Apple fans may harp on about the superiority of the App Store, or the simplicity of iOS, but it only takes a cursory look at global smartphone sales to see that Android is winning the hearts and minds of consumers. The latest figures from Kantar show Android accounts for 64% of all smartphones sold. But Android's success is split between a number of different handsets, which begs the question: Who makes the best Android phones?
If we were going by sales volumes then Samsung would be the clear winner. Sammy is currently the leading mobile phone manufacturer worldwide and has played a key role in driving the popularity of Android. But that doesn't necessarily mean Samsung makes the best phones. It's flagship handsets have been accused of being somewhat 'plasticky' and there's been plenty of accusations the company simply copies Apple's. Nevertheless, Samsung has really upped its game over the last year or so. The Galaxy SIV is not be the most beautiful phone in the world, but it's incredibly powerful, boasts some seriously impressive features, and has earned Samsung a whole load of very loyal fans.
Taiwan's HTC was one of the early pioneers of smartphones back in the Windows Mobile days and continues to make some of the most critically lauded devices on the market. With its US-based design studio, HTC produces handsets that boast a similar attention to detail and design-quality as Apple's iPhone line. HTC was also the first manufacturer to create a half-decent custom Android UI (HTC Sense) and many of its early features have since been pinched by Apple.
Good old Sony. Once upon a time you made ground-breaking devices and were one of the most desirable electronics brands on the market. Now - bar the PlayStation - you pump out products that are slick, but very average. Sony's initial entries into the Android market ranged from lacklustre mid-range handsets like the Xperia X10, to complete flops (anyone remember the Xperia Play?). But since then the Japanese company has redeemed itself with a new line-up of Xperia-branded smartphones that can hold their own against the SIV and HTC One. Indeed, Sony has already claimed the second spot in Android sales behind Samsung and it's latest device, the five inch Xperia ZL, has received some positive early reviews.
LG is typically known for being a budget brand and while it still produces pretty good lower-end Android handsets, it's struggled to establish itself as top-tier manufacturer. Unfortunately, LG's early approach was to produce novelty phones such as Optimus Black and the Optimus 3D. But LG has since stopped with the gimmicks and started developing decent high-end smartphones, like the Optimus G, which has been very well received. Nevertheless the manufacturer is still struggling to match the feature-set of Samsung's output and the design quality of HTC.
Huawei is hardly a household name, but that could change if pulls off its rather lofty ambition to usurp Samsung and Apple over the next couple of years. Up until recently, Huawei had been producing low-end devices targeted mainly at the developing world. But it desperately wants to be a desirable brand and has tried to generate serious publicity over its Ascend P6 flagship smartphone, which is scheduled to launch later this year. Huawei is a bit of a wild-card, but it's going to take more than a big marketing budget and impressive specs to beat Samsung. Huawei needs to do something innovative if it wants to capture people's attention and so far, that hasn't happened.
So who's the best? In my humble opinion this is a two horse race between Samsung and HTC. With Samsung you've got a feature-packed handsets, which offer few compromises in terms of specs. On the other hand HTC offers a slightly more refined experience and attention to detail in terms of its hardware and UI. Both are great candidates, but I have to admit, I'm a HTC user, so my own biases are going to come into play. I think HTC has done more to push forward the Android experience over the years than Samsung and its design quality is second to none. So with the risk of incurring the wrath of Samsung fanboys, I'm going to give this to the underdog from Taiwan!