With so many new high-end smartphones being released this year we thought it was time to give you an update on our top 10 high-end smartphones from a few months ago. These phones are for those of you not tied by budget, looking for a powerful handset that can take reasonable photographs and looks pretty tasty.
If that’s lucky enough to be you, there are loads of fantastic phones available at the higher price bracket, with more coming over the next few months if you’re prepared to wait. Here’s our pick of the top 10 high-end smartphones, encompassing Apple iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry.
1: General all-rounders
Suitable for playing games, browsing the internet, sending email and great taking photographs, these phones can handle anything.
LG Nexus 4 (£239 for 8GB)
LG’s first Google phone heads up our all-rounders. With its fast 1.5GHz quad-core processor, an attractive curved body including a 2D glass frontage and a stunning 4.7-inch HD IPS display, there’s a lot to love about the LG Nexus 4.
The buttonless fascia looks great and works incredibly well with the new Android 4.2 Jelly Bean running on top. Google has added a host of new features which make it easier than ever to navigate the stock Android experience. A party piece concealed within the Nexus 4’s design is that it can also charge wirelessly too.
The 8-megapixel camera can make use of Android’s new Photo Sphere feature which helps you make 360° panoramas with impressive clarity, as well as shooting 1080p HD video. There’s also a front facing 1.3-megapixel shooter for FaceTime-style video calls over applications like Skype or Google Hangouts.
The most attractive feature of the LG Nexus 4 is its price. Considering the hardware on offer, the handset can be picked up as an 8GB model from Google for £239 or a 16GB model for £279. Just remember this is fixed internal memory and there’s no room for expansion, if that’s no issue then you’re good to go.
Apple iPhone 5 (£529 for 16GB)
Possibly one of the most well recognised smartphones in the world today, the Apple iPhone 5 offers the latest from iOS and Apple’s smartphone user experience, with key improvements over last year’s iPhone 4S, such as enhanced Siri, an 8-megapixel camera with Panorama mode and for the first time a larger 4-inch display.
Running iOS 6 out the box and utilising Apple’s new A6 dual-core processor, this smartphone has enough clout to run high intensity 3D games, watch Full HD movies and multitask across however many apps you might decide to install from the App Store’s 700,000+ strong library.
The most notable shortcoming at the moment is Apple Maps, which replaces the Google-run Maps app of old, with turn-by-turn navigation and voice directions. Although Apple has promised that fixes will come soon, in its current form the Maps app has a tendency to site inaccuracies or miss out information altogether.
Apple’s latest iPhone has already accrued record sales and will likely maintain its position as one of the best selling smartphones of 2012/2013 until the new device arrives late next year.
Samsung Galaxy S3 (£370-£450)
If the iPhone 5 is the most coveted iOS handset currently available, the Samsung Galaxy S3 certainly has the chops to vie for the top spot in the Android camp. The current flagship Android smartphone in Samsung’s portfolio (alongside the Galaxy Note 2) is a beefy, quad-core smartphone with an expansive 4.8-inch 720p HD SuperAMOLED panel.
Following its launch earlier this year, the Galaxy S3 arrived running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: last year’s flavour of choice, however now customers will be able to pick it up with the latest version of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Samsung has also swathed the Android OS in its own TouchWiz Nature UX interface. This overlay holds a few features unique to top Samsung phones such S-Planner and Smart Stay.
The powerful hardware lineup is continued by the inclusion of an 8-megapixel camera on the back and a 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera, plus all of these internals can run through a day of use on a single charge thanks to the large 2100mAh battery.
2: Camera Phones
The camera has become an ever increasing cornerstone of what makes a good smartphone. With the current lineup of handsets on offer, competition is fierce and it really boils down to what works best for the user as a mobile photographer. Here are a few notable options.
HTC One X+ (£480)
The update to HTC’s most powerful phone yet now features a larger battery, up to 64GB internal storage, 4.7-inch screen and an incredibly powerful 1.7GHz quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor, not to mention being HTC’s first Android handset to run Jelly Bean out-the-box. Add to this already impressive combination the original One X’s 8-megapixel camera and you have the recipe for a serious power player in the smartphone space.
The rear 8-megapixel camera can shoot full resolution stills, Full HD video and the front facing 1.6-megapixel camera features a super-wide angle lens to get more in the shot without having to hold the phone too far away from the subject(s).
What makes the HTC One X+ that much more capable over its predecessor is that both cameras can take advantage of the hardware-based image processing features and effects on offer.
Sightseeing mode, which comes as part of the new HTC Sense 4+ running over the top of Android, lets you jump directly from lock to camera without having the launch the camera app manually and without causing excessive drain on the battery when it’s not in use. Leave your compact at home, the HTC One X+ has got you covered.
Sony Xperia T (£395)
Sony has always lead the way in mobile camera solutions dating back to the CyberShot-toting Sony Ericssons of old. All those years of experience haven’t gone to waste either as the most recent Sony smartphones have offered camera solutions to rival the diverse competition on hand.
The latest flagship (and coincidentally the latest smartphone to be used by James Bond), the Sony Xperia T has the largest resolution camera in our lineup, with a 13-megapixel sensor at the users disposal. It produces good shots too, very good in fact, with an excellent camera UI, fast shutter speed, good dynamic range and the only real shortcoming being mild noise in darker scenarios, a trait carried across from some of its predecessors.
As an all round device, the Xperia T’s strengths lie in its physical design, its camera and its multimedia potential. It can shoot and export steady, solid Full HD video out of its MHL-savvy micro USB port as well as provide users with access to Sony’s own Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services for media streaming from its extensive music and film libraries.
Nokia Lumia 920 (£450-£550)
The newest member to this lineup and the new Nokia flagship, the Lumia 920 is an impressive piece of mobile hardware and spells good things for the future of Windows Phone as a mobile OS.
Running the new Windows Phone 8 OS, the Lumia 920 offers a host of new and additional features courtesy of Nokia. The Finnish company has included a host of ‘lenses’ such as Nokia City Lens, which provides an augmented reality view of the city. What’s more the camera is nothing short of incredible.
Thanks to the lessons learnt from the company’s last camera-centric handset: the Nokia 808 PureView, the Lumia 920 benefits from a new 8.7-megapixel PureView camera with a ‘floating lens’ design. The phone’s key camera components sit within a suspended framework that takes a huge amount of image shake out of both stills and videos. Stills, even in extreme low light are reproduced with amazing colour and brightness fidelity, whilst video is eerily smooth, giving the impression that the footage has been shot on a dolly.
Nokia has also provided the Lumia 920 with a vibrant and responsive PureMotion HD+ 4.5-inch display, which with its WXGA (1280x768) resolution keeps images and graphics looking colourful and pin sharp.
3: The Work Phone
For some smartphones need to be able to work just as hard as they play and we’ve considered a few handsets which might fit the bill.
BlackBerry Bold 9900 (£289-£395)
The BlackBerry Bold 9900 is undeniably the best looking BlackBerry RIM has ever pushed out. With stunning design elements such as the chrome band around its edge and the carbon fibre effect back panel that says exudes a sense of understated power, it’s a thing to behold.
Perfect for work aesthetically, BlackBerry's also sport a great email client, a fantastic physical QWERTY keyboard and incredibly well integrated Exchange support.
In addition to handling emails, BBM is a great way to stay connected to your colleagues and friends, allowing the sharing of messages or multimedia with minimal data costs.
The speedier processor means the Bold 9900 is also the fastest BlackBerry to date and the inclusion of a touch display makes for some intuitive interaction and flexibility when moving from optical trackpad, to touchscreen, to hardware QWERTY keyboard.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (£440-£520)
The South Korean company never puts all its eggs in one basket and are well known for their ability to offer a device for practically every conceivable market segment. Their latest powerhouse: the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, builds on the prowess of the company’s flagship Android phone, but pushes the ‘phone’ aspect to the limit as it features a mammoth 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED display.
The extra screen real estate doesn’t just make everything bigger however, as it also features a stylus called the S Pen and a pressure sensitive layer with 1024 levels of sensitivity. This enables the user to sketch notes, geometric shapes, handwriting and even mathematical formulae and depending on the content, the Note 2 can render, understand or solve the scrawlings drawn onto its display.
There’s also a sizable on-screen keyboard which supports multiple simultaneous languages and in fact the entire user interface has extra features built specifically with the S Pen functionality in mind. Add to this unique selling point the powerful processor and the phone’s 8-megapixel camera and you have yourself a pocket powered workhorse to save and sync your notes, meetings, calendars and emails across.
High-end smartphones are getting closer and closer to traditional games consoles in their graphical performance. This year we’ve already seen an increase in phones with quad-core processors that can handle more intensive graphics and games to push this new hardware as it becomes available. A large and responsive touchscreen is also essential for a gaming phone in order to have a decent amount of control over what’s going on in-game.
Huawei Ascend D quad (pricing TBC)
Announced at MWC in Barcelona, the Huawei Ascend D quad runs Android and is the first phone to rock Huawei’s own quad-core processor.
Previously known for their budget Android handsets, in a turn for the books, Huawei has turned its hand to power phones endowing the Huawei Ascend D quad with a quad-core 1.2GHz processor, 8-megapixel camera, 4.5-inch display and 720p resolution display.
At just 8.9mm, despite the raw power and a spec-sheet brimming impressive components, the Huawei Ascend D quad is also incredibly thin which, when it launches soon should make it comfortable to hold whilst traversing alien worlds or burning rubber around a racetrack.
LG Optimus 4X HD (£285-£399)
The LG Optimus 4X HD, announced at CES at the start of the year features a quad-core engine under the hood. It’s again NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 chip at work, a choice famed for its mobile gaming ability, with the accompanying Tegra Zone highlights apps and games developed specifically to be used with Tegra processors.
Also sporting a 4.7-inch HD display, games look incredible and run very smoothly with the 1.5GHz processor rip roaring through even the most intensive graphical challenges. With Android on board, there are thousands of games available right now for the LG Optimus 4X many of which are free.
The icing on the cake coming in the form of LG's custom UI and slick physical design complete with a textured backing and slender form factor, not to mention the fact that this is one of the most competitively priced Tegra 3-based handsets around.
If you’re tempted by any of these high-end smartphones it’s important you get the right goodybag. Unlimited data is essential if you have push email on all the time, sync Twitter and Facebook automatically and want to upload photographs directly from your smartphone. giffgaff goodybags with unlimited data plans start at £12 and go up to £25 depending on the amount of minutes you want. giffgaff also offers the BlackBerry Add-on, which for £3 a month extra gets BBM and BlackBerry email.
So, are you the proud owner of any of these devices? Do they belong in our top 10, are there any we've missed? Are you one of many struggling to get your hands on the Nexus 4? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
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