As tablets get smaller and handsets get bigger, Steve Dinneen reveals how the latest generation of smartphones are upping their game, and looks at some of the products making waves.
Screen size: 4.2 inches
The Z10 is the first BlackBerry to run the Canadian firm’s new BB10 operating system. It takes its visual cues from the iPhone, but dispenses with any physical buttons. It looks good, but the real surprise is how much fun it is to use. The new operating system has clearly benefited from its long gestation and offers innovative solutions to problems you didn’t know you had. Its virtual keyboard is probably the best on the market, predicting the word you are most likely to type next, which saves a lot of time. The gesture-based controls, which allow you to “peek” at your social networks while using another app, soon become second nature. The eight-megapixel camera is backed up by some excellent software, even allowing you to edit an image by swapping a certain area, such as a face, using “time shift mode”. The Z10’s main drawback is its relatively weak app ecosystem.
Pros – Great keyboard, excellent camera software
Cons – Not enough apps to compete with Apple or Android
SONY XPERIA Z
Screen size: 5 inches
The Xperia Z represents Sony’s most serious foray into the smartphone market since the early days, when it was easily outgunned by the likes of Apple and Samsung. It’s a force to be reckoned with – the light (146g), sleek handset has a gigantic five-inch screen that offers incredibly sharp resolution. Its 13-megapixel camera is up there with the best of them, featuring face-detection software, image stabilisation and the ability to take some great macro shots. It also has a powerful battery, capable of 11 hours of talk-time, and runs the latest version of Google’s Android software, Jelly Bean. Even better, if you accidentally drop it down the toilet, you won’t have to fork out for a new one – it is completely waterproof. This is a Sony handset that deserves to be taken seriously.
Pros – Waterproof, great screen
Cons – Feels a little flimsy
Screen size: 3.7 inches
The Vertu is a strange beast indeed – a phone that costs ten times the price of more advanced units like the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy S3, yet seems to lack any discernible advantages. The luxury phone-maker, though, stresses its design credentials justify the price tag – the Ti is constructed from titanium, with a sapphire crystal screen that can only be scratched by a diamond. Each unit is hand-built in the UK by a single craftsperson, and now (finally) runs Google’s Android 4.0 (previous models shipped with Nokia’s now defunct Symbian), albeit a slightly outdated version. The Ti also comes with the Vertu concierge package, giving you access to 24-hour advice and social recommendations. None of this, though, hides the fact that the Ti can’t compete with the very best in terms of hardware. But this isn’t the point – a Vertu is a status symbol, like a Rolls-Royce or a set of Louis Vuitton luggage. If you just want to load Google Maps quickly, you could save yourself a lot of money and shop elsewhere.
Pros – Concierge service, gives a smug sense of self-worth
NOKIA LUMIA 920
Screen size: 4.5 inches
Nokia’s flagship Lumia 920 handset was one of the biggest surprises of last year – not least because it is actually really, really good. It has been a long journey for the Finnish giant, which eventually opted to kill its in-house operating system, Symbian, in favour of Microsoft’s Windows Phone in 2011. The 4.7-inch Lumia 920 shows off just what a good decision that was. The big, vivid screen squeezes on lots of Microsoft’s “live tiles” – moving icons that display information from apps and contacts. As we have come to expect from Nokia, the Carl Zeiss lens is a big strength, allowing you to capture great stills and video. The 920 is fun, intuitive and fast, although, while the Windows Phone Store is growing, it still lags far behind Apple’s App Store and Google Play (the rebranded Android Market).
Pros – Excellent operating system, market-leading camera
Cons – Lack of apps
LG OPTIMUS G PRO (E975)
Screen size: 4.7 inches
LG has always been the bridesmaid when it comes to mobile phones, never quite making it into the top echelons of best-selling devices. The Optimus G Pro hopes to change that. It is certainly quick, with a quad-core Snapdragon Pro processor, and a 13-megapixel camera allowing for some seriously good photography. It also has some interesting features, such as a “wise ringtone” that detects when you are in a noisy place and boosts the volume accordingly, and “quick memo”, which allows you to scribble a message on the screen with your finger. It is big – with a vibrant 4.7-inch display – light and slick, without challenging for any design awards. If you’re in the market for an oversized smartphone that isn’t in the pocket of every second person you meet, this could be for you.
Pros – Very fast, good camera
Cons – Not the most exciting phone on the market
Screen size: 4.7 inches
After racing on to the smartphone scene towards the end of the last decade, HTC has had a relatively quiet couple of years. This could change with the new HTC One – an iPhone-inspired creation carved from a block of aluminium. It packs a 4.7-inch screen with a 1080p display the manufacturer claims is sharper than the iPhone 5’s. HTC has continued its relationship with Beats Audio, building two stereo speakers into the front of the unit, allowing for deep, rich audio playback. It packs a punch with a quad-core Snapdragon processor, and comes with the latest version of Android, so this should be an investment that lasts for some time. Its camera comes with all the bells and whistles you would expect of a high-end smartphone, but there are better ones out there.
Pros – Great sound, excellent design
Cons – There are better smartphone cameras on the market
HUAWEI ASCEND D2
Screen size: 5 inches
Chinese giant Huawei has been threatening to make a push into the Western smartphone sphere for some time now, and the D2 looks set to be part of it. Unveiled in January, it follows the trend towards gigantic screens, with a five-inch super-retina display with bright colours and dark blacks. It squeezes in a 13-megapixel camera with what is described as the highest ISO sensitivity on the market, meaning you should be able to take lots of nice pictures even when it is pretty dark. It is water resistant and looks the part, too, with an aluminium body and metal outer frame, although the choice of colours (white or pale blue) is a bit disappointing. Huawei’s Ascend P2 was launched in February, and claims to be the fastest smartphone in the world. Progress is rapid.
Pros – Solid build, superb screen
Cons – Unfamiliar brand
ZTE GRAND S
Screen size: 5 inches
China’s ZTE is hoping to push beyond its national boundaries into the worldwide consumer sphere. Its Grand S phone is as solid as they come, crammed with hardware that makes most smartphones look clunky. It comes with a quad-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon Pro processor (which is very fast), has 2GB of RAM and a five-inch 1080p screen. It also packs a 13-megapixel camera with LED flash, putting it on a par with other top-tier smartphones. However, early signs suggest battery life could be an issue and, while it looks solid enough, it isn’t going to be inspiring the product designers of tomorrow. This is a beast of a phone – far more powerful than most people need – and, in truth, probably one for real tech-heads who want to stand out from the crowd.
Pros – Top-level hardware
Cons – Questions over battery life