What Will Be The Best Smartphone of 2012? (Q3 Update)

Since this article was first written, an updated version has been posted here. Check it out. A lot has changed.

These were some of the top five smartphones back in July. Only one makes the cut this time.

A lot has changed since I last looked at the best smartphones back in July. Back then the top five smartphones were the HTC Evo 4G, HTC One X, LG Nitro HD, Motorola Atrix HD and the Samsung Galaxy S III. Only one of these phones makes the cut this time. What changed? A number of new phones were announced at the IFA show in Berlin and Apple announced the iPhone 5. Is there a clear winner this time? Read on to find out.

The Runners-up

To create the list of the five candidates for the smartphone of the year, I went through all of the best smartphones on all platforms. There are some good phones which didn’t make the cut because they had several flaws. You can see all of the runners-up below.

Click on the chart below to make it readable

Blue text indicates the winner in each area. Red text indicates areas of weakness

I want to stress that all of the above phones are good phones. Some like the Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX HD, Nokia Lumia 920, Sony Xperia T, Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Samsung Galaxy Note are great phones, but they are not the best phones of 2012.

The Six Finalists

The six phones which appear below have significant advantages over the phones in the above chart. Not all of these phones are available for purchase at this time, but all have been officially announced and will ship before the end of the year. The five finalists are Apple’s iPhone 5, LG’s Intuition, Samsung’s Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S III and the Sony Xperia T.

Here are the top six phones announced so far this year

You can see all of the key specs for the top five finalists below. Items which appear as blue-faced text show the winner in each area. Items which appear in red-faced text indicate an area of weakness compared to the other phones in this chart.

Blue text indicates the winner in each area. Red text indicates areas of weakness

I wanted to include the Sony Xperia T in the above chart, but so far they haven’t announced LTE support for it, although there is a rumor that AT&T could have be getting an Xperia T with LTE support at some point. If that’s confirmed, it would replace the Sony Xperia V in the above chart.

Before we try to pick a winner, let’s go through each component of the phone, starting with the processor.

The Processor

The processor is the engine behind your mobile device and determines its speed. Today, most of the best smartphones have dual-core processors which are 1.5GHz. The Samsung Galaxy Note II wins this spec because it has a quad-core processor which runs at 1.6 GHz. The LG Optimus G also has a quad-core processor, but it runs at 1.5GHz. Having four different cores allows your phone to do more things at once without slowing down. Quad-core processors are also more efficient and have better battery life than some dual-core CPUs. Although the iPhone 5 has a processor clock speed that is 50% slower than the others finalists here, it outperforms the Galaxy S III on some benchmarks. Of course the Galaxy S III outperforms the iPhone 5 on some benchmarks as well. You shouldn’t read too much into mobile benchmarks however, because they rarely translate into real-world performance.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note II

The Samsung Galaxy Note II has a 1.6GHz quad-core processor

Memory and Storage

The Samsung Galaxy phones and LG Optimus G easily win when it comes to RAM. All three have an unheard of 2GB of RAM. Having more RAM can speed things up when multiple apps are running at the same time. This is more important for Android phones because they support true multitasking. Apple lets you switch between apps, but does so by suspending all except the app in the foreground.

Both LG phones lead in the storage area because it comes standard with 32GB of memory. Both the Samsung phones and the iPhone 5 are available in 16, 32 or 64GB sizes. The Sony Xperia only has 8GB, but can easily and cheaply be expanded to 32GB or more because it has a microSD card slot. Both of the Samsung finalists also have a microSD card slots. The iPhone 5 and LG phones cannot have their memory expanded because they do not have a memory card slot. This is a significant limitation.

If forced to pick a winner in this category, the Samsung phones would win because they have twice the RAM, a wide range of storage options and they can easily have their memory expanded.

Winners: Samsung Galaxy Note II & Galaxy S III

There are now higher resolution displays available on Android phones than the iPhone 5

The Screen

When it comes to screen size, the 5.5 inch Samsung Galaxy Note II is second to none. This phone is so big, it’s only 1.5 inches smaller than some tablets, and almost 30% larger than the screen on the iPhone 5. Although some people feel its screen is too large to easily hold in one hand, the 5.0 inch Samsung Galaxy Note is still very popular and over 20 million of these phones are expected to be sold.

When it comes to screen resolution, the iPhone 5 does better (326 PPI), but doesn’t come close to the 4.3” Sony Xperia V which has 342 pixels per inch. The 5.0” screen on the LG Intuition is impressive, but only has a resolution of 256 PPI. Higher resolution Android phones are just around the corner; A future phone by HTC is rumored to have a 1080p display with a mind-boggling pixel density of 418 PPI. This phone will be added here, as soon as it’s officially announced.

Range of color is another measure of screen quality. According to a study from IHS, the display found on the Samsung Galaxy S III is superior to the display found on the iPhone 5. IHS used display thickness, where the SIII beat out the iPhone 5 by 0.4mm and color gamut. Color gamut is the range of color a display can reproduce. IHS says the iPhone 5′s display only reaches 72% of the NTSC color gamut, while the SIII sits at 100%.

Size: Samsung Galaxy Note II
Resolution: Sony Xperia V
Color range: Samsung Galaxy S III

The new Sony Xperia V is one of several phones with a 13MP camera

The Camera

When it comes to megapixels the current leader is the HTC Titan which has 16MP, however that phone has some limitations which make it no longer competitive. The Sony Xperia V and LG Optimus G both have 13-megapixel cameras which look very promising. The Xperia V also has a decent camera with a pulsed LED flash and 16x digital zoom. Runners-up in the best still camera area include the Nokia Lumia 920, iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III — although all three only have 8MP cameras. The camera in the iPhone 5 is better than the one in the iPhone 4, but has several serious issues: Photos taken in low-light are much noisier than images taken with the Galaxy S III in low-light mode. The iPhone 5′s camera also tends to over-sharpen some photos, which adds distortion.

When it comes to the video camera, the Nokia Lumia 920 kills the iPhone 5 and other phones in image stabilization, color saturation and detail. See for yourself.

Still Camera Winner: Sony Xperia V
Video Camera Winner: Nokia Lumia 920 V

You can beam almost anything from phone to phone using NFC


The iPhone 5 and both Samsung Galaxy phones have LTE, 2.5GHz/5.0GHz Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. The other phones are lacking 5.0GHz Wi-Fi support. The 5GHz band is not near as susceptible to interference from cordless telephones, microwave ovens, baby monitors, Bluetooth devices and wireless keyboards. Its also much less crowded band and should be used whenever possible.

What pushes Samsung and the LG Optimus G over the top in this area is its support for Near Field Communications or NFC. NFC allows two devices to communicate when they’re moved close together. This allows you to buy things at over 300,000 MasterCard PayPass-enabled terminals as well as beam, music, photos, web pages, contacts, maps, YouTube videos and more, from one phone to another. NFC is a very important feature which will one-day change the way we shop and transfer data from phone to phone.

Winners: Samsung Galaxy Note II & Galaxy S III
Runner-up: LG Optimus G (missing 5GHz Wi-Fi support)
Note: one reason the iPhone 5 was not a winner in this category is due to the many reports of different Wi-Fi and other connectivity issues.

The new iPhone 5 is incredibly thin and light

The Case

When it comes to the case, the iPhone 5 does well. It’s thinner and lighter than all of the other finalists here and constructed entirely out of aluminum and glass.

Winner: iPhone 5

The Battery

When it comes to the battery, the Samsung Galaxy Note II easily wins. It’s battery has over twice as much power as the battery in the iPhone 5 and is sure to have much longer talk times and standby times.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note II

And the Winner is…

Back in July, the Samsung Galaxy S III was the clear winner based on specs, but this time around it’s not so easy to pick a winner. Best is a subjective term. What I’m really talking about here is the smartphone with the best overall hardware specs. Based on that definition, neither the iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S III can be considered “phone of the year.” Both are great phones, and both are extremely popular, but there is only one spot at the top of the podium. So who is the gold medal winner? Right now I would probably go with Samsung Galaxy Note II, because it wins on more specs than any of the other phones covered here. But phones this large aren’t for everyone. The Galaxy Note II also isn’t yet available, but should arrive at all five major US carriers mid November. The runner-up is currently the LG Optimus G because of its quad-core, CPU, 2GB RAM, 32GB standard memory and 13MP camera. The new Sony Xperia phones are second to none when it comes to screen resolution and the rear camera. Although the iPhone 5’s CPU doesn’t look that good on paper, it does extremely well in some benchmarks and is the lightest and thinnest of all of the phones here. The Galaxy S III is still a great phone which is an overall great performer.

Three to Watch

Before you rush out to buy one of the above phones you should know there is a good chance, the best three smartphones of 2012 don’t even appear in this chart, because they haven’t been announced yet. It’s likely the 2012 phone of the year will have a 2nd-gen quad-core CPU and a display which no phone can match today — a true 1920x1080p display with a resolution in pixels per inch that is much higher than any phones here have. Only time will tell if the rumors about the LG Optimus G, HTC Droid Incredible X and Oppo Find 5 are true. If so, it’s likely that the best smartphone of 2012, will be one of these three. One thing is sure, mobile phone technology is changing quickly and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

– Rick

Copyright 2012 Rick E. Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

About Rick E. Schwartz
Rick Schwartz is blogger from San Diego. You can learn more about Rick by clicking on the "About" tab at the top of mostly-tech.com.

4 Responses to What Will Be The Best Smartphone of 2012? (Q3 Update)

  1. Amir Soleimani says:

    Hi Rick,

    Interesting article indeed — like the rest of your posts! However, now that 2013 is inching closer, any chance of updating this article to include, say, the Nexus 4 and HTC’s Droid DNA?
    Also, as my dilemma still continues with Galaxy Note II vs the Nexus 4, would you please shed more light on that. IMHO, Galaxy Note II is the best device sold in 2012 if one combines its multifarious features; however, I like the Nexus 4 just for its faster reception of Android updates. I don’t think its non-removable and not-so-stellar battery, 16GB memory limitation, lack of LTE support and exclusion of mem-card support can make it a top 2012 handset; so can one get the Note II (at least the international version) and rely on Samsung and third-party custom ROMs to secure access to Android updates.


  2. Amir Soleimani says:

    Looking forward to your article, Rick.

  3. I finally got the update done. Sorry it took so long. I’ve been very busy lately.

    – Rick

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