Holiday Guide 2013 – Best Smartphones of Late 2013

imageThere’s no getting around the fact that our lives are becoming increasingly connected. Because of this, smartphones are an integral part of our daily routine. We carry a smartphone more often than we carry any other personal possession. After all, these devices keep us in touch with the world when we’re on the move. Because of this, it’s important to find the right phone that suits your individual needs.

In this list, we’re primarily going to focus on Android smartphones. That’s not to say that there aren’t great options running other OSes. For example, the Nokia Lumia 1020 has one of (if not the) best camera modules on any phone. However, people who are determined enough to pick out an alternative mobile OS more than likely also have their specific sets of needs, and they would likely not benefit much from such a comparison.

Good Regardless of Budget

This device stands in a category of its own. It doesn’t carry an ultra premium price tag, but it delivers quality performance and value worth far more than its asking price.

CaptureGoogle Nexus 5

$349 (16 GB) or $399 (32 GB) unlocked, but don’t call it “cheap.” Also available starting at $410 on Swappa. With class leading specs and excellent software and developer support, the Nexus 5 is a force to be reckoned with.

You can’t even begin to think about creating a list of the best phones currently available—at any price—without at least mentioning the Google Nexus 5. The LG-sourced device packs some serious computing firepower, including the current best-in-class quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor running at 2.26 GHz. It also packs 2 GB of RAM, a 2300 mAh battery, and a gorgeous 5″ 1080p screen with pixels dense enough so that it doesn’t even matter anymore. The camera isn’t the best in the world, and neither is its speaker volume, but both of these issues have since been mitigated somewhat.

What makes this device special isn’t its admittedly great hardware. No, it’s the software. With a stock version of the latest and greatest Android and Google have to offer, as well as virtually limitless development potential, the Nexus 5 is a software tour-de-force.

XDA Breakdown:

  • Root? Yes
  • Recovery? Yes.
  • Unlockable? fastboot oem unlock. Need I say more?
  • Widespread Aftermarket Developer Support? Yes.
  • Multiboot? YES!


Premium Flagships

These are flagship devices, but they also come with flagship prices.

LG_G2_prss-380-80LG G2

$650 unlocked (or under $200 with carrier subsidy). Also available starting at $470 on Swappa.

Close cousin to the Nexus 5, the LG G2 shares many of its internals with the N5. Though the device features a larger screen and a markedly better camera, it also is weighed down by an OEM skin that only a mother could love. Despite that, the device still packs solid performance, and with a little aftermarket development love, it can truly shine.

XDA Breakdown:


z1Sony Xperia Z1

$609 unlocked. Also available starting at $450 on Swappa.

Sony’s flagship for late 2013 packs quite a punch in the specs department. The device features a super speedy processor, excellent camera, competent screen, and amazing developer friendliness from the OEM.

XDA Breakdown:


Moto-X-Black-Press-Image-002-SideMoto X

$529 unlocked (or $99 with carrier subsidy). Also available starting at $390 on Swappa. Motorola’s flagship isn’t so much a flagship as it is an everyman’s phone.

Rather than cramming as many MHz and GB as possible into as think a device as possible, Motorola chose a different path. They instead came up with a few incredibly innovative software additions and tailored the hardware to match. As such, the Moto X doesn’t directly compete with the Samsung Galaxies and the HTC Ones of the world, at least not in raw specs, but it doesn’t have to. It’s a great device that offers solid performance and a reasonably good screen. And the touchless controls aren’t just the icing on the cake; they are the cake.

XDA Breakdown:

  • Root? RockMyMoto.
  • Recovery? Yes.
  • Unlockable? RockMyMoto
  • Widespread Aftermarket Developer Support? Not at the moment. A few source-built ROMs including official PAC nightlies, but no official PA, Omni, or CM for the device.
  • Multiboot? No.


Very Large Phones

You want a phone that can do more, and what better way to accomplish this than with a nearly tablet-sized screen!

samsung-galaxy-note-3Samsung Galaxy Note 3

$645 unlocked (or under $300 with carrier subsidy). Also available starting at $550 on Swappa. When you need to do more, you can with various Samsung S Pen apps.

The Galaxy Note 3 continues to be the only very large phone that truly offers a “phablet” experience. Rather that simply making a very large phone, Samsung has made a device that is capable of doing fundamentally more than most phones. Now, you need to deal with TouchWiz in order to gain this functionality. But for many, the trade-off is well worth it.

XDA Breakdown:

  • Root? Yes.
  • Recovery? Yes.
  • Widespread Aftermarket Developer Support? Yes, but depends on variant.
  • Multiboot? No.


CaptureSony Xperia Z Ultra

$520 unlocked. Also available starting at $430 on Swappa.

Although it lacks the S Pen functionality of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3, the Xperia Z Ultra has one added trick up its sleeve: the recently launched Z Ultra Google Play edition. Due to their hardware similarities, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the GPe ROM will be ported over to the standard device, and that’s good news for Z Ultra owners everywhere!

Older Flagships

While these devices are still powerful and they pack excellent features, they’ve since been overshadowed by newer and faster devices. That said, they could still be worth your time if you manage to snag a good deal!

HTC-ProductDetail-Hero-slide-04HTC One

$540 unlocked. Also starting at $329 on Swappa.

HTC Started the year off strong with the HTC One. When we covered the launch back in March, we were quite impressed with the device’s stunning screen, speedy processor, tasteful skin, and beautiful build quality. While the phone is no longer one of the fastest devices available, it is still a powerful device for those looking for a sculpted work of art, rather than the bleeding edge in mobile tech.

XDA Breakdown:


samsung-galaxy-s-4-white-three-up-front-profile-backSamsung Galaxy S 4

$560 unlocked. Also starting at $380 on Swappa.

While it’s starting to fall behind in the specs war compared to newer devices, Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 still packs quite a bit of power, a fantastic screen, great battery life, a nice camera, and expandable storage. Furthermore, the device has a healthy development community with more mods, tweaks, ROMs, and kernels than you can shake a stick at.

XDA Breakdown:

  • Root? Yes.
  • Recovery? Yes.
  • Widespread Aftermarket Developer Support? Varies depending on variant, but generally yes.


Find-5-1Oppo Find 5

$500 unlocked. Also starting at $310 on Swappa.

The Oppo Find 5 is a great device with a fantastic camera and impeccable screen. Its Snapdragon S4 Pro is no longer the fastest SoC available, but it can still breeze through most tasks without any slowdown. Finally, Oppo’s developer-friendly attitude earns it a place among all the heavyweights.

XDA Breakdown:


On a Budget

20131209T093823Moto G

$179 (8 GB) or $199 (16 GB) direct.

This one’s simple. If you’ve only got $200 or less, and you want an unlocked phone, get a Moto G. It’s a solid phone at an utterly fantastic price. Developer support isn’t quite there yet, but with such good price/performance, we can’t imagine it being too far.

XDA Breakdown:

  • Root? Yes.
  • Recovery? Yes.
  • Unlockable? Through Motorola.
  • Widespread Aftermarket Developer Support? Not much at the moment.

Now that we’ve spelled out some of the basics, we’d like to hear from you what device is your pick for this Holiday season! Please vote and leave your comments below to tell us what you think is the best device for late 2013!




  • dtox

    Sorry I could say amoled screens are an opinion, but washed out tft? Everyone knows they skimped out on the panel on the z. To be honest the z1 isn’t much better.

  • Vepaot

    You can tell which phones the author owned. Case in point, there’s no mention of the G2’s crazy good battery life or all of the cool features packed into their interface. Many people are quite happy with the Optimus UI.

    Ah well. Most people will buy Samsung these days regardless of anything else because of their aggressive marketing strategy. 😛

  • Tommy

    There are more important things though i got a good one, the screen isn’t much worse than the htc one’s one.

  • dtox

    The htc ones screen is one of the best, both from actual testing and in reviews. The xperia z and z1 screens are known to be terrible. If your eyes can’t tell the difference, I truly feel sorry for you

  • Tommy

    Yes i know. The screen of the one is better, like i said. But not much. Maybe it’s becoz my z is quite young, about 3 months old. I got both of them, and the display isn’t that worse as most peeps think. Regardless, i am used to natural colors and the display is just fine for me.

  • dtox

    Oh it is much, much better. A thousand times better at least. The z was the worst display I’ve seen on a phone in years to be honest

  • Tommy

    Yeah just compare. Bet you won’t anything better, atleast i didn’t.
    And maybe i got reasons to sell the one, bad cam and the sense software fe.
    So just be as happy with your one as i’m with my z.

  • dtox

    I did, and hands down the one is a much better seen by fee… Also the cameras take about equal pics to be honest. The z cannot take macro shots either for some reason. Sense is much better than what is on the z. The z is always laggy. My one never lags no matter what.

  • Tommy

    Well, cam has a lot more details,the ultrapixel technologie isn’t good enough yet.
    And some friends stated this too so not only a personal thing.

    And last the z became really smooth with the latest 4.3 update, 4.2 was in fact not that good. I personally like clean roms and sense offeres too many useless things for me.

  • Jasonwsc

    Erm ok? No need to get all mad about this?

  • Tommy

    He’s a htc fanboy. He even told the z ultra screen is worse than htc one’s screen,
    but in fact they are both ips and the ultra has an even better contrast, like in reviews said.

  • Jasonwsc

    Off topic

    The Nexus 5 is losing to the Lumia 1020 in a voting contest. The Nokia fanboys have eliminated all the Android devices except the Nexus 5 so a bit of help will be appreciated.

    Link here:

  • tau626

    Sorry …Best phone is the Droid Maxx

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  • Tribes

    I am surprised by how good Moto G is, I gifted my mom on christmas with one, and now I hate my Galaxy Nexus so hard.

    It’s smooth, powerful, and battery is lasting so far 2 days and 17 hours, for me this is new, I never saw any smartphone that lasted this long…

    So for me it is Moto G for the price, performance per money and for having so great build quality.


    Camera and LED Notification not being colorful like on my GNEX

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  • z1

    Just Sony Z1

  • johnlogic

    to make room for the speakers

  • Gibbs

    It depends on usage ! For some nvidia shield might be better, so xda gave the best phones for diffrent styles and stuff !

    But i got a huge problem, im addicated to nexus , i just cant even look at anything else then nexus but screen is small ! Z ultra is awesome but it has old SoC and also not nexus ! Its a little hard working with phones and tabletstablets for me ! I want mouse and keyboard !!! Also i want to have softwares and also games of windows ;( when i get bored somewere or have to do something!

  • Gibbs

    I had 2 samaung phones, both where a joke , my note got scratched HORRIBLY by its own spen ! It was slow laggy, even my s4! No custom roms or anything ! My n4 is amazing fast and buttery snooth and snappy ! I LOVE it !!! Wont give smasung another chance!

  • Gibbs

    😮 im waiting for nexus 6- nexus 8, i love my N4, its smooth great and awesome! + back looks awesome!!!!! i can’t wait!! but i will feel guilty:( also my n4 will get cheap when the N6 Comes;( maybe sell 1 day before release ?:D