The 10 Coolest Smartphones Of 2012 (So Far)10:00 AM EST Tue. Jul. 17, 2012
Remember when it was considered a major feat just to be able to check email on your phone? Well, things have changed, technology has advanced, and now smartphones can seemingly do everything short of walk or drive a car ... at least not yet, that is.
The smartphone market in the first half of 2012 alone has seen a number of newcomers that are raising the bar even higher, delivering new features like pocket-sized projectors or coming in new ultra-thin form factors that take the concept of portability to whole new heights.
From handset makers ranging from Samsung to Nokia to HTC, here’s a look at the 10 coolest smartphones to launch so far this year.
Samsung’s Galaxy line of smartphones has proven to be one of the biggest iPhone contenders on the market, and the newly launched Galaxy S III looks to be no exception.
Unveiled in May, the third-generation Galaxy phone is the fastest and most advanced yet, sporting Samsung’s newest Exynos quad-core processor and reaching speeds up to 1.4 GHz. It touts Google’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS and a 4.8-inch display, making it slightly larger than its predecessors.
But what really sets the Galaxy S III apart from the younger siblings is a slew of new features that make it more human-like than ever, and a rival to the iPhone. Users can leverage a new feature called "S Voice" to verbally command the Galaxy S III to make phone calls, check the weather and various other tasks hands-free, similar to the iPhone’s Siri. Another new feature, called "Smart Stay," can detect the presence of a Galaxy user through a front-facing camera to gauge whether it should keep the phone’s screen lit up or power down to conserve energy.
Users around the world have felt their hearts sink at the sight of a smartphone rushing to the bottom of a sink, a pool, or -- worse yet -- a toilet.
Unless, of course, that phone is the new Sony Xperia Advance.
Scratch-proof, dust-proof and, yes, even water-proof, Sony’s smartphone is a clumsy user’s dream come true. According to the consumer electronics giant, the Xperia Advance (known as the Xperia Go outside the U.S.) is perfect for on-the-go smartphone users and resistant to even the toughest bumps and bruises, on land or off.
Despite its "ruggedized" design, the Xperia Advance still sports a dainty frame, measuring just 0.39 inches thick and touting a 3.5-inch display. A 5-megapixel fast capture camera and 1 GHz dual-core processor are also included in the phone, which runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread (but is upgradeable to Ice Cream Sandwich).
The Lava Xolo X900 may not have been as buzzed-about this year as the Galaxy S III or iPhone 4S, but it still stole the title of first-ever smartphone with Intel inside.
Launched in April in India, the Xolo X900 is powered by Intel’s Atom Z2460 "Medfield" mobile processor and was manufactured by Lava International. The Atom processor allows the phone to reach speeds of up to 1 GHz, and it also touts Intel’s Hyper Threading Technology, said to increase the processor’s overall performance by enabling multiple threads to run on each core. An 8-megapixel camera, 1,080-pixel video playback and Google’s Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS are also included.
Regardless of how widely adopted it becomes, the Xolo X900 marked a significant shift in strategy for Intel, which is clearly expanding its reach beyond traditional PCs and into the realm of mobility. Since Xolo’s introduction, other Atom-powered phones have launched in the U.K. and are eventually expected to hit shelves in the U.S. -- but Lava’s phone will forever claim bragging rights as being the first.
Though the Nokia Lumia 900 hasn’t quite been the comeback device it was supposed to be, it’s still a slick-looking device that's infused some variety this year into an otherwise iOS- and Android-dominated market.
The highest-end device in the Lumia family, the Lumia 900 sports a 4.3-inch display, a 1.4 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and an 8-megapixel camera. It runs on Windows Phone 7.5 and has a uniquely tiled interface through which users have access to the nearly 100,000 apps hosted in Microsoft’s Windows Phone Marketplace.
Despite its highly anticipated launch, the future of the Lumia 900 has recently wavered, after Nokia said during its first-quarter earnings call in May that it’s facing "greater-than-expected competitive challenges" in the smartphone market. What’s more, Microsoft said the phone won’t be able to upgrade to the upcoming Windows Phone 8 OS without undergoing a complete hardware overhaul.
Today’s smartphones are often multiple gadgets in one, doubling as navigation systems, wallets, and -- in the iPhone 4S’ case -- even personal assistants. And now, with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Beam, projectors can be added to the list.
Launched at the Mobile World Congress Event in February, the new Samsung Galaxy Beam is a half-smartphone, half-projector device that can project -- or "beam" -- images, videos and text onto any flat surface measuring 50 inches or less.
Apart from a 15-lumen LED projector, the 4-inch Samsung Galaxy Beam houses a 1 GHz dual-core processor, a 5-megapixel camera and 8 GB of memory.
Handset maker HTC launched this year a series of new smartphones under the name HTC One, including the HTC One X and HTC One V. But, the HTC One S, which hit stores on April 25, stole the show as not only being the thinnest T-Mobile smartphone on the market, but the first-ever from the carrier to run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
The 4G-compatible HTC One S is just 0.3 inches thick and features a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen. It also comes equipped with 25 GB of free cloud storage from Dropbox and can store up to 20,000 songs in its built-in music library.
The phone's biggest claim to fame, however, is perhaps its camera. With 8-megapixels and an auto-focus feature that lets users capture photos at a rate of four frames per second, even the most amateur photographer can get a good shot. What’s more, a feature called HTC ImageSense allows users to record HD video while snapping pictures at the same time.
Motorola grew its Droid family of smartphones at this year's Consumer Electronics Show with the introduction of its new Droid Razr Maxx.
Following in the footsteps of other Razr’s before it, the new Droid Razr Maxx is what Motorola dubbed "impossibly thin," measuring just 0.35 inches thick but still packing in 32 GB of memory and a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor. It can also keep a charge for up to 21.5 hours of talk time, Motorola said, and runs on Google’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Droid Razr Maxx has an 8-megpixel rear-facing and 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. It also offers a voice input feature that allows users to compose hands-free text messages and emails.
HTC and Sprint jointly launched this June a new smartphone that instantly stood apart from the rest -- literally.
The new HTC EVO 4G LTE comes with a built-in mini kickstand users can extract when they want to view apps and other content hands-free. The stand can be used to perch the phone up either vertically or horizontally, for multiple viewing angles.
Apart from being able to stand on its own, the HTC EVO 4G LTE can be used as an ad-hoc wireless router, providing a wireless signal for up to eight separate devices. The 4.8-inch device also sports an 8-megapixel camera and a 1 GHz Qualcomm processor.
While Nokia's PureView 808 may not boast as robust an app offering as iOS- or Android-based devices (it runs the Finnish handset maker’s old-school Symbian OS), it's the clear-cut winner when it comes to smartphone cameras, sporting an industry-leading 41-megapixel camera.
Announced in February, the PureView 808 includes a camera that’s leaps and bounds beyond all other smartphone cameras on the market, including those in the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S III which both have 8-megapixel counts. Nokia also armed the device with its new PureView Pro imaging technology, a feature that enables pixel oversampling, or the process of combining many pixels to create a single -- and in Nokia’s words "super" -- pixel to more clearly capture detail.
The 4-inch Nokia PureView 808 also contains a 1.3 GHz ARM processor and up 16 GB of storage.
Given the always-on, always-connected nature of the smartphone market, being green isn’t always front-of-mind. But, Samsung changed all that this June with the launch of its "environmentally conscious" Galaxy Exhilarate.
Apart from boasting a rear casing made from 80-percent recycled materials, the Galaxy Exhilarate comes with an energy-efficient charger that alerts users when the device is fully charged, so it doesn’t have to be plugged in any longer than necessary. AT&T, the exclusive carrier of Exhilarate, rounded out the green theme by offering two custom cases for the phone, made out of biodegradable and recyclable materials.
Samsung's eco-friendly design didn’t at all compromise performance, either; the Exhilarate still packs a 1.2 GHz processor and a 5-megapixel camera, and it runs on the latest 4G LTE network. What’s more, it won't run you quite as much as other Samsung phones, since it sells for just $50 with a two-year contract.