You’ve got to hand it to 2013. This year was chock-full of phones that brought new ideas to the mobile game, including some that fell short of the mark and some that rocketed way past it.
We saw phones that could breathe underwater, phones that were curved like potato chips, and a whole bunch of supersized phones that pushed the boundaries of screen dimensions (and possibly good taste).
Here are five of our faves of the year.
Samsung Galaxy S4
While the display on the Galaxy S4 is only slightly larger than that of its predecessor (5 inches versus 4.8), the phone comes packed with beefy, upgraded specs, including a 1.9GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, 2GB of RAM, and an impressive pixel density of 326 ppi.
Aside from the phone’s oh-so-juicy innards, Samsung tossed in all sorts of proprietary bells and whistles, such as the fitness-tracking S Health app and an embedded IR blaster that allows the phone to act as a universal remote. The touch-free Air Gestures functionality allows users to interact with their phone by waving their hand above the screen, all Sorcerer’s Apprentice–style.
In addition to moving a whole lot of handsets, the hit phone has helped to enshrine the Galaxy brand name, which Samsung has used as a launching point for devices to fill every niche in the market—no matter how completely unnecessary.
Following a delayed entry into the United States and Europe, the HTC One failed to make as large an impact as the Taiwanese manufacturer’s execs may have hoped for. Disappointing sales aside, the HTC One is undoubtedly one of the best Android devices on the market.
The phone’s aluminum-encased design makes it one of the sleekest handsets around. But beyond the One’s superficial qualities—as impressive as they may be—the phone packs in some powerful specs, such as a 4.7-inch, 468-ppi display and two large front-facing stereo speakers, which make the device the ideal mobile venue for games and video.
Although the One’s 4-megapixel camera may not sound impressive, that spec is somewhat deceiving. HTC staked its shooter reputation on its UltraPixel technology, which employs larger pixels on the camera’s sensor to capture more light. The result: the ability to capture rich images in low light (without flash), reduced motion blur, and minimal compression.
Shortly before the phone’s debut, HTC CEO Peter Chou made the unfortunate promise to step down if the One was not a success. As of today, Chou remains at the company’s helm, though HTC’s experience with the One is perhaps the reason why it has since vowed to concentrate on making more-basic phones.
Nokia Lumia 1020
The One may have proven that phones don’t need a lot of megapixels to take a really good picture, but that doesn’t mean that a lot of megapixels won’t make for a really good picture either. That was Nokia’s philosophy when it created the Lumia 1020, featuring a 41-megapixel rear-facing camera.
The 1020’s camera is automatically set to create two images with each shot: the full 38-megapixel image and a remixed 5-megapixel image that users can share through SMS, email, social media, and other avenues. The phone’s original full image remains so that users can recrop shots using the phone’s superzoom capabilities.
Motorola Moto X
Among the marquee phones to debut this year, the Moto X didn’t win the specs race, but it still managed to incorporate some of the most innovative and useful functionality we’ve seen in a long time.
For example, the Moto X senses when you have removed it from your pocket or picked it up off a table, and automatically displays the time without your having to press a button. Googlerola’s engineers have designed a device with the knowledge that most people use their phones as their go-to timepieces (not the other way around). Sure, that’s a small feature, but it’s one that makes complete sense.
The phone can even sense when it is moving in a car, and you can set it up to automatically turn on its voice-activated Touchless Control function for interacting with the hands-free features that are making their way into so many of Google’s products.
And I haven’t even mentioned the phone’s revolutionary direct-to-consumer Moto Maker site, which allows buyers to customize the look of their phones.
While the Moto X hasn’t quite blown up the market in the way Google may have anticipated (prompting a few rounds of price cuts and site-crashing Black Friday sales), Motorola’s refreshingly innovative take on mobile has not only made the Moto X a desirable device but has also laid the framework for crazy new functionality to come.
Apple iPhone 5s
Despite complaints that Apple’s latest devices have been more evolutionary than revolutionary, Cupertino’s flagship iPhone 5s is arguably the world’s best smartphone.
Sure, the iPhone might benefit from a bump in its screen size to match the larger dimensions of its competition. Nevertheless, Apple’s engineers still managed to build a handset that dazzles, down to the smallest details.
One of the phone’s biggest innovations is the Touch ID fingerprint sensor embedded in the home button. While other phones have offered fingerprint sensors, they were highly unreliable gimmicks (I can speak to this directly as a former owner of the Motorola Atrix). But the sensor on the 5s actually works. Consistently.
The biggest selling point for the 5s, however, is its unique symbiosis of refined hardware and a newly updated OS, which makes it one of the most powerful pocket-size devices you can buy. Our lab tests showed that the 5s not only blows the competition out of the water but also far outpaces last year’s iPhone 5.
Although some critics will never be happy until Apple makes a phone with a larger display, the fact remains: There just aren’t any phones that can match the iPhone’s performance.
This story, "5 fab phones that rocked our socks in 2013" was originally published by TechHive.