The best Android phones of all time

by: Simon HillApril 17, 2013

best gold prize first shutterstock Credit: Gold medal/Shutterstock

What is, or was, the greatest Android smartphone of all time? It’s not an easy question to answer. There have been hugely influential releases, innovative designs, cult classics, and best sellers. The platform has spawned a virtual arms race in mobile tech. The cutting edge creeps ever forward with a steady stream of new releases improving on their predecessors, but there’s more to a truly great smartphone than what’s on paper. It hasn’t even been five years since the first Android smartphone was released. Let’s take a look at the best Android phones of all time.

In the beginning

Android may have kicked off with the HTC Dream (T-Mobile G1), released in October 2008, but few would argue that it was the best smartphone to ever grace the platform.  It had a 3.2-inch touchscreen which you could slide up to reveal a full physical QWERTY keyboard.  That meant it was chunky. The reviews were fairly positive, but it was really the fledgling Android platform that was on trial. It was rough around the edges and suffered from a lack of apps, but the notification system, the widgets, and the integration with Google were praised from the start and over 1 million HTC Dream or G1 handsets were sold in the first year.


HTC Hero

In the early days, HTC was virtually the lone Android pioneer. The Taiwanese manufacturer followed the Dream with the Magic, which was also to sell over 1 million units, but it was the third release that really caught the public’s imagination.

The HTC Hero launched in Europe towards the end of the summer in 2009 and hit the U.S. in October (minus the chin). It was the first release from HTC to boast that premium feel in terms of design, and it was the also the first handset to feature the Sense UI, which paved the way for manufacturers to try and differentiate their wares with overlays intended to add value. It kick-started an argument that is still going on today – some handy added features and slick animations, versus lag and platform update delays.


Motorola Droid

As a pioneer in the mobile phone field, Motorola was in real need of a hit by the time Android came along. Its last big success had been the Razr, but that proved to be an evolutionary dead end as designs gravitated toward touchscreen dominance. Hot on the heels of the HTC Hero, the Motorola Droid launched in October 2009 in the U.S. accompanied by the iPhone-bashing Droid Does marketing campaign.

Verizon threw its weight firmly behind the new Motorola flagship, even licensing the Droid trademark from Lucasfilm (that’s why the phone shipped in the rest of the world under the less attractive Milestone moniker). Screens were already beginning to grow by this point and the Motorola Droid boasted a 3.7-inch display with an impressive 854×480 pixel resolution, a 600MHz TI processor, 256MB of RAM, and 512MB of storage, but with a 16GB microSDHC card included. It also had a 5MP camera and, though it shipped with version 2.0 of Android, it got all the updates up to version 2.2.3.

This release put Android on the map in the U.S. and Verizon sold 250,000 units in the first week, which made it the fastest selling Android smartphone to date. It would go on to sell an estimated 1.05 million in the first 74 days and over 2 million in its first year. It also spawned a long list of successors from Motorola.

Verizon’s Droid brand was so successful Stateside, expanding to include releases from HTC as well as Motorola, that the brand almost became synonymous with Android itself.


Google Nexus One

Talk of a “Google phone” had circulated for years before the company actually engaged HTC to produce one for it. The Nexus One was released in January 2010 and sold directly through a web store, as a SIM-free unlocked handset. The Nexus One shipped with stock Android and an unlockable bootloader, which made it a popular choice for developers. The main highlight was a lightning fast 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor backed up by 512MB of RAM. There was also a 3.7-inch AMOLED with a resolution of 800×480 pixels, though HTC later switched to Super LCD citing shortages.

It struggled to live up the hype, but it established an important precedent – Google could get into the hardware game. Sales were widely supposed to be disappointing, Flurry estimated 135,000 in the first 74 days, but many attributed that to the direct sales strategy which meant a large upfront cost for buyers.

Image nexus-one-three-press-shots-revised-e1268862219189.jpeg

HTC Desire

HTC certainly didn’t lose out because of the modest Nexus One sales figures. The HTC Desire was essentially a modified Nexus One and it was a monster hit. It launched in the summer of 2010, with a staggered release worldwide, and the review scores were stunning. It was my first Android smartphone and coming from an old Nokia N95 8GB (which was about as good as feature phones got) the Desire was mind-blowing.

It won a few phone of the year titles and it sent HTC’s stock soaring, but it wasn’t without competition.

thumb_550_HTC Desire

Samsung Galaxy S

The Samsung Galaxy S was like a template for the strategy that Samsung would use to dominate the Android landscape for the next few years. It launched on 110 carriers in 100 countries over the summer of 2010 and it had the specs to match the Desire and the Nexus One. Samsung was happy to provide exclusive variants for all the big (and small) U.S. carriers, so there was the Vibrant, Captivate, Epic 4G, Fascinate, Mesmerize, Startosphere, Showcase, Indulge, and on and on. The Indulge didn’t land until 2011, but it was the first 4G LTE smartphone in the U.S. closely followed by HTC’s Thunderbolt.

Manufacturers have become pretty cagey about releasing sales figures, so you know a smartphone has been really successful when they crow about them at every opportunity. Samsung had sold 24 million Galaxy S handsets as of the start of 2013.


HTC Evo 4G

It didn’t come close to some of the company here in terms of sales, although it was Sprint’s top-selling launch day phone, but we have to briefly mention the HTC Evo 4G. It was similar to the WinMo HTC HD2 and it boasted a 4.3-inch display backed by a solid set of specs. That display was unusually big in the summer of 2010 when it launched.


Motorola Atrix 

Strictly speaking the LG Optimus 2X was the world’s first dual-core smartphone, but the Atrix hit the market at the beginning of 2011 and it combined the Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor with a stunning qHD display (4-inches with a 540×960 pixel resolution). There were also a range of innovative accessories for the Atrix, including a laptop dock that transformed the phone into a laptop. Despite great review scores the Atrix struggled to really take off, but it was an innovative release.


Samsung Galaxy S2

A 1.2 GHz dual-core processor (1.5GHz in some variants), 1GB of RAM, a 4.3-inch AMOLED, and an 8MP camera, the S2 pushed the spec war to a new level and firmly established Samsung as the flagship king. It launched in May 2011 and was praised for its performance and its slim and stylish design. With over 40 million units sold so far, a string of awards and universally high review scores, do we really need to say any more?


Galaxy Nexus

Towards the end of 2011 Google and Samsung got together and had a beautiful baby. The Galaxy Nexus was the launch device for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and it was also the first device to get Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. It represented a real change of direction in terms of design, with a true HD 4.65-inch Super AMOLED display with curved glass and no physical buttons on the front face. It had a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and came in 16GB or 32GB variants. The 5MP camera was a slight disappointment for some, as was the omission of a microSD card slot. On the whole, though, the reviews were glowing and many people named the Galaxy Nexus the best Android smartphone on the market.


Motorola Droid Razr Maxx

2012 started with a bang as Motorola tried to blend the successful Droid brand with the legendary Razr. The Maxx variant is especially noteworthy because it tried to address everyone’s biggest smartphone complaint – battery life. Combining a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED with a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, and an 8MP camera, the Maxx was powered by a 3300mAh battery without getting too chunky. Finally, an Android smartphone that could last a couple of days of normal use between charges, it may not have set the world alight, but it offered new hope for people tired of running out of juice.


Samsung Galaxy S3

The HTC One X hit the market ahead of the S3 and many reviewers thought it would signal a comeback for HTC, but things turned out differently. The Galaxy S3 pushed it to the cutting edge again with a 1.4 GHz quad-core processor (1.5GHz dual-core in some variants), 1GB or 2GB of RAM, an 8MP camera, and 16GB or 32GB of storage with the option to expand via microSD by another 64GB. The 4.8-inch Super AMOLED caught the public imagination, and suggestions that it was too big were soon proved wrong.

The Galaxy S3 really wasn’t much different from the HTC One X on paper, but it absolutely dominated in the marketplace. To date it has sold over 50 million units, which makes it the best-selling Android smartphone of all time, by a distance.


Google Nexus 4

The latest Google smartphone was produced by LG and it offers a solid set of specs and sexy, premium design. We’re talking about a 4.7-inch display, 1.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2 GB of RAM, 8 or 16 GB of internal storage, and an 8MP camera, but the reason it’s worthy of inclusion on the list is the price tag. In line with Google’s usual strategy the handset is available SIM-free direct from the website and, starting at $299 (£239), it’s not tough to work out why the first batch of stock sold out faster than expected.

Its Achilles’ heel is a lack of LTE support, but otherwise reviews have been universally positive and it may be Google’s best-selling smartphone to date (we just don’t know because they refuse to release numbers). One thing’s for sure, you won’t find a similar quality of phone at that price anywhere else.

LG Nexus 4

Honorable mentions

There are undoubtedly quite a few other Android smartphones that could have pushed for inclusion here. That’s one of the major strengths of the Android platform – the sheer diversity of handsets on offer.

The ZTE Blade has sold millions at the budget end of the market. The Sony Xperia line has produced some nice phones, not least the most recent Xperia Z. The Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note 2, and LG Optimus G Pro are hybrid devices really, but they’d make some people’s lists. The HTC One and Galaxy S4 are likely to push for inclusion when they hit the market. If you want to nominate something then justify your choice in the comments.

[poll id=”256″]

  • Jo Co

    HTC Desire Z was one of my best phone ever

    • lil bit

      I had that also, but it was not much good all, the keyboard was not so good and some keys got bad after only 4-5 months use, plus the HTC Sense was a constant source of crash, hang, freeze, it lagged badly because of all the bloat, and it had SOD issues. SOD was a big problem on that model, i know of others who had Desire Z and sold theirs after short time. Good display and felt solid though, the Z mechanism was real nice.

      No doubt the worst phone i ever had.

  • lil bit

    Many sidesliders in that list. I had many qwerty side sliders and i found the Xperia Pro to be very best, the keyboard was in a class on its own, its a phone i will remember both for stability and the excellent performance (for a single core), was also very solid, it fell down countless times, had many visible damages but it never broke.

    • o0o.paw

      I have to agree with you on this, I am still using my Xperia Pro. The screens too small but the keyboard is something I am loath to let go of. As soon as a phone is released with a keyboard as good as this one (if ever) I might consider replacing it.

      • Lil bit

        The keyboard is so good that I used to chat from the Pro even when I was by the laptop.

        • whoknowswhereor

          you must suck at typing on a real keyboard lol jk (personally i do 100wpm) so no comparison to a mobile keyboard.

          • lil bit

            You must suck at mobile typing lol. Well, i type faster on a pc of course but the Xperia Pro is very fast for sideslider addicts, i had many before the Pro, with the best device and highly experienced thumbs it was more than fast enough. How fast do you need to type in chat anyway? Not super fast, the laptop didnt offer me any obvious advantages.

  • MasterMuffin

    I voted for Galaxy Nexus, it was just so different and good at the time (and still is!). “A 1.2 GHz dual-core processor (1.5GHz in some variants), 1GB of RAM, a 4.3-inch AMOLED” you could also add that there were 4.5″ variations also :)

    • tomn1ce

      isn’t the display 4.65″?

      • MasterMuffin

        Talking about what he wrote about sgs2, that’s why there are those → ” “

  • Woohooo.. the only 2 android phones I had to date are on the list. The HTC Desire was my first android phone and now I am with a Nexus 4. Both devices are very good indeed. The Desire is still alive and kicking although I has been relegated to a spare phone/remote/gaming/mp3 player… still can be used for everyday use…

    • Ivan Myring


      • Casual gaming… angry birds and some other games for my kids :)

        • Ivan Myring

          OK, i thought that hardcore gaming wouldn’t work too well on such an old phone

  • Rohail

    Where’s the Galaxy Note 2? I’m in love with this thing! XD

  • Rohail

    Note 2 is definitely significant enough to be on the list though

    (It soo should’ve been on the list)

  • MrMLK

    Galaxy Note 2. Only Android phone that made me consider dumping my iPhone. Now I would never go back.

    • aqkhan

      You’re on the money. No other phone has what the Note ” has to offer a user.

  • Ron S

    Another Note 2 vote here. Easily the most useful phone!

  • Juris

    htc desire hd

  • rickneworleansla

    The Note I and Note II should both be at the top of this list.

  • Mahmud Almahdi

    HTC One.

    • U1HTC

      Must agreed one

  • Magneira

    suck up for those who bash the nexus 4 for not having lte support… just look at the pool…

  • U1HTC

    Htc one would be the winner

  • SonyFan

    Cote here for XPERIA Z

  • David M Whittley

    Galaxy Note II still has no challenges.

  • Evan Feldman

    OPPO Find 5!!!!

  • osc707

    GNote 2

  • Atrix? Really?! Come on!

  • whoknowswhereor

    There is no comparison, at this point, the GS4 and the Note 2 takes the crown as the most powerful practical mobile phone ever made. One with s-pen one without.

  • Emma

    Galaxy S2 for me. Its the first Android phone that made the ENTIRE world recognise Android as the best OS.

    Honourable mentions:
    Galaxy Nexus, simply because it came with ICS which I still consider to be the most important (not saying its the best) Android version.
    HTC Desire: phone was ahead of its time. Simple as that.
    Galaxy S3: First Android phone that beat the iphone of its time totally. It was so good, that it even beat the iphone that was released several months after.
    Finally, Google Nexus 4: One word – price. Plus what it means for the default carrier model.

  • Max Cripe

    Samsung Galaxy Note II

  • Droid x all the way lol. People can say what they want about it but it has good performance and has stood the test of time. While all my other friends have had phones from the list above, all of theirs have broken either through cracked screens or fried processors. Mine is past its 2 year birthday and is still going strong, no cracks, few if any hicups.

    • 702mike

      The X was a tank… mines still in great shape. Wasn’t it one of the first, if not the first 4.3″ screen also?

      • im not sure, it was definatly the first on verizon though. It had the largest screen when i went into purchase mine from verizon lol. Just curious but did yours ever end up getting black dots on the bottom of your screen?

  • AverageUser

    What no Droid Pro?!?!?!?!?!?!? JK lol

  • tomn1ce

    Nice to see both devices that I have owned on the list….The OG Droid, my first smartphone and the vzw G-Nexus…The Droid does commercials from Motorola/Vzw and its physical keyboard was what got me to pick up the OG Droid back then…After reading and comparing it to other devices in 2009 not to mention that my LG Voyager was on its last leg by then…

  • Panos

    Galaxy note 2 you dumbs. This is the best

  • Alan Shearer

    I nominate the Sony Ericcsson Xperia PLay. Why you may ask. First phone to ever successfully integrate a built in quality controller with an expansive library of compatible (and optimized) titles, and yet still have solid phone capabilities. Yea it had a slow 1 ghz processor and low memory at 512 mb, but to this day it still plays many modern games with little slowdown, even Dungeon Hunter 4, which works with the built in controller.

    • lil bit

      Dead thread i know but… Xperia Mini should have been mentioned, it is still the best compact Android ever made, insanely powerful at the time, and too cheap at the same time, and still today it outperforms all lower end Androids by quite a margin. I still have one, and im using it quite a bit. Only negative i can say about the Mini is that the 3G signal quality could be better, its bigger siblings had better signal so i guess its the antenna design in the small body that is the problem. The GSM signal is however very good, better than Galaxy S3 and Note 2.

      No doubt the most epic compact phone, best value for money, when the ZTE Blade was mentioned then Xperia Mini should have been mentioned as well. I have respect for the Blade, very good phone, great display for its class, amazing battery performance, feels so solid and durable, but the camera and processor is lightyears behind the epic Mini. GAs photo compare tool clearly shows that the Mini beats newer flagships like HTC Butterfly.

  • tt

    wow htc made good phones

  • Daniele

    HTC One, of course. It’s the best of the best

  • fgg

    Xperia Z is the best

    • APai

      …the only flagship which is waterproof

    • Rohan Makkar

      only when you love facebook so much that you check your notifications even when in water

  • Genius Thoughts Maker

    Where is Xperia Arc ?

    stupid and fanatic asian people

    • harrold


  • Alberto Vidaña Bribiesca

    Note 2

  • Jaiy

    Note 2. It’s simply bigger, better and more versatile than SGS3 for example.

  • Earth Republic

    I chose the Galaxy SIII, simply because it was the first single Android phone to challenge the iPhone for dominance. My secondary choices: LG Nexus 4, for its killer design and Google backing, Motorola Droid for its starting of the Android revolution, and the Samsung Galaxy Note II, for its integrated stylus and large screen.
    My personal choice of those would probably be the Nexus 4. Gotta love pure Android :)

  • I´m missing the OPPO Find 5 !!!!!

  • chuebner

    My favorite is the Galaxy note 2. No more dragging around a tablet and a phone. Can’t wait for the Note 3 to hit the market.

  • Can we stop saying Nexus 4 doesn’t have LTE support? Anyone who owns a Nexus 4 knows how to enable LTE on it.

  • Where HTC sensation XL, One X, One X+, Droid DNA ….?

  • It’s the Note 2. Should be on the list.

  • Desire HD worthy of a mention – definite upgrade on the Desire. I just upgraded mine this year and it was a solid performer.

  • carlisimo

    How about the Incredible? I didn’t have one, but it seemed like a big deal at the time.

  • Jaime Larios

    Note 2. The Multiwindow along with the s pen functionality are wonderful tools for anyone

  • Mitthrawn

    Galaxy note 2. Ppl still stop me and ask what it is ( in a good way). Never seen so much phone envy as when i got my note 2.

    • CoolCustomer

      Yeah, I’m surprised the Note 2 was not on this list.

  • CoolCustomer

    Honestly, I voted for the Nexus One since it really was the turning point for android imo, in the sea of clunky, black boxes that was android handsets at the time it really stood out. Had Google through in a simultaneous carrier release as well the android landscape would be vastly different.

  • TomasHunter

    HTC Evo LTE, awesome phone; I wish I could test out the LTE speeds here in Denver though.

  • Lowry Brooks

    Evo was the first real iPhone challenger. Such a great phone at the time.

  • Go nexus 4 :-)

  • even htc one x is supposed to be in that list

  • Mark

    nexus 4. No argue

  • Nic Romero

    (It soo should’ve been on the list)

  • utsav shah

    If we are talking about some legendary phones then why are we missing the great Xperia X10 ?

  • Galaxy Note & Note 2 deserve a top spot in this article. Introduction of the term PHABLET, use of the s-pen, the great battery life, amazing specs and benchmark rating, sales numbers. MY VOTE IS GALAXY NOTE 2.

  • Xiaomi M2 S

  • black.marque

    Samsung Galaxy NOTE 2..

  • Erich Faun

    Nexus 4 for me
    Just have to love stock android 4.2 and a $300 price tag

  • MMMera

    how about galaxy s4???

  • salvucci

    Note II is the best easy!!! S2 was also great.

  • Ala

    Galaxy Note and Note 2 !
    Read all these comments and you’ll know which should be on top of the list !

  • RobertBlackwood

    Pound for pound, remembering what there was before, it has to be the HTC desire.

  • satish

    Its note2

  • magnifico17

    why is the xperia z not listed?

  • chip richolds

    Razr Maxx HD…Insanely Awesome

  • inda mitchell

    Galaxy Note 2. It’s a beautiful powerhouse that exceeds my every expectation.

  • I vote for the HTC Evo 4g. It was head and shoulders above anything when it came out. It started the large screen revolution. At the time nothing was even close to it.

  • Nice list. Needs more Note II.

  • enzrovt

    You totally missed Dell streak – at the time it was launched, noone of the halfwit columnists allover the globe grasped the paradigm shift represented by this visionary – device. Most of comments were like who on earth would use 5 inch mobile? Me, for example. After 25 years in it I finally put my last home laptop to sleep as I needed it no more. This device announced the new wea – twighlight of windows and dawn of really usable mobile computing. Pay some respect!

  • enzrovt

    (Oh yes, im on note 2 eagerly looking forward for the 3)

  • DK

    Optimus G

  • imran bangi

    only s3………………..

  • kas

    hands down….galaxy note 2

  • Django

    I know it technically isn’t an Android phone but it can be and considering all other features, I believe the best smartphone of all time is HTC HD2. Out of these listed here I vote for SGS2 for his immense significance at the time.

  • Bacon

    Galaxy s4 and note 2

  • antiAppleSamsungHTC


  • nishantsirohi123

    LG optimus one

  • Galaxy Note II. Original Galaxy Note opened up a whole new category, while the Note II made it immensely popular.

  • ex.consumer

    HTC Rezound – never marketed hard and late to get ICS, but even now a fine fone.

  • As far as top specs go, the list is above probably accurate, but when you factor in Spec to price comparisons, i dont think there is anything better than the Motorola Razr i, and i am expecting that the K900 that releases next week will be beaten in terms of price to spec ratio.
    Yes, its great to have phones that do absolutely everything, and continue to push boundaries of customer expectations, But i strongly suspect that the K900 may end up outselling the Galaxy S4 in the first 12 months of their release dates, as the K900 will be a much better value phone than the S4..

  • Sandikow

    Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is the best smartphone i think

  • harrold

    Galaxy Note / Galaxy Note 2 and the coming 3

  • woow
    1st and 3rd place for sammy :P

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 2 it unique and awesome phones

  • RobertMahoney

    Note 2 put an end to this iPhone fanboy.

  • Ernest Patterson

    note 2

  • Motorola Defy, for sure! Thanks to those marvellous devs at xda-devs, it’s the only phone which kept me hooked (and it is still my main phone) for 2+ years! And I’ve using smartphones for the last 10 years, since the days of the old Palm devices.

  • Mohan

    Galaxys S3 is the first ever phone to dethrone iPhone…. that tells the story…

    • Chino Kairo

      Absolutely right.

  • Mark Mann

    my first(and favorite) android phone was the original droid…i bought it for the physical keyboard, and then never used the keyboard…but i held onto that phone until the droid razr was released…and it was still going strong…

  • Paulo

    Best phone ever build is …. Acer Cloud Mobile.
    Great design, great features!

  • FDRS

    Motorola Photon, with HDMI output and FULL 1080HD Video recorder, memory input and a base for connect it to a HDTV. For me, the most complete cellular on market.

  • Roland

    Seriously, guys. Xiaomi Mi2S. As of now.

  • Jenny O’Farrell

    Yet another vote for Galaxy Note 2.

  • Cambodia Droid

    you guys forgot Pantech, Pantech is third largest phone brand in Korea, they produce many high quality phones with reasonable prices, they also sell their phone in US, but their main market is in Korea. Just search keyword “Sky, VEGA, Vega Racer, Iron…” you will know how popular of this brand is in Asia.

    Sent from my Pantech VEGA A830L

  • asaini007

    EVO 4G all the way. Pushed Android into the large-screen space it resides in today. The Note line is also nice.

  • eclipse

    My Vibrant was the top of the mountain when I got it, is still a top contender, however the !@#$% GPS never worked and that was a constant dealbreaker for me. CM9 made it an awesome device, but my S2 with CM 10 is exactly what I need from both form factor and performance. I don’t need a Phablet, I have a Xoom, so the S3 and S4, while sweet devices, are too big for my taste.

  • U1HTC

    HTC One awesome Phone one of the best Phone So far till date.
    Did u know y i choose HTC One over Note2 becoz this poll for Phones not for Phablet

  • Mogambo

    HTC Droid DNA

  • HonestyHurts

    One recommendation to Mr. Simon Hill, be honest and post this on Apple Authority cause you definitely are not an Android user. Only an Apple Fan would go ahead and pick all the average phones and leave out THE NOTE. Cause haters like Simon are all over, they post as Android users but really when you read the article you know the person is an Apple fan boy picking up phones that are ugly to hurt Android; and for sure they cant stand that Note crushed all the Apple Iphones from 1,2,3….10 (still to come).

    When Samsung introduced Galaxy Note series, Apples days were over. There are videos of people all over youtube saying “Apple should be making phones like Note not just toys”.

    This is why I hate the new Tech authors or news reporters they are no different than CNN or FOX supporting Apple and bias out to make Samsung look like they are just copying.

    Why don’t you change and add two phones: Note and Note 2. Then you will know the result

  • Don

    now android top phone is LG G2 /G3

  • MattEgansHairLine

    Funny how they only got good when they stared using IOS’s UI, try to copy the UX, basically the less it looks and feels like roid and the more it looks and feels like iOS, the better it has got.

    Why does iOS look behave pretty much the same as it’s release, where as roid has morphed in an Apple clone from its start as a blackberry clone to a Nokia sidekick clone.