Ninety-four thousand: that was the number of votes we received for the What Mobile Awards 2014, almost double our highest ever tally. The votes were placed by you, the reader. You voted on everything from the best handset of the year to the top accessory retailer, and we’re very glad you did. Choosing between them is not a task we envied, such was the strength of competition this year. Picking our Editor’s Choice alone was stress enough, so we extend our thanks to you. Now, let’s get on with proceedings. Here are your best picks of 2014…
Another year, another outstanding handset from Samsung. The South Korean giant is the biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world, and it’s easy to see why. When it comes to the company’s flagship model, expectation always runs high, and the Galaxy S5 just about delivered. Time has been kind to the Galaxy S5; it was initially met with a touch of disappointment that it wasn’t even more exciting. It has aged well though, and we’ve grown fonder of the device. Its display is still the best on the market, bar none – and it’s waterproof. With Android 5.0 Lollipop set to arrive on the S5, the industry’s favourite handset is going to get even better.
Runner-Up: iPhone 5s
Wherever Samsung treads, the old enemy is never far away. This year, the pride of Apple was beaten by just half a percent of the vote, which should tell you everything you need to know about both of these devices. And, with the iPhone 6 fresh on the shelves, you can now pick up the iPhone 5s cheaper than ever.
Sony’s camera is so good that other smartphone manufacturers pay a fee to use it in their own phones. Naturally, when Sony pairs it up with its own proprietary software and photo suite, the result is something special. A hefty 20.7-megapixel sensor, 8x digital zoom, HDR, 4K video capture and even the ability to shoot underwater, all add up to make the Xperia Z2 a stand-out snapper. If the many pre-shot options aren’t enough for you, then the comprehensive editing suite post-shot will get your photos fine-tuned to perfection. The raw processing power of the Xperia Z2 goes a long way to keeping the whole thing running smoothly and responsively, too.
Runner-Up: Samsung Galaxy K Zoom
The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom is just as much a digital camera as it is a smartphone, and its looks make that perfectly clear. Its 10x optical zoom is an industry best, and the 20.7-megapixel sensor behind it makes it a true two-in-one device.
If Nokia’s status as creator of the most advanced mobile handsets has slipped, it’s reinvented itself brilliantly as a maker of the best value phones. The Lumia 630 is the epitome of this, with Nokia’s signature fun look and whizzy performance available for under £100. What’s truly amazing about that price is that it’s a phone anyone would feel comfortable using, from technophobe to spec snob. The Lumia 630 is a clear winner.
Runner-Up: Acer Liquid Z5
Acer did a fantastic job with the Liquid Z5, not just for keeping the price under £95, but also for trying something new with a budget device. It knows what is required of it, and then goes one step beyond.
The BWC Stealth is a bulky beast of a phone that can withstand a beating. Not only is it super rugged, with water and dust resistance and all, but it’s also an uncompromising Android handset. It’s got a large touchscreen which is nigh-on indestructible, but there’s also large, hardware call buttons at the base of the handset for when you’re touchscreen-predisposed.
Runner-Up: Toughshield R500+
The R500+ can just about square up to other mid-range Android handsets – but we’re celebrating its sturdy build, not its specs. The R500+ can take a fair few drops and is water and dust-proof to boot.
The ‘iPad’ name is near synonymous with ‘tablet’. Chances are your grandmother would call any tablet an ‘iPad’ if you showed it to her. It’s the product that started a tech revolution, and there’s never been a better version than the iPad Air. It’s slimmer than ever, lighter than ever and more powerful than ever. Quite simply, it’s everything we’ve come to expect from Apple, and we couldn’t be happier. Until the back end of this year, there wasn’t an Android tablet that could compete in the design and performance stakes, and there’s still nothing that can match it for sheer popularity.
Runner-Up: Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2
We absolutely loved the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. And we’re delighted that you, the reader, agreed so strongly with us. We may sometimes mock Samsung for its enormous portfolio of devices, but the Note Pro 12.2 deserves to sit at the top table. It’s got a huge display, tons of power and even a stylus that you’ll actually want to use.
There are two types of people in this world: those who love Google’s Nexus range and those who haven’t tried it yet. There’s a reason why the Nexus has won over some of the most passionate tech fans, and they were clearly in full voice for our awards voting. The Nexus 7 offers the truest Android experience envisaged by Google, and the result is one of the most responsive, highly customisable Android tablets going. The sub-£200 price is the cherry on top.
Runner-Up: Amazon Kindle Fire HDX
A narrow margin for second place, Amazon has done very well for a company with little manufacturing experience. The HDX is a wonderful refinement.
We alluded to Samsung’s extensive product range earlier, and it would seem we’re not the only ones who have noticed. Samsung has a remarkable knack for turning out a huge number of devices each year, while never allowing standards to drop. No matter what you want, from bargain beginner’s phone to deluxe tablet, you can count on Samsung to deliver.
For its biggest rival, Apple is really the ideological opposite of Samsung. It might not make many devices, but you know that the ones it does will be of unrivalled design and build quality.
In what might be the upset of the 2014 awards, you voted for the Garmin Vivofit as this year’s best fitness wearable. It may not get as much coverage as other more recognised names in the field, but Garmin has managed to offer up a cracking little product. It tracks everything you’d need, from sleep to steps to calories, but its biggest draw is something you probably wouldn’t even appreciate until you owned it: it has a screen. Every other gadget in this category lacked the basic capability to function as a timepiece, and when many such devices offer the same tracking functionality, the simple ability to show the time helped set the Vivofit apart.
Runner-Up: Fitbit Flex
We loved the Fitbit Flex for its app, as much as the device itself. You spend most of your time with a wearable checking data on your phone, and Fitbit’s effort in that department is second to none. It doesn’t hurt that the Flex looks rather nice, too.
Tech21 isn’t content providing you with an outer shell for your gadget. Its products don’t just look the part, and they don’t simply offer you a false sense of security by putting a brittle plastic case around your phone. Tech21 has invested serious money and time into ‘impactology’ research. This takes premium materials and techniques from around the world to create some of the most rugged, most reliable protective gadget gear imaginable. Apple even stocks Tech21’s products in its stores – it would seem that not only has it met Apple’s lofty standards, but those of you, the reader, as well.
Otterbox offers an unparalleled range of monstrously rugged cases. You won’t find bigger, tougher, heftier gear anywhere else. Full waterproofing is commonplace, and there’s no drop, scratch or shock its cases can’t take. Full-body protection for iPhones, while still allowing access to the TouchID home button, is also useful.
If you’ve owned a phone, you’ve almost certainly set foot inside a Carphone Warehouse. Seeing as you’re reading What Mobile, we can safely assume you do own one. Which means you’re surely familiar with Carphone Warehouse and what it is that has kept it the UK’s biggest and best high-street retailer for more than 10 years. It’s now a major force in Europe, too, and there’s more than 1,700 stores across the continent. Following its recent merger with electronics force Dixons, Carphone Warehouse is only headed in one direction.
Runner-Up: Go Mobile
Go Mobile has seen an unusual rise. It first started as a high-street chain in the late 90s, which was then sold following the huge success of its online presence. In 2006, it used its online capital to re-establish itself on the high street. The company’s stores are now franchised, meaning you know you’re in for the highest level of customer service and assistance whenever you set foot inside.
Service & Repair
For a small American tech help firm to grow to the point where Carphone Warehouse decides to take it on as its own personal team of experts, it must be doing something right. You can get help on anything mobile from the Geek Squad team 24/7 online, or even in a number of Carphone Warehouse stores up and down the country. Insurance, tech support and repairs are all a part of the service offered – they can even use remote access to diagnose your device from afar.
PhoneRepairs4u offers the simplest approach possible to device repairs. Get a quote online in black and white, then drop your phone off at a store for same-day – or whileyou- wait – collection. You can even use its courier service, so you don’t have to leave your desk.
Narrowly pipped to the post last year by 2014’s runner-up, Envirofone has fought its way to the top of the heap. The service has a five-star rating on quality control site Trustpilot, based on almost 10,000 reviews. Envirofone takes the ‘recycling’ part of its business seriously, with 98% of all components received being fully reused.
Mazuma’s grip on the number one spot in the What Mobile Awards has slipped, if only slightly. It was an incredibly closerun race between Mazuma and Envirofone, with only 200 votes separating the pair. But the people have spoken. Mazuma still offers an extremely competitive price on a huge number of handsets.
Completely digital, Insurance2go provides everything you need to know online and in plain English. Select your phone, choose your cover and see the price. Chances are it’ll be a good price, too, with many plans on the most popular handsets being cheaper than its rivals. Upon signing up, your cover starts immediately, too, with no waiting period.
Runner-Up: Gadget Cover
Gadget Cover offers a unique approach to phone insurance by actually offering a more traditional service. You can get a no-claims bonus, you have unlimited claims, and it even extends to breakage when used by friends and family. You’re covered abroad, your data is backed up to a secure cloud service and they’ll cover your accessories too.
If ever there was an award that you, the consumer, was best placed to judge, it’s choosing the best network. You’ve all had real, first-hand experience with these service providers and declared EE to be the pick of the bunch. It was an incredibly close-run race across the board, but EE’s industry-leading 4G roll-out and excellent perks package set it apart.
Virgin Media is the biggest mobile virtual network operator in the UK. It offers quad-play, meaning customers can get all four key services through one bill (television, mobile, landline and broadband). It was the world’s first MVNO, it offers free calls to 0800 and 0845 numbers and insurance is offered to all existing mobile customers. It’s easy to see why Virgin Media is so popular.
While high-street retailers face tough challenges, as evidenced by the collapse of Phones 4u, online retail continues to thrive. Retail innovation from the likes of Mobile Phones Direct is encouraging an increasing number of you to forego the high street in favour of online shopping. Offering a large library populated with the newest smartphones, it’s no wonder Mobile Phones Direct is the winner in a tough category.
With every new smartphone purchase comes the option to buy accessories. The humble mobile accessory now stretches beyond the simple smartphone case to encompass speakers, incar kits, remotes and additional handset parts. All of the above – and so much more – are offered in Mobile Fun’s exhaustive inventory. Not to mention specific accessories for every smartphone brand imaginable. No wonder it’s your fave.
EE may have nipped it to best network, but it seems O2 is better at dealing with customer enquiries. From simple FAQs on its website that help you deal with smaller issues, to online live chats with a customer representative, O2 has all the support bases covered. Additionally, its My O2 smartphone app delivers top-notch customer service on the go. If all else fails, you can simply phone its call centres for quick and easy support.
Not to be completely overshadowed, EE also offers a comprehensive support service. The UK’s leading network provides assistance for new and older customers, along with a smartphone support app, trending topics on its website and helpful video guides.
We chose the HTC One M8 as the editor’s choice – it was a tough decision as there are so many great Android handsets to choose from these days. But we’re not surprised so many of you are very fond of the Xperia Z2. Sony has had a hard time upgrading its Xperia range over the years. Why? Because Xperia handsets are always so damn good. The Xperia Z2 is no exception. Everything from its premium build – you can spot the Xperia’s unique design a mile off – to its colourful Android themes and superior 20.7-megapixel rear camera, make the Z2 one of the best Android handsets money can buy. Not only does the Xperia Z2 offer fast performance courtesy of its 2.3GHz quad-core processor, it also packs a stunning camera that combines power with a plethora of unique features.
In a year when so many upstarts rattled the industry, and old stalwarts updated their flagships with aplomb, one manufacturer delivered that little bit more – especially on the design front. The HTC One M8’s name might have baffled us, but it delivered when it came to its premium build. The flagship’s metal unibody design was better than any other smartphone we’ve tested this year. Is it any wonder that both Apple and Samsung have aped its design on their own recent releases? HTC might not have delivered the best camera we’ve seen, but its sleek aesthetic could not be beat. Add to that HTC’s unique features, including the useful BlinkFeed social aggregation tool, and you have an Android device that not only looks great, but also performs exceptionally well.