Top 10 Smartphones Of 2012

2012 has been a crazy year in the mobile industry. The industry was mainly dominated by Samsung and Apple this year, with the likes of HTC and Sony struggling to stay afloat. Earlier this year, Google shocked everyone buy buying Motorola for 12.5$ billion. Later on, Apple shocked everyone and caused a lot of trouble to its iDevices owners by ditching Google Maps for its own in-house mapping system, Apple Maps. This eventually led to Tim Cook firing Scott Forstall, who was the senior vice-president of iOS software.

In 2012, smartphones were all about big screens with 720p resolution, oodles of RAM, quad-core processors and, thankfully, nearly all day battery life. Like in 2011, Android phones absolutely dominated the sales chart, especially Samsung’s Galaxy S3.

Now, that the year is going to end and the holiday season is fast approaching, we list down our top 10 phones of 2012.

10) Motorola RAZR i – Motorola promotes the RAZR i with an edge-to-edge display, and rightly so. The RAZR i packs in a 4.3-inch Super-AMOLED qHD display with dimensions that are the same as the iPhone.

The RAZR i is also the first handset from a major OEM to pack in an Intel Atom processor clocked at a whopping 2GHz, along with an outdated PowerVR SGX 540 GPU and 1GB of RAM. If you don’t want a phone that does not have a massive 4.7-inch+ display, the RAZR i will be your best option.

Under Google’s keen eye, expect Motorola to come up with a stellar handset in 2013 that will shock and surprise every tech enthusiast out there.

9) HTC One S – The HTC One S is the perfect upper mid-range Android handset out there. It has a 4.3-inch Super-AMOLED screen with qHD (960*640) resolution, 16GB of internal storage, absolutely stellar build quality and a decent 8MP camera.

If the One S failed to set the sales on fire, it was because of the lack of its microSD card slot, and HTC swapping the dual-core Snapdragon S4 Krait processor with the older-generation S3 processor in some markets.

8) LG Optimus G – Google’s Nexus 4 is based on the LG Optimus G. Both the devices share the same internal specifications – a 1.5GHz Quad-core Krait processor, 2GB RAM, a 4.7-inch IPS HD 768p display, and an 8MP camera (13MP in some variants). It even has a back that has the same disco-ball effect as on the Nexus 4.

The Optimus G was the first Android smartphone to make use of Qualcomm’s quad-core Krait processor. While the handset is not bad by any means, it is not going to be as successful as LG might have hoped for, all thanks to the Nexus 4, that packs in similar specs for half the price.

7) Nokia Lumia 920 – While the verdict is not yet out if the Lumia 920 is as successful as Nokia might have hoped for, the handset definitely has all the ingredients needed to make it a hit.  The 4.5-inch ClearBlackDisplay comes with PureMotion HD+ technology that gives the screen on the Lumia 920 a higher refresh rate than other competing screen technologies out there.

However, the selling point of the Lumia 920, and the reason why it has made it to this list, is because of its 8.7MP PureView camera, which has OIS (Optical Image Stabilization).

With Windows Phone 8 adding some much needed features to the mobile OS from the Redmond based company, the Lumia 920 might just be enough to pull back Nokia into profitability.

6) HTC One X – The One X is nearly 10 months old, but is still one of the most stunning phones available in the market. The handset sports a stunning 4.7-inch 720p S-LCD2 display, 1GB of RAM, Nvidia’s Tegra 3 processor clocked at 1.5GHz, 32GB of storage space, and an 8MP F/2.0 camera with ImageSense. The AT&T version of the One X swapped the Tegra 3 quad-core processor with a dual-core Krait processor from Qualcomm, which is no slow-couch either.

While the One X might not have sold in large numbers as HTC might have hoped for, the handset did prove that HTC is going on the right way. If the DNA is any indication, the HTC One X2 might just bring back HTC in the game.

5) Google Nexus 4 – When rumors started leaking on the Internet that LG is going to make the next Nexus handset, everyone was doubtful about the handset’s quality and its reliability. Ironically, after the Nexus One, the Nexus 4 is the only Nexus branded device from Google to pack in bleeding-edge specifications. Right from the 768p IPS HD display to the quad-core Krait processor to the 2GB of RAM or the build quality of the handset, the Nexus 4 screams of premium/quality. The disco-ball effect at the back of the phone is a nice addition as well, and makes the phone stand out from the crowd.

What, however, is not premium is its pricing. For only $299 for the 8GB version and $349 for the 16GB version, the Nexus 4 is well worth it just because of its stellar price tag. The Nexus branding means that owners will be the first in line to get future Android updates. With Android 4.2 already on-board, the Nexus 4 is already running the latest version of Android, which includes Photosphere, an enhanced keyboard, lock screen widgets, multiple user profiles and more.

4) HTC DROID DNA – The DROID DNA from HTC is only available in the United States under Verizon’s network and as the Butterfly in Japan. The phone was supposed to be launched in Europe but rumors indicate that HTC might have had a change of heart. The DROID DNA/Butterfly is the first Android smartphone to sport a 5-inch screen with a whopping 1080p screen resolution. Apart from the screen, the DNA/Butterfly includes a blazing fast 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm S4 processor, 2GB of RAM, an 8MP F/2.0 camera and more.

After quite sometime, HTC is struggling to meet the demands of the handset in Japan, which should come as a sigh of relief for the Taiwanese maker. If the DROID DNA is anything to go by, the One X successor from HTC that will be unveiled next year at MWC, is going to set the bar high for the Galaxy S4 and others.

3) Apple iPhone 5 – With even budget oriented phones coming with a 4-inch+ display, Apple had to increase the size of the display on the iPhone, and it did with the iPhone 5. Instead of making the display wider and taller, the Cupertino company only made it taller so as to facilitate one-hand usage.

Apart from the bigger screen, the iPhone 5 also packed in LTE in a much slimmer (7.6mm) body. The usual generational updates were also present including a blazing fast custom-core A6 SoC from Apple, improved GPU performance, 1GB of RAM, and an 8MP camera with improved low-light performance.

However, the iPhone 5 along with iOS 6 lacked any kind of innovation or the ‘new’ factor. The new version of iOS only brought about minor enhancements and nothing else. Even then, the lack of innovation did not stop Apple from selling more than 5 million units of the handset in its first weekend in the United States. The iPhone 5 might have lacked innovation, but it can beat the combined sales figure of the Galaxy S3 and the Note 2 in just a month.

2) Samsung Galaxy Note 2 – Samsung has been on a roll with its Galaxy series. If the Galaxy S series is aimed at smartphones lovers, the Korean company has successfully managed to please people out there who want a ‘phablet’ with its Note series. When Samsung initially unveiled the Galaxy Note, it was ridiculed for releasing a device with such a big screen. The Galaxy Note, then, went on to sell in excess of 10 million units. The Galaxy Note 2 has gone a level further and reached the 5 million sales mark within 2 months of its release.

For a phablet, the Galaxy Note 2 packs in everything that once can imagine including a 1.6GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, a 5.5-inch HD Super-AMOLED screen, an 8MP camera, oodles of storage, a bunch of sensors and a beefy 3100mAh battery for an all-day battery life even with heavy usage.

1) Samsung Galaxy S3 – If the Galaxy S and Galaxy S2 made Samsung popular, the Galaxy S3 confirmed Samsung’s prowess in the mobile industry. Not only is the Galaxy S3 loaded to the brim specs wise with a quad-core Exynos processor clocked at 1.4GHz, 1GB of RAM, a 720p HD Super-AMOLED screen, 16GB of storage and a microSD card slot, it can also last nearly a day of moderate to heavy usage thanks to its beefy 2100mAh battery and 32nm-HKMG fabrication process based SoC.

If the hardware of the phone is impressive, the list of all the features that Samsung has included in this phone is exhaustive. While the nature inspired version of TouchWIZ in Galaxy S3 is still ugly and not to everyone’s liking, Samsung has added so many features to it, that it is tough to not use it. These features include Pop-up play, pop-up browser, multi-view multitasking, Smart stay, Smart rotation and much more.

While the phone does look ugly and is still made of plastic, it has been selling like hot cakes all over the world. No wonder Samsung managed to sell more than 30 million Galaxy S3s within 5 months of its launch.

Don’t agree with our list? Feel free to drop in a comment and let us know which are your top 10 smartphones of 2012.

Google Maps for iOS Downloaded 10M Times in First 48 Hours

Last week, Google Maps for iOS was released. Now the app, as mentioned in a Google+ blog post from Jeff Huber, has turned out to be a hit, with more than 10 million downloads just 48 hours after the app was released last Wednesday night.

We’re excited for the positive reception of Google Maps for iPhone around the world. Congratulations to the Maps Team on the recognition for the passion and hard work they poured into it, for this release and over the last 7+ years.

If you already have it – thank you, and please tell a friend. Any feedback you have is welcomed, here in G+ or in the app (just shake it).

Google Maps took the number one free app ranking on the App Store within a day of its release, and today is has a 4.5 star rating with more than 20,000 reviews.

Google Maps is a free app that can be downloaded via the App Store. [App Store]

HalfBrick Puts Its iOS Games On Sale; Download Fruit Ninja And Others For Free!

iOS owners, here is some good news for you. Popular iOS game developer – Halfbrick – has put up a 24-hour sale for all its games on the iOS App Store. Halfbrick is known to have released some quality and popular games on the App Store including Fruit Ninja, Age of Zombies and Jetpack Joyride.

For the next 24 hours (around 20 hours now), the company has made all its game for the iPad and the iPhone available for free. Yep, that’s right!

Head over to the iOS App Store to download all the popular Halfbrick games for free. Links below -:

With the Holiday season approaching fast, expect more popular iOS apps and games to go on sale!

Gameloft Releases Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour For $6.99 On The Play Store

Gameloft — known for releasing games eerily similar to some popular gaming titles out there — has released Modern Combat 4 on the Play Store. The game is the company’s own copy of the popular Call Of Duty series for mobile devices. The game was released on iOS a few days ago, and was released on the Play Store just a few hours ago today.

Arm yourself for FPS action!

The #1 Action FPS game is back on smartphone with a new chapter to push the boundaries of mobile gaming even further. In the wake of nuclear warfare, the only chance to avoid global devastation is in the hands of the few elite soldiers who must track down and rescue the world’s leaders from a frighteningly familiar terrorist group.

Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour is a typical Gameloft game with below-average controls — at least on smartphones, stellar graphics, a $6.99 price tag and requires a whopping 1.8GB+ of free space on your device. Considering that the game downloads the additional file from Gameloft’s own server, making the 15-minute Play Store refund window useless.

The game will work on any Android 2.3 Gingerbread+ devices, but considering the quality of graphics, make sure you have a decently powerful smartphone or tablet before spending $6.99 on it.

 

Angry Birds Star Wars Released for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, PC, and Mac

After teasing us for several weeks, Rovio has finally released Angry Birds Star Wars. Angry Birds Star Wars is a peculiar mashup of one of the most popular movie franchises of all time with one of biggest gaming franchises of the recent past.

Angry-Birds-Star-Wars

Angry Birds Star Wars features gameplay elements from both classical Angry Birds and Angry Birds Space, but pushes both of them to the next level. Your favorite birds have been re-dressed keeping in mind the Star Wars universe and can now emit force fields, wield light-sabers, and shoot bullets.

As always, there are plenty of varied levels to keep you hooked. Rovio promises more than 80 levels in various Star Wars inspired locations like Tatooine and the Pig Star. To conquer these levels, you will have to dodge Imperial pigs, laser turrets, Tusken Raider pigs, and the dark side of the Force.

Angry Birds Star Wars costs $0.99 on iOS for the iPhone version and $2.99 for the iPad version. The Android version is free, but has advertisements. If you want to get rid of the ads, you can get rid of them through $0.99 in-app purchase. Interestingly enough, Rovio is also offering something called Angry Birds Star Wars HD for $2.99, which looks just like the other Android version sans the ads. Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 editions can be purchased from respective Stores for $4.99. It is also available on PC for $4.95, and on Mac for $4.99.

[ Download Angry Birds Star Wars ]

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Coming To iOS And Android Later This Fall

Last year, Rockstar games released GTA 3 on the iOS and Android platform, and this year, they brought Max Payne to two of the world’s most popular mobile OS.

Today, Rockstar announced that they will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of one of its popular games – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – that was released on October 29th, 2002, by releasing some never-seen-before artworks, new anniversary trailer, and a limited number of collectable promotional items.

Most importantly though, Rockstar will be releasing an Anniversary edition of the game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, for selected iOS and Android devices. GTA 3 is one of the most graphically (texture) intensive games available for Android devices, and it looks like Vice City will be no different. Rockstar states that GTA Vice City will feature native high-resolution graphics and several other enhancements “unique to the iOS and Android platforms”.

The official announcement from Rockstar does not mention any exact date as to when the game will be available for Android and iOS platforms, except for a vague “later this fall”.

Smartphones Hit the One Billion User Mark

“A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”

Apparently even that quote applies to not only dollars, but even users now. On the heels of Facebook announcing that it had hit the one billion users milestone, Strategy Analytics announced today that we will have hit a major milestone in Q3 2012. There are now more than a billion smartphones in active use, and the smartphone penetration continues to grow at an increasing rate.

The report didn’t delve into much detail, but most of the growth in the last couple of years would have to come from Samsung, Apple and then Nokia. The growing popularity of iOS and Android has led to the rapid acceleration in the use of smartphones. While it took 16 years to hit the first billion, we are expected to reach the next billion in just 3 more years.

One out of every seven people on the planet now have a smartphone. However, many more still have feature phones, but that is expected to change in the near future. China, India and other emerging markets are expected to be on the forefront of this smartphone revolution as markets like the US and UK already have pretty high penetration.

via Techcrunch

Devices, Services and the Modern Microsoft

In a letter addressed to Microsoft’s shareholders, customers, partners and employees, CEO Steve Ballmer laid out the direction in which Microsoft was about to embark upon, calling it a fundamental shift for the company. The gist of the change is that instead of being a software company, Microsoft was focused on becoming a devices and services company. This is a big shift in strategy and could very well be the defining moment for Microsoft as well as Ballmer.

Services

A lot of pundits have focused too much on the devices part of the strategy, and that is justified, given that traditionally Microsoft has not built hardware except the Xbox and some keyboards, mice and web cameras. The Surface tablet was introduced as “the first in a series of devices” that Microsoft intends to make. That statement, along with the phrase “devices of various form factors” in the letter would imply that Microsoft may in fact make other devices like phones, or smaller tablets in e-reader form factor.

However, I want to focus on the services part of the strategy. Microsoft is essentially saying that all the software it is making, is now going to be delivered as a service. We already see many of the server products being delivered as a service via Office 365, Azure, etc. This is a tremendous achievement because it is almost completely opposite of how Microsoft used to make money – boxed software or licensed software delivered as a product. Now, they have been able to pitch various types of models for the delivery as a service, like pure service-based delivery as Office 365, pure on-premise delivery as in Exchange Server (or any of the other servers) and the hybrid model where some part of the infrastructure stays on-premise and some gets delivered as a service.

It is not just the “business” side of things that have become the focus of services. On the consumer side Microsoft completely revamped their much-underutilized SkyDrive cloud storage service. Not only did they make it easier to use, but they made native apps available on all mobile platforms. See the devices angle that others have not focused much on? You can enjoy the benefits of their service across Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Similarly, they launched a brand new, extremely good-looking mail service Outlook.com, which takes the negativity associated with Hotmail brand away from Microsoft. The web app works nicely on all modern browsers, including mobile browsers on iPad and Android tablets. They also made Outlook.com work with Exchange Active Sync (EAS) so all modern smartphones can connect to it with 2-way push on email, contacts and calendars. Another huge service that is coming soon is the Xbox Music and Xbox Video, combined with their cross-platform app Xbox SmartGlass.

The other services piece for Microsoft is Windows Azure, both as a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). This area of focus is not brand new, but the pace at which the teams at Microsoft are innovating and competing (on price) shows that they are really serious about these services as well. They are investing a lot of time and money in improving the feature-set and filling the holes that the modern developers (read: not only Windows developers) have reported as crucial for them to adopt Windows as a development platform. Adding support to open source software and frameworks to Azure is a good example of how Microsoft is saying they are a service provider which does not have any favorites when it comes to tools and technologies. The market sure seems to like it because Azure has gained not just a lot of new customers (as Microsoft claims), but they have started reversing the negativity associated with Microsoft when it comes to the open source community.

Massive Change

As you can see, there is a lot of change Microsoft has stepped into, and these things are not going to start showing results immediately. When you are moving an oil tanker like Microsoft, turning it is not quick, nor easy. However, the speed at which Microsoft has pulled off this change, is amazing. They have realized that Windows is not going to have the same clout as it used to have in the 90s. They cannot force themselves onto customers, partners or consumers. Everyone has choices now, and more importantly, as tablet and smartphone sales have proven, people prefer smaller, simpler, mobile devices over larger, more powerful, but more complex devices like laptops. Microsoft knew they had to quickly retool themselves, or face irrelevance.

“PC” Market Or “Computing Devices” Market?

The PC market is now morphing into a more general category of “computing devices” market. Some prefer laptops, some prefer desktops, many prefer tablets, and some are even ok with just their smartphones. In this new world, Windows (which I consider to be 8, RT and Phone combined) would probably end up at no more than 30-40% while iOS and Android take similar shares. With focus on services that work across devices of all form factors, and more importantly, across all OSes, Microsoft is positioned well to take advantage of the new wave of computing.

Devices

Finally, as for the devices part of the strategy, it is important to note that while Microsoft may make their own devices in addition to the Surface tablets, they are definitely not going to become a hardware company. Making hardware at scale is very hard, especially in today’s world of supply chains spanning many companies and geographies, and hardware design needing specialized materials to get the most efficient devices made. I firmly believe Microsoft said devices in the letter to denote the importance of being present on all devices, some of which will showcase their own OS, while some may be running other OSes.

It is a bold strategy. One may argue this is probably the only thing Microsoft could have done to keep their enterprise customers happy while moving forward into the new computing era along with the consumers who have started embracing competing platforms in large numbers. By defining themselves as a company that provides services across all types of devices, Microsoft is ensuring they are built to avoid the irrelevance they would be relegated to if they stayed stuck to the old process of providing incremental updates to all their products.

Looking forward to seeing what happens this holiday season, and more importantly, how Microsoft reinvents itself as it starts providing updates to its entire line of services in the next year.

Apple A6 SoC – Not A15, But Much More Efficient Than Competing SoCs

When Apple announced the iPhone 5, the company mentioned that the device had a 2x faster processor without providing anymore information on the SoC. Apple’s claims led many to believe that the iPhone 5 is going to be the first handset in the market to sport a Cortex-A15 based SoC.

Sadly, as the folks at AnandTech found out, the iPhone 5 does not sport an A15 based SoC. Instead, it sports a custom dual-core hybrid Cortex-A9 and A15 CPU from Apple.

Apple going the custom core way for the A6 SoC shows how much the Cupertino giant is dedicated towards the iOS ecosystem. By making its own custom core, Apple can further tighten the iOS experience, which will ultimately benefit the end users.

So, how does the A6 SoC stack against the quad-core Exynos SoC inside the Galaxy S3 and other competing SoCs?

A Geek Bench 2 result of the A6 SoC shows that Apple has only clocked the CPU at 1GHz, which is fairly conservative for a 32nm based SoC. The new iPhone 5 scores 1601 in GeekBench 2, while the International Galaxy S3 scores 1781. Even though the Exynos SoC inside the SGS3 managed to beat the iPhone 5, the A6 SoC inside the iPhone 5 is clearly much more powerful. The A6 SoC has two less cores, and is clocked at a fairly conservative 1.02GHz and yet manages to come very near to the Galaxy S3 in GeekBench 2.

Apart from the Exynos SoC, the A6 inside the iPhone 5 is easily able to beat all other SoCs found in other Android devices including the Nexus 7 (Tegra 3), and the HTC One X (Qualcomm S4 Krait).

The A6 SoC also has phenomenal memory performance, which has generally been a weak point of ARM based CPUs. The SoC is also rumored to sport a PowerVR SGX543MP3 GPU clocked at higher speeds than found on the iPhone 4S. Head over to AnandTech for an excellent analysis of the Geek Bench 2 results.

Google Launches Native YouTube App for iPhone

Earlier this year, we reported that the YouTube app from iOS 6 had been removed due to the end of licensing terms. At that time, Google promised that a native iOS apps was in the works. Today, Google has released a new native YouTube app for iPhone. YouTube had previously been one of the built-in iOS apps since the original iPhone launch.

The app is available via the App Store and is a free download. However, the app does have ads in order to support the “tens of thousands” of new videos. Currently, the app does not support the iPad, but the NY Times reports that a native iPad app is in the works.

For the first time in a native iOS experience, YouTube will show pre-roll adds ahead of its mobile videos. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that with more monetization comes more content. Thanks to mobile ad capabilities baked into its own app, YouTube will unlock tens of thousands of music videos from VEVO and others that were not viewable on the old app.

I have been using the app since last night and really like it. The app’s icon needs a lot of work though.