If you're reading this, then you know that a good smartphone is more than just its spec-sheet - that it involves thoughtful and considered design. You know that your phone is the most intimate device that you use on a daily basis, and that for it to fit into your life, it has to first fit into your hand nicely. You know that your preference in a phone is entirely subjective - what works for you may not work for someone else. You know all of this because you are likely as much, maybe more, of a smartphone enthusiast as I am.
So, in no particular order, here is my list of the top five best designed smartphones.
HTC One X (2012)
Coming from two previously lackluster devices, the Rezound and Vivid, the HTC One X was like a breath of fresh air. It featured a plastic unibody build, and for the first time, plastic actually felt good in the hand. It felt glossier than the supposed matte finish was meant to, but that wasn't a bad thing. The screen was a whopping 4.7" 720x1280 resolution panel, which for the time, ran circles around the competition. Everything about the phone felt thoughtful, even the somewhat unsightly camera bulge had it's purpose. When laid on it's back, the bulge would ever so slightly tilt the phone, letting the rear facing speakers gain a megaphone effect.
This device would help HTC to find it's own design language, eventually leading up to the wildly successful HTC One (M8) in 2013.
One of my closest friends got this device on day one, and was using it up until very recently. He had to switch it for another phone when he switched carriers, but whenever he and I would hang out, I was lust after the sheer beauty of the One X, often comparing it to my own phone at the time, whether it was the HTC Desire or the LG Nexus 5.
Google/LG Nexus 4 (2012)
When I was getting ready to end my contract with TELUS and ditch my rapidly ageing HTC Desire, I was looking at the then year-old Nexus 4. The Nexus 5 hadn't been announced yet, and I was in a crunch to find something new. I wanted to test out the HTC One M8, the Samsung Galaxy S4, but neither seemed compelling enough. I kept getting called back to the Nexus 4.
I'm not sure whether it was the screen gently curved at the edges, or the way the sides of the phone slopped gracefully towards the back that made it so attractive, but damn, the Nexus 4 looked and felt premium. It was the culmination of everything Google had been working towards with Android at the time, and they couldn't keep it in stock long enough to meet the incredibly high demand.
Now, don't get me wrong - I love my Nexus 5 and wouldn't trade it for anything...except for maybe the Nexus 4. The 5, also made by LG, feels almost too utilitarian, too plain. It has no self-defining features or characteristics about it. The 4 felt like it was built for the hand, and the way the back would shimmer when light would hit it just so, it was absolutely dreamy. Just read the way people were raving about this device.
I will likely always regard the Nexus 4 as one of the best built phones of all time. It was definitely one of the best built phones of 2012, that's for sure.
Motorola Moto X (2013)
There was a time when Motorola was widely regarding as being a manufacturer that you'd want to stay as far away as possible from. They made clunky phones with an absolutely terrible UI (remember Motoblur?) and it was one of the more unpleasant experiences you could've had on any smartphone.
That all changed in 2013, when Motorola announced that their long rumoured smartphone refresh, dubbed the X-Phone, would be called the Moto X (as well two sub-tier devices in the form of the Moto G and Moto E). While it was far from being the perfect device, it was a massive step in the right direction. Motorola decided to leave out any bloatware and stayed away from skinning Android, instead opting for the look and feel similar to that found on any Nexus device. What really made this phone stand out though was the fact that you could customize it to your liking. Motorola unveiled the Moto Maker, a tool that let you pick the colours, the backing, the tints on the trim, and even the wallpaper that would ship with the device. It was the precursor to Google's, "Be Together; Not The Same" ad campaign.
On top of that, Motorola added this subtle dimple on the back, right where your index finger tends to rest, and it made the already ergonomic phone even better in your hand.
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2014)
After three successful, yet wildly disappointing phones in the form of the S3, the S4, and the S5, Samsung was out to reinvent itself. After years of complaints from customers begging Samsung to ditch the slimy plastic in favour of higher end metals, Samsung delivered.
The Galaxy A5 was not meant to be a flagship device, but rather, a reference point or stepping stone. It was the Korean giant's way of saying, "okay, we're listening." It had a glass panel on the front, chamfered metal edges on the side, and the ever-present removable plastic back. The A5 wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a step in the right direction. Yes, it borrowed quite heavily from the Apple iPhone 4 & 5, but that didn't detract from just how good the thing felt in my hand.
It was the first time since the near god-tier Galaxy S II that I was wowed by a Samsung device.
Apple iPhone 6 (2014)
This one was by far the hardest to decide. I knew that I wanted to include an iPhone to this list, purely because no list would be complete or honest without one. There's no doubt that the iPhone changed the entire smartphone industry way back in 2007, but which one do I choose?
For a long time now, I regarded the iPhone 5S as the best designed iPhone ever. It had the solid feel in your hand that the current iPhone 6 doesn't. It had the chamfered metal edges, and was the first iPhone to include a TouchID. There was even a movie filmed entirely using this device. The only issue that I could thing of was that the screen was far too small. At 4", the iPhone 5S is a device built for ants, and that's why the iPhone 6 takes this slot.
The 5.5" iPhone 6+, while arguably a slightly better version than its 4.7" brother on account of it having OIS, is just far too big of a device. It's larger than the Galaxy Note 4, and the same size as the 5.96" Google/Motorla Nexus 6. 4.7"-5.2" is the sweet spot for phones, and the iPhone 6 nailed it. It has rounded corners that feel great in the hand, but are quite slippery, meaning that the phone is prone to dropping. A lot. The screen is great, with vibrant colours, and for the first time, Apple moved the power button to the side of the device - an incredibly smart move. It's also one of the few devices to place the 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom of the phone, something I wish more OEMs would do (it honestly just makes sense. Put your phone in your pocket and you'll understand why this bugs me so much).
The iPhone 6 is everything Apple has been working towards. It unifies the design language between the iPhone and the iPad, and is honestly a joy to use. If I wasn't so already entrenched in the Google ecosystem, I could see myself using an iPhone 6 quite easily.
And there you have it - the top five best designed smartphones to have ever been made. There will be no "number one best" ever, because each phone has its own merits and faults. It's up to you to find the phone that you like best, and run with it.