2010 was the year of the smartphone operating systems war, as Android, Apple and Research in Motion turned up the heat on each other with some stellar handsets. Fresh from the smoke of battle, we name the handsets that led the charge.
1 iPhone 4
Apple haters – and lest we forget they are legion – had a field day forecasting doom for Cupertino in 2010. The iPod was going to flop, they groused. People don’t want tablets, they griped. They couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s now on target to rack up 13 million sales before the year end. Some flop. However, things weren’t quite so rosy when it came to Apple’s smartphones. In fact, where iPhone 4’s antenna problems were concerned, the naysayers had a bit of a point. The problem of dropped calls (AKA antennagate) was very real and very vexing indeed.
But now the smoke’s cleared no-one really talks about it any more. And that’s because when it came to the fourth iteration of the iPhone, there was just so much else to get excited about
For openers, it had an awesome spec sheet. There was the 5MP snapper with HD video recording that stands head and shoulders above cameras on other iDevices. And there was a secondary camera for video calling too. Plus a 3.5-inch super high density retina display that made the likes of Epic Citadel and other titles specially tailored for it look even more eye-popping.
And there were seismic software developments too with the ongoing evolution with iOS 4.0. Perhaps most significant of these being the arrival of multi-tasking for the first time, which removed the need to close apps before opening a new one.
But just as important was the slew of great apps that kept appearing, taking the product range in the App Store to ever greater heights. From Angry Birds to Cut the Rope to TrueHDR to video editor Splice, this year’s crop was an embarrassment of riches. It’s these more than anything else that’s put the iPhone 4 at the top of the smartphone tree. Again.
2 HTC Desire HD
Although Samsung’s sexy Galaxy S is a stellar bit of kit, HTC is still the go to phone maker for Android. And smartphones like the HTC Desire HD are the reason why.
In many respects this handset had the lot. It had Android 2.2 out of the box, a five megapxiel camera with video recording, a peachy 4.3-inch touchscreen, plus a powerful 1Ghz processor keeping everything ticking over nicely. Plus, an ever-expanding selection of apps to choose from the burgeoning Android Market.
Buyers were also able to get onboard with the latest version of HTC Sense, which meant there was a unified inbox to make it easier to stay on top of e-communiques, plus the option to pre-load maps to cut out wait times while navigating around. The rejigged custom skin also brought with it remote synching of media content, so you can transfer tunes to your handset wherever you were.
But nothing’s perfect. The HTC Desire HD’s Achilles’ heel was its disappointing battery life, which was especially hamstrung when you were using the remote control feature. If HTC had addressed this, the Desire HD would’ve run the iPhone 4 a lot closer for the top spot.
3 Google Nexus One
Tech fans have been baying for a Google-branded phone for years. But when it did arrive in the shape of the Nexus One, against all the odds it struggled to match the pre-sales hype as folk opted instead for the HTC Desire. More fool they.
With a nigh-on identical spec sheet (CF: five megapixel camera, 1GHz processor and 4.8-inch screen), the Nexus One offered everything that was good about the Desire. But crucially it omitted HTC’s custom skin Sense in favour of unadorned vanilla Android.
Is this case less really was more. While owners of third-party phones waited months for Android updates while manufacturers got them to work with their skins, Nexus One buyers could grab the latest Android iterations stat and get onboard with the very latest features the platform had to offer.
For that reason, this handset’s stature grew and grew as the year went on.
4 HTC HD 7
Sales of around 135,000 across the entire launch line-up suggests that Windows Phone 7 phones haven’t grabbed the public’s imagination quite as much as might have been expected. But it’s early days yet. After all, a few years back people had written off Android after a slow start. And look how wrong they were.
HTC’s HD7 is Microsoft’s platform at its very best. The 4.3-inch touchscreen is fabulously responsive, to the extent that it still awes us a bit each time we use it. And said display combined brilliantly with the clean and clear tile-based interface and on-screen keyboard for a super slick user experience.
There was ample scope for customisation too and even a vinyl loving luddite like me found it easy to get to grips with the Zune store and syncing.
Right now, though, app support if a bit lacking. The last time we looked the total app count was under 4,000. But with some fine titles in the pipeline (CF: Angry Birds and a glut of stuff from EA), that situation is already improving. Plus, there’s two – count ‘em, that’s two – OS updates to look forward to, too. Both of which are pencilled in for the first quarter of 2011.
5 Samsung Galaxy S
With its vast, jaw-droppingly clear 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen, the title of the Android phone with the best display goes to the Galaxy S. But that wasn’t all it had to recommend it. The speedy Swype keyboard was a joy to use and it was impressively thin, to boot.
However, it was the lightning fast chipset that really did it for us, allowing us to zoom around the handset like Gareth Bale on a litre of Red Bull. Other specs were pretty good, too. Not least the five megapixel camera, Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface and video and image editing software.
6 BlackBerry Torch
The Torch isn’t BlackBerry maker Research in Motion’s (RIM) first touchscreen phone. That honour goes to the Storm. But it’s undoubtedly its best. By a country mile, in fact.
Naturally it does email and messaging brilliantly. It’s a BlackBerry, after all. But it also added BlackBerry OS 6.0 for better social networking with Facebook and Twitter apps built in. And just as impressive, for us at least, was the way that the Social Feeds app knits together your BB Messenger, Facebook and Twitter updates into a single stream and provides you with constant updates of what’s happening across your profiles.
The Torch also scored for offering the convenience of a touchscreen without compromising the physical QWERTY keyboard that BlackBerry fans know and love.
7 HTC Wildfire
You can pick up a Wildfire for a fraction of the cost of many of the handsets on this page. It might well be the best bit of money you ever spend.
From the get-go, the Wildfire looks the part. Thanks in no small part to its quality looking metallic sheen and trackpad. And its spec sheet compares pretty well with its more illustrious cousins in the HTC stable. There’s a five megapixel camera onboard that’s in-line with the Desire, although it hasn’t got high def video recording. But it does have the social networking skin HTC Sense onboard and offers multi-touch.
And you can rest assured that if you choose this compact bit of smartphone goodness you won’t be left behind in the Android arms race. Android 2.2, AKA Froyo, is dropping soon, bringing tethering and support for Flash Player 10.1. So you’ll have that to look forward to, as well.
8 Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro
If you’re not sold on the vogue for ever-larger displays, you’ve been a bit stuck the last few years or so. Riding to your rescue, though, is Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X10 Mini Pro.
Measuring only 52 by 90 by 17mm when sealed up, this is the definition of compact and bijou. But remained surprisingly usable, despite the fact that meant it packed a relatively small 2.5-inch touchscreen. That’s due to some smart thinking on Sony Ericsson’s part – cue large icons, four shortcuts in the corners of the screen so you could get to your favourites quickly and 20 home screens to swipe through so you could put a single widget in each if you wanted to.
You also got all tons of Android apps, a handy physical QWERTY keyboard for text entry, pre-installed Google applications and a five megapixel camera. And right now, you can get one free when you sign up to a £20 month contract over 24 months. Now that’s a bargain and a half.
9 Nokia N8
We haven’t got the time to list everything that the latest NSeries phone packed. But an edited highlights package would surely include its industry-leading 12 megapixel snapper with HD video recording, responsive 3.5-inch screen and with multi-touch support, cool 3D games and the option to have 25-odd apps running simultaneously.
It's a powerful phone and no mistake. But it's one let down by the user-unfriendliness of Nokia’s Symbian 3 platform. Still, once they start getting Meego onboard their top of the range smarties this year, you can expect to see Nokia placing highly in end of year top tens once again.
10 LG Optimus 7
The fact that it’s hard to tell the six Windows Phone 7 handsets apart isn’t actually such a bad thing. For one thing, it means that there isn’t that much to choose between the best (read: most expensive) and the lower end (read: affordable) options.
The LG Optimus 7 is a case in point. For £30 per month (it’s exclusive to Vodafone), you get a five megapixel camera with autofocus and LED flash, the lovely Windows Phone 7 tile-based UI and 16GB of storage space, which is pretty handy given that WP7 phones don’t support microSD cards. Doubly so, since most of its rivals on the platform pack just 8GB.
And to further distinguish its offering from the competition, LG has also squeezed in an exclusive voice to text feature that lets you input SMS messages and Twitter updates just be speaking it into the phone.