Selecting a single smartphone to sit atop 2014’s pedestal just felt awkward. With such a broad base of options to choose from and a handful of markedly different operating systems, we instead chose a victor from each of the three most heavily used platforms: Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. Across the board, we saw phones grow larger, thinner and more longevous in 2014. Hardware designs held steady for the most part, increased screen real estate notwithstanding — but what’s most exciting is the progress being made to slow fragmentation. All three of the biggest mobile platforms are ushering in new developer and design standards that help to unify and simplify design languages, which should lead to sleeker user interfaces and fewer gimmicks.
In a world where almost every Android maker is infecting the OS with gimmicks and unmanageable extras, Motorola’s purist strategy has become a competitive advantage. Aside from a few tweaks — all of which are actually useful, and don’t serve to bog the phone down — the Android that you’ll find on the new Moto X is the Android that ships directly from Google. The additions that are included serve to keep you informed and engaged with the real world. Active Display gives you a quick glimpse at whatever notification has just come through; you can also fire up the camera with just a twist of the wrist, another brilliant feature that keeps your eyes focused on the moment you’re trying to capture instead of hunting for a camera icon.
The 5.2-inch 1080p display is tops in the industry, and the new model eschews plastic for aluminum in the chassis department. All-day battery life is a given, and Moto’s exclusive fast charging technology gives you eight full hours of usage after just 15 minutes on the charger.
Most of Moto’s rivals are grappling for superiority in the specs game, but the new X turns a blind eye to unwinnable wars and focuses on creating a complete package. From an ergonomic design to downright sexy leather and wood back options, the X looks as good as it performs. It’s missing a high-storage option for those who want to cram 128GB or more of local content onboard, and unlike the original, this one’s no longer made in the U.S.A. That aside, it’s a steal at just $500 off-contract, and those willing to spend a bit more can get it designed any way they want it with the Moto Maker program. Clean lines, pure Android, and the fairest pricing for any Android flagship? Smells like a winner.
Processor: 2.5Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Display: 5.2-inch 1080p full HD, 423 ppi
Cameras: 13MP rear, 2MP front-facing
Nokia Lumia 930
With Microsoft wholly consuming Nokia’s devices business, time’s ticking on the opportunity to buy a phone with the Nokia logo on it. The Lumia 930 is Nokia’s attempt to throw everything, kitchen sink included, into a single handset. Addressing many early concerns about the hardware paired with Windows Phone, Nokia included a 1080p panel that’s nearly indestructible, embedded NFC for mobile payments, a slew of LTE bands to satisfy jetsetters and Qi wireless charging without a third-party case.
Photographers will no doubt appreciate the 20MP Zeiss sensor — an element that puts everything in the Android and iOS camps to shame. The Gorilla Glass 3 coating keeps safe the most sunlight-readable display in the industry, and Windows Phone 8.1 brings Cortana (its Siri-rivaling virtual assistant) to the most powerful WP handset on the market.
If Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 is the tablet to replace your laptop, Nokia’s Lumia 930 is the phone to replace your camera, wallet and little black book.
Processor: Quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
Display: 6-inch 1080p full HD, 441 ppi
Cameras: 20MP PureView rear, 1.2MP front-facing
Apple iPhone 6 Plus
Apple could’ve just tossed the innards from the iPhone 5s into a huge form factor and it would’ve sold millions. Thankfully for you, it didn’t. The iPhone 6 Plus isn’t just the largest iPhone ever made, it’s also the most longevous, powerful, and exclusive. With a 5.5-inch 1080p panel hailed as the “best-performing smartphone LCD ever tested”, it’s going to be mighty tough to take your eyes off of. Which would typically be an issue, except for the truly outlandish battery life — two-full-days-of-use-in-Disneyland kind of battery life — that’s included.
The 6 Plus is also the first iPhone to boast optical image stabilization on the camera side of the house. Continuing a tradition of excellence, the 8MP iSight element, combined with Apple’s optimized camera software, produces the sharpest and most vivid images of any smartphone, period. The new size has led to a device that’s good enough to take the place of an iPad mini, and when Apple Pay makes its entrance in the spring, it’ll be one of just two iPhones supporting tap-to-pay.
It took a (long) while, but the iPhone finally leveled up. Thankfully, this one’s both bigger and better. The best, in fact.
Processor: A8 Chip
Display: 5.5-inch 1334 x 750 retina HD, 326 ppi
Cameras: 8MP iSight rear, 1.2MP front-facing