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!