You have to choose your time carefully when buying a new Android phone. There are plenty of big device releases each year, and more of them than ever are worth considering. Just a few years ago LG could barely compete in most markets, and Motorola only released compelling devices on Verizon. Now there’s a hot new phone coming out every time you turn around. The last thing you want to do is buy too soon and miss out on the perfect phone for you.
The biggest flagships of early 2014 are already out there, so what about the rest of the year? If the Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 weren’t your speed, surely there’s something you can look forward to.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung makes a big deal of the Galaxy S refresh every year, but the annual Note update is arguably a bigger event for Samsung. While it has intense competition in the flagship smartphone race, the phablet category is something Samsung pioneered and still almost completely dominates. The experience of using a Galaxy Note simply isn’t something you can replicate with another device, and that’s why the Note 4 will be huge this fall.
A Galaxy Note is essentially a larger version of the Galaxy S of its generation with a few software tweaks to accommodate the S Pen stylus. It offers handwriting input, better control of floating apps, searching by image, and more. The S Pen itself is an indicative stylus that makes use of technology from Wacom. All those cheap capacitive styluses can’t come close to matching the quality of the S Pen.
The Galaxy Note 4 will probably come with a Super AMOLED screen in the 6-inch range, but the resolution might finally get bumped up past 1080p. That didn’t happen with the Galaxy S5 as rumored, but the larger Note would be a good time to make the jump. You can also count on industry-leading specs as far as the processor and RAM go.
We’re probably about four months away from the announcement of this phone — it’s usually a mid-autumn release. After the success of the Note 3, you can bet Samsung is going to have the Note 4 ready to go in 2014.
LG is now the fastest growing Android OEM in the US market, and for good reason. It has gone from making forgettable mid-range phones to some of the most stylish and powerful devices in the world. LG has been making real strides in the last few years as it has worked with Google on Nexus devices and improved its own branded offerings with the G and G2. With the G2 starting to get a little long in the tooth, LG fans are already looking forward to the G3.
LG created a truly excellent LCD panel for the G2, and the word is that the follow up with be even better. This phone is expected to pack a 5.5-inch 2560×1440 LCD. Although, a similar rumor about the Galaxy S5 turned out not to be true. Behind the display will be 3GB of RAM and perhaps LG’s new Odin octa-core ARM processor. Odin hasn’t been officially announced, so it’s hard to say how it will compare to Snapdragon and Exynos. You can also expect LG to continue with the odd back-facing buttons.
A jump to a 16MP or higher resolution camera is pretty likely with this phone, if if for no other reason than LG wants to challenge to Samsung. 4K video recording would be part of any such package as well. This phone is expected to be announced in the next several months — probably early to mid-summer.
Moto X2/Moto X+
Motorola surprised everyone after its first phone developed completely under Google’s stewardship turned out to be pretty great. The Moto X didn’t strive to have the best specs or the most hip marketing, but it offered one of the most refined and clever user experiences on Android. The follow up, possibly called Moto X2 or Moto X+, will determine whether or not Motorola continues to be relevant as a Lenovo company.
The specs of this phone are still an unknown, but Motorola has more room to improve on the hardware seeing as the Moto X was on the modest side. There’s no reason Moto can’t step it up to a quad-core processor and a 1080p screen this time. The Moto X was snappy and the screen was certainly good enough, but it might learn more cool software tricks with the right hardware.
The clean build of Android with awesome features like touchless control and active display will likely return, as will the price. Motorola has said its days of selling $600 phones are over. Expect the Moto X2 (or whatever they call it) to come in at a more reasonable off-contract price when it’s announced late this summer or early fall.
One Plus One
This Chinese startup was founded by former Oppo engineers in order to make a new device that will be the first smartphone built exclusively for CyanogenMod. The Oppo N1 was the first device to have an official CM version, but the One Plus One (yes, that’s really the name) is going to be CyanogenMod-only. The One Plus One is going to be announced in just a few weeks, and the company is engaged in a relentless social marketing campaign to make sure you know it.
The specs for the One Plus One have been revealed one piece at a time. It will pack a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor, a 3100mAh battery, 3GB of RAM, a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, and a 13MP camera. We don’t know what it looks like yet (beyond some crude sketches), but it will have swappable back covers of some sort.
Running a version of CyanogenMod means a very clean and customizable experience. It won’t ship with root access like the ROMs you can install, but getting it unlocked and rooted shouldn’t be an issue if that’s what you’re into. The big reveal is April 23rd and it is expected to be priced under $400 unlocked. One Plus has never made a phone before, so it’s hard to say how this will all turn out, but we’ll know soon.
The next Nexus
It was a happy coincidence that the Nexus 5 was both the fifth nexus device and a 5-inch phone. The name made perfect sense there, but we don’t know which way Google will go with the next incarnation. Nexus 6 is getting awfully close to Nexus 7, after all. Whatever it is called, the 2014 Nexus device will be a flagship for a whole new era of Android.
LG has made the last two Nexus devices, which was the same streak Samsung had before it moved on. Perhaps LG will be the pick again, or a different company could take a swing at it. Whoever does it, this won’t be as much about the hardware as it is about the software. Nexus phones are usually solid, but not extremely high-end. The Nexus phone is Google’s development platform for Android, and that means fast updates and a pure Google experience.
If we don’t see the L-release of Android this summer, it’s probably going to be in the fall with a new Nexus. This is probably the best reason to wait for this device, Google is reportedly cooking big things for the next big version jump, and you don’t want to be hanging back waiting for an OEM and carrier to approve an update. The 2014 Nexus phone is also going to be an inexpensive device — Google seems be keeping the price under $400 off-contract, which is quite a bit less than more “premium” devices.