20 best smartphones right now

Your smartphone is the best weapon in your gadget arsenal. So whether you’re an app addict or pixel junkie, we’ve got your perfect partner

Far be it for us to complain that there’s too much choice when it comes to picking up a belting smartphone. But should the array of skills on display in your local phone shop baffle you (or should you need a guiding nudge) this tour of the particular strengths of the world’s 20 best smartphones – in no particular order – should steer you in the right direction…


£480, htc.com

20 best smartphones right now - HTC One X 2

If Pirelli is right and power is nothing without control, it’s probably a good idea to grip the HTC One X firmly with both hands. In fact, it’s also a good job that its 4.7in 720p HD screen is made of tough Gorilla Glass, because underneath it there’s a 1.5GHz quad-core Tegra 3 processor that makes the ICS-toting One X as powerful as Asus’ Transformer Prime tablet. To help maximise all that oomph it has a Battery Saver Core, which controls how much power is being used at any given time. Just as well or you’ll have splurged it all by lunchtime.

Quick specs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), 4.7in, 8MP

HTC One X review

Samsung Galaxy Beam

£385, samsung.com/uk

20 best smartphones right now - Samsung Galaxy Beam 2

While we’re grateful to physics for keeping our feet on the ground and our internal organs tucked safely inside our bodies, it’s easy to curse it for not allowing us to carry a home cinema in our pockets. Samsung’s Galaxy Beam, however, bends physics’ draconian rules. Its 4in, 800x480 LCD slips into your trousers easily, but thanks to a built-in 15 lumen projector it also contains the equivalent of a 50in TV. A 5MP cam even allows you to shoot your own 720p footage to blast on to a nearby wall, stationary lorry or large farm animal. Take that, physics.

Quick specs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), 4in, 5MP

Samsung Galaxy Beam hands-on

Orange Santa Clara

£tba (due summer), orange.com

20 best smartphones right now - Orange Santa Clara 2

You know something’s new when it’s still going under a codename – and the first Intel-powered smartphone still hasn’t been officially christened. But it doesn’t matter what the Santa Clara answers to, because the real story lies beneath its 4in screen. It runs on a single-core 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor – as made famous by almost every netbook ever – giving it enough power for parlour tricks such as 10fps stills shooting, no quad-core required. Orange says it won’t break the bank and it should get Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) before long. The future’s bright… for Intel.

Quick specs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), 4in, 8MP

LG Optimus 3D Max

£tba (due spring), lg.com

20 best smartphones right now - LG Optimus 3D Max 2

Like curry toothpaste or Marmite ice cream, 3D might not be to everybody’s taste – but there’s undeniable gadget joy to be had from adding an extra dimension to your own pics and vids. Sadly, LG’s first 3D phone also added some extra timber in order to make room for the requisite second camera, but with a waistline of 9.6mm and a weight of 148g, the Max avoids that chunky fate. Underneath its 4.3in, glasses-free screen you’ll find a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, plus there’s a microHDMI socket to hook it up to your 3D TV. Now stop hogging all the ice cream.

Quick specs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), 4.3in, 5MP x 2

LG Optimus 3D Max hands-on

Nokia Lumia 800

£365, nokia.co.uk

20 best smartphones right now - Nokia Lumia 800 2

Given that all phone designers have got to play with is an oblong with another, glowing oblong inside it, it’s no surprise things can get a bit samey. Despite that, Nokia’s crayon pushers have managed to make the Windows-running Lumia 800 stand out, especially in its glossy white, space-age guise. The 8MP camera round the back is one of the best on any smartphone, so it’s perfect for confirming how good you look. At 3.7in it’s not the biggest, but that’s all the better for fitting into your badger-skin bumbag – or whatever it is the hipsters are wearing these days.

Quick specs Windows Phone 7, 3.7in, 8MP

Nokia Lumia 800 review

Apple iPhone 4S

from £500, apple.com/uk

20 best smartphones right now - Apple iPhone 4S 2

The iPhone might be under constant attack from Android’s army of big-screened, quad-core powerhouses, but Apple can rest easy knowing that its app arsenal is fully stocked. Over half a million line the App Store’s shelves, from Twitter clients to touchscreen turntables via TV streamers, AR translators and the brilliantly named Roland Kickinger’s Sexy Nutrition (don’t ask). With so many apps taking advantage of the 8MP snapper and its crisper-than-the-aftermath-of-a-fire-at-the-Walkers-factory screen, it’s got software at the heart, rather than edge, of its appeal.

Quick specs iOS, 3.5in, 8MP

Apple iPhone 4S review

Asus Padfone

£tba (due spring), uk.asus.com

20 best smartphones right now - Asus Padfone 2

Asus might have already given us the Eee Pad Transformer, but it’s the Padfone that’s most skilled at gadget metamorphosis. It starts off as an Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) phone with dual-core Snapdragon processor, 1GB RAM, 8MP camera and a 4.3in AMOLED screen. Combine it with the Padfone Station, though, and it becomes a fully fledged tablet, with a 10.1in, 1280x800 IPS screen and five times the battery life. That makes it a tablet you can still make calls with, although you might want to add the dual-function Stylus Headset for that. Yup – even the accessories can’t make their minds up.

Quick specs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), 4.3in, 8MP

Asus Padfone hands-on

LG Optimus 4X HD

£tba (due June), lg.com

20 best smartphones right now - LG Optimus 4X HD 2

According to article two of the UN’s Declaration of Geek Rights (paragraph 2, subsection B), the right to unrestricted access to a hi-def screen sits just between permanent access to speedy Wi-Fi and the right to ridicule anyone still using a CRT TV. Thankfully LG’s ICS-powered Optimus 4X HD puts hi-def in your pocket. The 4X’s 4.7in 720p screen comes with IPS tech to improve viewing angles, while a quad-core 1.5GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 chip and 1GB RAM provide the grunt to shunt those pixels about. Low-res video, begone!

Quick specs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), 4.7in, 8MP

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

£425, google.com

20 best smartphones right now - Samsung Galaxy Nexus 2

While every Android OS is born equal, by the time it’s found a host phone and emerged blinking into the sunlight, most manufacturers have bolted on all manner of modifications. If you prefer your OS unsullied, Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus is straight from Google – so you get version updates before the others. The phone itself is no slouch, with a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 4.65in 720p screen and – ICS’ coolest skill – Face Unlock, which uses the 1.3MP forward-facing camera to only give access to people with your face. Like your twin brother.

Quick specs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), 4.65in, 5MP

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Nokia 808 PureView

€450, nokia.co.uk

20 best smartphones right now - Nokia 808 PureView 2

The 12MP snapper on Sony’s Xperia S mightn’t be enough to make you ditch your digital cam – but chuck in an extra 29MP and it could be a different story. Nokia’s 41MP camphone knows it’s what you do with those digits that counts. That’s why the PureView has a sensor more than twice the size of that in the iPhone 4S and uses it to ‘oversample’ your shots, so you can zoom in up to 3x and still get a flawless 5MP shot. Or, capture a massive 41MP pic if you prefer. Crashing shame that the phone uses the near-dead Symbian OS...

Quick specs SYM, 4in, 41MP

Nokia 808 PureView hands-on

More after the break...

Panasonic Eluga Power

£500, panasonic.co.uk

20 best smartphones right now - Panasonic Eluga Power 2

As first-world problems go, your phone’s battery conking out is only slightly higher up the list than your local deli running out of organic hummous. But with the Eluga Power’s 5in 720p screen, 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, NFC and an 8MP camera enticing you to use it every waking moment, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it flaked out just after breakfast. Luckily it charges in super-fast time, meaning you can juice it to 50 per cent battery in just half an hour, or 80 per cent in 57 minutes. That should give you time to phone around and find somewhere selling hummous.

Quick specs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), 5in, 8MP

Panasonic Eluga Power hands-on

Motorola Defy Mini

£155, motorola.com/uk

20 best smartphones right now - Motorola Defy Mini 2

Not all cage fighters are towering man mountains with chests like Transit vans. Some are whippet-like fellas who’d still knock you flat in a nanosecond. Likewise, not all tough phones are hefty bricks. Take Motorola’s Android-powered Defy Mini. Its subtle brawn comes courtesy of a 3.2in Gorilla Glass screen, well-protected ports and a sturdy plastic chassis. It’s also water- and dustproof, and while the 3MP camera isn’t the best for filming as you chokeslam a gorilla, at least it has GPS to guide you back to safety. But then, real men just use maps, right?

Quick specs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), 3.2in, 3MP

Sony Xperia S

£420, sonymobile.com

20 best smartphones right now - Sony Xperia S 2

Until you can use NFC to buy your weekly shopping or a house, rather than just a packet of crisps and a Mars bar at the local newsagent, you’re going to have to find something else to do with that chip. Handily, Sony’s dual-core, 12MP, 720p-screened Xperia S comes with four customisable SmartTags. Stick one in your car to trigger connection to your handsfree 
kit, another to set your alarm when you tap it against your bedside table and another on your desk at work to remind you to buy a packet of crisps and a Mars bar on the way home.

Quick specs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), 4.3in, 12MP

Sony Xperia S review

Lumigon T2

£tba (due June), lumigon.com

20 best smartphones right now - Lumigon T2 2

If Samsung’s Galaxy S II is the BMW 3 Series of the smartphone world (premium, powerful but on the common side), Lumigon’s T2 is the Maserati’s Quattroporte – stylish, upmarket and rare as diamond socks. Forged on the same Danish shores that gave us Bang & Olufsen, the 3.8in Lumigon T2 doesn’t just share a passport with the Scandinavian design kings: B&O’s ICEpower audio tech also lies inside.The T2 can be used as a handy infra-red universal remote, while a rear-mounted 8MP camera, NFC and Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) make this phone so much more than just a pretty face.

Quick specs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), 3.8in, 8MP

Lumigon T2 hands-on

Sony Ericsson Xperia Active

£220, sonymobile.com

20 best smartphones right now - Sony Ericsson Xperia Active 2

Personal trainers might keep you fit, but they’re expensive and they shout at you when you’d rather be eating Jaffa Cakes. Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Active will never do that – but it will help you fend off the flab with a built-in pedometer and a suite (mmm, sweets) of health and fitness apps. Its water-shrugging chassis means that a little rain is no reason to postpone your run, and the 3in touchscreen is even meant to remain responsive in the drizzle. It’s unlikely that the meal planner will recommend any more Jaffa Cakes, though. Shame.

Quick specs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), 3in, 5MP

Samsung Galaxy S II

£400, samsung.com/uk

20 best smartphones right now - Samsung Galaxy S II 2

With a successor due imminently, Samsung’s Galaxy S II is almost certainly entering its twilight days, but you can’t ignore a phone that’s spent its entire lifespan in the upper echelons of our Top 10 smartphones list. With its super-slim build, vibrant AMOLED screen and 1080p video shooting, the S II has managed to fend off attacks from all but the iPhone – and that’s only due to an Android-wide lack of killer apps. It may not be the newest, but S II owners can rest safe in the knowledge that they’re in possession of a gadget classic.

Quick specs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), 4.3in, 8MP

Samsung Galaxy S II review

Huawei Ascend P1 S

£tba (due April), huawei.com/uk

20 best smartphones right now - Huawei Ascend P1 S 2

With smartphone screens getting bigger and pocket real estate at a premium, you can’t afford to sacrifice vital millimetres to unnecessary mobile girth. Thinnest of the lot (for now) is newcomer Huawei’s 4.3in Ascend P1 S, with a waistline that’s just 6.68mm at its skinniest. Its waif-like figure means it isn’t as powerful as the quad-core crowd, but its 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 1GB RAM should have ICS skipping along, and it has an 8MP camera capable of shooting 1080p video. Not bad for a phone that looks as if it could slice tomatoes.

Quick specs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), 4.3in, 8MP

Huawei Ascend P1 S hands-on

ViewSonic ViewPhone 4s

£325, viewsoniceurope.com

20 best smartphones right now - ViewSonic ViewPhone 4s 2

ViewSonic’s new Android phone has a dual-identity problem. Not only is it called ‘4s’ (now where have we seen that before?) but its 3.5in screen has a resolution of 960x640 at 326ppi, the same as the iPhone 4S (ah yes, that’s where). But then duality is rather fitting for a phone with two SIM slots. Rather than switching between the two, the ViewPhone will multitask – so you can make a call with one while downloading an app with the other. A 5MP rear/VGA front cam setup allows you to take pics of yourself, so you don’t get all Jekyll and Hyde.

Quick specs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), 3.5in, 5MP

HTC Radar

£240, htc.com

20 best smartphones right now - HTC Radar 2

You’ll find cheaper phones, but as far as value for wonga goes, this 3.8in Windows Phone 7-powered bargain is hard to beat. Just like HTC’s more wallet-emptying offerings it’s clad in a classy, metallic unibody shell that makes it look like a much pricier offering. Meanwhile, despite being underpowered compared to quad-core competition such as HTC’s One X or LG’s Optimus 4X HD, a 1GHz single-core processor keeps everything ticking over nicely. Its 5MP camera even shoots 720p. Now if 720p could only be the price of the thing…

Quick specs Windows Phone 7, 3.8in, 5MP

HTC Radar review

Samsung Galaxy Note

£470, samsung.com/uk

20 best smartphones right now - Samsung Galaxy Note 2

Are you a person who struggles to make decisions, like what to have for lunch or which of your children you would save from a bear attack? Then Samsung’s Galaxy Note could be the answer to your ‘should I buy a tablet?’ dilemma. Its 5.3in display brings slate-style functionality to your smartphone, its S Pen stylus allowing you to sketch and annotate at your whim. A 1280x800 resolution and AMOLED tech makes it ideal for movies, although it’ll have to downscale the 1080p videos you shoot on its 8MP camera. As for the bears… we’ve got nothing.

Quick specs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), 5.3in, 8MP

Samsung Galaxy Note review

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