Introduction

Each year there's slump in sales of mobile devices in the January/February. That's because all the holiday gifts have been bought and the MWC - and all next-generation phones it brings - is just around the corner. This doesn't mean it's a bad time to buy a phone, you just have to know what to look for and what to avoid.

Right off the bat, we'll tell you that early 2014 flagships should be avoided - many are due to be replaced in less than a month and even if you don't want the new one, the old one will drop in price. 2013 and late 2014 models are safe - they are already well-priced and not due for replacement for about six month respectively.

As for what's included, well, almost everything! The only platform we didn't include (aside from one-offs like Jolla or Ubuntu) is Tizen. Android, Windows Phone, iOS, BlackBerry and Firefox are all represented.

Smartphone Shopping Guide November 2014

The major reason we skipped over Tizen is availability - as a rule we only include phones that are easy to buy internationally. Regionally-limited versions are both hard to keep track of and hard to recommend to our global audience.

Some price segments were clearly dominated by certain phones or lines. The Under €100 segment is essentially Lumia-land (hard to beat quad-cores and good screens on the cheap), while in the €100-€200 range Motorola's Moto G phones set the standard for quality.

The next €100 span proved rich in camera functionality and a couple old-but-gold phablets. Next up, for €300-€400 you can get a _phone_ that offers quality even if its price may seem a bit steep. This shopping guide doesn't focus of frugality, instead we recommend some of the best phones that fit your budget.

The next price segment, €400-€500, well that one is practically empty - there are good devices in here, but mostly 2014 flagships that will soon find it hard to justify their price tag. Only the Huawei Ascend Mate7 qualified and that should soon fall under €400.

That's not to say we omitted all 2014 flagships. For example, the price of the LG G3 has plummeted while the feature set is almost as hard to beat as it was months ago. On the other end of the spectrum is the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, whose price will not budge until the iPhone 6 Plus S is unveiled - and that's half a year away.

Finally, we have a quick summary of the phones we didn't include in this guide and the reasons why. Those are mostly the flagships, but also some phones that have been bested in price and features.

  • Under €100
  • €100-€200
  • €200-€300
  • €300-€400
  • €400-€500, €500 and above
  • What didn't make the cut

The first quarter of each year is typically less profitable for manufacturers, but that doesn't make it a bad time to buy a phone. You just need to do some research - that could be tedious or intimidating, so consider the following pages as a cheat sheet that points you in the right direction.

Under €100

Starting with the previous installment we made a rule - no phones with old software. This mostly affects Android (no phones below 4.4 KitKat), Windows _phone_ handsets available today are all WP8.1. Even so, not all have been confirmed for Windows 10.

The other thing was a good screen - it's the single point of failure for touchscreen smartphones. There's only one phone below 480 x 800 resolution (the cheapest one) and we preferred IPS over regular LCD - IPS noticeably improves image quality when you view the screen from an angle.

Obviously there have to be compromises made, but we only picked dual-cores and better. Core count is not a great measure of performance, but all selected phones are at least "good enough," for those we've reviewed you can get more details.

The sub-€100 segment is full of excellent devices, but even a short look at the market tells you it's Lumia against the world. We've, of course, hand-picked several Androids and to our surprise a Firefox phone proved one of the best options here.

The cheapest device we'd consider buying is the LG L40. It's over €50, but we stayed clear of devices with old software or low-quality screens. This one has a 3.5" IPS LCD with Gorilla Glass 2. It's not a very sharp screen but you get Android 4.4 KitKat on a dual-core processor and that's pretty decent.

There's an LG L40 Dual if you need an extra SIM slot - and a recent study has shown that in some countries over 40% of Android smartphones are indeed multi-SIM devices.


LG L40
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 1.2GHz dual-core CPU, 512MB
  • 3.5" IPS screen, 320 x 480px
  • Optional dual-SIM
  • Low-res screen, 320 x 480px
  • Basic 3.15MP camera
  • CPU may turn out to be inadequate so does RAM amount

The Nokia Lumia 530 Dual SIM is one of the most comprehensive smartphone experiences you can have for only a few bills. If you catch it on a price reduction (and those are fairly common), it's a great deal.

It has a bigger, better screen than the LG (not an IPS but still), a quad-core processor and dual-SIM telephony. It's not 100% clear if it will be updated to Windows 10 or not - the new Lumia 435 and 532 are guaranteed, but the former drops a few features while the latter is pricier.

Those two are quite price cut-prone so if you can get a Microsoft Lumia 532 at the same price as the Lumia 530, go for it, you'll sleep easy knowing the new Windows 10 update is coming.


Nokia Lumia 530 Dual SIM
Pros Cons
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 512MB RAM
  • 4" screen, 480 x 854px
  • 5MP camera, 480p video
  • Windows 10 update may have features missing

The price difference between the LG L50 and L40 is pretty small and this one is a much better match for the Lumias. It uses a similar dual-core processor and has a similar camera, though the big change is the screen - it's a 4" display with 480 x 800px resolution. Extra perks are the VGA front-facing camera and NFC.


LG L50
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 1.3GHz dual-core CPU
  • 4" screen, 480 x 800px
  • 3MP camera, 480p video
  • Front-facing camera
  • Basic 3MP camera
  • CPU may turn out to be inadequate, so does RAM amount

The Alcatel Fire E is a Firefox OS phone and one of the cheapest phones around that record 1080p video. It has a 5MP main camera and a VGA front-facing camera. Add a good screen, 4.5" IPS LCD with 540 x 960px resolution, dual-core processor and speedy 3G (42.2Mbps) and you get a compelling offer from an alternative platform.


Alcatel Fire E
Pros Cons
  • Firefox OS 1.3
  • 1.2GHz dual-core CPU, 512MB RAM
  • 4.5" IPS screen, 540 x 960px
  • 5MP camera, 1080p video
  • VGA front-facing camera
  • App catalogue not as varied as on Android
OS review

The Motorola Moto E has slipped under the €100 price point since we last saw it and is a great option for fans of current software. It's already receiving Android 5.0 Lollipop and offers a capable hardware. This includes a 4.3" screen, dual-core processor with 1GB RAM and a 5MP/480p camera.


Motorola Moto E
Pros Cons
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • 4.3" screen, 540 x 960px
  • 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 1GB RAM
  • 5MP camera, 480p video
  • Build quality is not the best around
  • CPU may turn out to be inadequate
Review

The Nokia Lumia 630 Dual SIM serves as a good middle ground between the Lumia 530 and the 535. The screen size is exactly in the middle - 4.5" - and the 5MP camera records 720p video, something neither of the 53x Lumias can do. It also adds ClearBlack display tech for a better viewing experience outside. As with the 530, the Windows 10 update is still to be confirmed.


Nokia Lumia 630 Dual SIM
Pros Cons
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • 4.5" screen, 480 x 854px
  • 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 512MB RAM
  • 5MP camera, 720p
  • Windows 10 update may have features missing
  • No front-facing camera
Review

The Samsung Galaxy Ace Style is an affordable, compact Android. It has a 4" screen and runs Android 4.4 KitKat on a dual-core processor. The 5MP main camera records 720p video and there's a VGA front-facing camera. This model relies on 3G, but an LTE model is available if you need it.

It's only a bit pricier than, say the Xperia E1, but the better camera is worth it.


Samsung Galaxy Ace Style
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 4" screen, 480 x 800px
  • 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 512MB RAM
  • 5MP camera, 720p video
  • CPU may turn out to be inadequate, so does RAM amount

€100-€200

The €100-€200 segment is really split in two. The first half improves on the offerings from the previous chapter, but still leaves a few complaints. At €150 and up we fully cover the needs of a casual user who's not after supersized screens.

Countries with developed LTE networks typically have affordable data plans too, so a 4G-enabled smartphone can help your browsing and tethering experience. For browsing on the phone this chapter offers a good selection of sharp screens and a couple of phablets too.

The Huawei Ascend Y550 is not far above the €100 mark but it runs Android 4.4 KitKat on a quad-core processor with 64-bit Cortex-A53 cores. Its 5MP camera shoots 720p videos, there's a passable 2MP selfie camera and the 4.5" screen is an IPS LCD. Even better, the phone is one of the cheapest LTE-enabled handsets around.

Keep in mind that Android 4.4 is not optimized for 64-bit (5.0 is), but the Cortex-A53 offers some performance advantage over the old A7, while the Adreno 306 GPU uses less power to do the same work as the 305. So even if the Ascend Y550 never gets Lollipop, the Snapdragon 410 chipset is an advantage over Snapdragon 400 devices.


Huawei Ascend Y550
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 4.5" IPS screen, 480 x 854px
  • 1.2GHz quad-core 64-bit processor, 1GB RAM
  • 5MP camera, 720p video
  • 2MP selfie camera
  • LTE
  • No guarantees for a Lollipop update

The Microsoft Lumia 535 is going to get updated to Windows 10 problem-free (it has 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage, just like the other Microsoft Lumias). It has the biggest screen of the Lumia entry level and though it's not very sharp, it's an LCD IPS for good viewing angles and protected by Gorilla Glass 3. Still, we've seen much better screens, so you might want to double check it in a brick-and-mortar store if you are after it specifically for the big screen.

The 5MP selfie camera was a big source of pride for Microsoft, though the 5MP main camera is capped at 480p video, which isn't great at over €100.


Microsoft Lumia 535
Pros Cons
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • 5" IPS screen, 540 x 960px
  • 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB RAM
  • 5MP selfie camera
  • 5MP camera, 480p video
  • Optional dual-SIM
  • Screen quality not that good, issues with touch sensitivity reportedly needing a software fix
  • Limited video capabilities
Review

The Nokia Lumia 635 is more compact (4.5" screen) and has both 720p video capture and LTE. No selfie camera though, none at all. Also with 512MB RAM, it may face a somewhat limited feature set when it comes time for its Windows 10 update.

Anyway, you should also consider the Lumia 630 Dual SIM as the major difference between the two is the presence of LTE - it's a must-have for some, but doesn't matter for others.


Nokia Lumia 635
Pros Cons
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • 4.5" IPS screen, 480 x 854px
  • 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 512MB RAM
  • 5MP camera, 720p video
  • LTE
  • Windows 10 update may have features missing
  • No selfie camera
Review

The Xiaomi Redmi 1S is a very popular phone - it's one of the few handsets that can challenge the Lumias on bang for the buck. Even importing isn't much of an issue these days, you can score a Redmi 1S from Amazon UK and other online stores.

Anyway, with 720p screen on a low budget, plus an 8MP camera with 1080p video the Redmi 1S sounds great on paper. The heavily customized Android (based on Android 4.3) is not for everyone, though at least outside of China you get Google Play (not so in China).


Xiaomi Redmi 1S
Pros Cons
  • MIUI 5.0, based on Android 4.3
  • 4.7" IPS screen, 720 x 1,280px
  • 1.6GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB RAM
  • 8MP camera, 1080p video
  • Dual-SIM
  • Custom OS may not be for everyone
Review

If you prefer a more familiar brand with a traditional interface, the LG L90 offers 4.4 KitKat and a similar 8MP / 1080p camera (in some regions it's a 5MP shooter though). Anyway, the screen isn't as sharp (234ppi vs. 321ppi) and the dual-SIM version costs extra. The 2,540mAh battery is sweet though.


LG L90
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 4.7" IPS screen, 540 x 960px
  • 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB RAM
  • 8MP camera (5MP), 1080p video
  • Optional dual-SIM
  • Screen could have been sharper
  • No guarantees for Lollipop update
Hands-on

Last year's Motorola Moto G 4G used to be priced on par with the Moto G (2014), but it has come down in price faster. It's the more compact of the two and offers LTE connectivity and uses mostly the same setup - Android 5.0 Lollipop on a Snapdragon 400 chipset. The 5MP camera is a bit behind the newer model, but both record 720p video and we think the lack of 1080p is the more important metric.

The Redmi 1S does have 1080p video and is a dual SIM, though LTE and stock, quickly updated Android is certainly a plus.


Motorola Moto G 4G
Pros Cons
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • 4.5" IPS screen, 720 x 1,280px
  • 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB RAM
  • 5MP camera, 720p video
  • LTE
  • No 1080p video capture
Review

The Moto G (2014) held its price better than its 4G counterpart. It has a bigger screen, 5" at 720p, surrounds it with stereo speakers and ups the still camera to 8MP. These can easily be worth the extra scratch - the stereo speakers for one are typically found on flagship phones.


Motorola Moto G (2014)
Pros Cons
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • 5" IPS screen, 720 x 1,280px
  • 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB RAM
  • 8MP camera, 720p video
  • Stereo speakers
  • No 1080p video capture
Review

If you want a better camera, the Acer Liquid Z500 offers a 5" IPS screen with stereo speakers like the Moto G (2014), but has an 8MP main camera with 1080p video capture. Of course you'll lose the quick updates that Motorolas get, but the Liquid Z500 is a bit cheaper.


Acer Liquid Z500
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 5" IPS screen, 720 x 1,280px
  • 1.3GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB RAM
  • 8MP camera, 1080p video
  • Stereo speakers
  • Software updates (if any) will be slower
Hands-on

If you want an even bigger screen, the Xiaomi Redmi Note offers a 5.5" display with 720p resolution. It's bigger than the Redmi 1S in other ways too - it has an octa-core processor and 2GB of RAM (be careful: in some regions it's just 1GB).

It has the same 13MP/1080p camera on the back, but the selfie camera has been promoted to a 5MP shooter. The Redmi Note is a dual-SIM device like its smaller sibling to boot. The Android base is a bit older (4.2), but the MIUI software obscures most of that anyway.


Xiaomi Redmi Note
Pros Cons
  • MIUI 5.0, based on Android 4.3
  • 5.5" IPS screen, 720 x 1,280px
  • 1.4GHz/1.7GHz octa-core CPU, 1GB RAM
  • 13MP camera, 1080p video
  • 5MP selfie camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • Some regional versions have half the RAM and lower CPU clockspeed
Review

Once again, there's a more traditional alternative to the Xiaomi. The HTC Desire 816G is a dual-SIM 5.5" phablet that closely matches the Redmi Note, even has the octa-core processor and 5MP selfie camera. It adds stereo speakers and a familiar Android 4.4 KitKat (not stock, but Sense will not raise eyebrows in the west).

The Desire 816G lacks LTE, but you can just get the single-SIM Desire 816, which does have 4G connectivity.


HTC Desire 816G
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 5.5" IPS screen, 720 x 1,280px
  • 1.7GHz octa-core CPU, 1GB RAM
  • 13MP camera, 1080p video
  • 5MP selfie camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • Optional LTE (single-SIM)
  • Stereo speakers
  • 2,600mAh battery is small for a phablet

If you lament the death of hardware keyboards, the BlackBerry Q5 is a decent option. It can be found in the middle of the €100-€200 segment and offers a 3.1" screen and four-row QWERTY. A 5MP camera with 1080p video is pleasingly modern, contrasting with the classic looks of the device.

The BlackBerry Q5 came out second, the Q10 was the first entry in the QWERTY revival. That one is still very overpriced - nearly €100 more! - without offering much extra in terms of features.


BlackBerry Q5
Pros Cons
  • Hardware QWERTY keyboard
  • BlackBerry OS 10.2
  • 3.1" IPS screen, 720 x 720px
  • 1.2GHz dual-core CPU, 2GB RAM
  • 5MP camera, 1080p video
  • Tiny screen compared to modern smartphones
  • BlackBerry app store is sparse
Review

The Sony Xperia M2 is a fine phone, but it's the Xperia M2 Aqua that stands out. Not for its 4.8" screen with just qHD resolution (540 x 960), but for the IP68 rating. It allows it to go deeper than 1m of water and is completely dust tight.

The camera is an 8MP shooter with 1080p video capture, so you'll get good photos and videos even if you can't' fully enjoy them on the phone itself.


Sony Xperia M2 Aqua
Pros Cons
  • IP68 certification
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 4.8" IPS screen, 540 x 960px
  • 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 1GB RAM
  • 8MP camera, 1080p video
  • Screen has low resolution
Review

€200-€300

It happened by accident, but the €200-€300 proved a rich ground for quality mobile cameras on a budget. That means some special sensor or lens and 1080p video. There are also a couple of phablets that offer tangible upgrades over the ones in the previous chapter.

The selfie phenomenon is in full strength and there are several noted shooters in this category. We also venture into the world of optical image stabilization, which have positive impact on the look of videos - they look steady and professional, unlike shaky unstabilized footage. It helps with low-light shots too.

The Nokia Lumia 735 is on the update list for Windows 10 and has an interesting pair of cameras. The main camera has a 6.7MP sensor and Carl Zeiss optics, while the front one is a 5MP/1080p selfie shooter. It also has a 4.7" AMOLED display, which has its advantages over the sea of LCDs.

Note that the Lumia 735 just barely missed the mark to get into the €100-€200 category and we expect it will get there very soon.


Nokia Lumia 735
Pros Cons
  • WP8.1, Windows 10 coming
  • 4.7" AMOLED, 720 x 1,280px
  • 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB RAM
  • 6.7MP camera (Carl Zeiss lens), 1080p video
  • 5MP selfie camera, 1080p video
Review

BlackBerrys are now in the Touchscreen Era with the BlackBerry Z10 leading the charge. While Microsoft has taken great strides to enrich the app ecosystem and appeal to business users, the BlackBerry name still carries some weight. You can view it as an alternative to the Lumia 735 (they are on a similar price), but mostly if your company isn't very friendly to the "bring your own device" movement.


BlackBerry Z10
Pros Cons
  • BlackBerry OS 10.2
  • 4.3" LCD, 768 x 1,280px
  • Dual-core CPU
  • 8MP camera, 1080p video
  • BlackBerry app store is sparse
Review

The Nokia Lumia 830 has a 10MP camera with PureView tech, Carl Zeiss lens and Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). It's one of the cheapest devices with OIS and the camera is easily among the best in the mid-range for stills and video.

The rest is pretty much the same as the Lumia 735, except a bigger screen (5" IPS LCD) and no 5MP selfie camera (just 0.9MP/720p). Getting the Lumia 830 over the 735 - or indeed over any other phone in this segment - heavily depends on how much you use your phone for photos (but not selfies).


Nokia Lumia 830
Pros Cons
  • WP8.1
  • 5" IPS screen, 720 x 1,280px
  • 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB RAM
  • 10MP camera with OIS, Zeiss, PureView
  • 1080p video
  • Disappointing selfie camera
Review

If that's the case, you might want to consider the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact. It has a large 20.7MP image sensor with Sony G Lens and 1080p video capture. It's getting updated to Android 5.0 Lollipop and the Snapdragon 800 chipset wipes the floor with the Snapdragon 400 found in the Lumias.

The Xperia Z1 Compact also has an IP58 rating, meaning it will survive in the pool for half an hour. The phone has a 4.3" screen and is a fairly small device, a rare compact flagship. If you like the 5" screen of the Lumia 830, then look a little further down for an alternative.


Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Pros Cons
  • Compact device
  • 20.7MP camera, 1080p video
  • IP58 certification
  • Android 5.0 update coming
  • 2.2GHz quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM
Review

The LG Optimus G Pro represents an excellent mid-range phablet. It launched two years ago as a flagship and has since been updated to Android 4.4 KitKat. We're not sure if it will see Lollipop or not, but generally you can't find a 1080p screen in a mid-range phablet.

Sure, it's pricier than the Redmi Note and Desire 816G, but the Snapdragon 600 chipset has the oomph to handle the higher resolution display. Also, both the 13MP back camera and 2.1MP front cameras shoot 1080p video. The Optimus G Pro also has LTE connectivity.

It's a pricy upgrade, but again this has been put together as a flagship and it does feel more premium than the Redmi and the Desire.


LG Optimus G Pro
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 5.5" IPS screen, 1,080 x 1,920px
  • 1.5GHz quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM
  • 13MP camera, 1080p video
  • Older device, probably no more updates down the line
Review

You can go even bigger with the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. It's not as cheap as it was a few months ago (there were good promos), but it brings a massive 6.4" screen with 1080p display. It's impressively thin at 6.5mm and is water resistant (IP58).

The Snapdragon 800 chipset is a noticeable upgrade over the Optimus G Pro chipset too. We considered dropping the LG phablet from the recommended list, but each time we do we remember why we keep it - the 6.4" screen makes the Z Ultra simply massive.


Sony Xperia Z Ultra
Pros Cons
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop update coming
  • 6.4" IPS screen, 1,080 x 1,920px
  • 2.2GHz quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM
  • 6.5mm body with IP58 rating
  • 8MP camera, 1080p video
  • It's HUGE
  • No LED flash
Review

The Huawei Ascend P7 is as thin as the Xperia Z Ultra, 6.5mm. It also has a 5" 1080p screen and runs Android 4.4 KitKat to boot. The chipset is a Huawei homebrew and uses an older generation CPU and GPU, so performance is not stellar but still good.

The camera department is well-stocked though, the main camera is a 13MP shooter while the selfie camera takes 8MP photos. Both can record 1080p video.

Looks and build quality are what sets the Ascend P7 apart and those don't get much better in this price range.


Huawei Ascend P7
Pros Cons
  • Slender 6.5mm body
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 5" IPS screen, 1,080 x 1,920px
  • 1.8GHz quad-core processor, 2GB RAM
  • 13MP main camera, 8MP selfie camera
  • Both shoot 1080p video
  • Old CPU and GPU design
Review

The LG G2 is another former flagship and brings a 13MP OIS camera at a little extra over the Lumia 830. It also has a bigger, sharper screen (5.2" 1080p) despite being the same size as the Nokia, not to mention packing a sizeable 3,000mAh battery.

One negative is the lack of a microSD card slot so you have to get the 32GB version. The 16GB is a bit cheaper, but not really worth. Unless you want Windows over Android, the Lumia 830 has a tough time competing with the LG G2 and the phone that comes next.


LG G2 (32GB)
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4
  • 5.2" IPS screen, 1,080 x 1,920px
  • 2.26GHz quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM
  • 13MP OIS camera, 1080p video
  • Compact for the screen size
  • No card slot
Review

The Sony Xperia Z1 is priced almost the same as its Compact counterpart and for good reason - besides the screen they are practically the same phone. With a 5" 1080p display this one is better-suited to take on the LG G2. The two use the same chipsets but Sony has already announced plans for an Android 5.0 Lollipop update.

You do lose the camera OIS but you gain an IP58 certification (1m of water for 30 minutes) and a microSD card slot . The Xperia Z1 has an equally large 3,000mAh battery though it's not as compact as the G2.


Sony Xperia Z1
Pros Cons
  • 20.7MP camera, 1080p video
  • IP58 certification
  • Android 5.0 update coming
  • 2.2GHz quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM
  • Not as compact as the LG G2
Review

The OnePlus One had its drama with the Cyanogen OS software, but the company has since started work on its own ROM. With that cleared up, the One offers a 5.5" 1080p screen and a Snapdragon 801 chipseton a relatively modest budget and you get a 13MP camera with 2160p video. The camera also has a special DCI mode - a bit wider than standard 2160p and shot at a cinematic 24fps.

The selfie camera isn't bad either, a 5MP/1080p shooter. Make sure you get the 64GB version though - it's a relatively cheap upgrade from the 16GB one and there's no microSD card slot. Getting one isn't easy either, you need an invite (except on a Tuesday).


OnePlus One
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4 KitKat-based ROM
  • 2.5GHz quad-core processor, 3GB RAM
  • 13MP camera, 2160p video
  • 5MP selfie camera, 1080p video
  • No microSD card slot
  • You need an invite to buy one
Review

€300-€400

This chapter proved a little light on new devices - it's the quiet before the MWC storm. Still, some deserving devices from 2014 work very hard to earn your approval. When paying this much cash it's okay to be vain - design is hugely important and nothing but the best features will do.

The HTC One mini 2 is compact - at least smaller than the One (M8) - and is one of the few Androids with aluminum unibodies. And we don't mean aluminum frame with glass or plastic back, this one is all metal. It has a quality 4.5" 720p screen flanked by stereo speakers and while the Snapdragon 400 chipset is no monster, the phone will be updated to Android 5.0 Lollipop.

The One mini 2 is pricier than the Galaxy A3, though the HTC has its design to lean on - the Galaxy A series are very thin and have a metal frame, though they look like a €200 phone at a distance.

Anyway, the HTC One mini 2 has a good decent camera - 13MP/1080p - and a 5MP/1080p selfie camera. It has a microSD card slot to expand the storage too.


HTC One mini 2
Pros Cons
  • Fairly compact metal unibody
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop update coming soon
  • 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 1GB RAM
  • 4.5" IPS screen, 720 x 1,280px
  • 13MP camera, 1080p video
  • 5MP selfie camera
  • Stereo speakers
  • Tall and not very thin for a "mini"
  • Expensive for the specs it offers
Review

It's amazing that the LG G3 costs barely more than the One mini 2, but offers so much phone. Literally - the 5.5" screen is massive, the QHD resolution makes it beautiful and the phone isn't unmanageable thanks to LG's narrow bezels. The back is plastic, but is a good quality one and successfully fakes the look of metal.

Inside is a Snapdragon 801 chipset, the Lollipop update is already out, the 13MP camera has optical stabilization and Laser autofocus, plus it records 2160p video. The storage is expandable though keep in mind that there are two versions - 16GB storage with 2GB RAM and 32GB storage with 3GB RAM. Here we picked the 2GB/16GB version as there's little difference in performance and the microSD card means you can save cash on storage.

The LG G4 will not be unveiled for months and even then the G3 price is already pleasingly low, so you don't have to worry that much about not getting the latest model or missing out on a price cut.


LG G3 (16GB)
Pros Cons
  • 5.5" IPS screen, 1,440 x 2,560px
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • 2.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB RAM
  • 13MP camera with OIS, 2160p video
  • Compact for the screen size
  • Has some overheating issues
Review

While the Lumia 830 has a respectable camera, the current flagship is the Nokia Lumia 930. It has a large 20MP sensor with Carl Zeiss lens and optical image stabilization. After the Lumia Denim update you can also shoot 2160p video.

The Lumia 930 also has much better screen - 5" 1080p AMOLED. It will be updated to Windows 10 too. On the downside there's no microSD slot so all you get is 32GB storage.


Nokia Lumia 930
Pros Cons
  • 20MP camera with Zeiss lens and OIS, 2160p video
  • 5" AMOLED, 1,080 x 1,920px
  • Windows 10 upgrade coming
  • 2.2GHz quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM
  • No memory card slot
Review

From the same generation is the Sony Xperia Z2. We recommended the Z1 already, but this one ups the screen size to 5.2" and puts stereo speakers around it. It also upgrades the chipset to Snapdragon 801, which also enabled 2160p video recording.

The camera is still a 20.7MP shooter with the large sensor, all that's missing to dispatch the Lumia 930 is OIS. On the up side you get the speakers, the IP58 certification (1m of water, 30min) and expandable storage.

Sony is holding its cards close to the vest so we don't know if we'll see the Xperia Z4 at the MWC or not. The Xperia Z2 offers practically the same features as the Z3 and the price difference is nearly €100. As you can tell, the Xperia Z3 will not make the cut.


Sony Xperia Z2
Pros Cons
  • 20.7MP camera, 2160p video
  • 5.2" IPS screen, 1,080 x 1,920px
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop update rolling out
  • 2.3GHz quad-core processor, 3GB RAM
  • IP58 certification
  • Stereo speakers
  • Not very compact for the screen size
Review

While we almost included the Galaxy A3, we were pretty certain about not putting the A5 and A7 on the list. The A5 in particular has nothing on the Galaxy Alpha, which has the better chipset, higher-quality camera and a fingerprint sensor. Both are the same thickness - 6.7mm - and have a metal frame. With all that, both cost about the same.

Anyway, this phone is a luxury item like the HTC One mini 2 and you do pay a premium on its features. The Galaxy Alpha has better specs than the HTC, though that one will most likely win in a design competition. And design is important for luxury items.


Samsung Galaxy Alpha
Pros Cons
  • 6.7mm thick body with metal frame
  • 4.7" AMOLED, 720 x 1,280px
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop update planned
  • 12MP camera, 2160p video
  • 1.8GHz octa or 2.5GHz quad, 2GB RAM
  • Same design as an entry-level Galaxy (thickness aside)
  • No card slot
Review

The Nokia Lumia 1520 lay forgotten for a while, but the Windows 10 announcement reinvigorated interest in the 6" phablet. The new OS promises a lot of integration between desktop and phone, we're excited to see the new Office suit on 1520's large, beautiful screen.

The hardware is very capable too with a Snapdragon 800 chipset (Windows never needed as much power as Android) and the exact same camera as the Lumia 930 - which is to say a great one. Also, the Lumia 1520 has expandable storage.

The market shifted towards large mobile devices and business users in particular ate up the phablets. The Galaxy Note series may have gotten most sales, but the Windows 10 phone/desktop combo may be just what was needed for the Lumia phablet to move up in the world.


Nokia Lumia 1520
Pros Cons
  • 20MP camera with Zeiss lens and OIS, 2160p video
  • 6" IPS screen, 1,080 x 1,920px
  • Windows 10 upgrade coming
  • 2.2GHz quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM
Review

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is pretty great though the 4.3" screen can be a little limiting. The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact fits a 4.6" screen in the same body (actually, it's almost a millimeter thinner) and brings 2160p video capture to the 20.7MP video camera.

It also adds stereo speakers and offers amazing battery life - a huge improvement over the Z1 Compact. It's a pricy phone, at least €100 over its predecessor, but the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact is one of very few small Android flagships. And the IP68 rating and stereo speakers will probably see more use than Galaxy Alpha's fingerprint sensor.


Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
Pros Cons
  • Compact, powerful phone
  • 20.7MP camera, 2160p video
  • 4.6" IPS screen, 720 x 1,280px
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop update incoming
  • 2.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB RAM
  • IP68 rating
  • Stereo speakers
  • Metal frame is covered up with plastic on the side
Review

€400-€500

The Huawei Ascend Mate7 is the metal-clad phablet that HTC hasn't made in a while. It has a large 6" screen with 1080p resolution, not QHD but still sharp enough. It also has one of the best fingerprint reader implementations we've seen.

That aside, it relies on a homebrewed chipset, but this one with newer CPU and GPU designs. The processor is a big.LITTLE octa-core with Cortex-A15 and A7 and it's coupled with either 2GB or 3GB RAM (depending on the storage).

In either case it runs Android 4.4 KitKat and offers a 13MP/1080p main camera plus a 5MP/720p selfie camera.


Huawei Ascend Mate7
Pros Cons
  • Metal unibody
  • 6" IPS screen, 1,080 x 1,920px
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 1.8GHz octa-core processor, 2GB or 3GB RAM
  • 13MP camera, 1080p video
  • 5MP selfie camera, 720p video
  • Optional dual-SIM
  • No 2160p video
  • Dual-SIM version uses up the microSD slot
Review

Over €500

Here's the thing - we skipped practically the entire €400-€500 segment as the MWC is less than a month away and new flagships will be unveiled. For example, we will certainly see the Galaxy S6 so buying a Galaxy S5 is not recommended - even if you don't like the S6, at least you can try to get a better deal on the S5.

So we skipped over flagships that are likely to be replaced very soon and are not particularly cheap at the moment either.

Even the €500+ segment is pretty sparse, here we really only a few offerings.

The first is the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. That one is not getting replaced until later this year (at IFA) and is one of the best and most popular Android devices. It's interesting to see people warm up to the S Pen until their first instinct when taking a note is to reach for their trusty Galaxy phablet.

Having come out late last year, the Galaxy Note 4 has some of the best tech around, a QHD Super AMOLED screen and a 16MP camera (using a Samsung sensor) and optical image stabilization. It records 2160p video (of course) while the 3.7MP selfie camera goes up to 1440p.

It comes with two chipsets, a Snapdragon 805 or an Exynos 5433. If you don't know what those are then it doesn't matter much. For geeks, the S805 version will probably get more custom ROMs.


Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Pros Cons
  • 5.7" AMOLED, 1,440 x 2,560px
  • 2.7GHz quad or 1.9GHz octa-core processor, 3GB RAM
  • Android 5.0 update coming
  • 16MP camera with OIS, 2160p video
  • 3.7MP selfie camera, 1440p video
  • S Pen
Review

A similar phablet is the Nexus 6 built by Motorola. It has a 6" AMOLED display with QHD resolution, a 13MP OIS camera with 2160p video and a Snapdragon 805 chipset. It's closely matched to the Note 4, except with fast updates to pure Android.

The camera has an interesting ring-LED flash. The Nexus 6 also has stereo speakers over the Galaxy phablet and basic water resistance. There's no stylus though and no microSD card slot is not ideal either, at least the base model is 32GB, which should be enough.


Motorola Nexus 6 (32GB)
Pros Cons
  • 6" AMOLED, 1,440 x 2,560px
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • 2.7GHz quad-core processor, 3GB RAM
  • 13MP camera with OIS, 2160p video
  • Stereo speakers
  • Basic water proofing
  • No microSD card slot
Review

The iPhone 6 Plus is Apple's first phablet and we think the better of the two iPhones. While the iPhone 6 feels like pushing the iPhone 5s just enough to catch up to older Androids, the iPhone 6 Plus marks the first jump in pixel density since the iPhone 4 (thanks to its 1080p screen) and offers Apple's first optical image stabilization.

The company is yet to progress beyond 8MP for stills and 1080p for videos, but it offers some of the best performance at its chosen resolutions. The cameras on both iPhone 6 models also have phase-detection autofocus. Even for 1080p footage we wish the base model had more than 16GB though - it runs out quickly and there's no way to expand it.

The iPhones also offer mobile payments - not a first, but seems to be gaining popularity quicker than competing services (like Google Wallet). And they have the best fingerprint reader in the business too (the swipe reader on the Note 4 is not as good).


Apple iPhone 6 Plus
Pros Cons
  • 5.5" IPS screen, 1,080 x 1,920px
  • iOS 8
  • 1.4GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM
  • 8MP camera with OIS, 1080p video
  • No microSD card slot
  • NFC limited to Apple Pay only
  • Camera resolution for stills and video low compared to other flagships
Review

What didn't make the cut

This time around an entire price range was left out in the cold, namely the €400-€500 segment. Take the Galaxy S5. It's a fine phone, but the Galaxy S6 is rumored to be much better and it will be unveiled on March 2. There have been plenty of leaks about the HTC One (M9) as well and the One (M8) is currently quite pricy, even though there are other phones that can meet your metal unibody needs.

The Xperia Z3 successor may or may not show up at the MWC, but the price premium over the very similar Xperia Z2 is hard to justify. That's what you get with two flagship launches a year, a practice that Sony is reportedly abandoning this year.

Samsung Galaxy S5
HTC One (M8)
Sony Xperia Z3

Samsung Galaxy S5 • HTC One (M8) • Sony Xperia Z3

The HTC Desire Eye is the definition of a trendy phone - with a 13MP camera that has its own flash, the Desire Eye is riding the cusp of the selfie wave that is sweeping the social networking world. Still, the smart thing here is to get a Desire 820 with an 8MP selfie camera and pocket the €100+ difference. Or the 5MP camera on the Desire 816G Dual SIM, the price difference there is double. Or get the metal-clad HTC One (M8), which costs practically the same as the Eye.

Another trend is super thin phones. The Oppo R5 measures barely 4.9mm thick. Still, for close to Galaxy S5 money you get a mid-range chipset and camera, 16GB of storage with no card slot and just 2,000mAh battery.

HTC Desire Eye
Oppo R5

HTC Desire Eye • Oppo R5

Another phone we skipped is the iPhone 6 - the 6 Plus is on the list, but not its smaller, bigger smartphone. The iPhone 6 has a bigger screen and a new design are nice, but it just feels like an iPhone 5s that caught up to Androids. The iPhone 6 Plus breaks new ground for iOS - phablets - and it has a sharper screen and an optically stabilized camera. If it fits in your hand (and pocket), we think it's the better choice of the two.

Apple iPhone 6

Apple iPhone 6

The Nokia Lumia 520 was the defining phone of the Under €100 segment, but we thought it was time to retire. Microsoft has since launched newer phones. Like the Microsoft Lumia 435 and Lumia 532. Those didn't make the cut this time, but mostly because there's a very good chance their price will follow the trajectory of the Lumia 520 - driven lower by constant promotions.

Another worry here is which phones will get the Windows 10 update, that's crucial. The Lumia 435 (and by extension the 532) has been confirmed, but 512MB devices will not get the full update. Which features will be cut is still unknown.

Nokia Lumia 520
Microsoft Lumia 435
Microsoft Lumia 532

Nokia Lumia 520 • Microsoft Lumia 435 • Microsoft Lumia 532

The HTC One (M8) for Windows has a claim to one of the best WP8.1 phones. That's just it though, Microsoft talked about the Windows 10 update for its own phones, but nothing about other manufacturers (not that there are many). Also, The One (M8) camera is really no match for the flagship Lumias.

Also missing is the Galaxy Note Edge - a unique device (until the Galaxy S6 Edge comes out), but it's more of a proof-of-concept device and it can only be recommended to early adopters.

The final high-profile smartphone not on the list is the Motorola Moto X (2014). It's a beautiful, capable device - we love the customization options and the Android update fast track, but it has only 16GB of storage and no card slot. The 32GB model is quite a bit pricier in Europe and also hard to find on certain markets. In the US it's only a $50 premium, there it's well worth it.

HTC One (M8) for Windows
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
Motorola Moto X (2014)

HTC One (M8) for Windows • Samsung Galaxy Note Edge • Motorola Moto X (2014)

This rounds off the list of the high profile smartphones that didn't make the recommendation list, for all others we skipped it's usually an issue of availability, software, storage or overall better options that did make the cut.

Final words

When people hear we work for GSMArena the question that inevitably follows is "Which phone is the best?" and the answer to that is invariably "Best for what?" There are cheap phones, good-looking phones, phones with a good camera or screen (or both), it all depends on what you like and how much you can afford.

Our site has a comprehensive search tool that will help you out if you have specific features in mind - a large screen, a high resolution camera, stereo speakers, whatever the case may be. Our reviews and extensive tests will help answer important questions for many of the devices.

Smartphone Shopping Guide November 2014

Those are always good to check, but if you don't have a clear idea of what you are after, then this shopping guide should be your starting off point. We highlight some of the best devices on the market so even if you go for something not on the list, at least you have a good base to compare it to.

The guide also points out both the best characteristics and the biggest drawbacks of a phone, so you know what to look when buying a phone. We recommend going to a local store and checking out the device in person if possible. Definitely shop around for the best price - you can easily save a few bucks with just 15 minutes of research.

If you're looking for a flagship-grade device, our advice would be to wait until March. There are some good options right now, but as we talked about on the previous page, several flagships are due for replacements - and the rumor mill is claiming major improvements.

We will certainly have another edition of this guide coming sometime after the MWC - there will be flagships, of course, but new top-quality mid-rangers as well. We'll wait a bit until they hit the market, of course, see you again in a few months!

Under €100

Starting with the previous installment we made a rule - no phones with old software. This mostly affects Android (no phones below 4.4 KitKat), Windows phone handsets available today are all WP8.1. Even so, not all have been confirmed for Windows 10.

The other thing was a good screen - it's the single point of failure for touchscreen smartphones. There's only one phone below 480 x 800 resolution (the cheapest one) and we preferred IPS over regular LCD - IPS noticeably improves image quality when you view the screen from an angle.

Obviously there have to be compromises made, but we only picked dual-cores and better. Core count is not a great measure of performance, but all selected phones are at least "good enough," for those we've reviewed you can get more details.

The sub-€100 segment is full of excellent devices, but even a short look at the market tells you it's Lumia against the world. We've, of course, hand-picked several Androids and to our surprise a Firefox phone proved one of the best options here.

The cheapest device we'd consider buying is the LG L40. It's over €50, but we stayed clear of devices with old software or low-quality screens. This one has a 3.5" IPS LCD with Gorilla Glass 2. It's not a very sharp screen but you get Android 4.4 KitKat on a dual-core processor and that's pretty decent.

There's an LG L40 Dual if you need an extra SIM slot - and a recent study has shown that in some countries over 40% of Android smartphones are indeed multi-SIM devices.


LG L40
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 1.2GHz dual-core CPU, 512MB
  • 3.5" IPS screen, 320 x 480px
  • Optional dual-SIM
  • Low-res screen, 320 x 480px
  • Basic 3.15MP camera
  • CPU may turn out to be inadequate so does RAM amount

The Nokia Lumia 530 Dual SIM is one of the most comprehensive smartphone experiences you can have for only a few bills. If you catch it on a price reduction (and those are fairly common), it's a great deal.

It has a bigger, better screen than the LG (not an IPS but still), a quad-core processor and dual-SIM telephony. It's not 100% clear if it will be updated to Windows 10 or not - the new Lumia 435 and 532 are guaranteed, but the former drops a few features while the latter is pricier.

Those two are quite price cut-prone so if you can get a Microsoft Lumia 532 at the same price as the Lumia 530, go for it, you'll sleep easy knowing the new Windows 10 update is coming.


Nokia Lumia 530 Dual SIM
Pros Cons
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 512MB RAM
  • 4" screen, 480 x 854px
  • 5MP camera, 480p video
  • Windows 10 update may have features missing

The price difference between the LG L50 and L40 is pretty small and this one is a much better match for the Lumias. It uses a similar dual-core processor and has a similar camera, though the big change is the screen - it's a 4" display with 480 x 800px resolution. Extra perks are the VGA front-facing camera and NFC.


LG L50
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 1.3GHz dual-core CPU
  • 4" screen, 480 x 800px
  • 3MP camera, 480p video
  • Front-facing camera
  • Basic 3MP camera
  • CPU may turn out to be inadequate, so does RAM amount

The Alcatel Fire E is a Firefox OS phone and one of the cheapest phones around that record 1080p video. It has a 5MP main camera and a VGA front-facing camera. Add a good screen, 4.5" IPS LCD with 540 x 960px resolution, dual-core processor and speedy 3G (42.2Mbps) and you get a compelling offer from an alternative platform.


Alcatel Fire E
Pros Cons
  • Firefox OS 1.3
  • 1.2GHz dual-core CPU, 512MB RAM
  • 4.5" IPS screen, 540 x 960px
  • 5MP camera, 1080p video
  • VGA front-facing camera
  • App catalogue not as varied as on Android
OS review

The Motorola Moto E has slipped under the €100 price point since we last saw it and is a great option for fans of current software. It's already receiving Android 5.0 Lollipop and offers a capable hardware. This includes a 4.3" screen, dual-core processor with 1GB RAM and a 5MP/480p camera.


Motorola Moto E
Pros Cons
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • 4.3" screen, 540 x 960px
  • 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 1GB RAM
  • 5MP camera, 480p video
  • Build quality is not the best around
  • CPU may turn out to be inadequate
Review

The Nokia Lumia 630 Dual SIM serves as a good middle ground between the Lumia 530 and the 535. The screen size is exactly in the middle - 4.5" - and the 5MP camera records 720p video, something neither of the 53x Lumias can do. It also adds ClearBlack display tech for a better viewing experience outside. As with the 530, the Windows 10 update is still to be confirmed.


Nokia Lumia 630 Dual SIM
Pros Cons
  • Windows phone 8.1
  • 4.5" screen, 480 x 854px
  • 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 512MB RAM
  • 5MP camera, 720p
  • Windows 10 update may have features missing
  • No front-facing camera
Review

The Samsung Galaxy Ace Style is an affordable, compact Android. It has a 4" screen and runs Android 4.4 KitKat on a dual-core processor. The 5MP main camera records 720p video and there's a VGA front-facing camera. This model relies on 3G, but an LTE model is available if you need it.

It's only a bit pricier than, say the Xperia E1, but the better camera is worth it.


Samsung Galaxy Ace Style
Pros Cons
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • 4" screen, 480 x 800px
  • 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 512MB RAM
  • 5MP camera, 720p video
  • CPU may turn out to be inadequate, so does RAM amount

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