Moto X, Google's Motorola Mobility
What's really special about the Moto X has nothing to do with making calls, checking Facebook or holding it in your hands. Rather, it breaks from the pack by allowing for a lot of customization. You can choose everything from the color of the power button to a personalized message on the back cover. To make those special orders possible, Motorola is assembling the Moto X in Texas, making it the first smartphone to be put together in the U.S.
Xperia Z, Sony Corp.
The Xperia Z mostly catches up with offerings from Samsung and HTC, but one feature stands out: Its water-resistant shell means you can submerge the phone at least 3 feet deep for up to 30 minutes.
Making water resistance a standard feature is something more phone makers should adopt as phones become companions to our active lives. Sony also enhances Google's Android system, without overly cluttering the phone. Enhancements include battery-saving features. The Xperia also brings a lot of features from Sony's stand-alone Cyber-shot cameras, while letting you highlight only the ones you actually need. Sony's new phone offering is impressive for a company better known for TVs, cameras and game machines.
Nokia Lumia 1020, Nokia Corp.
This Windows Phone packs a 41-megapixel sensor and six lenses, delivering unrivaled image quality both in daylight and low-light conditions. Thanks to oversampling technology, Nokia claims users will enjoy the sharpest pictures possible. This also lets you zoom into or out of photos after you take them. In other words, you can shoot first and zoom later.
Galaxy S4, Samsung Electronics
The S4 is an excellent device from a hardware standpoint. Its 5-inch screen is larger than its predecessor, yet it's a tad lighter and smaller. The display is sharp, at 441 pixels per inch.
Samsung packed the Android device with a slew of custom features, including new camera tools and the ability to perform tasks by waving a finger over a sensor. Many of the features, however, make the phone more complicated to use. In some cases, custom features work only some of the time. In other cases, you're confronted with too many ways to do similar things. The S4 might be for you if you don't mind spending time customizing it. Otherwise, you must bypass all the gimmicks to get to what otherwise is a good phone.
HTC One, HTC Corp.
The One is a phone that can match Apple's standards of feel and finish. Plastic and metal are joined together so well that you can't tell by feel where one ends and the other starts. The 4.7-inch screen is also quite a sight, its 468 pixels per inch among the best. Two front-facing speakers give you real stereo sound when turned sideways to watch a movie.
HTC's camera has a lower resolution than most. Promises of better low-light shots from its larger sensors only partly delivered. Like other Android phone makers, HTC adds confusion by customizing the interface. There are four different "home" screens from which to launch apps, for instance. The One is worth checking out as an alternative to the Galaxy S4 from Samsung, which also adds complication with its custom features.
Google Play phones
oogle has worked with both Samsung and HTC to come out with a "Google Play" edition of the Galaxy S4 and HTC One phones. Instead of using customized software from Samsung and HTC, the Google phones run a pure version of Android, as developed by Google.
Essentially, the Google versions of these phones are replicas of the originals, with most of the bells and whistles removed. That's a good thing, as many of those "improvements" added to Android by Samsung and HTC actually make the phones more complex to use. The bad news: The Google edition of the S4 sells for $649, while Google's HTC One goes for $599, compared with the $100 to $200 that you can typically get the original models for with a two-year agreement. And the phones don't work on Verizon and Sprint's CDMA networks.
Blackberry Z10, Blackberry LTD.
The Z10 is the first phone to run RIM's new BlackBerry 10 operating system and comes across as a very good stab at regaining at least some of the cachet of the BlackBerry. But the Z10 looks like every other smartphone on the shelf. It's a flat black slab with a touch screen, measuring 4.2 inches. Only once you turn it on do the differences become more evident.
Older BlackBerrys are great communications devices, but are poor at multimedia and at running third-party apps, something the iPhone excels at. The new BlackBerry 10 software is a serious attempt at marrying these two feature sets.
Blackberry Q10, Blackberry LTD.
The Q10 is a successful marriage of the modern touch-screen smartphone and the iconic BlackBerry keyboard. The interface takes time to get used to, and it doesn't have the simple immediacy of the iPhone. But once you learn it, you can positively zip between tasks.
The downside to the new BlackBerry 10 operating system is its relative dearth of third-party software. In addition, the keyboard eats up space that could be devoted to a bigger screen, leaving the Q10 with a square, 3.1-inch screen. Nonetheless, the Q10 is likely to be attractive to the BlackBerry faithful, and it deserves serious consideration from Android and iPhone users as well.
iPhone 5, Apple
The iPhone 5 is the biggest overhaul to the line since the release of the 3G in 2008. Compared with other high-end smartphones, however, it's more of a catch-up move.
The 4-inch screen is larger than previous iPhones, but smaller than many Android devices. The iPhone now works with 4G LTE cellular networks, something many Android devices already did. The iPhone 5 doesn't break much new ground, but it supports the things that really set the iPhone apart: the slick, reliable operating system and the multitude of high-quality, third-party applications. Released in September, the iPhone 5 is getting old. But don't expect a new model until at least this fall. A software update, iOS 7, is also expected for free then.
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