With Google’s cutesy designer toy robot logo assuming Stephen Fry-style levels of ubiquity this year, it's hard to argue that Android was anything other than the biggest smartphone story of 2010. But which handsets really made the OS sing? Here’s the ten that we thought were a credit to Google's platform.
1 Samsung Galaxy S
The Galaxy S gets our vote for the year’s finest Android effort. It isn’t perfect. But it comes closer than anything we’ve seen, that’s for damn sure. On hardware alone, it knocked spots off most of the competition.
At the heart of Sammy’s stellar smartphone was its great 4-inch SuperAMOLED screen which offers retina-scorchingly brilliant colours that match the iPhone 4’s super high density display. And unlike some other screens that use SuperAMOLED tech, it was visible even in the brightest sunlight. The display makes this handset quick and easy to use too. Simple to execute finger pinches on the screen let you zoom into gallery apps and the web browser, while even the lightest touches register on the screen.
Meanwhile, the pre-installed Swype keyboard app – that speeds up text entry by allowing you input characters by running your finger over them in a continuous sweep rather than picking them out individually, was so slick and responsive that manufacturers are queueing up to get it fitted as standard on their mobiles.
As we hinted above, however, this wasn’t flawless when it arrived. There were some much-publicised problems with the handset’s GPS. But since these have since been sorted with an Android software update, we’re prepared to let it slide.
In a nutshell, the Galaxy S is what happens when great software meets similarly great hardware. If you’re in the market for the best Android experience going, look no further.
2 HTC Desire
The original HTC Desire – arguably the phone that was most pivotal in bringing Android to the mass market - was released back in February. Since then we’ve had its successor, the Desire HD, and the similarly ace Galaxy S from the House of Sammy. So surely, the Desire should be looking a bit long in the tooth by now, no? Not a bit of it.
Granted, it does lose out to its successor in some areas. Compared to the HD upgrade’s 4.3-inch beast of a display, the Desire’s 3.7-inch screen seems a bit undersized. Then there’s the fact that it doesn’t support some of the new features that the HTC Sense update brought to its handsets, such as the option to remotely wipe or lock your phone if it’s stolen, and transfer songs and media remotely to handsets from your PC.
But there’s still loads to recommend the Desire. Not least because it’s positively packed with features. It still offers the earlier Sense UI, which means it integrates for contacts across social networks and makes it peachy for keeping up to date with your nearest and dearest. And it’s got an ace web browser, a top-notch virtual keyboard and a pretty good five-megapixel camera, that was augmented with HD video recording when Android 2.2 landed on the mobiles earlier this year.
What’s more, unlike the Desire HD, this won’t power down after a day - or less when you’re remotely synching. Plus it’s now on offer for free from a very reasonable £25 per month.
3 HTC Desire HD
Tech fans who didn’t name the Galaxy S or iPhone 4 as the year’s best mobile were almost certain to have picked out the Desire HD as their favourite. It’s not hard to see why. In so many ways, this is a state-of-the-art smartphone.
The updated version of the Desire built on that mobile’s great work by beefing up the camera from five-megapixels to eight-megapixels and adding an extra LED flash for happier snapping in dark locations. HTC also boosted the Snapdragon 1Ghz processor, so it runs faster and expanded the screen’s real estate from a still-expansive 3.7-inches to a monstrous 4.3-inches.
As with the Desire Z, the Desire HD also supports HTCSense.com features, such as remote wiping and locking of handsets in the event of loss and theft and the option to store your contacts and customisations in the Cloud. Winningly, these are completely free to users.
Unfortunately, the Desire HD doesn’t have the most impressive battery life. But as has been pointed out, that’s something that affects most of the current-generation of smartphones – especially when browsing the web using a 3G network.
4 HTC Wildfire
The Wildfire wasn’t HTC’s first tilt at replicating the Android experience on a budget blower. That honour belongs to the HTC Magic. But it’s most certainly it’s best.
Compare the spec sheet with the more costly Desire and the Wildfire comes off pretty well. Like the Desire, it packs an LED flash-toting five-megapixel camera, albeit one sans HD video recording. Plus it supports multi-touch and is loaded up with HTC’s social networking-focussed Sense UI. And, any fule can see, it takes its design cues from HTC’s mega-seller too, with an expensive-looking metallic sheen and trackpad.
In fact the only place where the Wildfire fell down was in its QVGA touchscreen, which can’t really compete with the gorgeous, multi-hued media and web experience that the Desire offers. Still, with Android 2.2 about to drop on the Wildfire soon, there’s plenty to look forward to for existing owners and would-be buyers alike.
5 Samsung Galaxy Europa
The Galaxy S is many people’s nomination for the year’s best smartphone bar none. But while that slice of cellular gold stole headlines and plaudits in equal measures, its less lauded little brother the Samsung Galaxy Europa isn’t half bad either.
Available for free from just £12 per month on 3, it’s simply a great way to get onboard with Android for a wallet-friendly price. For that outlay you get a very, very responsive 2.8-inch touchscreen that supports multi-touch, the 2.1 version of the Android operating system and seven customisable homescreens, so there’s ample scope for customisation too.
Measuring 56mm by 108mm by 12.3mm, it’s a baby next to the likes of the HTC Desire. But that just means it slips into your pocket easily and won’t cause unsightly bulges when stuffed in your jeans. Granted, the back cover is a bit plasticky for our tastes. But for just over a tenner a month, what do you want? Blood?
6 LG Optimus One
Mid-range touchscreen phone specialists LG were slow to react to the Android goldrush, allowing the likes of HTC and Samsung to steal its mindshare and marketshare. But, as sales of one million-plus attest, the Optimus One placed it firmly back among the runners and riders in the Android smartphone race.
With Android 2.2 out of the box, a surprisingly impressive three-megapixel camera and HSDPA and a slick and speedy web browser, the Optimus One would be an attractive package at any price. But it’s doubly appealing when you consider that you can pick up this smart bit of kit for free from just £20 per month.
If you’re keen on long-distance car jaunts, you might also want to take a look at the Navigation Edition, which comes with a free car mount so you’ll be able to really take advantage of the handset’s A-GPS support and pre-installed Google Maps and save yourself splashing out on a separate sat nav to boot.
7 Desire Z
The Desire Z’s M.O. is messaging. That’s due partly to the large, physical QWERTY keyboard it packs, which means it’s ideal for composing lengthy emails while you’re on the go. And as with all HTC mobiles, it features the company’s Sense custom skin user interface onboard that syncs all your contacts so that social networking is a breeze.
It’s also got Android 2.2, AKA Froyo, out of the box so it offers all the latest features that Google has added to the operating system, such as improved security and tethering (that’s the option to use your smartphone as a mobile broadband dongle to get online with web enabled devices) . There’s also a five-megapixel snapper with LED flash and video recording in rich HD, a rather lovely aluminium finish, a trackpad for scrolling around the screen and a gorgeous 3.7-inch display.
If you’re no fan of touchscreen typing and want a phone that showcases Android at its most modish – and there are a lot of you about - the Desire Z could be just what you’re looking for.
8 Google Nexus One
Google’s first foray into branded phones didn’t sell anything like the numbers that it was supposed to. Despite a near identical spec sheet, (3.6-inch AMOLED screen, Android 2.1 out of the box and a five-megapixel camera), the majority of smartfans opted for the HTC Desire instead. And, of course, its chances in the market weren’t helped any by the sales model that the search giant adopted that served only to put off punters who are used to buying contract phones direct from carriers.
But as the year has gone on the Nexus One has grown in stature. Because it ran the so-called vanilla Android, it wasn’t hamstrung by delays caused by compatibility issues with custom skins and new iterations of Android that affected its rivals.
That meant that Nexus One owners could get onboard with the latest versions of the OS almost instantly. Conversely, Desire and Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 users, for instance, had to wait until their phones’ manufacturers and network providers worked to ensure support for their skins and services respectively. It was a wait that often ran into months and caused no end of teeth-gnashing.
9 Motorola Droid R2D2
Alas, this was a US only device. But I can’t have been the only UK fan of the Star Wars saga who saw this and realised that if it had come to the UK, this really would've been the Droid they’ve been looking for.
Unwrap the handset from a box fashioned to resemble the carbonite that encased Han Solo on Bespin, this special super limited edition gives the Motorola Droid a respray in R2D2 livery. And it really looks a picture.
But it’s the Star Wars themed content that seals the deal, such as R2D2 ringtones and notifications, plus an Empire Strikes Back app with live wallpaper, a trivia game and widgets.
10 Motorola Defy
The "life-proof" Defy is an Android phone that can take a knocking and keep on rocking. With a 3.7-inch WVGA touchscreen fashioned from the same super robust Gorilla Glass that debuted on the iPhone 4 and designed to withstand all manner of drops, this is the Stuart Pearce of the Android smartphone set. It’s also water-resistant thanks to a special waterproof seal that means it can be submerged in water for up to half an hour and come out as good as new.
But is it up to par on the features front, you might ask. It really, really is, as it happens. With a none-too-shabby five-megapixel camera with LED flash, Android 2.1, plus Swype pre-installed for easy touchscreen typing, the Defy is so much more than a mere a tough phone.