Each year, the biggest smartphone manufacturers in the world release one or two devices that are labeled “flagship”—the best thing it has to offer. These phones are usually jam-packed with attention-grabbing features, the newest top specs, and the sleekest design.
Looking back to some of the predictions we made at the beginning of the year, some have come true and others have only begun to progress over the past year. Most notably, the trend you’ll notice with the phones on this list are big. With the release of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, it’s finally safe to say that we’ve officially moved into the dominant era of the big smartphone. 5-inch phones are everywhere you look, but the very best are often 5.5-inches and higher.
Unlike albums, television, or videogames, there’s really only a handful of them that get released to the public vie for that coveted spot in the palm of your hand. We’ve used all of them though, and even had to cut phones that we thoroughly enjoyed such as the HTC One (M8), the Nokia Lumia Icon, and the Nexus 6.
So here they are: the five very best smartphones released in 2014.
The new version of the Moto X gets just about everything right—a beautiful 5.0-inch display, an improved camera, awesome customizable backs, and the closest thing you can find to stock Android that isn’t a Nexus. The first Moto X felt like a hybrid between a budget phone and flagship phone, whereas this year’s model just feels like a high end phone at a cheaper price.
I still wasn’t in love with some of design choices such as the curved back that makes it wobble on flat surfaces—and as of writing this the phone still hasn’t received its promised quick update to Android Lollipop. The design of the Moto X got carried onto the Nexus 6, but with the ability to use Moto Maker to create the the perfect looking phone for you, the Moto X just barely nudges past it on this list.—Luke Larsen_
All in all, it’s another situation where it’s hard not to be impressed by how far LG has come with the G3. It doesn’t have the clean, appeal of stock Android, but in terms of Android skins, it’s just as good at getting out of the way as efforts from HTC or Sony.
Most all of the software and hardware features come together well for the G3. Aside from the size of the phone, there’s not really a single thing about the phone that should deter a prospective buyer from heavily considering it—it’s got the whole package. The G3 might not be the absolute, undisputed, best Android phone, but LG’s new high end Android phone the G3 is the physical representation of a company that actually listens to its customers. The result isn’t just a good phone—it’s a device that’s made the manufacturer a serious part of the high-end Android conversation again.—Tyler Hayes
Read our full review of the LG G3.
The Galaxy Note 4 has been the most surprising smartphone of 2014 for me. But it’s not because Samsung made some drastic changes to its philosophy on software or because its hardware is the best designed thing on the market. It’s because for the first time, Samsung has made a smartphone that finally has fit together all the pieces of the puzzle in a way that only Apple has been able to do on a large scale.
That doesn’t make the Galaxy Note 4 the best smartphone of all time—or even necessarily the right device for you. But considering the company just had a major drop in international smartphone sales this year, there couldn’t have been a better time for Samsung to release the best smartphone they’ve ever made.—Luke Larsen
Read our full review of the Galaxy Note 4.
With Android devices like the HTC One M8 out on store shelves, it’s hard to look at what Apple has done with the design of the iPhone 6 and marvel at its innovation. Perhaps it’s just the competition catching up—or perhaps Apple really is starting to lose some of its magic touch.
Either way, the iPhone 6 is still one of the best smartphones you can buy—if not the very best. Apple can still rest easy knowing that it’s successfully caved and given people a bigger iPhone without sacrificing anything that makes these devices so special. But if the trend continues with Android phones, Apple may need to have more up its sleeves than just a thinner, bigger iPhone come next year.—Luke Larsen
Read our full review of the iPhone 6.
If you’re looking for a new Android phone and don’t mind the idea of walking around with a phone with a 5.5-inch screen, the OnePlus One is a fantastic option. The low cost price makes the phone that much more desirable, but it’s greatness doesn’t hinge on it being cheap—it’s well designed, has the highest of internal specs, and some of the best smartphone software available.
The fatal flaw is that buying the phone isn’t as easy as going to Best Buy or an AT&T store. It’s been so popular that you need an invite to be able to order it—and likely won’t be able to test it out until you’ve purchased it for yourself. Hanging around the company’s online forums or tracking down someone who already bought the phone might get you an invite, otherwise you’ll just have to wait.
The difficult time OnePlus has been having of being able to meet demand is a good one—but it’s one the company is going to need to figure out if it wants to seriously make a dent in the Android market—especially in the US market. Only time will tell if OnePlus can be the little smartphone company that could—or if it’ll only exist to get lost in Samsung’s shadow like everyone else. All we know is that as of now, we’re cheering it on.—Tyler Hayes
Read our full review of the OnePlus One.