Best smartphones 2013

It has been a couple of years now since Flurry pointed out that smartphones, specifically Android and iOS devices, are the fastest adopted consumer technology of all time. Ownership may be reaching saturation in some markets, but that growth is still on the rise worldwide. Around one billion smartphones shipped last year and the total is likely to be even higher this year.

Since the first Android device landed in October 2008, the improvements to mobile technology have come thick and fast. We tend to take smartphones for granted, but the innovation has been astounding. That pace can’t be maintained indefinitely, every technology reaches a point where advancement slows.

How do manufacturers convince us to upgrade when our existing smartphones are still really good? What’s missing from your current device? Does the next round of supposed must-have features really grab you? What do you really want in your new phone? Let’s take a look at some specific developments in more detail and explore the downsides.

Bezel-less screens

Bezel-less GS5 and Nexus 5

We’ve taken an in-depth look at bezel-less smartphones before and there’s no denying that they look great, but how practical are they really? With a bezel-less design the likelihood of accidental touches when you’re handling the phone goes up. The chances of your screen being damaged if you drop it goes up and that’s potentially exacerbated by the fact that a case is going to cover the sides of the screen or make using the touch screen all the way to edge more difficult.

Curves and flexibility

samsung galaxy round flexible display curved screen (3)

The first round of curved phones with flexible displays has been gimmicky and disappointing. It’s going to be a while before we see something really awesome in this category. In the short term, flexible displays are about improving durability and enabling new form factors, but until the rest of the components are flexible too the possibilities are limited. A smartphone that can fold out to tablet size would be a huge hit, but who really wants a slightly curved display?

4K display

It’s not the first time we’ve asked do we need smartphones with 4K displays? The obvious answer is no, but the real question is do we want smartphones with 4K displays? We haven’t quite reached the limits of the human eyeball and many of us do occasionally hold our smartphone displays very close to our faces, so it’s conceivable that we’ll see an improvement in picture quality. Is that slight improvement in screen quality going to be worth the extra processing power and battery life required to run it?

Right now there doesn’t seem to be any pressing need to break past full HD 1080p resolution, but we’re already seeing 2K displays, so it feels inevitable. As more 4K content is produced and we get used to higher resolutions in our TVs and elsewhere, then perhaps it’s something you’ll want on your smartphone, but today it feels like overkill.



Do we really need biometric security on our smartphones? The Touch ID feature on the iPhone 5S inevitably ignited this topic, even although the Motorola Atrix featured a fingerprint scanner a couple of years before, and now Samsung has added it to the Galaxy S5. A PIN is actually pretty secure, but most people don’t use one because it’s an inconvenience. The fingerprint scanner is supposed to solve this and provide a quick and easy way in, which is fine when it works, but hugely frustrating when it doesn’t. That’s why both systems have a backup PIN entry option.

What do we really want?

When manufacturers push time, money, and effort into new headline grabbing features are they diverting resources from the things we really want? Technology doesn’t advance without R&D and we know early adopters often get burned, but today’s gimmick can develop into tomorrow’s must-have feature, so we have to accept a bit of this if we want advances.

There are a handful of things that we can probably agree we all want in a new phone and they really haven’t changed much over the last few years.

More battery life

It still tops the polls as the biggest issue most people have with their smartphone. Batteries have grown bigger and there have been significant improvements in software efficiency, but thanks to bigger screens, spec bumps, and more features it doesn’t feel as though battery life is any better. We don’t necessarily need bigger batteries and we certainly don’t want the bulk that would inevitably add, but there are other ways to tackle this issue.

Continued improvements to wireless charging and the addition of solar panels, maybe through solar cells in the screen, could provide a boost without the convenience hit. A method of fully charging a smartphone battery much more quickly would also have a major impact. What if you could charge your battery in less than a minute? There has been research in these areas, so it would be nice to see a big manufacturer pursuing them.

Better camera

Z2 20.7MP camera in Japan

We’ve had a megapixel war and cameras have improved dramatically since the earliest examples on mobile phones, but there are two areas that could use more attention. We want smartphone cameras that can capture a decent shot instantaneously. No wasted seconds as you open up the camera app and wait for the focus, by which time you’ve missed it. We also want better low-light performance. Cameras are still a big differentiator for smartphones, which is great because it drives innovation, but there’s still room for improvement.

Extra storage

The disproportionate expense of extra onboard storage in smartphones is truly annoying. Why do manufacturers over charge us for built-in storage? Is it just because they can? The limitations and potential problems with microSD cards make them an imperfect solution. There is an argument that the platform providers are deliberately trying to push us into using cloud storage and this would suit the carriers too because you’re more likely to use your data allowance. Is there a good reason that we don’t have 64GB smartphones as standard? Looking at the most extreme example, the difference between a 16GB iPhone 5S and a 64GB model is $200.

What else do we want?

Everyone’s wish list is going to be slightly different. The move towards more rugged phones that can withstand dust and water is good. It would be nice if they could withstand drops without a case as well, but that clashes with making devices thinner and increasing the body to screen ratio.

As screens get larger, and we watch more video on them, better speakers would be welcome. The audio quality on most smartphones lags way behind the visual quality and we don’t want to have to wear headphones all the time.

Call quality, Wi-Fi speeds, the ability to maintain a signal, and improved GPS are all issues that crop up all too often on modern smartphones. They should handle the basics properly.

What do you think? Are you tempted by new developments on the horizon, or do they feel like gimmicks to you? If you could cut out a feature like biometric security and take a discount instead would you do it? Would you prefer incremental improvements to the main existing features over something entirely new? Post a comment and weigh in.

[poll id=”510″]

Simon Hill
Simon is an experienced tech writer with a background in game development. He writes for various websites and magazines about the world of tech and entertainment. He uses Android every day and is currently permanently attached to his Galaxy Note 5.
  • MasterMuffin

    Can we have a poll please? :)

    • Anonymousfella

      Nice idea!

    • You got it.

      • MasterMuffin

        Thank you! :)

  • Dimitar Gospodinov

    I don’t see alluminium here but it seems it is the most important part of a phone…cough…lol

  • Rob Triggs

    Battery life and cameras for me, everything is already pretty much as good as it needs to be (for now).

  • raultt

    I think waterproofing is a useful feauture that should be part of every new phone.

    • Aar0nC

      I’m a bit surprised that at this point, waterproofing and dust protection isn’t an industry standard. I’m glad that sony and samsung are pushing this feature into their line of mobile phones and I hope that all the other manufactures take notice and follow this trend.

      • OHyeahIPHONE

        when the new iphone comes out it will have some real innovation. THOSE innovation is what i will want in my future phone. Iphone FTW!!!

        • MadCowOnAStick

          get a life troll haha
          what innovation
          pretty much useless (for now) 64-bit processing? that’s about it

          • Thatch

            64 bit doesn’t matter on iPhone anyway, it only has one gig of ram.

        • Airyl

          iPhones aren’t really innovative anymore. Then again, not much is. The most innovative right now appears to be Motorola. Oppo and OnePlus seem promising as well.

  • cholera23


    • Guest123

      I’m with you. . . probably on my last Android device, unless Ubuntu can’t get it together.

  • Stas

    Absolutely breakthrough in battery technology

  • pytajnik

    I want a Z1 compact sized phone with a _really_ good camera and premium build quality

  • thecokedragon

    Extra storage, a decent enough camera (and 8MP, at least!), removable back/battery are all great features. A great amount of internal storage would be great too (64GB should be standard by now). And some IR for use as a universal remote? (As much as this may seem like a gimmick to those who don’t have it, i have a G2 set to my Verizon STB and TV and use the remote daily and a great deal at that)

    And let’s not forget a great SoC. This is variable and what’s on paper isn’t enough to decide what’s great; it’s all in the implementation and how it performs in everyday situations, so i won’t detail what makes a great SoC.

    And let’s please not forget battery life. If you own a device with great life (G2, MAXX, S5) you’ll know how incredibly invaluable this can be. As a heavy user, this can completely break the purchase of a phone if the raw numbers (mAh) is not enough (2800 on 4.4 KK seems too be the bare minimum).

    But biometrics are definitely not a make-or-break for me.

  • Mayoo

    This is great but the result will be false. Why? Because if your run a N1 or NS, then you want everything. If you run a GNex, you want processor/camera. N4 and N5, probably nothing besides speakers and battery.

    Very subjective poll, but interesting nonetheless.

    • Aar0nC

      Nexus owners also would like MORE memory space too!

  • Mike Bastable

    …..and of course: thoughtful innovation. That is occasional New features or design changes that actually solve issues our introduce new functions, for a recent example of this go use an LGG2

  • Shark Bait

    A big ass battery with a super capacitor!!
    Dual lenses also look real cool

  • Arim

    not really a faster processor, but a more efficient one which doesn’t get that warm and that doesn’t drain the battery that hard in games (maybe better hardware acceleration chips?). I hope this will happen with the new Cortex A 57 chips and the chips that will come after it. But the rest….yes, more full-metal-smartphones would definetely be great and better Cameras which could easily replace compact cameras in every situation would be great.

  • aditya pothani

    Now that HTC has created a sensation with its front facing Boom Sound speakers (stereo)… we love that awesome sound quality from speaker…

    We want a better camera with OIS technology which is damn good in Low light and High lighting conditions indoor or outdoor… we can take LG and HTC…

    Display Not too punchy popping out colours… but with smoother accurate colours display with 1440p resolution… LG is good in displays

    HTC and Samsung is Good in delivering good battery life…. with its new ultra power saving option the phone is doing well and u get it all day…

    I would like a phone with 5″ display LCD3 1440p display… a camera that would record 4K video with OIS technology..better processing…

    Snapdragon 801 processor for now… and battery with 3000mAh…
    Build quality to be aluminium unibody…with curved back comfortable to hold…

    • Aar0nC

      don’t forget adding water resistance and a screen that is resistant to sand

  • adf


    • Aar0nC

      they should make it an industry standard at this point.

  • Better battery and expandable storage otherwise a 500GB phone that isn’t massively overpriced or have the price inflated would also be great.

    • Aar0nC

      i think at lease 32GB internal and expandable through 128GB by SDHC is good enough. It would be a total of 154GB!!

  • asd

    Batter life lasts for weeks/MultiWindow/FingerPrintScanner/SD Card + Iam Sold

  • vickeiy

    Nice job guys, really interesting topic (and I’m not just being sarcastic)

  • John-Phillip Saayman

    Smarter phones, that just learns what you want and you can easily give voice commands to and all that. Our phones still seem a bit dumb when doing complicated things.

  • The Djan

    Why does nobody talk about display size? There is a such a big gap in the market for premium 4.7 inch phones. This nee 5inch standard is so annoying. I can’t enjoy a cell phone that big.

  • Oskya

    1. Battery life.
    2. More storage.
    3. Great speakers. kinda rare these days.

  • Charles

    I want them all! Thats why i will get the Oneplus One!

  • Arturo Raygoza

    bigger battery options on phones, for those of us who will sacrifice the thinness for a little more bulk

  • wezi427

    I want the latest and greatest, but seriously I want to see improvements in battery life. I’m also a fan of SD cards and would like to see Google show more support for that.

  • gils001

    Wow it’s interesting to see that higher resolution screens are on the bottom. Meanwhile every manufacturer is pushing pixels as a selling point.

  • Joachim Nilsson

    Camera, battery and design … my vote hardly unique, but then maybe I should have opted for a Symbian PureView? *dazed and confused* :-P

  • thartist

    It’s missing “Latest Android Version with expected updates”.

    Nothing exists in my book that doesn’t have the latest OR the update to the latest ALREADY available when purchasing a new phone.

    • Aar0nC

      i agree. It would be great if ALL phone manufacture gave people the option to either have the vanilla android experiance or go ahead and use their custom UI version of google, and be able to switch back and forth with no issue. If a new version of android comes out. You could use it NOW but only in vanilla android and later make available the custom manufacture UI version of that android version when it launches. Options is always a good thing.

  • Jose Torres

    Motorola had it right with the Moto X by including useful features like flicking your wrist to turn on the camera and drive/sleep/meeting modes. Though not spectacular, they are surprisingly useful. I’d prefer these sort of things than 4K resolution or curved screens.

  • Aar0nC

    I would like more aftermarket support for android phones, at lease for the main flagship devices. Currently if you want to be creative and have a case to stand out from the rest, you will usually only find a high variety of cases for IPhones and Samsung Galaxy S# phones. How about the other flagship phones? I have a Nexus phone, and i hate how there isn’t much variety when it comes to cases. I personally like lifeproof or trident cases. You know, the tough cases since a cell phone is a big investment and an integral part of one’s life, it deserves phenomenal protection.

  • Aar0nC

    This article should be a mandatory must read to all phone manufacturing design team. Take a look, this is what your customer base want!!

  • Dark_Laser

    I’d like a new phone that isn’t the size of a freaking whale.

  • Mokhtar Mouhib

    personnaly i care more about camera and screen

  • Walter

    For everything mention on this post, the real solution is the Project ARA, because you will be able to select your best solution as you need and don’t waste money on a new smartphone when it’s obsolete because a hardware company doesn’t release more drivers to support on the new android versions.

  • Don

    Dual front facing speakers. :)

    • Andrew White

      why speakers are on the back of phones has been the norm for so long has not been the smartest thing designers have ever done.

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    Dustproofing, Waterproofing, a display with either AMOLED or QD-LED, with a resolution of 1920×1080, an inner casing consisting of either graphene or carbon fiber, 20 megapixel camera, …[insert here]

    • Snapdragon processor

      • TheScienceEnthusiast1130


  • Fingerprint Sensor. IR blaster, Android 4.4 kitkat. IP87 waterproof dust resistance. Quad HD resolution. Aliminium, 20 megapixels that shoots like 55mega pixels. Very good screen like AMOLED! Snapdragon 801. The latest Qualcomm adreno graphics. Heart rate sensor. And the Hyper logo!

  • I don’t know why the Z2 only have a 16 gb model.

  • Science?

    • TheScienceEnthusiast1130


  • Milton

    Something different from android…

  • i want dualboot!

    • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

      What is “dualboot”?

      • Run on your phone iOS 7 and Android!

        • And windows phone!

          • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

            Anything to do with running multiple operating systems?

          • Yes run many apps !

          • TheScienceEnthusiast1130


          • Yes!

    • YES, I want dualboot too. Windows and Android – my ideal phone. Plus stylus – a must pre-requisite.

  • Magnetic1

    I want the phone to be a little more supportive of drivers via otg.
    The OS software should allow for driver download from a place like PlayStore.
    I want to use my smartphone to be the extra display for a snake camera for instance without having to root. And I don’t want to look for usb devices that are android compatible. I want the driver to be available instead.

  • arcwindz

    Okay, so is it already an accepted fact that we will live with big devices?
    The bezel-less design idea is appealing (at least to me) for the fact that it reduces the overall dimension of the devices.
    The current trend is a downward move to what i’m hoping for, the manufacturers are striving for thinner device rather than a small device. And it brings bigger devices each year just to cope with the increasing spec demands while maintaining the thinnest possible battery.
    So what do i want with my new phone? A big breakthrough in the power department. And i believe most people will agree

  • Heisenberg

    The very basics. Better Battery and More Storage. We’ve seen advancements in almost every other category, other than these two.

    • Andrew White

      A swapable or removable battery that can be recharged to 75% in 30 minutes kinda solves one major hurdle (see: Oppo Find 7 review).
      On-board storage needs to be addressed, particularly now with 4k video recording.

  • Rauel Crespo

    More storage. There is absolutely no reason a flagship phone should have 16GB(5GB User accessible) of storage in 2014. With SD-Cards being useless for Apps, and the fact that getting the higher capacity versions of the HTC One(M8) and Galaxy S5 requires either getting an international model or going with a specific carrier I think the base model storage for Flagships should start at at LEAST 32GB. Considering it cost literally pennies(or less) to go from 16GB to 32GB for the manufacturer, I find it annoying. I decided against upgrading from my 32GB HTC One(M7) to the new HTC One(M8) because HTC decided to Samsung it and put a piddling 16GB on the ONLY model available to my carrier, and only giving the end user 6GB of space for apps. The fact that websites like Android Authority, Android Central, Android Police, Android and Me, Phandroid Etc, gloss over this fact when reviewing phones is probably the most insulting part.

    The sad part is, I think it’s going to take Apple making the entry level version of the iPhone6 32GB or 64GB(remember when the Base Model iPhone was only 8GB?) in order for the Android makers (and sites like Android Authority) to take notice…or in reality stop turning a blind eye to an increasingly annoying issue.

  • Andrew White

    An Oppo Find 7 with a 64 bit chipset and waterproofing added.
    Through the rapid charger in for an extra $25 and a SanDisk 128GB SD in also for half price.

  • Uffe_Malmo

    For me, only one thing. Wireless charging. Its so annoying that my brand new M8, that more or less has “Everything”, lacks this. I would sacrifice 4K, Biometrics, curved displays and so on for getting rid of those micro-usb cables.

    • With aluminium case, I think it’s not possible to have wireless charging.

  • Salman Thaw

    I think it’s clear from the way the poll is going is that people want better phones, more than phones with new things on them. I think phone makers should focus less on 4K screens and more on getting less battery draining screens. More durable screens, better viewing angles, better color representation, lower battery use, not just “MORE PIXELS.”

    The sad thing is that the marketing departments probably tell product management what they want in their next phones. 4K sounds better than “better color representation” or “viewing angles,” so that’s the one that they’ll get. Thinness is also very marketable – so that trumps battery life any day. Audio quality is less marketable than screen quality, so it’s less important. Phones need to stand out from other phones in crowded stores where you won’t be conducting audio tests.

    It’s sad that marketing designs phones that the engineers have to develop. It should be product managers and engineers that make phones that marketers have to sell.

  • I want Ubuntu for Android back or full integrated Android app compatibility in an Ubuntu Touch phone with desktop capability. Hell, I’ll settle for any desktop distro integration at this point on something newer than Gingerbread.

  • M3D1T8R

    #1: Signal strength.
    #2: 64GB internal + SD slot.
    #3: Compact design with slim side bezels. (<68mm width), but still high end flagship specs.
    #4: Good quality _front_ speaker(s).
    #5: Decent camera with fast shutter and good low light performance.

  • xd feng

    Samsung states that they have been developing new products, but on the other hand , they say the new products are only updated on the basics of original versions in the short term. Maybe they will renew the rigid flex circuits, like enforce a new type of FPC cables for the connection.

  • ALCapitalist

    Would love to have a decent 2 way sync with Outlook. Somebof us are actually business people. Don’t want to switch to Windows phone but will if Samsung can’t fix Kies sync.

  • Vai

    Why can’t manufacturers look at obvious results like this.. We don’t want stupid finger print scanners… We want the best cameras and best battery life, where in Samsungs market research does it say everyone loves plastic, everyone wants a finger print scanner and everyone loves cheap looking designs? The same goes for HTC and their market research… Who on earth wants the 4 ultrapixel camera from last year? Nobody, everyone complained about it so who thought it was a good idea to use it again? Also… Where in everyone’s market research does it say everyone wants refocus?

    Give us what we really want

  • cyapalmos

    Bug free software!

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  • A Snapdragon 801 paired with an HD screen. *drools at gaming performance* And any camera that’s above four megapixels and produces a nice image.

  • Ruz

    Does this article really help us in getting what we want? Are manufacturers really listening to us?

    1. Good battery sure which can last us atleast a week (call it has fantasy)

    2. Good design (only important if i am buying that premium phone)
    3. Great Speakers (yes good loud volume speakers r required)
    4. Awesome DAC’s (yea i do want internal DACs from HiFi audio manufacturers, not happy with SOC dacs capability)
    5. Latest radios (FM, TV, BT4.1, Wifi AC, etc. generally they fail to pack it all)
    6. IR Blaster and good software and support for all remotes
    7. Rugged, water proofing, dust proof (we want to protect our investments)

    8. Noice cancelling stereo mics.. (I want the best of mics to be build in the phone for superior call quality and recording voice notes around me)
    9. DSLR quality camera phone (i know only possible in dreams)

    10. Projector screen (yea i dont want to plug my phone everytime to my TV)

    11. More storage (can someone comeup with 256GB+ capacity, if ipod classic can have then why not mobile phones)
    12. GPS chip and not software based GPS

    I dont think anything else is important to me..

    Remember all the features are necessary and even a single missing feature will lead to disappointment while buying

    Still till Today i have to carry voice recorder, camera, mobile phone and also mp3 player which are best in their respective field. None of the phones are replacing these gadgets for me till today…

  • Michael Talon Marshall

    At 1080p displays I’m so content.
    I picked,
    1. Battery Life.
    2. Better Camera
    3. Faster processor.

    Those are like my, essentials for phone upgrading. Rugged build get’s an honorable mention. Dust/water proof is nice, but drop proof is like the most important. But I’m used to Otter box defenders.

    Lol. It’s funny to see how far we’ve come when things like, “call quality” don’t make the liat besides the ambiguous other.

  • loloyd

    I want an anti-theft technology that goes like this: you wear something on you, like a wrist-watch or a necklace. Embedded in it is a RF chip (or a transponder or a proximity sensor or something on that line) that turns off a loud squealing feature on your phone when it goes far from you while you are wearing that watch or necklace.