’re going to have to go with Sprint (S) if you want the snazzy red version in the photo — that’s a Sprint smartphone exclusive.
The price of an HTC One unlocked is $599.99.
Best Smartphones 2013 – Samsung Galaxy S4
One of the ways to tell the best smartphones 2013 produced is to check sales, as it stands to reason that the best smartphones will sell the most. If you use sales as a category, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a champ, selling over 40 million units in six months.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is also one of the best Android smartphones available. It has a big, 5-inch display with full HD resolution. Other Galaxy S4 features include a snappy processor that still holds up well against newer devices (even if Samsung did get caught trying to cheat in benchmark tests). Plus, the new Galaxy S4 has spawned a series of variations, including a waterproof model, a mini model and a version with a telephoto lens strapped on it.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is also one of the best smartphones thanks to the advantages of a removable battery, a microSD slot for storage expansion and an IR blaster for us as a TV remote. Complaints are few but Samsung Galaxy S4 reviews do note that the new smartphone’s plastic case that doesn’t quite match the premium appearance of others in its class.
Still, 40 million people can’t be wrong: The new Samsung Galaxy S4 is one of the one of the best smartphones to buy. How much is the Galaxy S4? It costs in the $650 range.
Best Smartphones 2013 – Nokia Lumia 1020
This question doesn’t get asked often enough for Microsoft’s (MSFT) liking, but what is the best Windows phone? Well, the answer also happens to boast the best smartphone camera: Nokia’s (NOK) Lumia 1020.
Windows Phones never looked better than on Nokia’s flagship smartphone. With a 4.5-inch AMOLED display at 720p resolution (332 PPI) and a dual-core Snapdragon processor, this phone may not look as powerful as Android smartphones. But the Windows Phone 8 has tiles that are bright and snappy, while performance is nothing to complain about.
Besides, performance is secondary in the Nokia Lumia 1020. It’s the 41 MP camera and Xenon flash — combining for professional grade digital photos — that land this model among the best smartphones 2013 shoppers have to choose from.
You can expect to pay between $600 and $650 for an unlocked Nokia Lumia 1020.
Best Smartphones 2013 – Google Nexus 5
Wrapping up our list of the best smartphones is one we looked at in detail a few days ago, the Google Nexus 5.
When the final list of best smartphones 2013 offers is tabulated, the Google Nexus 5 is going to be at or near the top. It’s not just that Google offered its own premium smartphone — complete with Nexus 5 features like a 4.95-inch 1080p display and powerful quad-core Snapdragon processor. It’s the fact that the company is selling this Nexus phone, unlocked, for just $329. It may not be quite as snazzy in design as the Apple iPhone 5s or HTC One, but it costs half as much while still delivering a solid experience.
The icing on the cake is that this is not only a “pure” Android smartphone (with no custom overlays or UI elements), but is also the first to ship with Android 4.4 (KitKat) installed.
So what is the best smartphone for Android fans? The Android experience doesn’t get much better than the Google Nexus 5 … and the bargain price just may seal the deal.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.