If we started counting the number of smartphone contenders currently in the market we’d probably run out of hands sooner than we finish the statistics. So, we decided to pick out the very best and the very latest of them to tell you which one’s really worth the big bucks.
For the clicker crazy – Nokia 808 PureView
When Nokia launched the PureView in June, they branded it not as a mere smartphone but as a “super-camera smartphone”. What else can you really call a smart handset which comes with a 41-meg camera sensor?
We weren’t crazy about the design. It wasn’t the thinnest or the sleekest in hand. But, that was the price you had to pay to house the super-megs sensor in the body. Needless to say, the image quality was easily one of the best we’ve ever seen with a smartphone, no matter how high-end.
The strong point of the camera is the fact that it delivers images in 3x lossless zoom. So when we clicked a picture of a church (from across the road), we could zoom into one part of it and see the carved wooden windows in clear grain-free detail. The Macro Mode didn’t let us get too close to the object we were shooting, but at a distance of about 6-7 cms or so we could focus well on the object.
The video recording on the device was decent too. The audio support while shooting videos features a proprietary Rich Recording technology, which basically records audio with minimal distortion. This makes sure the sound recorded is as close to the original as possible. Apart from this, music that we streamed from the native app, through the smartphone’s speakers was extremely sharp. The noise reduction quality, worked on by Dolby, far exceeded our expectations. The voice call quality too was one of the best we’ve experience.
The 4-inch AMOLED display looked nice and bright despite a low screen resolution. Nokia’s proprietary ClearBlack technology helped bump up the brightness and retain readability under bright sunlight.
The Nokia Belle OS running on the 808 PureView is probably the best Symbian operating system there is. Not only do you have more real estate but also a more vibrant and intuitive user interface. The widgets on the phone also contribute to the ease of operation. Widgets designed for connectivity options such as Wi-Fi, NFC or Bluetooth came with a quick and easy On/Off toggle. Easy to use, operate and can be resized to five different dimensions.
As far as connectivity is concerned, the Nokia 808 PureView supports USB On-The-Go. This tech lets you transfer data from/to the handset directly from another smartphone or USB drive. The phone is powered by a 1,400 mAh battery and while constantly being connected to the internet, we could use the smartphone easily for more than a day.
We say – It might not be the best-looking gadget in town, but it’s definitely one of the best mobile shooters you can get your hands on. At the price tag it comes with, it’ll probably turn out to be money well-invested.
Love – Excellent camera, impressive acoustics
Hate – Mediocre design, slightly bulky
For the beauty with the brawn – Samsung Galaxy S III
The Samsung Galaxy S III is nothing short of a stunner when it comes to looks. Although the body is all-plastic save a metallic trim around the edges, the smartphone looks and feel super-premium. The curved body “designed for humans” (as if we can expect my pet poodle to start using a smartphone soon!) with its massive 4.8-inch display and the thin form factor would appeal to anyone who lays as much importance to appearance as to performance.
As far as the latter is concerned, the Galaxy S III continued the legacy of its predecessors with super-smooth, quick interactions. The 1.4GHz Quad-Core processor keep the device on its virtual feet all the time.
The 8-megger cam on the Galaxy S III comes with a lot more shooting options than its predecessor. You have the option for a Self-Portrait, HDR, Cartoon and Burst mode. The icons available can be re-arranged and customised to make your favourite options available on screen. Pics taken in quick succession can sometimes be out of focus and grainy. Those taken with the flash on (at night or under low-light) gave us decent results. The overall colour reproduction was true to original; however it's definitely not the best smartphone camera we've tried out in recent times. The camera can also shoot HD videos (1080p) at 30 fps.
What convinced us to shower an extra couple of brownie points on the S III is the host of gesture-based interactions it supports. If you want to make a call, open the contact details and just bring the smartphone to your ear. The handset will automatically dial his/her number for you. The same gesture works when you are reading an SMS from your friend and instead of texting him you want to call him back.
With the Samsung Galaxy S III you’ll find an app targeted to rival Apple iPhone’s Siri. The app essentially lets you talk to your smartphone and get things done than doing it manually on the device. So, if you are driving and you ask the S III, “Where have I reached now?” it'll automatically open Google Maps and pinpoint your current location. If you ask S-Voice to call “Preeti” and there is more than one in your contacts list, the sultry-sounding voice will prompt both numbers and ask you to choose the right one. Similarly, “Find me some good music” will take you directly to the default music player on the smartphone and start playing whatever tracks you have stored.
The 2,100 mAh battery pack powered the smartphone for more than a day with voice calls, a little bit of gaming and a lot of web browsing.
We say – Since the very first Samsung Galaxy S, none of the devices belonging to this family have disappointed. The Samsung Galaxy S III is no exception. You get a bunch of futuristic features, a decent camera, a fast processor packed into one sexy body. It’s almost worth the big bucks it demands. Almost.
Love – Super-sleek, smart interactions
Hate – Plastic build, steep price
For the audiophile – HTC One X
Not too long ago, HTC Corp. went through a phase where every third week would see a new launch from the company. There were so many devices in the span of a year that you wouldn't really be able to decide if one really trumps the others. Then came the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where the company announced its flagship model of the year, the HTC One X. It was one of the first really high-end smartphones we'd reviewed this year.
HTC usually integrates at least one really attractive design detail in almost all of its smartphones. With the HTC One X, they seemed to have doubled the effort. The handset is one of the rare ones which turn out to be impressively ergonomic (despite not shooting over rooftops and claiming as much - true to the company's tagline). The 4.7-inch fascia features a smooth, curved glass design, tapering towards the periphery, which feels like the most natural form factor there could be for a touch-based smartphone. The 8-meg camera is encased within a big circular design element, right next to a much smaller one for the flash. Although this leaves the lens exposed to dust or scratches, the overall design might as well be an HTC trademark.
Running on Android Ice Cream Sandwich, the HTC One X is also layered with HTC Sense 4, the company's own user interface. While we haven't been big fans of the Sense interface in the past, the latest version does lend a little bit of visual appeal and ease of interaction to the handset. The phone is also rumoured to be one of the first to get an Android Jelly bean update this year.
The company never really pitched the HTC One X as an amazing camera phone. But the 8-megger on the smartphone did give us really good results. While it was no Nokia 808 PureView, it gave us warm, saturated colours on the pictures we shot. The images, when completely zoomed in, were slightly grainy. But overall, the pictures were good for a smartphone camera. The native Camera app is loaded with imaging effects to choose from and presents you with a very simple layout when you launch it to click pictures. HTC's camera is equipped with a special ImageChip which adds to image processing. The camera has an f/2.0 lens and a single LED flash. The recording software also gives you the option of snapping a picture while recording a video. The 8-megger also features a “BSI sensor” to enable the clicker to capture clearer pictures in low ambient light.
Dr. Dre 'Beats Audio' which been partnering with a lot of tech companies lately lends its audio expertise to the HTC One X. Hence, the music streamed from the device is crystal clear.
When it comes to performance, the HTC One X leaves quite a few good ones behind with its quad-core 1.5GHz processor. When it comes to power play, it's technically on par with the Sony Xperia S.
We say – The HTC One X is one of HTC's most-well-designed smartphones. What helps its cause is a super-fast, efficient processor and more-than-decent multimedia capabilities.
Love - Ergonomically designed, smooth interface
Hate - Slightly expensive, average battery life
For the style diva – Sony Xperia S
While not exactly a benchmark for design and aesthetics, Sony Inc, has never quite produced a device that looks outright ugly.
On the contrary, over the last couple of years, since the first Xperia models were launched, the brand seemed to have been incorporating more and more attractive design details into their constructions.
What better example than their current flagship, the Sony Xperia S. The handset is a minimalist block of black with a thin, transparent panel with icons etched within. This now becomes a design trait, much like the Apple iPhone's one-button design that will set Sony's high-end handsets apart in the crowd. At least, as far as visual association is concerned.
The 4.3-inch screen does the trick to create a good first impression when you start using the phone. What's also interesting is the fact that in sleep mode, you can't even differentiate between the display and the bezel.
One thing, however, that Sony fails to do is keep its design purely functional. For example, when we first tried the smarpthone, we presumed that the icons etched inside the transparent panel are touch-sensitive. It does feel a little weird in the beginning that you actually have to press the area above the icons to activate them. The edges of the body too, constructed in plastic, might feel a little ‘sharp' at times.
The Sony Xperia S also sports the biggest-megs clicker within its smartphone portfolio. The 12 megapixel camera, although nothing like the Nokia 808 PureView, turned out to be capable of really nice pics. The colours were rich and well-saturated with barely a blur on any of the pictures we shot. The flash too is not the more commonly found ‘blinding' types, but fills in the frame well enough by lighting it up evenly. The clicker comes with Sony's proprietary Exmor R sensor which is claimed to be twice as sensitive as a conventional CMOS sensor.
It is also supposed to keep the noise low, something that we could probably attest for, given the fact that almost none of the pictures we shot were evidently grainy. Definitely one of the USPs of the Xperia S, the camera rightfully has a dedicated button on the right panel of the handset.
The Xperia S also gives you the option of clicking pictures with a ‘3D Camera' app. However, you can only shoot Panoramas with this, and not even great-looking ones. Also, there's no way to view the 3D shots on the phone itself (in 3D).
With its dual-core 1.5 GHz processor, the Sony Xperia S never showed any signs of slowing down. One deal breaker for smartphone junkies might be the fact that there's no option to add a memory card to use as external storage.
We say – This smartphone boasts of a brilliant screen and a good camera. Consider going for this if you don't mind a ‘plasticky' build and restricted memory space.
Love – Brilliant screen, good multimedia capabilities
Hate – Average battery life, no external storage
For the 3D Enthusiast – LG Optimus 3D Max
We can't really talk high-end – be it smart-tellys or smartphones – without mentioning technology's recent foray into 3D. This category of phones, as of now, has more sceptics than believers. However, every new launch seems to add a different dimension to this category of devices.
The latest 3D smartie that landed on our test bench was the LG Optimus 3D Max. Let's see how it fared as a smartphone before we move on to the 3D aspect.
With its 4.3-inch LCD display, the Optimus 3D Max fits right into the usual fleet of smartphones. However, what sets it apart is the Nova Plus 3D stereoscopic screen which helps you view 3D images and videos. Design-wise, there is really nothing that stands out exceptionally.
The smartphone has a separate suite of apps bunched under ‘3D Space' aimed at making the most of its 3D capabilities. So you have games to be played in 3D. You can keep yourself busy by alternating between Nova, Lets Golf 2, Asphalt 6 and Gulliver's Travels in 3D.
The phone also lets you access an exclusive YouTube channel with 3D content to watch on the smartphone. We found stuff ranging from music videos to performances to small documentaries. However, that's all when it comes to watching 3D media on the device. There was no way to watch a 3D movie on it.
The official LG SmartWorld app only stores a couple of games and entertainment apps but no hardcore media content for download.
The primary camera on the LG Optimus 3D Max is a pair of 5-meggers. Yes, a pair so the smartphone can even capture images in 3D for you. Despite being a little jarring (we are yet to see a 3D smartphone which doesn't give us a hint of a headache after continuous 3D viewing), the quality of 3D images captured with the 3D Max was really good. The depth perception with these images was more than impressive. The native camera app just about covers the basic tweaks that you'd want to utilise while taking snaps. A couple of colour filters and scene modes, and white balance are the most prominent settings you can change. You also have a continuous shots mode but if you are shooting a subject in motion you might end up with really blurry results.
One thing that didn't impress us much was the battery life on the LG Optimus 3D Max. The device houses a standard Li-Ion 1,520 mAh battery pack and we could barely go from morning till night without it prompting us to plug it back again. The power gets drained especially quickly if you have the mobile internet network on.
The only drawback – one that no 3D smartphone till now has been able to overcome – is the fact that watching any 3D content for as short a duration as a minute or two turns out to be a real strain on the eyes.
Every time you open a 3D-exclusive app, the company even flashes a warning asking you to take a break if your eyes feel tired or if you feel dizzy.
We say - Unless you are completely obsessed with owning a 3D handheld, we think you could find better options within the same price range.
Love – Impressive glasses-free 3D imaging, decent 3D camera shots
Hate – Average battery life, mediocre design
For the iLoyalist – Apple iPhone 4S
We seem to be still quite far away from a time when one can write about the most high-end smartphones without having to mention Apple iPhone. Heck, most Apple fanboys will even go on to claim that there would have been no “smart phones” if there hadn't been an Apple iPhone in the first place. But, well, we gotta be slightly more objective than that here. While the Apple iPhone 4S is still awaiting an official launch in India, we got our hands on a unit to see where it stands in the current line-up of the smartest smartphones.
It almost feels like a cliché to say that no other smartphone maker has been revered as much as Apple Inc. has been for its industrial design. Simple, sleek and minimalist – these three words will apply to any Apple device you randomly pick out from its product portfolio. The iPhone 4S established no major departures from its predecessor, the iPhone 4, when it comes to design. Just a few barely perceptible grams here and there. The body remains the same with its modern aluminium bezel, glass panels, and metallic hardware buttons. Some might find the iPhone's form factor to be a refreshing change – one that doesn't seem to be going down the “so-slim-it-could-disappear” way.
The 3.5-inch widescreen display on the Apple iPhone 4S also doesn't get to be the biggest of them all. But utilising the new Retina Display gives the screen a bright, clear bump-up.
The iPhone (after its first couple of iterations) has always taken good pictures. While the iPhone 4 with its 5-megapixel iSight camera delivered impressive results the 4S, with its 8-megapixel iSight camera, seems to be doing an even better job.
Another area where the Apple iPhone 4S trumps handsets that run on a Windows or Symbian operating system is with the Apple App Store. With more than 5 lakh apps for users to choose from, the App Store has a lot of exclusive applications, gaining significant ground as compared to the likes of Windows Phone Marketplace, Nokia Store and even Google Play. The iPhone 4S is powered by a dual-core A5 chip, and like all its predecessors, we had no room for complaints when it comes to swift interaction with the device. Currently, the device runs on iOS 5, but with Apple announcing the probability of an upgrade to iOS 6 sometime soon, here's a look at what the device might feature in the near future. iOS 6 will feature a new Maps app with Apple-designed cartography, turn-by-turn navigation and an amazing new Flyover view.
We didn't have a chance to try out Siri on the device as it didn't connect to the Apple servers, however the upgraded OS will feature support for more languages and easy access to sports scores, restaurant recommendations and so on. The new operating system will also use a new tech that mirrors NFC in a way. Termed the ‘Passbook', the app will let you store all your ‘passes' in one destination – be it your flight boarding pass or a movie ticket. The technology will let others scan your iPhone 4S to get the relevant information.
We say – It might not be the biggest but it surely holds potential to be one of the best in the market right now.
Love – Great camera, quick processor
Hate – Over-priced, same ol' design