2014 was a banner year for smartphones. Despite diminishing returns in terms of pure performance, we still saw a lot of awesome improvements to the devices we slide into our pocket (assuming they still fit and aren’t some 7-inch behemoth). We saw manufacturers rise and fall with their ability to innovate — or in Samsung’s case, deliver phones at every conceivable price point.
If you’re looking for a post-Christmas deal and want to find a deal from earlier this year, here are some of the best devices we saw released in 2014. These are the highlights of this year in mobile.
Best Smartphones of 2014
Hail to the champion. Apple gave us the iPhone we’ve asked for years with this year’s iteration of its insanely popular flagship. Its 4.7-inch display hits the same sweet spot as last year’s Moto X, beautifully balancing a larger screen with one-handed usability.
Apple proved itself master of iterative improvement once again, delivering a phone that runs faster on better chips within a smaller, thinner frame. Just don’t put it in your back pocket.
Moto X (2014)
The 2013 Moto X remains, in my opinion, the closest thing we’ve had to a perfect Android phone. While its 2014 younger sibling isn’t quite as good, it’s still one of the best Android phones you can buy.
The Moto X uses fast and gorgeous stock Android enhanced with a few awesome additions like always-on voice and Moto Display. That and the company’s lightning-fast updates make the Moto X an absolute must-buy for any Android fan. Motorola ***gets*** Android.
Sony’s rapid development cycle for its Xperia Z flagships paid off big this year with the Z3C. The Z3 Compact is a smaller version of the Z3 that cuts no corners, providing the same great experience on a reasonable 4.6-inch screen.
Near-stock Android with minimal customizations, good hardware, and insane two-day battery life make the Z3C a fantastic choice for anybody looking to buy an Android phone. It may be small, but the Z3 Compact packs a serious punch.
HTC One M8
For the second-year running, HTC gave us a gorgeous One flagship. The M8 is a larger and faster version of the M7. Its Snapdragon 801 chip and 2 GB of RAM make Android feel as buttery smooth as we’ve always wanted.
The One M8 is the best-designed smartphone that doesn’t run iOS. The spun metal, the neat dot view case and excellent construction make this a great choice for anyone who wants a beautiful phone.
Moto G (2014)
The 2014 Moto G is a better version of last year’s version – no small feat for one of the most popular smartphones in developing nations. The Moto G is impressive because of how much it gets out of so little. You can buy this phone for a song off contract and get a respectable experience that doesn’t cut too many corners.
American customers might not appreciate it as much (unless they’re particularly budget-conscious), but the Moto G might be the most important phone on this list.
Galaxy Note 4
Samsung popularized phablets, and it stayed on top this year with the fourth version of its Note phone. The Note is big, fast and useful. Multi-window and S Pen with S Note are good features you can’t find anywhere else, even on iOS.
Improved software, great hardware, and Samsung’s typically impressive camera make the Galaxy Note a force to be reckoned with. iPhone 6 Plus, watch your back.
After the Nexus 4 and 5, Google finally gave us a phone with no compromises. The Nexus 6 is an enormous phone that cuts no corners. Everything’s here, though the price and lack of differentiating features atop stock Android keep it from claiming a place on this list.
HTC One M8 for Windows
If nothing else, having a flagship like the HTC One M8 running Windows Phone 8 shows Microsoft can still make things happen. While inferior to its Android counterpart, the Windows Phone-ified M8 promises good things from Microsoft in the future.
The phone that finally got Samsung to sit up and pay attention. The latest version of the Korean manufacturer’s flagship fell flat, and it showed in sales. Awful software, okay hardware and a good camera do not a good phone make. Regardless of its quality, though, the Galaxy S5 is still important to the industry. Even in decline, it’s a force to be reckoned with.
So there you have it. This was our annual list of the top draws in the smartphone industry in 2014. Which one of these is your favorite? Which one do you own, or are planning to buy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.