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2014 in Review: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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 2014 - 2015 18th December 2014

2014 had plenty of new challengers trying to compete with established manufacturers. This shook things up a bit, so we have some new faces in our line-up of the best, worst and ugliest phones of the year.

The Good: Honourable mentions

There have been a number of interesting devices this year, many of which are products of small companies thinking differently. The dual-screen YotaPhone 2 shows a radical solution to the problem of power drain, the BlackPhone tackles the issues of privacy and warrantless interception, and Jolla showed promise with their Sailfish OS smartphone and tablet (due next year). The Fairphone makes commendable efforts to take a different ethical stance when it comes to building smartphones.

Motorola made real progress, with the second generation of the Motorola Moto G and Moto X smartphones along with the elegant Moto 360 smartwatch. LG impressed us with the LG G3 and the phone company formerly known as Nokia made no compromises with the Lumia 930.

 HTC One M8 and One E8 Good: HTC One M8 and One E8

The HTC One M8 and One E8 are a pair of closely-related high-end smartphones. The M8 has an elegant metal housing that makes it look distinctive, but the tricky dual camera manages to put some customers off. The cheaper E8 comes with a conventional camera but looks rather boring, and it isn't widely available. There M8 is also very unusual in that it comes in an Android or Windows version, so really there are a trio of devices here.

HTC have done an excellent job in creating something a bit different with the M8, and they have tried very hard not to be in the "me too" crowd. We look forward to the HTC One M9.

 iPhone 6 Plus Better: Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Forget about the smaller iPhone 6, the headline-grabbing Apple phone this year was the iPhone 6 Plus which finally broke out of the undersized form factor that had been holding it back. At last, Apple had a product that was competitive in every way with the competition and which Apple fans didn't have to make excuses for.

Some weakness in the chassis design led to initial reports of the phone being prone to bending, leading to a great deal of negative publicity that seemed to die down quite quickly. If Apple follow their usual pattern we should see a slightly improved version (perhaps the iPhone 6S Plus) sometime during 2015.

 OnePlus One Best: OnePlus One

A flagship-class device for half the price of the competition or less, the OnePlus One makes very few compromises in terms of features or quality. The slogan of OnePlus is "Never Settle", and the attention to detail in the One is extremely impressive, and it seems that OnePlus have a passion for design and engineering that you'd normally associate with their much more expensive rivals.

It's a hard phone to get hold of - you usually have to get a invite first, although there have been some released to the general public. And some devices have a problem with a yellowing of the bottom of the screen, which is possibly down to rushed production processes. Nonetheless, the OnePlus One indicates that you can have everything you want for a much more reasonable price than the competition.

Because of the impressive feature set and the very low price, we believe that the OnePlus One is the best phone of 2014.

The Bad

Manufacturers have been pretty careful (and boring) in 2014 compared to 2013 which saw several handset disasters. But there were still phones that failed to reach their mark.

 Samsung Galaxy S5 Bad: Samsung Galaxy S5

The Samsung Galaxy S5 singularly failed to capture the imagination of consumers, even if it did sell reasonably well. An evolution of the S4, it seemed that there was very little to make the S5 stand out in terms of features or quality.

You could probably sum the Galaxy S5 up by saying that it is boring. Yes, Samsung do have more interesting devices in their product line, but this particular one is far too conservative.

That having been said, it's a decent handset to have in all other respects. But really it needs to be exceptional to be truly competitive.

 Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini Worse: Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini

Take the lacklustre Galaxy S5 and remove almost all the really desirable features, then you end up with the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini.

Another addition to Samsung's exceptionally muddled range, the only real selling point of this phone was the name which led people to believe that they'd get something as powerful as the S5. They didn't.

Samsung have been doing this for a long time, and we think it is about time that they stopped passing off inferior handsets as mini versions of their flagship phones.

 Samsung Z Worst: Samsung Z

Perhaps it's a bit unfair to include the Samsung Z as it got cancelled. But this is really part of the problem, Samsung's attempt to create a rival smartphone platform to Android by using Tizen has not gone well at all. It is perhaps worth noting one of the predecessors to Tizen was MeeGo which was also a bit of a disaster for Nokia.

There's a very long list of manufacturers who have tried to fight Android and Apple, and most of those have been failures. The world does not need another mobile phone OS, but it looks like there's a chance that Tizen might find a niche in smartwatches instead.

A combination of failure to appear and being a superfluous idea means that in our opinion the Samsung Z is the worst phone of 2014.

The Ugly

An ugly phone isn't necessarily a bad phone, and besides beauty in the eye of the beholder. But these two handsets are a bit challenging to look at.

 Sonim XP7 Ugly: Sonim XP7

Don't get us wrong - the Sonim XP7 is an incredibly rugged fully-featured smartphone that we like a lot. But the result of all that ruggedness is something with the aesthetic appeal of an armoured personnel carrier.

It looks the way it does simply because it is designed to be exceptionally durable. Yes, there are certainly many prettier phones out there. But none of them would survive the sort of things that the Sonim XP7 can take.

If your phone is likely to get dropped, knocked, muddy, covered with gloop, splashed, dunked, frozen or baked or is very likely to be used in VERY LOUD environments then you probably already want one of these, and you won't care what it looks like.

 BlackBerry Passport Ugliest: BlackBerry Passport

Again, there's quite a lot that is admirable about the BlackBerry Passport and it certainly has appeal to long-suffering BlackBerry fans. But it is a hugely wide device that it rather shocking when you take in its sheer physical bulk.

Where the Sonim looks like it does for a very good reason, the Passport's looks are rather less necessary. BlackBerry promoted the Passport by citing how useful it was to have a wide screen when viewing content, but that completely ignored the fact that on a standard smartphone you can make the screen wider by rotating the phone by 90 degrees.

You can't fault BlackBerry for thinking out of the box, but this design is just too esoteric. In our view, the BlackBerry Passport is the ugliest phone of 2014.



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