10 best mobile phones in the world today $599
17th Apr 2014 | 13:47
The best smartphones compared: what phone is best for you?
Number 10: HTC One Mini
You want the best smartphone, right? We've whittled our constantly updated selection down to the 10 best handsets you can get your hands on right now - but after you've checked out number one, we've still got plenty of other options to feast your eyes on.
We've all got at least one mobile phone each, right? We've probably got about three or four nowadays, and that counts giving your old Nokia 3310 to your Mum a few years ago.
But while you used to be able to just bank on the new Nokia or always get the next Sony Ericsson because it had a half-decent camera, there are now so many great options out there from loads of manufacturers.
The trouble is, how do you decide which is the best one for you?
Well, this is where we make it easy: we've played with nearly every device on the market and have found the ten best you can spend your money on. It needs to be good, after all, given it will reside in your pocket for the next two years.
Our ranking of the best mobile phones available in the UK today celebrates the brilliance of the smartphone: we love handsets that add in functionality to enrich our lives in so many different ways.
We also partially take into account the price of the phone too - meaning a low-price handset doesn't always need to have high-spec functions to be in our top 10.
The HTC One was the star of last year, staying at the top of the charts for nearly 10 months, seeing off the challenge from the likes of Nokia, Sony, LG and Samsung (namely the Galaxy S4) - showing the smartphone market still has a fair few players.
The iPhone 5S proved to still be a little too pricey with a smaller screen, and the iPhone 5C was cheaper but with some ageing hardware. And now Google is playing fast and loose with consumers' wallets, thanks to offering the ultra-cheap Nexus 5 and the even ultra-cheaper Moto G - could those be the phones for you?
But now we're in 2014, and the game has changed. Relentless design reimagination from HTC has led to the excellent HTC One M8 landing right at the top of the tree, but now the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 are here - can either take the crown?
Not so good news if you can't wait for the iPhone 6: that's not coming for a few months, so if you want something shiny and new from Apple now, you'll either need to go for the iPhone 5S (which is still a decent phone) or one of the plethora of high end Android handsets.
If that still doesn't help, well, there's always our extensive mobile phone reviews pages as well - or check out our personally crafted smartphone buyer's guide:
Here are our rankings for the best mobile phones around, currently available in the UK.
10. Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung managed to hold off HTC at the top in 2012, but in 2013 the supreme stylings of the HTC One proved too strong against a phone that's a slightly-better-version of its predecessor, especially when you consider the design.
There's a lot, a lot, to love with the Samsung Galaxy S4 though: whether it's a powerful camera, a brilliant screen, a long-lasting battery or just a fluid experience, there's a lot you could want in a smartphone right here.
The cost is a tad higher than on other smartphones, but still cheaper than iPhone level and is descending as the S5 appears. If only it was made out of something a little more premium...
LG, Sony and Google have come out with some attractive propositions and overtaken the best the South Koreans can manage, but that hasn't stopped this being one of the most popular phones of 2013 and the price is ever lower.
There's no doubt that, despite the design criticism, this is one of the best smartphones ever made - it's clear, powerful and does everything we'd expect a flagship phone from Samsung to do.
It's just a shame that the perceived 'innovation' doesn't really add anything: motion gestures, smart scroll and it's other non-contact bedfellows didn't take smartphones to the next level, which is what we needed in the face of Ultrapixels and BoomSound.
Make no mistake though: you'll love the Samsung Galaxy S4 if you choose to go for it, as it's a decent phone with some really cutting-edge features - but remember there's something better thanks to the Galaxy S5.
Number 9: Moto G
9. Moto G
Motorola's back, and it's kicking off its global smartphone revival with the keenly priced Moto G handset. A mid-range handset with a low-end price tag - we're talking around £100 in some stores.
On paper the Moto G looks like an excellent handset for the price, and in practice it lives up to the billing.
As the Nexus 4 did with the mid-range market, the Moto G has turned the budget end on its head with features found on handsets double its cost.
It exceeds its rivals in several key areas, from the well defined 4.5-inch display to its 1.2GHz quad-core processor and the early Android 4.4 KitKat update. There's a lot to love about the Moto G for its price.
Motorola must have cut some corners to get the price of the Moto G so low, and the camera is one area which has seen the compromise, but that's one of the only gripes.
So here's the upshot: Motorola is back folks, it's official. It may not be the return we would have predicted - there's no flagship phone stuffed full of the latest tech - but arguably what the now Google-owned firm has done is even better.
The Moto G is a top notch, low cost smartphone and we wholeheartedly recommend this as the best budget mobile currently on the market.
Number 8: HTC One
8. HTC One
It's quite a tumble from the top spot for the HTC One, especially given it was our top smartphone for so long. However unless you're desperate to pay a little less per month, the newer One M8 does everything the original did, but so much better.
It's nothing to do with the quality of the One – which is still one of the outstanding phones on the market – but more the fact that if you like Boomsound, and Ultrapixel camera, a sharp and bright screen or a powerful processor, the M8 has improved in every way there.
But let's not forget what made this phone so great: the supreme aluminium chassis, the Full HD screen and the simplified version of Sense 5.0 sitting now on top of Android KitKat means it's still a pleasure to use and recommend this handset - but again, only if price is your main driver and you simply must have a One.
The innovations are also more than just marketing gimmicks; Zoe functionality allows the creation of delightful video highlight reels, and the Ultrapixel camera means you've got a much wider range of shots available thanks to being stunning in low light - and none of that is diminished with time.
With power, poise and beauty all combined in this innovative phone, HTC has proved it can more than still cut it with the big boys when it comes to bringing out a lust-worthy flagship smartphone - and the One deserves to stay in the top ten.
However, remember that this has one year fewer in terms of HTC promising to keep it upgraded, so if you pick it up now you might not get the newer versions of the software in 12 months time. The battery is also not as strong as on the One M8 - but it's still got a lot to offer.
Number 7: iPhone 5S
7. iPhone 5S
Did you see this one coming? The iPhone 5S behind five other Android phones in our rankings? Some think it should be higher, some think lower - it depends on your level of Apple love.
Never has a company polarised opinion in the smartphone world like Apple - and with the iPhone 5S, so many are quick to decry it while others know it to be the smartphone they've been waiting for.
And let's make no bones about it: this is a stunning phone, with a gorgeous two-tone finish, a high-res screen with good colour reproduction, a 64-bit chip and that all-powerful TouchID sensor that lets you unlock your phone with a simple fingerprint.
The iOS 7 update is one that we sorely, sorely needed and does bring a lot more power and control - as shown by the impressive and pervasive Control Center.
We really like TouchID, the 64-bit processor might be a little useless now but definitely brings a touch more zip to things, and the M7 chip gives developers something to play with in terms of fitness, with the likes of FitBit taking advantage already.
The issue of price is starting to diminish somewhat - but many vendors are still charging the same for this older phone as the likes of the HTC One M8 despite being a few months older.
Let's not beat around the bush here: the iPhone 5S is still one of the great smartphones in the world thanks to a great package of technology, design and UI intuition.
iOS 7 is the update we've needed for a while, and does a lot to help keep Apple current at the sharp end of the market - but we still can't wait to see what the iPhone 6 will bring, as essentially this is still the same phone as the iPhone 5 but with a better engine under the hood.
Number 6: Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
6. Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Hey Sony...what's this? A phone without a 1080p screen? A smaller battery? Are you MAD?
Wait, we get it. This is the mildly-nonplussing Xperia Z1 shoved into a smaller frame, with almost nothing compromised (the above two points aside).
With a 4.3-inch screen it's one of the most easy to use devices in the hand, coming in next to the iPhone 5S, but it does it with a much lower cost and a great battery life to boot.
On top of that it's waterproof and has expandable memory, plus a superb screen. It's been usurped in some ways by the Xperia Z2 insofar that if you want that Bravia-powered IPS screen, the G Lens camera or just general access to Sony's tight band of media apps, this is no longer the best Sony phone on the market and has dropped a couple of places as a result.
However, if you're more about size then this is still the best of the mid-range players... check it out if you want to save a bit of cash over the bigger brother flagship too.
Want a great phone that's just a little bit smaller without losing all the power? If so, then we've found your ideal device. Strong CPU, great battery and expandable memory are traits we love to see.
It's not got the same screen sharpness as some of the others on show here, and the camera can oddly throw in a little noise here and there, but these are minor gripes indeed.
It's been launched with a palatable price tag as well - so head on down to your local emporium and throw it in some water. Because it's waterproof too, not because you're a vandal.
Number 5: Google Nexus 5
5. Google Nexus 5
So we've updated our review with the new phone software, and thankfully things are a lot better now. The battery is improved, the camera a little more stable, and the low cost is still in place.
You already know we like Android 4.4, the clever implementation and the £299 price tag. We love the high power CPU, the quality screen; even the rubberised outer shell.
You can get the LG G2 for around the same price now though, and that offers a far superior camera, better battery life and a huge slew of extra features - it really depends if you're a fan of the stripped-down experience.
We're glad to put this smartphone higher up in the rankings, as it's one of the cheapest out there in terms of bang for buck.
It's a great phone that hits the marks well - it lacks something in terms of innovation, but that's not a problem for those that want to be able to run all manner of apps and games at a decent price. It doesn't come in at the same price point as previous Nexii, but it's still jolly cheap.
Number 4: LG G2
4. LG G2
Wait, an LG phone in at number two? Believe it people; LG has made a phone that not only impressed us but ran the HTC One very, very close for the top spot in 2013 - and holds that place into 2014 too.
We don't know where to start in terms of extolling the virtues of this new handset from the South Korean firm: it's got an insanely good screen, quality camera, the best audio pumping out from its speakers and headphone jack... the list goes on.
We even came to tolerate, then love, the power and volume buttons being placed on the rear. These aren't ideal, but the ability to knock on the screen makes it really easy to interact with this impressive device.
There's so much on offer here that we can't help but recommend it to anyone looking for the best smartphone powerhouse.
The only things that we dislike are the cluttered UI (pull down the notifications bar and you'll see why) and the plastic casing, which drops the premium feel of the phone a lot, especially compared to the handset that sits one place above.
But launching at £400 on PAYG (and even cheaper with a few third party retailers), along with comparable contracts older phones, is a really nice touch from LG, and we reckon it's going to pay dividends.
Number 3: Samsung Galaxy S5
3. Samsung Galaxy S5
2014 is turning out to be a stellar year for the prospective smartphone user, as the HTC One (M8) was joined by the Samsung Galaxy S5 in our 'best smartphone' list, and now the Xperia Z2 enters the fray too.
There was a lot of hype around the new Galaxy, and rightly so: it's by far the best phone Samsung has ever produced, with a blazing fast core, a strong result in the benchmarks and a larger 5.1-inch screen.
Then there's the fact that with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 CPU the Galaxy S5 is one of the best phones on the market when it comes to battery life, besting the already impressive One M8 in the power stakes.
Samsung has also dropped the 'innovation' of the air gestures from last year (well, they are in there but not the main focus) and improved the hardware with a better camera, fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor too.
The last addition is pretty pointless... but hey, it's fun for down the pub.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a good phone, apart from the design. It's something that needs to be updated sorely, and while it doesn't have to be an all-metal shell, it needs to evolve.
The next generation of smartphones is a cut above last year's models - that said, the LG G2 still impresses even with a few miles on the clock - and if you're looking for a new phone, you should check out one of the top three first.
The S5 has a clear UI, powerful innards and is also waterproof... the rivals might edge it slightly overall, but it's very, very tight at the top and whichever handset you end up with won't disappoint.
Number 2: Sony Xperia Z2
2. Sony Xperia Z2
Sony has something of a slump last year, following up the impressive Xperia Z with the lacklustre Xperia Z1 just a few months later.
The camera, which was supposed to be the headline feature, didn't impress as much as we'd hoped, and the screen was still lacking the IPS clout that the Xperia Z Ultra managed - meaning muted colours and poor viewing angles.
Anyway, enough about last year - Sony's back in 2014 and comes with an excellent phone in the shape of the Xperia Z2. Tipped to be the third of the stellar smartphone triumverate, alongside the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8) we were intrigued to see how it shaped up.
And the good news is it's impressive. Really impressive. The industrial design is a little chunky but oozes premium quality in a way that Samsung's plastic shell doesn't, and it's a little more robust than its Galactical and Primary rivals thanks to being IP58 rated.
Great battery life, strong power and a good camera all are present and correct with our new top three phones, but Sony steals second simply by being a great all-rounder. It doesn't have the polish of the HTC One M8, nor the more functional UI, but it does what's asked with top-end specs. That's what we like.
What did Sony need to do to impress? Not a lot, but that screen and camera needed a fix as well as adding in some other features.
Front facing speakers, a new screen with better colour reproduction, 4K video recording and inbuilt noise cancellation all make a great device that should be right on your possible upgrade list.
Make sure you check it out in-store before purchase, as some won't like the larger build, but for a good all-round experience the Xperia Z2 excels.
Number 1: HTC One M8
1. HTC One M8
What to say about the HTC One M8? They often say the second album is the hardest, but the follow up to the all-conquering HTC One takes the best of that phone and yet still re-invents things enough to make it a massive recommendation over the old model.
We love the speed of the camera, the Duo Camera is smart as a tack, the Boomsound upgrade is impressive and the design... well, you have to hold it.
The Snapdragon 801 processor has boosted battery dramatically compared to the 600 of last year, and that means that photos also process much more quickly as well - even the front-facing camera is much better.
Gaming, movies, photography, browsing all work really well, and in a phone that that's easily going to destroy whatever anyone else can design, unless Apple or LG have got some dark sorcery up their sleeves when the iPhone 6 or LG G3 appear later in the year.
If we were to criticise the One M8, it would be the camera's lack of a megapixel upgrade, which means pictures are a little less sharp than they might otherwise be.
That said, it's a minor point in a phone that has barely any flaws. The lower megapixel camera means faster shutter speeds, and if you don't want to zoom in a lot, most will enjoy the depth perception and background de-focus ability to make some pro-looking snaps.
We urge you to hold this phone for a few seconds and try not to feel at least a small flicker of smartphone attraction. It's got great specs, a splendid design and some clever hardware innovation where the competition is relying on software to do the same thing.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Xperia Z2 failed to take the top spot, and we honestly don't know if the iPhone 6 will be good enough to head straight to the top of the pile when it appears? It looks like you're going to be spoilt for choice in 2014.
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If a phone isn't in the 10 best phones in the world list, that doesn't mean it's not worth giving two hoots about.
Here's a few handsets you might want to think about should none of the above tickle your fancy... although you're clearly VERY hard to please:
HTC One Mini
If you hold both the One and the One Mini, you'll struggle to tell the difference, apart from the fact one is smaller than the other (obviously). The aluminium build quality pervades, and it's hard to believe that you're not holding one of the most premium devices on the market.
Even the polycarbonate band that runs around the edge of the phone is unobtrusive, which means you get a distinctive design that doesn't impact on the way the One Mini sits in the hand.
We love that the functionality of the One Mini isn't compromised from its larger relative, with the likes of UltraPixels and BoomSound all involved without being watered down.
HTC has been very clever in the design of this phone by bringing nearly every great element of the One to the smaller version, and packaging it in a way that still makes it very attractive.
In short, it's a cheaper version of the larger phone that scales down the processor and drops the price. Good combo, HTC.
Would we recommend the HTC One Mini? Absolutely - the mid-range market renaissance is something we didn't expect, but is an area that HTC is intent on winning - and we think it's managed that with the One Mini.
We really love the aluminium shell, the UltraPixel camera and BoomSound on board, plus we get to play with the latest version of Android as well as all the cool apps like the Music Player, which show lyrics to songs as they're playing. Actually, we're just happy to have the headphone-boosting amplifier on board - as long as our songs are nicely audible, we don't really care.
There's a sub-class of phones around at the moment that try and replicate top-end features in the mid-range market, and while this isn't the best phone in that class any more (we'll serve that title to the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact) it's still a cracking buy.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 breathes yet more life into a mobile form factor many thought would be dead on arrival, ramping up the specs and the size to give us a new monolith of mobile.
It may be big, but the 5.7-inch display is fantastic and the Full HD Super AMOLED technology makes everything pop from websites to movies.
You're able to fit a lot more on screen at a time and that means less scrolling in messages, on websites and down your long contact list and that can only be a good thing.
What really impressed us with the Galaxy Note 3 though was its battery life and sheer speed under the finger. We're used to a day at best when hardcore using the device, but we got far past that without breaking a sweat throughout our tests.
The speed of the Snapdragon 800 quad core processor, combined with 3GB of RAM, means this is the least-slouchy phone we've encountered in a while.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is a great phone and if you were to own one you wouldn't be disappointed. It provides a great onscreen experience - as long as your hands are big enough to reach across it - and its stuffed so full of tech to almost warrant its lofty price tag - which refuses to tumble much.
Its size will be a real stumbling point for many and we'd recommend going into a store and just holding the Note 3 for a while to see if it's something you can cope with - in short, we want all this but in a form that we can hold easily, at a lower price and without the S Pen.
If that's you, then just go ahead and buy the Galaxy S5.
Nokia Lumia 520
The Nokia Lumia 520, much like its big brother the Nokia Lumia 620, is a jack of all trades and a master of none - although it really manages to make a good fist of everything it tries, for the low, low price tag it carries.
It looks good, it's got a decent screen both in terms of size and resolution, it rarely stutters or slows down, it's great for calls and messaging, reasonable for media and okay for photos.
To achieve a lower price point the 520 has had to strip away a few things - there's no NFC, compass, camera flash or front facing camera here.
But on the other hand it's also got a bigger screen, a larger battery, a sleeker, slimmer, lighter build and the same processor and RAM as the Nokia Lumia 620, so in many ways it's actually better.
Combine that with a lower price tag and we reckon that this just might be the best entry level Windows Phone 8 handset that you can buy and certainly the best value.
The Nokia Lumia 520 certainly isn't an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy beater - but it's a superb Windows Phone device that you can pick up for under £100. If you're a fan of a simple interface with some quality add-ons, then you should definitely look at Nokia's latest attempt to win over the smartphone naysayers.
Samsung Galaxy S3
With the Samsung Galaxy S4 AND Galaxy S5 now launched, the S3 has predictably fallen out of focus somewhat.
But don't worry: the S3 is still a strong phone: it's got a good slug of decent features we want and more, and knows what it's doing with processor speed and media management too.
Would we recommend you buy one if you're hankering for a spot of Samsung? Yes, but only if you're trying to save a lot of money, as it's really ageing now.
Price isn't the only reason the Samsung Galaxy S3 is worthy of consideration though. Smart Stay, Super AMOLED HD screen, up to 128GB storage, Music Hub, removable battery, quick camera; for the price, this phone still delivers in ways that many others on the market can't.
If you're after a decent slab of Samsung tech, the Galaxy S3 is an OK choice. Samsung faced an almost impossible task in trying to create a worthy sequel to the Galaxy S2, and while this is an older model, it's still worth a look.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2
Many (including us, we admit) were not convinced when the original Samsung Galaxy Note launched. Who on earth would want something so big to make their calls and surf the internet, even with a glorified stylus? Cue awkward silence.
Millions of you, it would appear. The Galaxy Note sold by the bucketload, so how do you follow that up? With something better, of course - the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, which has shifted millions of units worldwide, and now is the elder statesman thanks to the new Galaxy Note 3 appearing.
Still a strong and eye-catching device, the Galaxy Note 2 is well-connected, and thanks to that increased screen size (up to an eye-bulging 5.5-inches), is, among many things, a quality media player.
Air View, Multi-window, a dock that can turn it into a fully-fledged computer - it's all here, people..
As a phone, it's big, but once you get over that, if you can, it's great. As a PMP, it really does excel, but there are better options on the market (Note 3 and Sony Xperia Z Ultra, for instance).
Ultimately, there's no getting away from the fact that the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is a niche device. But it does almost everything it sets out to do perfectly, with grace, class and maximum functionality.
With a lower price, it's still powerful enough to last for at least a year, so we have no qualms recommending it as a viable option for your next phone.
What's this? A new iPhone not making it into the top five? Wait... not even the top ten?
Well, you can't really blame us. This isn't a new iPhone - it's last year's device in brand new package with more colours to choose from.
There are more LTE bands to choose from too, which is important to UK buyers as it means it can give superfast speeds from all the networks.
It's still a really rather good phone, with the Retina display still giving market-leading colour reproduction, a strong camera and the best App Store around.
We'll be honest: this is the section the iPhone 5 would have lived in, as the iPhone 5C is just a tweaked version of 2012's model, the same phone with a new skin.
There will be loads of people looking to buy it simply because the iPhone now comes in pink or green, and to those we say: look at the Lumia range. Nokia's been doing the same thing for years and at a much, much cheaper price point.
The iPhone 5C is the same as a every phone from Apple: too expensive for what it is, but if you're desperate for such a device from the Cupertino brand then this is still a strong handset to plump for - but beware of getting the 8GB option as it can fill up with apps or media very quickly.
Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
The Galaxy S4 Mini takes the design language of the full-fat S4, and does well to shrink it down without losing the same 'atmosphere'.
A vibrant screen, bright and clear enough, added to the fact it's only 4.3-inches large, mean the S4 Mini is a lot easier to hold in the hand, and the camera is as powerful as we'd expect on a phone of this size and price point.
What you get with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is a far better trade off of price and features than you got with the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, and a phone that sits very comfortably within the S4 range.
It's got a lot of the S4 power at a lower price point, and while the S3 to S3 Mini divide was just too great in our eyes, the S4 Mini is a lot closer to its bigger brother.
Nokia Lumia 1520
The Nokia Lumia 1520 is a trailblazing 6-inch smartphone that forges a path for Windows Phone 8 into true high-end territory. And what a swathe this oversized phablet cuts - it's huge.
Its 6-inch 1080p display is a thing of beauty, and is a great way to watch videos and view photos on the go.
Nokia has produced another excellent camera phone here, learning lessons from the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Nokia Lumia 925 to produce a very well balanced snapper.
However, there's also no denying that this is a ridiculously large phone, and whipping one out in public will be as embarrassing as it is tricky to wield for those who appreciate a little subtly and mobility from their phones.
The Nokia Lumia 1520 is an absolute beast of a phone that we suspect only the large-handed and generous pocketed will be able to live with day to day.
Those who accept the challenge will find the most capable Windows Phone 8 device yet, with top-of-the-range specs that include a stunning 1080p display and a superb 20-megapixel camera.
Sony Xperia Z1
The Sony Xperia Z1 is another powerhouse of a phone. With a 20.7MP camera with G Lens technology, the ability to withstand rain, snow and sand and a superfast Snapdragon 800 processor running the show, it's clearly a great handset to have around.
It also comes in a variety of funky colours, has a pleasing build quality that helps justify the higher price to a degree and basically offers the best of the Sony brand in a smartphone.
We do have a few reservations insofar as the Z1 doesn't really carry the mantle the Xperia Z created; it's got a massively uprated camera and screen technology, but neither particularly wow.
Don't think that this is anything less than a leading phone from Sony. It's just that the added thickness to accommodate the camera doesn't impress enough to plop it into the top five, nor the sub-par screen, and after the really great showing from the Xperia Z, we were a little disappointed.
It's only better than the Z1 Compact if you want a larger screen - other than that, the two are identical.