Holiday Gift Guide: 10 Surefire Smartphones

Last-Minute Gift Ideas

Anointing one smartphone as "best" for holiday shoppers is a fool's errand given divergent tastes and wireless carrier support of specific handsets. Phones have become like shoes -- there is no universal best phone.

Rather, finding a smartphone that fits best in your life is more often defined by your lifestyle, what your wireless carrier is offering, and whether you have thousands of dollars invested in iOS or Android apps.

So, instead a top-down ranking approach to this year's top smartphones for holiday shoppers, here is a list that offers great options -- save the superlatives.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Category Champ: Phablet

Carriers: Verizon Wireless, Sprint and AT&T

Description: For phablet shoppers the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is your best choice. It offers a full HD screen, lightning fast Snapdragon 800 processor and a mammoth 5.7-inch screen. Multitaskers will love Samsung's custom enhancements such as an app that allows you to run two apps side-by-side -- something you can't even do on most small-ish tablets.

Apple iPhone 5S

Category Champ: App-Centric/Great Camera

Carriers: All major carriers

Description: Want to make a safe investment on a phone with massive appeal and access to the largest library of mobile apps out there? Apple's iPhone 5S ranks as one of the best smartphones, period. With its latest model, Apple gives the 5S a serious speed boost (thanks to Apple's 64-bit A7 chip) that nearly doubles overall performance. Other standout features include improved camera with front and back flash and a new Touch ID feature that lets you unlock your phone or make purchases via a built-in fingerprint sensor.

Motorola Moto X (Designed By You)

Category Champ: Customizable Colors

Carriers: Verizon Wireless, Sprint and AT&T

Description: What sets the Moto X apart from the smartphone pack is the ability to design the phone yourself online. You can customize the Moto X's front and back colors and accent hues and even pick the colors of the volume rockers. Other highlights include a 10-MP camera, a bright 4.7-inch display and Touchless Control -- which lets you control your phone anytime by speaking (even when the device is asleep).

Samsung Galaxy S4

Category Champ: All Around Great Feature Set

Carriers: All major carriers

Description: Samsung's flagship Galaxy S4 brings together the phone maker's innovative features such as a built-in TV remote, lightweight design, 5-inch display, and 13-megapixel camera. It's not one standout feature that will have the S4 winning you over. Instead, it's the combination of innovative features coupled with a powerful quad-core processor and great design.


Category Champ: Sight and Sounds

Carriers: All major carriers

Description: There's a lot to like with the HTC One, from the phone's top-notch hardware design to solid specs. This Android phone sports a beautiful aluminum body, a sharp 4.7-inch 1080p display, and two front-facing speakers that crank surprisingly rich audio good for a smartphone. The HTC One also packs some nice innovative touches such as a built-in TV remote control and an Ultrapixel camera that takes great photos in low light.

Nokia Lumia 1020

Category Champ: Best Windows Phone/Camera Phone

Carriers: AT&T exclusively

Description: Thanks to the Lumia 1020's 41-megapixel sensor along with six Carl Zeiss lenses, this Windows Phone is a shutterbugs dream come true. The phone's camera boasts the ability to take pictures in low-light conditions, and when in video mode, it can capture high-quality stereo sound. The Lumia, with 4.5-inch display, also offers a host of on-board photo editing and sharing apps for all the pictures and videos captured with this phone.

Google Nexus 5

Category Champ: No-Contract Phone

Carriers: AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile

Description: The Nexus 5 delivers cutting-edge specs with a budget-friendly price ($349 with no carrier subsidy) for anyone trying to avoid a contract. Made by LG, this handset features a host of updates over last year's Nexus 4 model, including a 1080p 5-inch display, an 8-megapixel camera, fast Snapdragon 800 processor, and the latest Android 4.4 KitKat OS.


Category Champ: Best Battery Life

Carriers: All major carriers

Description: With 18-hour battery life (11.4 days standby time), according to LG, this is the phone for anyone who fears running out of juice at the most inopportune time. Besides long battery life, the G2 shines with a 13-megapixel camera, fast Snapdragon 800 processor and a unique design that places the power button and volume controls on the back of the phone.

Motorola Droid Maxx

Category Champ: Road Warrior Phone

Carriers: Verizon Wireless exclusively

Description: A soft-touch and rugged Kevlar finish coupled with long 10-hour battery life help make the Droid Maxx a road warrior's choice for a smartphone. The phone sports a 5-inch Super AMOLED display, Motorola X8 processor, 32-GB internal storage, 10-megapixel camera, and Qi wireless charging for those who feel strongly about not wanting to mess with cords.

Sony Xperia Z1

Category Champ: Waterproof

Carriers: T-Mobile exclusively

Description: Sony's Xperia Z1 claim to fame is that it's waterproof and dust resistant and comes with an impressive 20.7-megapixels camera. Under the hood the smartphone has the speedy Snapdragon 800 2.2GHz quad-core processor, 2-GB RAM, 16-GB internal storage with a microSD card slot, and a 5-inch HD display. The Xperia Z1 can be submerged in water up to a depth of 1.5 meters for up to 30 minutes, according to Sony.