Although carriers are making it easier to upgrade your smartphone, most of us are going to live with that next device for at least two years. So the phone you buy needs to deliver the right mix of speed, features, ease of use and battery life. And while there's no such thing as a future-proof smartphone, the very best models will keep you very happy months and months down the road. To help you make the right call, we've picked the top smartphones available right now, whether you’re looking for a big-screen phablet, the most advanced camera, or a compact powerhouse.
Best Overall Smartphone: Samsung Galaxy Note 3
The Galaxy Note 3 is so powerful and long-lasting you may not need a tablet. This Android device packs a big and bright 5.7-inch display, and you can take notes with ease using the built-in S Pen. The Note 3 is also a multitasking maestro, thanks to its blazing Snapdragon 800 processor. With Samsung's Multi Window feature, you can run two apps side by side and drag content between apps. You can even run a third app on top of all that with the Pen Window feature. The best part about this phablet is its staying power, offering more than 10 hours of battery life.
Best Compact Smartphone: Apple iPhone 5s
Other than a new gold color option, the iPhone 5s doesn't seem much different from its predecessor. However, the A7 chip inside this sleek beast blows the doors off of most Android phones, and there's a growing number of games and apps that take advantage of its 64-bit architecture. Another reason to snatch up the iPhone 5s is its awesome iSight camera; with larger pixels and a dual-LED flash, this 8-megapixel smartphone captures fantastic photos indoors and out. Add in a TouchID sensor that makes it a cinch to unlock your phone and make purchases, and it's easy to see why the iPhone 5s is one of the best smartphones.
Best Value: Motorola Moto X
Say "OK, Google Now" to the Moto X, and you’ll unleash this smartphone's greatest power. This device can answer all sorts of questions ("What's the weather today?") and execute commands ("Send text to John") without you lifting a finger. The secret is the Moto X's dedicated natural language processor. This smartphone wows in other ways, including the ability to customize your own design online, an eye-popping 4.7-inch HD screen, and active notifications that deliver alerts before you even unlock the phone. Although the camera could be better, the sub-$100 price of the Moto X makes it a fantastic value.
Best Sound: HTC One
The HTC One is a smartphone that delights the senses, starting with sound. The BoomSound speakers on the front of this flagship device pump out awesome audio, whether you're listening to music or playing a game. The 4.7-inch 1080p screen is a sight to behold, too; it's not only sharp but very bright with wide viewing angles. And don’t forget about touch. The premium aluminum design on this beauty puts plastic phones to shame. HTC also added a new BlinkFeed feature that delivers a personalized stream of news and social updates right to your home screen.
Best Features: Samsung Galaxy S4
Packing an incredible amount of features, the Galaxy S4 can answer the phone or change music tracks with hand gestures, control your TV, and even double as a voice translator. This Android flagship also boasts a big and colorful 5-inch AMOLED screen in a surprisingly lightweight 4.6-ounce design. The camera provides a full bag of neat tricks, including the ability to erase photo-bombers and stick together slick-looking sequence shots. No, the design isn’t as gorgeous as the iPhone 5s, but it allows you to replace the battery and expand the memory.
Best Advanced Camera: Nokia Lumia 1020
For photographers, the Nokia Lumia 1020 represents the pinnacle of smartphones. The 41-megapixel camera sensor not only takes breathtaking photos, but lets you zoom in after the shot to reframe your photo and still enjoy amazing detail. Shutterbugs will also appreciate the Lumia 1020's sophisticated camera app, which lets you adjust white balance, shutter speed and focus on the fly. Plus, Windows Phone's dynamic Live Tile interface really pops on this handset's 4.5-inch AMOLED screen.
BUY NOW: AT&T
Best Off-Contract Phone: Google Nexus 5
It's not just a device for Android purists. The Nexus 5 is simply one of the best smartphone values anywhere. For just $349 off-contract, you get cutting-edge specs such as a Snapdragon 800 processor and a 5-inch 1080p display. Android 4.4 KitKat brings some cool new features to the table, too, including the ability to perform searches, send text messages and more using just your voice from the home screen. We also love the new dialer, which integrates a local business search field right into the app. Although its camera isn't best-in-class, the Nexus 5 is one heck of a value.
Best Innovative Phone Design: LG G Flex
The LG G Flex is the world’s first smartphone that’s not only curved but flexible. This makes the handset more comfortable when holding it up to your face to make calls, and you can literally apply up to 80 pounds of pressure to the back without worrying about breakage. The G Flex also has a self-healing chassis, so you can scratch the back with keys and the marks will start to disappear within minutes. Although the 720p display isn’t full HD, the OLED panel offers fantastically rich color and wide viewing angles. A long-lasting 3,500 mAh battery and swift Snapdragon 800 CPU are two more reasons to snatch up this innovative smartphone, but you’ll pay a premium versus some other flagships.