The Top 10 Smartphones on the Market

So you’re in the market for a new top-shelf smartphone? We’ve got you covered.

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So you’re in the market for a new top-shelf smartphone? We’ve got you covered. We evaluated over 500 phones, compiling reviews from the experts (CNET, PC Mag, Wired.com, PC World) and evaluating each device based on over two-dozen features and specifications (battery capacity, camera quality, CPU speed, pixel density, etc.).  Here’s what we found:

Overall Scores (out of 100)

Smartphone Smart Rating
Samsung Galaxy S4 97
HTC One (2013) 96
Apple iPhone 5 96
Samsung Galaxy S3 96
Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX HD 96
HTC One X+ 95
Motorola DROID RAZR HD 95
Samsung Galaxy S4 Active 95
HTC One X 95
LG Optimus G 95

A visual breakdown of the methodology

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Ben Taylor / FindTheBest

Note that these are the best of the best—you can’t really go wrong with anything on this list.  (For perspective, several phones scored in the 30s and 40s.) But for those who need a little more guidance, here are some tips for picking the best phone for you from among the top scorers.

(Rear-)Camera Quality Is Now the Least of Your Worries

Four years ago, megapixels were a good point of comparison for camera quality. For example, you might have had a choice between a 3-megapixel iPhone 3GS and a 5-megapixel LG Expo. The iPhone was the better overall phone, but for aspiring photographers, the low megapixel count was a legitimate drawback.

Today, all the top phones have at least 8 megapixels.* Unless you’re blowing up your smartphone pictures on a giant canvas the size of your refrigerator, more than 8 megapixels won’t make a difference. Instead, pay closer attention to specific camera features like image stabilization and autofocus.

*The HTC One actually only has 4 megapixels, but they are much larger pixels (HTC calls them ultrapixels.) The result is a phone whose camera quality is roughly on par with its top-shelf peers.

Front-Facing Camera Quality Still Varies

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Ben Taylor / FindTheBest

Flip your phone around and it’s a different story. Most front-facing smartphone cameras reside back in the 1 – 2 megapixel range—in other words, the range where bigger is still noticeably better. If you never take “selfies” (pictures of yourself with the camera at arm’s length), and you don’t do much mobile phone video chatting, the front-facing camera hardly matters.

If you video chat with your mom three times a day, however, note that popular phones like the iPhone 5, Motorola DROID RAZR and LG Optimus G have moderately worse front-facing camera quality than their Samsung and HTC counterparts.

Understanding the Difference Between Talk Time, Standby Time and Battery Capacity

Smartphone makers love to advertise “talk time” and “standby time,” but these numbers are easy to manipulate, and there’s no truly accepted standard.

One glance at this Talk Time chart, and you’ll assume the iPhone 5 is garbage—by far the worst of the lot.

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Ben Taylor / FindTheBest

The same could be said of this Standby Time chart:

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Ben Taylor / FindTheBest

The problem is that most of these manufacturers don’t test talk and standby times in realistic settings. They tend to turn off Wi-Fi, shut off 3G and 4G, lower the brightness, turn down the volume all the way, and so on. The phone might last over 20 hours in these extremely strict conditions, but wouldn’t last half that when used the way most people use their phones (brightness blazing, volume maxed, 4G on).

Apple’s testing standards come closer to real use, so the discrepancy you see between the iPhone and Galaxy isn’t nearly as significant.

The closest thing to a fair comparison is “battery capacity,” tested in milliamp hours (mAh). This number gets you closer to the actual capacity a battery has to handle the combined stress of texts, calls, browsing, music playing and video streaming.

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Ben Taylor / FindTheBest

Here, the Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX comes out quite well, and iPhone 5—while still last—is closer to the pack. If you have a regular charging schedule (you plug your phone in every night, for example), any of these phones will work, but if you need to go a few days without plugging in, consider a DROID RAZR or Samsung Galaxy.

All Phones Are Pretty Thin Now

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Ben Taylor / FindTheBest

For a while, the iPhone had claim to “thinnest phone” status. Then the DROID RAZR temporarily took the crown. The iPhone has reclaimed its top spot (at least among these 10 phones), but at this point, it hardly matters. All 10 of these phones measure in at under a single centimeter.

Weight Varies a Bit More

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Ben Taylor / FindTheBest

Most people overlook weight when buying a phone. They’re all fairly light anyway, right? Depending on how you use your device, a very light phone can be a huge benefit over time, whether you listen to music on hikes and runs, read for an hour a day on the subway, or just don’t want a brick weighing down your pocket or purse.

All that battery capacity in the DROID RAZR MAXX comes at a bit of a cost. It just depends on what you value more.

Screen Size

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Ben Taylor / FindTheBest

Unlike weight, nearly everyone has a preference on screen size. Most of today’s top phones hover right around the 4.7-inch mark. Once again, the notable outlier is the iPhone 5. At 4 inches, it’s now within range of its competitors (previous iPhones were 3.5 inches), but it’s the smallest by a considerable margin.

If a large screen size is much more important than thickness or weight, consider the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Weight Per Inch of Screen Size

Finally, let’s take it step further. What would happen if we took each phone’s weight, but factored in screen size? In other words, how much does each phone weigh per inch of screen real estate?

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Ben Taylor / FindTheBest

We now see that the iPhone is right back around average: its low weight is largely a function of its small screen size. The DROID RAZR MAXX still proves to be the heaviest, but surprisingly, the Samsung Galaxy S4 ends up being the most “efficiently light” of the bunch.

Final Recommendations

So we’ve presented you with the top 10 rated phones, and dipped into some of the key specifications. But what should you buy? Here are a few recommendations based on the data:

For the business traveler: Nab the Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX HD. The extra battery capacity will come in handy for that 9 am San Francisco meeting after you forgot your charger in New York.

For the outdoor enthusiast: Snag the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active. With a solid camera, good battery life, and a rugged design, the S4 Active is a no-brainer for people who wear backpacks more than they carry briefcases.

For the tech geek: Get the Samsung Galaxy S4. It’s got the biggest screen size, and respectable marks in nearly every other category. If you care about the spec sheet behind your gadgets, the Galaxy S4 is an easy choice.

For the everyday consumer: Go with the Apple iPhone 5. It may not have the top specs, but it’s got the best intangibles. Light, thin, and compact, it’s the right choice for consumers who just want something simple and unobtrusive.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

More from FindTheBest:

61 comments
IngridMosquera
IngridMosquera

jesus man, where do you find the patience to put up with these pretentious bigots? useful write up, thanks.

WenddingDresses
WenddingDresses

Yes, a successful company that vowed to "destroy android" and told people that they're holding it the wrong way countless times before reluctantly offering their customers rubber bumpers for their smartphones( I use this http://www.moonarstore.com/zte-geek-v975-smartphone-intel-powered-20ghz-2gb-ram-50-inch-ogs-screen-android-42-p-1979.html smartphone.). I would not be surprised if this successful company was found out to be bribing as many editors as possible to create the illusion that their overpriced overhyped mediocre device is the best amongst the ones available.


Steve4
Steve4

Seriously are they afraid that apple will sue them?  Apple has always been behind the times in technology.  As far as usability they stole, er um, decided to copy the android interface for the new IOS interface so the ease of use argument is lost.  Apple must have some good lawyers or paying a lot to these reviewers if no one can be truly be honest.  Technology of the iPhone is last gen at best, so why recommend it when it is almost dead last in all categories except the one they state doesn't matter much these days.  I lost some respect for time just now, but then they did weigh cnet high and they are obvious sell outs.  

arismramirez
arismramirez

Sony Xperia Z1 and LG G2 are missing? And really that laggy bitch SGS4? Well I guess this top ten doesn't include the specs and performance of the phone. Lol. Release date of LG G2 was august, and it has better performance and Screen display than GS4.

trevor.noralta
trevor.noralta

It sure is good to see a fairly open minded non-biased top 10. I get tired of the i-sheep reports that the iPhone 5 is the best thing out there. In truth, the iOS and iPhones are falling behind. Nothing of their own design or concept since the 3. Apple has been copying ideas off the jailbreak community for years and now Android. If you've been following it for as long as I have, Android is years ahead of iOS. I love the battle, it serves to get me a better product. I switched from the iPhone 5 to the Samsung S4 a while ago. Took a little getting used to, but now when I pick up an iPhone, I chuckle and put it back down to get me beloved S4 back. I could never go back. And the new iOS? Lol Wtf were they thinking? Ppl keep using apple for familiarity. Scared to change or learn something new. Kinda stupid to have those masses looking around to see if there something else out there that doesn't look like a child designed it!

hujambobwana
hujambobwana

Battery capacity is not a good estimate of battery life.  You should take the battery capacity and divide it by the wattage of the device under varying conditions; e.g. all antennas on and using the cell phone, or watching video.  The bigger screen and high cpu clock speed of some android phones means a much larger drain on battery power. 

Poor battery life has been one of the biggest complaints of smart phone users in satisfaction surveys.  What good are all those bells and whistles when your phone shuts down? 

LauraIleanaS
LauraIleanaS

From the graphical representations, iPhone 5 has the lowest score in almost all criteria and still it ends up on the 3rd place and you guys call it "average".

MKU902
MKU902

You should compare the Optimus G Pro instead of the Optimus G. 

tcdeusnobis
tcdeusnobis

Obviously for Z10 is too superior to be compared...

HRY_Man
HRY_Man

The Nokia Lumia's 41 MP camera is mostly a marketing ploy to attract attention. It's like selling a car with 16 wheels. Totally unnecessary.

So creating the best camera on the market that can take professional quality pictures is a gimic, and yet creating a phone w/ a screen so big that 1) you can't fit it into your pocket 2) it's nick named a 'phablet' and 3) you are not marketing a companion small screen watch so that you can now better operate your huge screen phone is not a gimick?

Because that's what billion dollar corporations due...they design marketing ploys.  10 cent hot dog night at the ball game is a marketing ploy.  The creating the greatest camera phone on the market is no marketing ploy.

HRY_Man
HRY_Man

...Experts still aren't convinced by the Windows Mobile platform, and that combined with the clunky weight just knocked it out of contention

So you get a bunch of Apple and Android people together and shockingly they say that the best phone is either an Iphone or Android.  Who could have scene that coming? 

nolan.english
nolan.english

WILL this article be changed to reflect the release of the xperia z1 as it can compete with all of the above?

epimmanuel
epimmanuel

No Sony Xperia Z?  You are not serious

UmiYu
UmiYu

Lame Samsung. I will never buy any Samsung product. Poor quality!

MarcHandler1
MarcHandler1

Ha. I like the way Benjamin Taylor handles the comments here. All of these people come on with nasty grouchy comments, and Taylor comes on with a smile and answers them individually with even tempered logical replies --- bringing the discourse back to civilized and intelligent. 

To grumpy commentor guys: Lighten up, they are just devices.   To Taylor: Well played.

BTW : What about additional functions? --- e.g. I understand the HTC has 2 sim cards -- that seems like a big deal for people who travel a lot.  Or who want to keep their personal and work lives separate. ... For some people, that might bump the HTC into first place over phones that are slightly lighter or brighter but only have one sim. -- (I think some Samsungs also have dual sim...?)

Also BTW: Doesn't it kinda suk that most manufacturers have avoided dual sims to please the phone networks? ... Perhaps some appreciation should go to the phone manufacturers who have released dual sim phones, thereby showing that they care more about their buyers than about helping the networks preserve their profits... I'm not a techie, so someone correct me if I got this wrong...

keith.aquino
keith.aquino

Where is the Sony Xperia Z here? It has the same big screen size for the tech geek, and is also good for the outdoor enthusiast. 

I really can't help but see this writer as biased.

GetRealTime
GetRealTime

Clearly this is a poorly written article and the author does not understand technology, e.g., measuring camera quality by megapixels only. There are different kinds of "image stabilization" and "auto focus" does not a camera make. I own an iPhone 4S, HTC One, and a Nokia Lumia 920 and 1020. They are all  great phones and each has strengths and opportunities. Sad, sad article, did you show proof that "Apple’s testing standards come closer to real use?"  when discussing standby times? Did you discuss how different operating systems and/or "skins" have different power consumptions when describing the mAh of the battery in them?  Truly embarrassing to Time and the author and completely biased against windows Phones and Blackberry. 

WillyJobeK
WillyJobeK

Good article. I love my iPhone for the intangibles- design, feel, UI nuances, but I will admit the specs don't measure up. Each to his own, smartphones can do so many different things that what is best for one, may not be best for another.

robinsonjoel
robinsonjoel

@TIME @Techland informative. I had an HTC one X and use samsung mega now. With typical usage, found samsung mega better

MuzzammilBambot
MuzzammilBambot

This is a paid article article  - No Mention of Nexus 4 - Can't believe this. - Its better than all those phones combined.

Benjamin1Taylor
Benjamin1Taylor

@hujambobwana This is a good point: larger battery capacities are required for bigger, more powerful phones in order to achieve the same battery life as smaller, less powerful phones. I should have made this more clear in the original article. My larger point though: talk time and standby time are so easy to manipulate, so easy to game, that it's better to start with a raw data point like mAh than to trust standby and talk numbers released by the manufacturers' marketing teams.

Benjamin1Taylor
Benjamin1Taylor

@LauraIleanaS A large percentage of our overall score is comprised of expert reviews. Experts test phones extensively and really consider the *experience* of using the device. This speaks to the iPhone's many intangible advantages. Despite less impressive raw specs, experts consistently praise the iPhone experience.

Benjamin1Taylor
Benjamin1Taylor

I agree with you on screen size—the so-called "phablets" are also pretty gimmicky. You'll notice that nothing in our top 10 has a screen size over 5".  

Regarding the Nokia Lumia, the argument here seems to be:

The Nokia Lumia's camera is *so good* that regardless of its other qualifications—like weight and OS—it ought to be listed among the top 10. After all 41 MP is over 5 times as many as 8 MP.

My overall point here would be that of diminishing returns. The jump from 1 MP to 4 MP? Huge. From 4 MP to 8 MP? Still significant. From 8 MP to 12 MP? Interesting, but no longer crucial. From 12 MP and up? Unnecessary to 99% of phone users.



Benjamin1Taylor
Benjamin1Taylor

@HRY_Man In my mind, Microsoft has drawn a short straw in mobile and their only mistake was being too late to the party (in fairness, they've been trying mobile stuff for years—even before the iPhone—but they never really nailed it until the last couple of years).

The problem is that their app ecosystem is lacking in comparison to iOS and Android. It's not 100% Microsoft's fault, but it DOES hamper the experience on their phones. Unfortunately, it becomes a vicious loop. Windows doesn't have as many apps --> therefore people don't buy Windows phones --> therefore new apps aren't developed for their platform

acrabtree283
acrabtree283

@MarcHandler1 ..couldn't have put it better myself regarding BenTaylor.. also you are bang on about the dual sim cards..more manufacturers should be doing it..i know its a big plus with me..but seeing as most of the top smartphones don't do it i've opted for buying a Galaxy S4 for personal, social etc,..& buying a cheap as chips phone with dual sim for my business & 'special' contacts..wink, wink... ;-)

Benjamin1Taylor
Benjamin1Taylor

@MarcHandler1 It's a great point, and an external factor our ratings don't take into account. Our philosophy at FindTheBest has been to provide the best research tools possible, and to let users make the best *personal* choice for them. The Smart Ratings are meant to offer general guidance rather than a final ruling.

Still, I wrote an article with "Top 10" in the title, so I suppose I deserve a little flak!

Benjamin1Taylor
Benjamin1Taylor

@GetRealTimeThanks for chiming in. A few responses:

Camera: Like you say, there's certainly more that goes into overall camera quality than megapixels. Hence my recommendation for people to stop focusing so much on whether a new phone has 8 or 12 (or 41 MPs). Tech aficionados like you will of course examine further features, and that's perfectly valid, but for the average Instagram-posting, family album-making consumer? All 10 of these are great options, camera-wise.

Battery testing: For example, Samsung reports *2G* Talk time and Standby time, which is unrealistic, given typical use. http://www.samsung.com/hk_en/consumer/mobile/mobile-phones/smartphone/GT-I9300MBDTGY-spec When experts actually test these phones, they get lower results.
Meanwhile, experts have found iPhone talk time to be "in line with Apple's claims." http://www.cnet.com/8301-17918_1-57519262-85/tested-iphone-5-talk-time/

Irony: Four Windows Mobile phones *just* missed the top 10. The Nokia Lumia is still among the top 4% of all phones we tested. I find it ironic that you criticize this post on technical terms, yet respond as though our ratings were "biased against Windows and Blackberry." The 10 phones featured in the post are *marginally* better (according to our rating system) than the ones you mention, not far better. You can click through the links in the article to see the full list of 500+ phones and see for yourself.

Thanks for reading!

Nazri1923
Nazri1923

@clogah Xperia Z is a great phone. No doubt!

Benjamin1Taylor
Benjamin1Taylor

@MuzzammilBambot The LG Nexus 4 received a very respectable 94 / 100 in our Smart Ratings, making it one of the top 20 out of over 500 phones. However, the phone has only average battery capacity and CPU speed next to the top 10, is considerably heavy, and received slightly lower scores from the experts (particularly CNET). For these reasons, it just missed our top 10.

tcdeusnobis
tcdeusnobis

Just be because it's niche doesn't mean it doesn't deserve a spot in the top ten, with smart phones generally the features are the same so it's about having things that stand out, USP's a 41mp camera is such, with Samsung it's all geeky stuff, screen following your eyes etc

GetRealTime
GetRealTime

@Benjamin1Taylor @GetRealTime   My apologies for not noticing the 500 phones link. My fault and I have indeed given it a look. I just found that your article could have explained better the technical/functional side of things and how they may relate to the individual and his/her needs instead of relying on graphs like screen size vs weight.  Screen size is a personal issue.  I like my iPhone 4S in part because of it's diminutive size to carry day in day out. I like my HTC One for it's larger screen size and it is my "phablet" at home! (I know it doesn't technically qualify as a phablet)   I like my Nokia phones in particular for their bomber build, integration with Microsoft Office, and camera technologies.  Also there is no mention of operating system differences and how they might have a particular appeal to different consumers. (yeah, I want to teach Android to my 80 year old mother instead of an iPhone!)  Journalistically I would have preferred a listing of the top 20 if there needed to be a listing at all. This would have at least included the Windows OS (I do realize you would have had to list the top 52 to reach Blackberry which by itself does not make it a lesser phone for an individual's needs).  But 9 of the "top ten phones" being android perpetuates that it is by nature the best OS, and while I know many "tech aficionados" would probably argue this strongly, each OS has its strengths and opportunities as I have already stated.  I am a statistician by trade and I guess I was prompted to write because of the old axiom "you can prove whatever you want through statistics"  (especially when the statistics are based on a large number of "expert opinions" that may include bias or subjectivity).  Listing phones by a ranking number does not state why a particular phone might be in the "top ten" for a particular user.  Once again I apologize for not noticing the "500 phone link" and that was entirely my fault, but I still believe the article would have been more helpful to the average consumer by explaining the differences between phones and OS platforms more than by a reductionist number being applied.  To conclude, peace Ben and thanks for reading my replies as well.