2014 was a good year for phones but it was a particularly good year for phones in India. Not only did we see a lot of good high-end phones, but for the first time there were a lot of great phones launched in the lower end of the price spectrum, which is terrific, as that is still where most of the phones sold in India come from. Then there were also a lot of good mid-range phones and as usual, some excellent high-end ones. But some of them stood out from the crowd and managed to impress me the most from everything else that came out this year. So here is my list of the best phones of 2014.
Moto G (1st and 2nd Generation)
Motorola not only chose to come back to the Indian market after quitting back in 2012 but decided to do so with a bang, with a fantastic new product and exceptional pricing. With the first generation Moto G, Motorola started the low-end price war in India, with solid hardware and performance at an unprecedented price. And if that wasn’t good enough already, Motorola quickly followed it with an updated model within the same year that improved upon several key aspects while maintaining the price. The Moto G consistently impressed me with its performance despite its modest hardware and price tag and for that reason it is still my favorite phone to recommend to people on a tight budget.
Moto X (2nd Generation)
The second generation model of the Moto X turned out to be a surprisingly different animal than the first. While the original model was a compact, mid-range device, the new Moto X is a fairly big flagship device. What I love most about this phone is the design and the lovely wood and leather finish options for the back panel, which nobody else is doing. The rest of the phone is also quite good, particularly the close-to-stock build of Android that looks great, works great, and gets all the updates on time. Motorola could have and should have done better with the battery and the internal storage space but despite that it is one of those few easy to blindly recommend phones out there.
HTC One (M8 EYE)
If someone were to ask me which is the one phone I’d buy if I could just have one, this would be my answer. A stunning metal body, beautiful display, fantastic stereo speakers, excellent UI, a superb battery life, this phone has it all. The One (M8 EYE) also takes care of the biggest problem with the original One (M8) and that is a new 13 megapixel camera that captures some respectable images. A truly wonderful all-round device that’s not too expensive, either.
Sony Xperia Z3
The Xperia Z3 is a sensible phone. On paper, it has everything that you could ask for in a flagship device. Great specs, great performance, great battery life, and even a waterproof design. There is really very little to complain about and it’s so efficient it’s almost clinical. I couldn’t quite get myself to be emotionally attached to this phone in the time I had it with me, and that is fine because at the end of the day it does the job and for a lot of people that’s exactly what they need. In a way it’s like how Jeremy Clarkson described the McLaren MP4-12C; capable, efficient, but lacks a little bit of soul. Nonetheless, it’s a hugely accomplished phone that’s just a tiny bit expensive.
I’m not 100% sure why I’m including this phone in this list. The G3 for me was the opposite of the Z3, wherein it really didn’t excel at anything and had a ton of flaws. But despite that I enjoyed using it to quite an extent and when I look back at the year it is one of the phones that stands out in my mind. I wouldn’t exactly recommend anyone to buy it because like I said, it does have quite a few problems, particularly the sluggish UI. It’s basically the Enfield Bullet of phones; extremely flawed but some people love it anyway.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
The Note 4 is undoubtedly the best phone Samsung ever made. The hardware is absolutely top notch, with great design and build quality, utterly fantastic display, killer camera, top of the line processor, and a massive battery. The software isn’t quite as impressive but works well enough and comes with seemingly endless features that you never stop discovering even after spending months with the phone. It’s a hugely capable device and although the eye-watering price makes it hard to recommend it to people there is no doubt that it is one of the finest phones available on the market today.
Apple iPhone 6/6 Plus
Speaking of eye-watering price, there are the two new iPhones that came out this year. Apple finally admitted the fact that some people like big phones, and some others like really big phones. So now there are two new iPhones, one for each group. But while the size might be the only thing really new here, the iPhone continues to impress with good design, high quality display, fantastic camera, and really good battery life. It’s a shame that iOS has deteriorated into a buggy, stuttering, poorly designed mess over the years, not to mention the obnoxious pricing, which stopped making sense a long time ago. So although it’s a good phone, just like the Note 4, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to buy it at the current price.
Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that the OnePlus One was one of the most important phones of this year. Despite the absurd invite system, the company managed to sell a ton of these phones mostly due to the astonishing price that forever changed the way you look at high-end smartphones. Sure, it has some software issues but then again, Apple once pushed an update to the iPhone that killed the network and that is a 100 billion dollar company. What most people forget is that the One is the first attempt by a relatively small Chinese company and considering that I think they did quite well. You get good hardware, good software, and most of the trappings of a flagship phone but at half the price. Can’t complain about that.
Micromax Canvas A1
I started this list with a low-end phone and will end with one. The Android One project from Google for me was a big deal because it meant that you could finally have good low-end smartphones. Fortunately, Google executed the product itself quite well, which is why it is in this list. To be honest, I could have mentioned any of the three Android One phones available on the market today as they are all the same but I went with the Micromax Canvas A1 because that’s the one I used the most. For the price the phone sells at, the overall experience is genuinely good, and this is mostly thanks to the software. It was hard to imagine Android running so well on low-end devices but it’s finally a reality and I was continually amazed in the time I spent with the phone how it managed to run even better than so many of the high-end devices due to Google’s optimization. The Android One project didn’t quite take off as expected due to some rather poor decisions (you can’t sell a low-end phone exclusively online; that just doesn’t make sense). But it remains one of the best options out there today if you’re on a shoestring budget.
Note: I’m sure this list could have had a few more names. Off the top of my head I can think of the Xiaomi Mi 3, the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, and the Nexus 6. But I’ve had no experience with these phones or anything else that you can think of so I’m not going to vouch for something I haven’t used based on their specsheet alone.