Owning a smartphone has become as ubiquitous as having a brain. Everyone has one. Sure some might be better than others, but ultimately the world is a better off place for it regardless. Thanks mainly to Android, 2011 saw a pantheon of phones released to market making choosing the best an even more difficult task.
That time of year however has come round again; the frosty mornings and early evenings, it can only mean one thing. No, not that Santa Claus is coming, that it's the 8th Pocket-lint Awards of course and we need you to get nominating your fave phones. Naturally picking out a best mobile phone isn't exactly straightforward so we have put together this handy little selection of pointers to keep your brain boxes ticking over.
We thought we would get the big boy out of the way first. Android now makes up 44.8 per cent of the entire mobile phone market - a lot when you consider how many people globally keep a handset in their pocket. Of the now gigantic Android family there are plenty hit and miss efforts. Its not all plain sailing for Google's OS. When they gets it right, however, Android phones can be superb and as we shall find out, that happened more than a few times this year.
First up was, of course, the Samsung Galaxy S II - the phone which every other company wants to beat. At release it was thinner, more powerful and brighter than anything else available. Its huge 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen boasts colours and viewing angles unlike any other we had seen before. It was also unbelievably snappy due to its dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. As if that wasn't enough Samsung then went and stuck 16GB of internal memory and a whopping great 8 megapixel HD camera on the back. It became a virtually unstoppable package.
Up against the Galaxy S II was the HTC Sensation family of phones. At launch the original Sensation couldn't quite keep up with the Samsung phone specs-wise, but it did feature the brilliant Sense 3.5 Android skin which made for a slightly better user experience. HTC then went on to release the less powerful Sensation XL and the Galaxy S II matching Sensation XE. The latter has become HTC's flagship phone and includes Beats branding and headphones in the box. All three are great phones in their own right and deserve a consideration in this year's awards. HTC also decided to have a brief play in the realm of 3D with its EVO 3D which was as powerful as it was different.
Sony Ericsson finally got things right this year with its Android phones. The company rolled back some of the overly-sluggish skinning they did to Android, sorted out Timescape and came up with some hardware they could finally be proud of in the form of the Arc S. Sure it might not have been the industry leading, spec sheet party that some other Android phones were, but it included an incredible Bravia engine powered display and quality Exmor R sensor in its 8-megapixel camera. We also took a rather major liking to the Xperia Ray - a phone which proved compact yet powerful - with a rather impressive battery life, particularly for an Android phone.
The Orange San Francisco rather surprised the Pocket-lint gang with its quality display and superb value for money. It rapidly became a best seller in the Android stakes and despite a few bugs, quite easily deserved the four out of five stars we gave it. For those looking at Android at a value for money price, it bested the competition by a long way.
2011 also continued the triumphant return of Motorola as a quality handset manufacturer. Most recently the RAZR in particular has proven the company knows how to make a damn sweet piece of technology, the phone outdoing even the Galaxy S II in the thinness stakes at just 0.28 inches. Who could possibly forget the Motorola Atrix, the handset that started it all in the dual-core race? All that power meant Moto could do things like setup Webtop, which allowed you to use the phone like a fully fledged laptop via a keyboard dock. There was also the Droid 3, which was superbly put together and one of the best QWERTY slider Android phones we have used. Quite what's going to happen in 2012 now that Google is behind Motorola is going to be fascinating to see.
Last but not least was LG with its pair of Android offerings. First up, the Optimus 2X which shipped with a built in HDMI output and unparalleled HD performance. Then there was the glasses free Optimus 3D, which combined the best of 2D smartphone use with an innovative and enjoyable three dimensional experience.
Finally, we should also mention both the yet to be released Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus S handsets here as they are and continue to be Android in its purest form. Heralding the very latest version of the Android OS, the Nexus phones are always a treat to behold.
Windows Phone 7
Windows Phone 7 lost its training wheels in 2011 and became the little OS that could. As more converted to the live tile interface and realised the joys of the Mango update, more cutting edge handsets begun to arrive. None more so than the Nokia Lumia 800 which without doubt has to be the best handset that Nokia has released in years. It marked the first time that Nokia would use WP7 as an OS, featured incredible build quality and a screen unlike anything we had seen before.
HTC continued its support of Windows Phone 7 with the HTC Titan, a beast of a smartphone with 4.7-inch screen. It also included a 1.5GHz processor which put it right at the top end of all WP7 action and a class leading f/2.2, 8-megapixel camera stuck on the back. Prior to the release of the Titan came the HTC Radar which came as a replacement to last year's Mozart and Trophy. It was the first WP7 to feature a dock and its own unique app to go with it. On top of that the phone was available in white, which is always cool.
Apart from the horrors of a service outage, BlackBerry actually managed to turn out some pretty decent handsets this year. Among the best was the Bold 9900 which benefitted from the new BB7 OS and some of the cleanest design that RIM had ever managed, that carbon fibre slab on the back being a particular highlight.
Next up was the Torch 9860 and finally success on the no QWERTY front for RIM. It had top end messaging and email services, was pocketable and well put together and rarely did it feel slow or unresponsive which previous versions of the device had.
We also mustn't forget the Bold's miniature cousin, the Curve, which was equally as nice to hold as the traditionally more high end members of the BlackBerry family. The Curve 9360 combined just the right level of affordability with hardware specs, making it a likely bestseller for RIM.
Finally there was a revamped version of the Torch 9810 which, at last, had the spec sheet to do the handset design justice. Returning in silver and with BB7 running smoothly on top, it was quite a compelling little package.
It is safe to say that towards its release date, rumours and speculation on whatever the new phone from Apple would be reached unsurpassed levels of stupidity. Not a day went by without some sort of revamped spec sheet leak or grainy picture of a corner of the new phone. Unlike with the iPhone 4, however, Apple managed to just about make the announcement before any one else did. So, when the launch of the iPhone 4S arrived, it was that little bit more exciting.
The phone is now safely in the hands of the public and, whilst not the total hardware redesign everyone had hoped for, it is most definitely the handset that the iPhone 4 should have been. With the inclusion of a dual-core processor and a camera which is virtually unbeatable in the video department, it's a highly desirable smartphone.
Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments below ...