The Telegraph
| Sunday, October 27, 2013 |



Smartphone junkies have a slew of exciting new phones to choose from this season, says Tushar Kanwar

Don't try and deny it. You're walking-talking proof that Galileo was wrong. It's not the sun but your mobile phone that's truly the centre of your universe. And now your universe has just expanded — smartphone junkies have a slew of exciting new phones to choose from this season. Each of the new arrivals on the market is proof of how smartphones have become more sophisticated with every passing year. Fancier cameras — check. Fingerprint technology — check. Just don't ask them to cook dinner...yet!

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

The Note 3 continues its tradition of pushing the specifications envelope — a bigger 5.7-in full HD display, 3GB of memory, Android 4.3, new stylus (S Pen) features, and more. But what you're likely to notice first is that Samsung has ditched the plasticky rear of yore, choosing instead to dress up the Note 3 in a faux leather rear complete with faux stitching. Couple this with the edge-to-edge screen, and you get a device that feels very different from the Note 2 while retaining the same form factor.

As a class-leading flagship device, the Note 3 packs in one of the best full-HD displays I have seen on a smartphone-class device, bested by a small margin by the LG G2's. It's powered not by the headline grabbing Qualcomm S800 chipset but by the Exynos 5 Octa 5420 chipset, which has proven in use to be consistently capable of handling most tasks comfortably, while sipping battery to ensure the Note 3's 1.5-day-plus battery life. The camera, a 13MP shooter, is about par for the course, and while you shouldn't expect Lumia 1020 performance from it, it's a lot like the iPhone 5s camera — reliably consistent across a variety of shooting conditions.

But it is really the S-Pen software improvements that continue to pull the Note 3 ahead of the phablet pack — this iteration adds in some great note taking and multitasking features that grow on you the more you use them. Great to see software that you end up actually using, rather than the average bloatware that creeps into many big-brand phones.

Buy this for: Samsung's cover-all-bases approach!

Rating: 9/10

Price: Rs 49,900



After years of trailing its Korean neighbour, LG has finally taken a page out of Samsung's playbook and built the G2, a phone in the mould of Samsung's popular Galaxy series — plenty of plastic, priced well yet jam-packed with a ton of top-of-the-line hardware and features.

Now, despite the G2 sporting a large 5.2-in display, the almost bezel-free design and edge-to-edge glass means that the G2 sits well in the hand. You instinctively reach out for the buttons to start using this device, but the only buttons on the G2's exterior are the power and volume keys placed around the rear. It's a bit of a hit-and-miss design choice, in some situations such as taking self portraits or changing in-call volume, the buttons are a joy to use, but they take a lot of getting used to, and you're going to be hitting the phone edges for quite a while, looking for buttons that just don't exist!

While the button design is polarising, the choice of hardware powering the G2 is without doubt the best in the business. A ridiculously good full-HD display, a 2.26GHz Qualcomm S800 quad-core processor with 2GB RAM, an Adreno 330 chip for processing graphics and a 3000mAh battery equals a performance beast without the battery compromise. The camera takes great photos outdoors and can hold its own indoors as well. The G2 is out-and-out a checklist phone — if there is a feature or spec you'd want, LG would probably have included it. If you can live with the button placement, this is the best VFM phone for a current-gen flagship device.

Buy this for: excellent hardware at a bargain!

Rating: 8/10

Price: Rs 41,500


Apple iPhone 5s

No, the screen didn't get bigger, and neither did Apple alter the design of the new iPhone 5s — Apple's mid-cycle 's' updates have traditionally been about incremental hardware updates, which have undoubtedly figured in the upgrade from last year's iPhone 5, letting the device breeze through the new iOS7 platform and the most demanding of games with consummate ease. Unquestionably though, the standout features of the iPhone 5s are its newest hardware inclusions, namely a hidden Touch ID fingerprint reader and the M7 motion co-processor, and much-improved front and rear cameras and flash.

The question to be asked — haven't we seen enough hit-and-miss fingerprint scanners built into laptops to want to run in the opposite direction of yet another one? Not once you use the 5s' Touch ID system. The sensor is built right into the Home button and registration of a thumb, finger or both (up to five digits can be registered) takes about a minute using an easy sign-up process. Once recorded, you can unlock your phone no matter what way you're holding up your handset, with a speed of identification that makes entering a pass code to unlock your phone so...2012! Security done the Apple way.

The other big inclusion is the M7 motion coprocessor, a chip that collects data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, and other sensors and uses that data to determine the state of your phone without sucking battery life. It knows whether you're walking, asleep or driving, and the future possibilities it opens up, either in terms of wearable technology or automating every day actions based on what you do, is astounding.

But in the here and now, buying an iPhone in India is downright exorbitant. Much like the Note 3, the iPhone 5s will find its takers here as well, but at this price, it simply doesn't move the needle enough to warrant a serious 'buy' recommendation.

Buy this for: security done right

Rating: 7/10

Price: Rs 53,500


Sony Xperia Z1

Much like its predecessor Xperia Z, Sony's Xperia Z1 retains the distinction of being the only flagship device on offer that can take pretty much what you throw at it — dust, rain, a dip or two — and come out none the worse for wear. And when it's back to being squeaky clean, it scores design points for the glass and metal finish that not only looks classy but lends some degree of rigidity as well. It's a tad large for medium-sized hands, but if you consider the fact that the extra size affords the phone a larger 3000mAh battery and a new 20.7MP sensor, the tradeoff suddenly doesn't seem half bad, now does it? Pity then that the extra size didn't mean a larger screen — there's a largish bezel around the screen that just looks plain dated, especially when compared to LG G2.

Under the hood beats a bleeding-edge Qualcomm S800 chipset and 2GB of memory, which is about as good as it gets in the mobile space right now, and the capacious battery means a heavy day of use still leaves some juice in the tank. The camera, a 20.7MP shooter, produces 8.3MP image (in auto mode), using all those extra pixels to create an image with fewer anomalies, in theory at least. The reality is that while the Z1 captures excellent pictures in favourable conditions, low light images are just about passable, bested by a far superior 1020. And the fancy Triluminous display with X-Reality engine? Depends on how you look at it, quite literally! Dead centre? You'll get crisp and natural reproduction. Off centre? Poor viewing angles and faded colours.

There's a lot to like about the Z1 — looks, waterproof design and best-in-class muscle at a palatable price — but it's plagued by a lot of the same issues as the Xperia Z, and I long for the day Sony truly leverages its display and camera divisions to turn out a truly marvellous product.

Buy this for: the go-everywhere, brave-everything design

Rating: 8/10

Price: Rs 44,990


Nokia Lumia 1020

The Nokia Lumia 1020 was tasked to bring the famed 41MP PureView sensor to a modern Windows Phone platform, and it does enough to live up to the hype. Benefiting from the optical image stabilisation and the massive 41MP sensor, the Lumia 1020 turns out stunning photographs with excellent details and colours, and picks out objects in low light where other cameras record nothing more than just darkness. The Nokia Pro cam app is one of the most well designed and full-featured camera apps that I've seen across any platform. One major gripe — the camera processing software is slow, and shot to shot performance is frustratingly glacial.

If I had to carry one camera phone, this would be it. Trouble is, even though the 1020 moved the PureView 'oversampling' tech from Symbian to Windows Phone, it doesn't change the fact that Windows Phone by itself isn't as compelling a platform as Android or iOS is. Add to that the fact that the hardware is only slightly more powerful than the lower-end Nokia Windows Phone devices, and you're left wondering how you can justify the asking price for this baby.

Buy this for: the camera!

Rating: 7/10

Price: Rs 49,999


Gionee Elife E6

The Elife E6 from Gionee may seem like an odd inclusion in this list, but the Chinese major's latest flagship caught my attention with its sleek lines and clean design, comparable to the likes of Nokia's high-end Lumia devices and rather unusual (read: premium) for a phone in its price segment. More goodies — a sharp full HD 5-in display, respectable camera performance even in low light — all stuff that we've come to expect from devices that cost at least ten grand more. Its Achilles' heel is its 1.5Ghz quad core Mediatek processor — in subjective everyday usage, the customised user interface on the device didn't feel as zippy as the other phones on this page. The comparison is hardly fair though, given the massive price difference, and playing heavy games or watching full HD movies on the phone were none the worse for it. If you're willing to live with an upcoming brand, the E6 is a great buy at the price.

Buy this for: the cash you'll save!

Rating: 8/10

Price: Rs 22,999