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A buyer's guide to the season's smartest smartphones

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With Apple's latest iPhone slated for release on Sept. 10 and Samsung's new Galaxy set for Sept. 4, anyone shopping for a new phone right now has a lot to consider.

Here's a roundup of fall's hottest handsets, in no particular order, keeping in mind that pricing and availability may change:

 

WINDOWS PHONE

NOKIA LUMIA 1020

The Lumia 1020 sets the standard for smartphone cameras with a whopping 41-megapixel sensor with image stabilization. The state-of-the-art camera features high-end Zeiss optics, xenon flash, manual shutter and other photographic controls. Nokia captures two images automatically each time you shoot. One of those is a full-resolution picture that turns out to be either 34 or 38 megapixels, depending on formats. You also get a very good-quality five-megapixel image that can be more easily shared via email or message or posted onto a social network. But some of the photo apps are a bit confusing.

  • NO SMALL FEAT: You can make out the display in direct sunlight.
  • KEY SPECS: It's mostly about the camera. But it also has a dual-core Qualcomm processor and 4.5-inch (1280 x 768) display.
  • PRICING: No carrier or pricing information has been announced for Canada, though it has been reported to be coming here this quarter.

 

APPLE

IPHONE

Whatever the next act for the iPhone turns out to be, we already know the handset or handsets will have a fresh new mobile operating system called iOS 7. The latest software sports an edge-to-edge design, handy new Control Center, and improved notifications, among other changes. But there are lots of questions on where Apple will take the hardware. Might there be a smaller and cheaper iPhone? Or at the other extreme, a version with a larger display to bring the iPhone screen closer in size to many popular Android models? Maybe both. And how about an iPhone with a fingerprint scanner? We likely won't know for sure until next month, but it's a fair bet you'll continue to hear lots of rumours, and when Apple does get around to introducing its latest products on Sept. 10, expect a few surprises.

 

ANDROID

How to choose? Android fans have a shelf full of offerings to consider from every major Android maker. Google-owned Motorola just unveiled the Moto X, the first flagship phone under the Google umbrella. This week also brought the unveiling of LG's G2, which will be arriving sometime later this summer or early fall.

 

HTC ONE

HTC's thin and stylish HTC One reached North American consumers this spring on most wireless carriers.

With sleek unibody construction and premium feel, the HTC One offers an excellent screen display, some slick photo features and a unique BlinkFeed interface that pushes your content front and centre. Rather than typical icons, you can get a stream of your photos, news and more.

This is a knockout phone. It has great-sounding speakers. And among other things, it can capture a few seconds of video and still images through a feature called Zoe. But it's not without flaws. The Zoe software isn't very intuitive, and the phone's on-screen home button is in an odd place.

  • PRICING: $149.99 for a 32GB version at Rogers with a two-year contract. $179.95 at Bell and Telus with a two-year contract. MTS currently doesn't offer the HTC One.
  • KEY SPECS: HTC UltraPixel Camera, 1080p HD video capture and playback, Beats Audio, quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

 

MOTO X

The first phone produced from scratch by Motorola Mobility since being acquired last year by Google is loaded with cutting-edge features. It promises to push hands-free operation to new levels, and its innovative Moto Maker platform means you can custom-design the look of it.

Moto X seems to want a place in your car. Its Touchless Control feature lets you speak a command to the phone to make a call, find out what the weather is and a lot more. The phone can tell if you are in a moving vehicle and automatically turn on a Driving mode that will read text messages aloud to you, or tell you who's calling. You can automatically respond with a text reply that lets callers know you're behind the wheel.

The cool part is you don't have to press physical buttons for any of this. You just speak "OK, Google now" to tell the phone what you want it to deliver. But Touchless Controls have limits -- in some instances, you have to enter passcodes before you can proceed.

Another distinctive feature, Active Display, wakes up the phone when it is sleeping, sort of. If the phone is in your pocket or otherwise resting, it lets you pull it out to check the time. You'll also see an icon for some notifications -- say, if you have gotten an email or a text message.

There's been some quibbling among techies about specs. The Moto X doesn't have the world's fanciest phone camera, but at 10 megapixels, it is decent. And the screen is on the middling end of the spectrum.

  • PRICING: The Moto X will be offered exclusively through Rogers starting in August starting at $189.99 on a two-year plan. Other carriers have yet to be announced.
  • KEY SPECS: Two GB of RAM. X8 Mobile Computing System, a series of chips that includes a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro. Android (Jelly Bean). 4.7-inch AMOLED high-definition display with a resolution of 720 x 1080.
  • ALSO WORTH NOTING: Motorola also recently refreshed the Droid lineup with three new models headlined by the Droid Maxx. With varying specs, they share some Moto X features such as Touchless Control.

 

LG G2

The new flagship phone from LG offers a unique design with volume and power controls on the back. And how about this: Just pick up the phone to answer a call.

Yes, like the Moto X, the G2 wants to let you take a step back from the habit of pressing a bunch of buttons for phone operation.

On the G2, if you get a call, you can answer just by picking up the phone rather than fumbling to hit a button. Among other features, you can knock on the screen twice to wake up the phone or shut it off. And LG has placed the power and volume-control buttons on the back of the phone, which it believes is a more natural location.

LG is also touting the handset's high-quality audio and a Guest Mode sharing feature. The company hasn't announced details on pricing or release date, but it says the G2 will be available soon. In Canada, both Telus and Rogers have announced their intent to sell the G2, but no dates or prices have been announced.

  • KEY SPECS: 5.2-inch full-high-definition IPS display. Android (Jelly Bean). Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. 32 GB of internal storage. LG is promising an all-day battery.

 

SONY XPERIA Z

This handsome phone has a lovely five-inch display, 13-megapixel camera and a battery that gets a boost from so-called Stamina Mode, which shuts down wireless radios and background activities when you're not using them. But the phone, a smaller version of Sony's similarly named Android tablet, can also withstand a dunking, as it's water-resistant down to one metre of water for up to a half-hour, provided all connectors and ports are sealed. It's not the only phone that promotes resistance to spills and splashes. A Galaxy S 4 variant, called the Galaxy S 4 Active promises a similar defence against water.

  • KEY SPECS: Five-inch high-resolution (1920 x 1080) screen, quad-core Qualcomm processor, water-resistant, long-life battery.
  • PRICING: In Canada, the Xperia Z is available exclusively through Bell for $149.95 on a two-year contract.

 

GALAXY S 4

Samsung's solid flagship phone is teeming with clever bells and whistles, along with parlour-trick gimmicks you will likely never take advantage of. On the plus side, a dual-camera feature lets you take pictures with front and rear cameras simultaneously to, say, display an image of a beaming parent alongside a picture captured of a child scoring a goal in soccer. Answer calls or skip songs with a wave of your hand. Hover over the screen with your finger to magnify text or make other things happen. The battery is removable.

  • KEY SPECS: Five-inch high resolution (1920 x 1080 screen), quad-core Qualcomm processor, long battery life, water-resistant (Galaxy S 4 Active model only).
  • PRICING: The phone is offered by all major Canadian carriers. Rogers offers it for $249.99 on a two-year contract. MTS sells the S4 for $199.99 on a three-year contract. Bell sells it for 199.95 on a two-year plan. Telus has it for $199 on a two-year agreement. Fido offers it for $450 on a two-year plan.

 

BLACKBERRY

Q10

A phone for BlackBerry loyalists looking for the kind of physical QWERTY keyboard they were so enamoured of on prior-generation handsets, when Research In Motion was a smartphone leader. It's also a touch-screen device preloaded with BlackBerry 10, the new, more modern mobile operating system. BlackBerry Balance can separate enterprise stuff from personal. It boasts a removable battery, but the screen is much smaller than on most rival smartphones, and BlackBerry lags behind competitors on apps.

  • KEY SPECS: 3.1-inch display with 720 x 720 resolution.
  • PRICING: Telus has it in Canada for $229 and Bell 229.95 on a two-year plan. MTS offers it for $199.99 on a three-year agreement. Fido sells it for 350 on their two-year agreement.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2013 ??65531

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