Before the year in mobile technology bears its fruits in the shape of Galaxy flagships, Apple’s ‘i’ among others, sending 2014 off with a wrap up of its best and flop offerings seems about the ideal thing to do.
Last year most notably witnessed Apple go out of its way and release a big-screen phone… two of them in fact and they were not like the combination of a proper iPhone 5s paired with a rightly maligned iPhone 5c ‘twin’.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus came very well behind schedule, so behind schedule that the iPhone 6 is about same size of the compact version of another flagship phone, but being of the hallowed Apple – with its loyal fellowship of users – it fit in to the market just fine.
But was it the best smartphone or among the flops on offer in 2014, a year which also saw underdog manufacturers conjure fearless models to compete with the big boys? OS by OS, this review will pick out the best and flops until the ultimate smartphone of 2014 is determined.
Already, we know which phones would be the iOS representatives. For the Windows operating system, 2014 saw the main brand name Nokia ultimately dropped for mother company Microsoft to take its place.
Since then, only the Lumia 535 has been released but while Lumia was still churned by Nokia, there was the Lumia 930 with its stunning 20 mega-pixel camera as well as a host of mid-range and budget siblings including the Lumia 730 and Lumia 635.
From Blackberry came the Z30 with its good, large display and sleek body that had a few mumbling about it being an stretched out iPhone. And really, when you place it beside the iPhone 6, there is some resemblance there.
And from Android, Google in conjunction with Motorola released the Nexus 6 with the Lollipop variant of the OS while Samsung came strong with the Galaxy Note 4, Note 4 Edge, Galaxy S5 as well as the smartwatches.
Motorola had the sequel to its bestseller Moto G in the Moto G 2014 as well as the Moto 360 smartwatch and the Moto X 2014 which is meant to be the now Lenovo-owned company’s flagship.
Among the rest, LG went all out with the G3, Sony released the impressive Z3 series, HTC managed to improve on the HTC One and also offered a new Butterfly along with the HTC 820, while the likes of Tecno with the Phantom Z, Asus with the Pegasus, Huawei with the Ascend and Honor phones and Oppo with the One made 2014 a keen year in the mobile market.
Starting off with the Phone maker of 2014, while Apple and Samsung somewhat became bored and spent more time sparring each other in the courtrooms, a number of other phone makers had a promising year.
HTC made more profit, however little it actually was, than it ever has before. Motorola continued to ride on the success of the Moto G as well as the viability of its patents. And Sony had a fairly good year as well.
Blackberry seem to be bouncing back after a dire 2012 and 2013 while Microsoft slow and steadily (and surprisingly) continues to grow its market share but in the end, Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi gets the nod.
Given it is yet to be a global force to reckon with but the pace of growth it experienced in 2014 (135% increase in revenue, 227% increase in sales) that saw it become a multibillion-dollar company within a short period startled all in the mobile world, more so because it achieved the feat with its focus largely on its home market, China (which is enough to succeed to be honest).
While Xiaomi’s profit margins are still thin compared to its sales, the Chinese manufacturer looks on course to continue its upward surge by spreading into the global market and as a result, improving profit margins.
With good success already being experienced in the Indian market, eyes will be on Xiaomi to see if it can (begin to) achieve that goal in 2015 or not. Its budget Redmi 1s phone is about to get an upgrade (Redmi 2s) while the company recently released an LTE version of its flagship Mi4.
Bringing us to which 5-inch flagship phone beat the competition in 2014 and the Mi4 gives the likes of the HTC One M8, Sony Xperia Z3, Samsung Galaxy S5, the Lumia 930 and the Huawei Ascend P7 among others a good run for their money when it comes to this category of flagships.
While Samsung’s Galaxy S4 held sway two years ago with its sleek design and light weight, the S5 never felt like much of an upgrade while having a tad bit of unnecessary features which eventually resulted in relatively below-par sales.
Arguably, one can then say the Xiaomi Mi4 trumps the S5. Even the ‘old’ Sony flagship – Xperia Z2 (released in Q1 2014) – trumps the S5. But ultimately, the the Xperia Z3 is my pick for five-incher of 2014.
However if you are in the USA, I’d pick the Motorola Moto Maxx over the Xperia Z3 as the former slightly edges the latter in just about every aspect except overall memory but the latter has international availability going for it.
Moving on to the larger-screen phones, the competition for top spot is much tougher with the presence of Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus, Oppo’s OnePlus One and the LG G3 coming up against juggernauts Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Google Nexus 6.
It wasn’t so tough deciding against the iPhone 6 Plus as the top phone here. Nonetheless, it is a very good phone to have especially with its full-HD 5.5″ display which is a first for Apple. The ‘bendgate’ also had a big hand in the negatives for it.
A phone that should get a worthy mention at this point is the HTC Desire 820 which is about the same height as the iPhone 6 Plus but lighter and is as good if not arguably better than the iPhone 6 Plus. Yet the HTC is less than half the cost of the bigger iPhone.
Speaking of phones much cheaper but as good (if not better) than the iPhone 6 Plus, next to fall by the side – and this hurt a bit – is the OnePlus One. Hype before its release was fantastic, phone itself has spectacular specs but those specs fell just short (even though it trumps the iPhone).
There also was the issue of timely delivery, with the release date repeatedly being moved and the company falling well behind schedule on demand for the phone after its release. But for a phone with high-end specs at a starting price of just €300 (about half of what competing phones cost), those problems were not much of a surprise.
Still, it leaves the LG G3 going head-to-head alone with the Galaxy Note 4 and Nexus 6 in a valiant battle of breathtakingly stunning displays, sharp main and front cameras as well as monstrous cores.
Eventually, the G3 falls just short in the details/numbers. Performance wise however, LG’s best phone yet forces a photo-finish with the Note 4 and Nexus 6, which is as high as any phone in the market can ever be regarded.
As for which is better between the Note 4 and Nexus 6, it trickles down to the fine details on paper and more importantly, personal preference. Both have great cameras, both have monstrous processors (the most powerful available in the market at the moment), very good battery life and immaculately large, sharp and enticing displays.
The vote swings in the Nexus’s favour due to having the latest Android OS out-of-box unlike Note 4 which still requires an upgrade from KitKat. There’s also the assurance of the Nexus getting updates pushed to it well before it is available to other phones.
On the other hand, the Note 4 edges the Nexus in the camera department as well as having a slightly better battery and importantly being more available to purchase globally than the Nexus.
In the end, the Note 4 ultimately gets the crown because the Nexus is expensive. Yes, the Note 4 is expensive as well but one of the ‘founding’ ideas that drove the Nexus series was for it to have the high-end specs of its time but sell at a Google-subsidised retail price. $600+ doesn’t scream ”subsidised”.
Penultimately, there are the sub-5″ screen phones, usually the ‘mini’ versions of flagships with the HTC One Mini one, Samsung Galaxy S5 mini, Apple iPhone 6, Lumia 830 in the running here.
The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact however is the undisputed winner in this category, even beating off the iPhone 6 easily as it possesses twice the RAM, more powerful processors, a far better camera and longer lasting battery life.
The Z3 Compact shows the mobile world that it is more than possible to fit the features in a larger sized flagship into a more compact (hence the name) form without compromising.
One can even argue for the Z3 Compact to be the overall best phone of 2014 ahead of its bigger sibling – Xperia Z3 – and the Galaxy Note 4. Matter of fact, the Z3 Compact was the best phone of 2014.
Finally, the flop phones of 2014 include the Samsung Galaxy S5 but I’ll get to why it is in a bit. Then there was the Nokia Lumia 830 because the mid-range Lumia 730 offers basically same features (except the camera) in a smaller but better screen at a much cheaper price.
There’s also the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Neos which, for what is supposed to be a ‘mini’ version of the Note 3, seemed more like a rushed and poorly spec’ed Note 3. And then there is the Apple iPhone 5c that by no fault of its own happened to be the cheaper looking twin of the iPhone 5s which cost almost as much as the 5s. What then was the point if it was not going to cost as cheap as it looked?
The Galaxy S5 is a flop because it feels like an overpriced Galaxy Grand with a good camera rather than a phone with its own identity, like the S4 was. The S5 simply put feels like an upgrade of the Grand rather than of the S4.
Being full of unnecessary features also makes the S5 a bit of a disappointment. The phone is very good no doubt, the problem is it just doesn’t stand out like its predecessors did.
Samsung will have to figure how to make the upcoming S6 stand out and salvage the S flagship series this year, more so with the HTC Hima, Sony Xperia Z4 series and more coming; including surprisingly capable budget phones such as the Asus Zenfone 2 and Pegasus, Lenovo P90 and a handful of offerings from BLU. 2015 already is shaping up to be another exciting mobile year.