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The No. 1 phone in the world?

Loyalty and tempers run very high when it has to do with something as personal as a smartphone. Each sliver of praise is gustily cheered and every shred of criticism is vociferously attacked.

brunch Updated: Apr 06, 2013, 17:24 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times

It’s time to wade into very treacherous territory. This may well be the sixth time (since I started writing for Brunch) that I’m doing a ‘Premium Flagship Best Phone in the World’ shootout. And it’s going to be the sixth time that I’m going to be dragged down to the village square, stripped down to my bare essentials and flogged within an inch of my life.

Loyalty and tempers run very high when it has to do with something as personal as a smartphone. Each sliver of praise is gustily cheered and every shred of criticism is vociferously attacked. Defending a smartphone may well have become the modern equivalent of defending one’s own honour and pride. Does that make me a little nervous about doing today’s column? Nah!

I’m going to pit what I believe are the best phones in the world right now. If you’re looking at a tech specs shootout and comparison charts of meaningless data, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m brand and OS neutral and I’m only going to get into those areas that really matter to a normal user.

Looks: Mirror, Mirror on the wall

Not chugging along: The Sony Xperia Z runs on Quad Core processors

Yes, looks matter. You can’t afford to be seen with an ugly phone anymore and no company should even attempt to have a design that isn’t jaw-dropping at first glance. The S4 gets badly bludgeoned here as it carries on with plastic casing and a design that hasn’t changed in generations. The HTC One, with a unibody aluminium chassis, is super premium. The minimalist metal engineered look of the iPhone is amazing but still reminds of you of the iPhone 4 (just stretched out a bit). The Lumia 920 still gets second glances with its slick polycarbonate look and shine (the red is exceptional). The Sony Xperia Z is elegance understated, and the BB Z10 pulls off a totally new BB look, which is industrial but classy.

Screen space: One up on size
Design and style are one thing; ergonomics, size and form factor are what you deal with when you use your phone every day. So how light, how thin and what it feels in your hands on a daily basis make a huge difference. The S4 is thin at .31 inches and light at 130g. The iPhone is thinner at .30 inches and lighter at 112g. The Xperia Z is almost as thin but slightly heavier. The Z10 is .35. The HTC One at .37 and the Lumia 920 at .42 touch the other side of the tape.

Display: Stare meisters
The display and screen on a modern smartphone is now the Holy Grail feature, as this is what you’re going to stare and touch and feel all day. But the specs, PPI and resolutions only tell half the story. Colour reproduction, brightness, sharpness and viewing angles make a dramatic difference. The S4 has a full 1920x1080 HD 4.99-inch screen with 441 pixels per inch. More importantly, for a Super AMOLED screen, they’ve managed very natural colours plus deep blacks and fantastic contrast. Sony’s Xperia Z is almost identical with a 5-inch screen and a similar PPI as well as colour range. The HTC One has the highest pixel density at 446 PPI and a very dynamic pop of colour as all that pixel density is crammed into a 4.7 inch screen. The iPhone 5 screen still remains the brightest, but the lower resolution becomes obvious when you set it out in front of the others. The BB Z10 and the Lumia 920 have lower resolution but still seem to have screens that look awesome in daily use.

Processor: The heart of it
This could be a category where I could reel off simple statistics and specifications and give the crown to the phone with most whiz-bang processor. That would be a grave injustice, as a processor and its speed and cores involved aren’t always telling the whole story. For instance, the Android OS requires more horsepower to run and even a quad core processor can be sluggish at certain tasks. Surprisingly the Windows OS chugs along like a bullet train even with a mediocre processor while iOS and BB10 seem to whiz along blazingly fast with what the manufacturer has bundled in. The everyday user couldn’t care less about what’s ticking inside as long as the apps open fast, multi-tasking is a breeze and there’s no lag or screen freeze, ever. Thus let’s do this section differently by mating the processor to the OS and then give away the medals.

Looking Good? The HTC One beats the Samsung Galaxy S4’s old look with its unibody aluminium chassis

The S4 has created quite a stir in the tech world with its Octa (8) core 1.6 GHz processor, but do remember that it uses only 4 cores at a time. For light tasks, the power-efficient A7 cores come into play and for more demanding stuff, the A15 cores rush in while switching off the A7s. To those that think this is just total tech gobbledygook, you’re right. Suffice to say that this switching just gives you serious power when you need it and battery efficiency when you don’t. The HTC One and Xperia Z run on quad core processors but can’t switch on and off. The BB Z10, iPhone 5 and Lumia 920 are on dual core processors. But do remember that they run OSes that just aren’t so processor hungry.

This shootout continues next week. Battery life, camera used in actual shoot conditions, video, additional usability features, add-ons, price and a whole lot more shall be compared. There’s plenty to be tried, tested and thoroughly examined before one phone can be crowned ‘The Best Phone in the World’. But that shouldn’t stop you from reacting to what has already been compared. I’ve already stripped down to my bare essentials. Let the flogging begin!
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

The contenders,in random order, are (drum roll)
1. Samsung Galaxy S4
2. Sony Xperia Z
3. HTC One
4. iPhone 5
5. Nokia Lumia 920
6. BlackBerry Z10

The Winners
1. HTC One
2. iPhone 5
3. Nokia Lumia 920

Screen space
1. Samsung Galaxy S4 (for pulling off a giant screen into a super thin body)
2. iPhone 5
3. Sony Xperia Z

1. HTC One
2. Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z
3. iPhone 5 and BlackBerry Z10

1. Samsung Galaxy S4
2. iPhone 5 and HTC One
3. Nokia Lumia 920

From HT Brunch, April 7

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