The year 2008 has been a momentous one for the mobile industry, and in particular, the smartphone space. A record 39.9 million smartphones were shipped globally in the third quarter of the year, according to market research firm Canalys. That's 28 percent more phones shipped than in the same July through September period of 2007, and smartphones now make up some 13 percent of the overall handset market, Canalys says.
That's a whole lot of smartphones.
And though the line between "regular" mobile phones, or feature phones, and smartphones gets blurrier every day, there are a select few uber handsets that still stand out from the pack. Whether it be stunning design, new and innovative functionality or exclusive features, the following eight handsets are our picks--in no particular order--for the best smartphones of the year, and each and every one is worth a look.
Best of all: You've still got all the handsets of 2009 to look forward to.
T-Mobile G1: Say Hello to Android
The T-Mobile G1, released on October 23, 2008, is the first smartphone powered by Google's open-source, mobile operating system (OS), Android. Though not as powerful or full-featured as many had hoped, the 3G device clearly shows the promise of the Android OS. And with a slider-style, physical, full QWERTY keyboard and touch screen, Wi-Fi and GPS, the G1's certainly no slouch.
(T-Mobile; GSM; $179 with two-year service contract)
Sony Ericsson Xperia 1: Experience Xperia
The name Sony Ericsson isn't exactly synonymous with "smartphone," but if the company keeps rolling out devices like the Xperia 1, that may soon change. Originally released in the fall of 2008, the Xperia 1, which runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, is unlike other smartphones due to its innovative navigation key and customizable home screen "panels," making for a truly unique user "Xperi-ence." And the fact that it's got 3G, a 3.2 megapixel camera, Wi-Fi and Assisted GPS (aGPS) doesn't hurt, either.
(Unlocked; GSM; approximately $800)
BlackBerry Bold: Dare to Be Bold
Initially released in November in the United States, the BlackBerry Bold 9000's launch was hindered by various software glitches and issues with AT&T's 3G network. Now that it's finally widely available, the smartphone is quickly building a faithful fan base thanks to it's stunning 480 X 320 display, blazing 624-Mhz processor and inimitable, full BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard. Aimed specifically at businesspeople, or power users, the Bold also packs 3G, Wi-Fi and GPS.
(AT&T; GSM; $299.99 with two-year service contract)
Apple iPhone 3G: A Touch of Brilliance
Apple's iPhone 3G needs no introduction. The second generation of the company's first smartphone has quite literally taken the world by storm. Specifically, Apple shipped upwards of 10 million devices in 2008, making it the number two smartphone vendor in the world behind Nokia and bumping both RIM and Microsoft downward. The iPhone is jammed packed with features, but what stands out are its intuitive touch-based UI, best-of-breed Safari browser, high-end media player/iPod and the iTunes App Store.
(AT&T; GSM; 8GB, $199 with two-year service contract; 16GB $299 with contract)
Nokia E71: A Smartphone with Style
Nokia's business-oriented Eseries devices aren't new, but you couldn't tell that from the latest addition to the line, the Nokia E71, which is thinner, lighter and heck of all lot better looking than its Eseries siblings. First released early last summer, the Symbian S60-powered device has aGPS, 3G, Wi-Fi a 3.2 megapixel camera, outstanding battery life and more. The keyboard's a bit cramped for me, but it's a full QWERTY and could be great for folks with smaller digits.
(Unlocked; GSM; $442)
Palm Treo Pro: Jewel in the Rough
Palm has seen better days--to say the least--but the company's struggles didn't keep it from releasing one of the hottest Windows Mobile (6.1 Professional) devices to come out of 2008: The Treo Pro. Along with GPS and Wi-Fi, the candy-bar-style device, first released in August, also packs both a 320 X 320 touch screen and a full physical keyboard. Though not officially available through any U.S. carrier quite yet, AT&T is expected to announce the device any day, and rumors suggest both Sprint and Verizon may soon debut CDMA variants of the Treo Pro.
(Unlocked; GSM; $549.99)
HTC Touch Pro: A Touch of Class
In June 2007 came the HTC Touch. In mid-2008, the Touch Diamond. Then the HTC Touch Pro, the best smartphone of the bunch, landed in the United States, first with Sprint in October 2008 and with Verizon a month later. Compact and feature-packed, the 3G Touch Pro's rocking Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional; HTC's innovative TouchFLO, touch-screen-based UI; GPS; Wi-Fi; and a 3.2 megapixel camera. Its rear panel is also designed to look like jagged rock--hence the clever name.
(Sprint and Verizon Wireless; CDMA; $299 [Sprint], $350 [VZW] with two-year service contract)
BlackBerry Storm: All Touchy Feely
RIM's first touch screen BlackBerry, the Storm, thundered into the United States in November to much fanfare, but unfortunately its launch was hindered by poor quality OS code. Verizon has since shipped an OS update that did away with, or at least improved upon, many of the early problems, and the device is beginning to shine. With a unique, 360 X 480 SurePress screen that clicks when you press it, GPS, both CDMA and GSM functionality and an entirely new BlackBerry OS, the 3G Storm is a force to be reckoned with. (Verizon Wireless; CDMA & GSM; $199 [after rebate] with two-year service contract)