Holiday gift guide: the top five phones of 2013

December 1, 2013 5:06 AM

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We look at the best smartphones to give as gifts this holiday season, whether buying for a tech-savvy multitasker, phone fashionista, Android purist or someone who doesn't care what else a handset does as long as owning one means being able to leave all other cameras at home.

The best all-round handset: Apple's iPhone 5S

If judged purely on looks and attention to detail, the iPhone would be the winner but it is so much more than a pretty face, even when specified in the gold, rather than silver or space gray, finish. Underneath the anodized aluminum exterior is the first 64-bit smartphone processor, meaning that it can handle more complex and graphics-heavy applications than any of its Android peers, and it's fast, very fast. That processor alone would be grounds enough for a holiday purchase, but it also has a second processor for tracking motion and activity and a biometric sensor integrated into the homekey, meaning there's no need for a PIN code to unlock the screen - the user's fingerprint does the job instead. And it's all in a package that's still slim, light and svelte enough to hold and use with one hand.

Best Android phone: The HTC One

Unless an Android device has a killer feature or an interesting design, all that potential buyers have to go on are its specifications. How much memory, how big is the processor and is the screen high or low resolution. The HTC One is the closest anyone in the Android community has come to building a device as well-considered and aesthetically pleasing as an iPhone. And, like an Apple device, it's not all about good looks, it is a great phone with an intuitive interface and some very neat features, such as Beats By Dr Dre audio boost and curated customizable news and lifestyle content. As a result, the HTC One is more or less universally considered the best Android device money can buy. The only blot on its otherwise immaculate copybook is that its onboard storage cannot be expanded via SD or MicroSD card.

Best camera phone: Nokia Lumia 1020

Windows Phone devices may still be playing catch up in terms of apps and functionality, but when it comes to photography, not only does it wipe the floor with the competition, but the Lumia 1020 also has camera companies quaking in their boots, so incredible is its performance. The lump on the handset's back is functional - how else can it house a huge 41-megapixel image processor? - and the six-element lens floats on a ring of bearings to eradicate camera shake. But on top of all that raw imaging power, Nokia has included a host of other apps and software features that will inspire everyone from hardened photojournalists to those that want a really good camera that can make phone calls. And, thankfully, there is now an Instagram app for Windows Phones so that 1020 owners can really show off to a wider community.

Best value handset: Motorola Moto G

A handset that blends top and medium tier features that is priced to compete with sub-$200 Android phones, the Moto G has a glorious 4.5-inch display, a decent camera, excellent processor and, crucially, runs pure Android so that it is fast and responsive and so that none of the processor's power is wasted by having to render a customized skin and gimmicky apps preinstalled by network carriers. All of those features should be enough to make it a hit, but adding to its appeal are a host of personalization and customization options. It can be specified with different wallpapers, rear casings and covers.

Best phablet: Samsung Galaxy Note III

If you have to have a handset that's almost as big as a tablet, the Note range is still the one to beat. Samsung can take pride in the fact that it invented the phablet (or 'fonblet' as it prefers to call the device), and as competition in the segment has grown, so has the company's efforts to retain the top spot. As a result, the latest phablet flagship is lighter, faster and more powerful than its predecessor and, in the hand at least, feels of a higher quality than anything else in the Galaxy range of phones, phablets and tablets. For instance, the Note III has a wonderful full HD 5.7-inch display, stylus input and a one-year subscription to Evernote premium and supports a USB 3 connection which enables faster charging and data transfer when connected to a computer. But its list of features is so vast - such as being able to record video in ultra-high definition - that no owner will ever get round to using all of them.


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