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What do you think is the best phone of the year?

This Friday Debate we talk about what we think is the best phone of the year. In a twist, we are now featuring comments from forum users, in addition to Team AA responses.

Published onNovember 21, 2014

samsung galaxy note 4 vs galaxy s5 quick look aa (1 of 7)

Every Friday for well over a year, we’ve expressed our team’s thoughts on various Android-related issues in a feature series we call Friday Debate. Generally speaking, the format has changed very little since its inception. This week, however, we’re switching things up a little bit.

You might like: Best Android Smartphones.

While we’ll still focus on one topic and post responses from our team members, we also are now involving the community as well! Ahead of this article, we asked our forum users the question “What do you consider the best smartphone of the year? Do you have a favorite tablet?” And we received quite a few solid responses. While all the responses were well thought out and worth reading (click here to see them all), we’ll showcase two of the responses that we really felt stood out:

Cowen K. Gittens

Google Nexus 6. Why? Because it’s just awesome.

First of all, it comes with stock Android 5.0 Lollipop right out of the box, with future proof capabilities. This means that you won’t only be first to get Lollipop, but you’ll also get other Android updates in the future. And that’s what I like the most about the Nexus 6.

I was a really big fan of Samsung. I had their Galaxy S3, which at the time was probably the best phone to get. I was more than disappointed when they announced that the S3 I9300, one of Samsung’s best selling flagship smartphones, wasn’t getting an update to KitKat. So knowing that there’s a smartphone out there that will get stock android updates, instead of depending on third parties custom ROMS and launchers, gives me some sort of peace of mind.

Then comes the 13MP camera. From the Shootout done by Android Authority’s Joshua Vegera, the picture qualities are pretty impressive. Maybe not the best, but good enough for me to want to have the phone. I am also interested in the phone’s front facing speakers. Maybe they aren’t as premium as HTC’s, but they seem to produce excellent quality.

Another thing that impressed me about the Nexus 6 is it’s battery life and fast charging capabilities. If I can get at least 6-8 hours of a lot of usage on any device, think that’ll work wonders for me.

The only deterrent I have in regards to the Nexus 6 is the pricing. But considering it’s premium qualities and capabilities compared to other flagship devices from it’s competitors, I think it’s worth the extra cash.

The Pikachu Mafia

For me, the best power house phone of the year is a toss up between the Droid Turbo, the Note 4, and the Nexus 6. If I had to pick just one however, I would probably end up going with the Note 4 (I’m just going to write off Droid Turbo now because you can only get it through Verizon, ewwww). Please bear in mind though that the Nexus 6 is extremely competitive with the Note 4 in my eyes, also I do not own either phone so this is just speculation based off of what I’ve read.

For starters I think the screen size on the Note 4 is better than the Nexus 6. Six inches of real estate screen space is a lot, and takes some getting used to. I have medium sized hands so I think I could manage, but I could certainly see people with smaller hands struggling to use it. In terms of specs, both phones are very similar as well: both have 2K displays, Snapdragon 805 processors, and large batteries that can get you through the day. Samsung also has its signature removable battery and expandable storage. The Nexus 6 does have better sounds quality thanks to its front facing speakers, and I hate how most OEMs put their speakers on the back or bottom. However, it’s not necessarily as huge of a selling point for me personally because I would probably have some in ear headphones on a good amount of the time.

On the other hand, what is a huge selling point for me is that camera. Both phone lines have done a lot to increase the quality of their cameras over the years, however I think the Note 4 does take the edge from various photos I’ve seen on the web. OIS seems to work pretty well on the Note 4. I also kind of like my photos a bit over saturated most of the time, and I think the HDR shots come out better on Samsung’s phone as well. It comes with the S Pen as well, which is a cool little gimmick and a great asset to artists or people who love to multitask.

Not having Lollipop out of the box is of course a downside, although in a few months I believe that will be a moot point. I know that doesn’t change the here and now, but in retrospect it’s not quite as big of an issue. Not getting updates immediately is a downside, however. Overall both phones are amazing and either one could easily be seen as better. They both have their pros/cons and honestly I could see myself changing my opinion to the Nexus 6 in the future because that’s just how close they are in my eyes!

What Team AA has to say

Now that you’ve had a look at what some of our community members think, it’s time for Team AA to weigh in:

Jonathan Feist

I refuse to answer the question of what I think is the number one Android phone of 2014 without mentioning more than one phone. There are strengths in each device, and weaknesses, but more importantly, most of my choices serve a slightly different purpose and certainly mean different things to different people and the industry.

Enough with the stalling, you want to know what I consider the number one Android phone of 2014? The original (2013) Motorola Moto G. Initially released in November of 2013, the Moto G barely had the chance to change the world by the time ‘best of 2013’ lists began rolling out. But change the world it has. As the number one selling Motorola handset of all time, and perhaps the best bang for the buck Android device on the market (even compared to the 2nd Gen. Moto G (2014), at least until 16GB/32GB models come along,) I believe the Moto G has made the most impact on the most Android users this year.

Now, the Moto G is certainly not the most powerful phone, or a phone that shook things up in any way, but it has become a solid reference device, one that I think has reached more users in more ways than even the Nexus 5, in all its glory. Of course, the Nexus 5 could have easily been my choice here today, but I do not believe it made it as far outside of our Android enthusiast community as it could have.

As mentioned, I need to talk about more phones, namely, the OnePlus One and the Nexus 6.

The Nexus 6 is pretty much the most powerful device around, and certainly one of the largest Android phones expected to slide into a person’s pocket. Google has a history of dropping Nexus device after Nexus device that basically rode the wave of technology, releasing with very respectable specs for their time – no other Nexus device has managed to cause such a stir as the Nexus 6.

We’ll leave the conversation for another time, but in releasing a monster of a powerhouse phone, Google’s Nexus 6, built by Motorola, if you needed a reminder, is the first Nexus device that feels like a consumer release, as opposed to being a developer release. Like it or not, that is a huge shift in ideals, well suited to such a huge phone.

Finally, that OnePlus One. Now, bare with me a moment, I do not wish to suggest that the phone, the One itself, is the phone of the year, and I certainly do not want to suggest that OnePlus is the vendor of the year, but what a difference they have made.

OnePlus set out to shake up the industry with their onslaught of “Never Settle” campaigns and social media wins, and losses. While it is my opinion that the phone they pushed out was good, it certainly wasn’t great. On the same note, never settling typically referred to the specs of a device compared to its price, but it is hard to recommend the hassle involved to actually purchase a One, instead of just grabbing something close in price, like the Nexus 5 or original Moto X.

Despite what I perceive as OnePlus failing to reach their goals, I still believe their alternative approach made an impact. No, not on the industry exactly, rather, on consumers. Android consumers were presented with a high-end device at a very reasonable price, and while this may not have stopped many from purchasing phones that sold up to the $1000 mark, it certainly made some people stop to think about what they needed out of a phone.

It may be a stretch to suggest that some of the success of the Moto G is due to people looking at expensive phones, comparing them to the OnePlus One, getting frustrated by the process and walking over to the sub-$200 handset instead, but I know it has happened.

This is why the Moto G is my choice for best Android smartphone of 2014. Plainly put, if you need a solid Android device that will not steer you wrong, that will not break the bank, offers no controversy and only compromises in ways that do not detract from the experience, leaving buyers with little to no regrets, the 2013 Moto G is as good an option as you’re likely to find.

Of course, the Moto G wins this award somewhat posthumously. It is still a solid device, but newer hardware may be the better choice for purchase as we move into 2015.

Eric McBride

I can hardly believe that I’m saying this, but for me personally, I have a clear winner for the best phone of 2014. As a matter of fact, even with all the great devices that have arrived in 2014, this device (for me personally) still has no competition.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is my CLEAR winner for best phone of 2014, and here are my reasons why.

Ever since the arrival of the Galaxy Note 1, I saw very early that the Note line was going to make a massive splash. When I had the Note 1, people were like “what in the name of Odin is that?”. When I moved to the Note 2, people responded with “wow, it’s a huge Galaxy S phone, but looks much better than the one you had before”. On to the Note 3 and people were saying,”boah, it’s big, but that is one sexy….phone?”. The Note 4 basically took the Note 3 and its features, sprinkled some more awesomesauce on top, and the end result is simply stunning.

The Note 4 to me is Samsung’s real flagship. Yes I said it. Premium design, great hardware, and…brace yourselves (as 2 years ago I would have called this blasphemy)…Touchwiz at it’s finest. Now I know what you may be thinking: “There are phones out there now with better hardware”. That may (arguably) be true, but there is one component that makes the Note 4 so great, and I again actually can’t believe that I’m saying this:

The S-pen is not only great, but I’m using it ALL THE TIME.

I have owned 14 Android devices, so it’s not like I’m someone that only rides the Samsung wave. But I simply cannot believe that no other OEM has came up with their own stylus software like Samsung has. With the Note 1 and 2, I rarely used the pen and was more interested in the size and specs. With 187 games installed on my phone, performance and screen size means something to me after all. The Note 1 and 2 provided both. But with my Note 3, I find myself literally using the Spen on a daily basis, and am still dumbfounded that nobody else has developed a phablet with such capabilites.

Now to be fair, I don’t have a Note 4. Will I be buying one? No I won’t, simply because the ROM I run on my Note 3 gives me so many Note 4 features (stay tuned for details on how to get that) that I can’t justify the upgrade. I can tell you now that the Note 4 Spen capability has sold me beyond belief, and that in all honesty, I’m already 90% sure that my next phone will be the Note 5 (unless someone else comes out with a device with similar features). Don’t get me wrong…the Note 4 has some things hardware wise that I would love to have (mainly image stabilization on a hardware level vs software), but I still consider it a minor upgrade if you have a ROOTED Note 3 that can take advantage of Note 4 features.

Samsung has done a hell of a job with this device. Some of the best hardware in the world, great build quality, an ever improving and evolving Touchwiz (which will probably be even better with Lollipop), and an Spen that allows me to do things that no other phone can do. And that’s the bottom line. There might be phones out there just as big or bigger, some a tad faster, some cheaper (way cheaper actually) and some of better build quality, but in terms of offering features that no other phone can accomplish that I actually use, nothing in my eyes comes close to the Note 4.

Matthew Benson

My pick for best phone in 2014 is something that was announced in 2013 (and released, but only in Korea). It was also heavily ridiculed by those who didn’t get it, as a banana phone or novelty item. Yes, I’m talking about none other than the LG G Flex! Despite my having used an insane number of phones in the past year alone, the G Flex has stood out on so many different levels. In particular:

(1) The shape/screen: Sure its not 1080p, but there is something undeniably amazing about a plastic LED. When set to Vivid mode, the display looks almost as saturated as an SAMOLED panel. Likewise, the curve of the phone is both visually impressive, and lends itself quite well to the larger size, as it’s easier to hold and manage.

(2) The software: I know this is going to incite the ire of countless Android purists, but if you ask me, the modified LG skin variant seen on the G Flex is actually everything TouchWiz should be but isn’t. The sheer customization alone is wonderful: you can actually change the layout of the software navigation keys for starters. Then there is the fact that every icon can be replaced with whatever you like. Finally, the default Dark theme looks wonderful if you ask me.

(3) The battery: Hands down the most impressive thing about this phone was the power cell giving it life. I have this ongoing problem with the devices I use: they never live up to the estimates. Even when reading or watching hardware reviews and hearing about how Device X provides Y hours of battery life, it never holds true for me. Heck, last Saturday I had to charge my Nexus 9 twice and by the end of the day it was almost ready for a 3rd time. Maybe it’s because I buy imported devices and therefore they aren’t designed for optimal Japanese frequencies. Maybe I am just unlucky. Either way, the G Flex is just AMAZING. The battery, which LG developed specifically for the phone, can last me a day and a half, if not two, WITH normal/heavy usage. Given the screen size in particular, that is a darn impressive accomplishment.

If I had to pick a runner-up, it would be the Galaxy Note Edge, if only for its interesting use of the Edge display. Still, I had some minor issues with said second screen at times, and the battery and software really don’t hold a candle to the Flex.

Robert Triggs

I’m having a hard time picking a favourite this year. Not because there aren’t any good smartphones, there are plenty, but because none of them are really exemplary. I mean, where’s the excitement?

To me, it seems that the big OEMs are quite happy to rehash the same “perfected” formula from last year. It might produce good phones, but it’s cheap and lazy. So instead, I’m going to award my phone of the year to one that has tried to push the envelope, even though it might not be the most popular handset out there.

My favourite phone this year is the OPPO N3, its hardware competes with the vast majority of other flagships and OPPO has managed to cram in more features than a Swiss Army knife. The swiveling camera hasn’t changed too much from last time, but the remote control option is great for capturing the perfect remote shot. That little O-Click remote is a great addition that I’m surprised no-one else is using. Controlling your music from afar is genuinely useful, as it being able to locate your phone remotely, at least if you’re as forgetful as me.

The fingerprint scanner is also more practical than a lot of other designs, unlocking your phone with a simple touch rather than tedious swipe. Color OS 2.0 may not be perfect, but again the features are put to good use rather than just pointless add-ons. Gesture shortcuts are a particularly useful feature that I try to emulate myself with Nova Launcher.

The N3 doesn’t have the very best hardware, the best looks, and isn’t best value for money, but OPPO has probably tried harder than anyone else to improve over last year’s flagship.

Joe Hindy

This is such a complicated question because there is no clear definition of what makes a phone great, let alone the best. Do we judge by camera, screen, specs, price, or what kind of Android it is running? It could be anything! Much like Jon above, I simply can’t imagine trying to pick out just one phone or tablet, so I will pick out three of each.

Best budget phone and tablet: Moto G and Nexus 7 2013. Both devices will get Lollipop which is not usually the case with budget phones and while the specs are a tad outdated, the price/performance ratio is quite good. Especially with the Moto G. While I’m not a carrier of the “stock Android flag”, I do believe that on budget devices, the less impact OEMs have on the already taxed hardware, the better. Both of these devices run stock (or at least, very close to stock) Android which allows their hardware to be relevant even if its past its prime. They’re cheap, they work well, and they do it for a better price than the competition. My runner up for best budget phone goes to the HTCDesire 816. I’m also aware that the Nexus 7 2013 wasn’t actually released this year but it’s still on the market and there haven’t been many $200 tablets that could compete with it on as many levels as it would take to not include the Nexus 7 2013 in my picks.

Best mid range phone and tablet: HTCOne M8 and the NVIDIA Shield tablet. Say what? The HTCOne M8 is a midrange device? Well, yes and no. If it were a person, it would be “upper middle class” which is still middle class but among the upper echelon of the middle class. It has the price point of a high tier device but it just doesn’t have that “ground and pound oomf” of devices like the Note 4, the Nexus 6, or the Xperia Z3. That said, Boomsound is awesome, the build quality is awesome, the screen is awesome, the camera is passable, the specs are good, and its easily rooted. That’s par for the course. The NVIDIA Shield Tablet is best midrange because of its awesome price point but occasional quality control issues. It’s not a 50/50 gamble or anything absurd but you get the idea. To get to $299 for a 16GB variant, some corners had to be cut somewhere and NVIDIA seems to have cut them in all the right places.

Best high end phone and tablet: The Note 4 and the Nexus 9. The Note 4 is just a grand slam. It’s iterative of the Note 3 (like Rob said) but that doesn’t mean it’s not a glorious device. It’s huge, it has the latest specs, it has S-Pen, and when you have something that beastly, the small issues in Touchwiz seem like much less of a big deal. The Nexus 6 could probably go here as well for you minimalists out there, but feature for feature, pound for pound, the Note 4 seems to do it just a little bit more right in my opinion. The Nexus 9 is the first 64-bit (Android) tablet on the market and that is a big enough deal to have it here. It embodies what the Nexus program set out to do which was create an example from which other OEMs can reference and the Nexus 9 does that in spades. It’s also fairly well priced, has great specs, and will get Android updates for at least a couple of years.

Honorable mentions include the Galaxy S5 in midrange, the Note tablets for high end tablets, OnePlus One in midrange (if only their Q&A were better), the Xperia phones and tablets (pretty much all of them), and of course, the Note Edge.

Now it’s your turn

You’ve heard what some of our forum members think, and the thoughts of our team as well. Now it’s your turn to vote in the poll, and voice out your thoughts in the comments below.