“Which smartphones tickled our fancy in 2014?”
2014 has drawn to a close and we believe it has been a landmark year for the Indian smartphone industry. This year, the smartphone segment in the country really turned on its head – not just in terms of overall growth, but also with respect to the brands and models that made their way to us. The phablet category became a phenomenon, and the selfie fad reached new heights with the front cameras on mobile devices being in the centre of focus. New online-only sales models came to the fore, with brands like Motorola, Xiaomi, ASUS and more recently, OnePlus using the new-age retail channels to rule virtual store shelves and also consumers’ minds… prompting incumbents to rethink their pricing and selling strategies, and giving birth to new brands like the Micromax-backed YU. On the premium side of things, devices like the Apple iPhone 6, 6 Plus, Sony Xperia Z3 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 made headlines, while models like the YotaPhone and the BlackBerry Passport brought in the innovation we so crave for. More than the new trends and the rain of phone models, the year has been all about the rise of what we like to call the price-performance category – consisting of a range of devices that defied the norms and offered great specs and features for ludicrously affordable prices. We at 91mobiles have been at the eye of the storm, following and covering all the new launches and trends, and reviewing a variety of smartphones across price segments to help you make informed buying decisions. It’s now time to give credit where it’s due, and recognise the ones which really made a difference to the lives of users in India. Welcome to the first ever 91mobiles Awards.
It’s important to note that when it comes to a gadget as personal as a smartphone, each individual’s requirements are different. What may seem like a great all-round smartphone for one person may not be apt for someone else as he or she may be after a specific set of features. That said, smartphones have always been compared to Swiss Army knives, and therefore, it’s the all rounders that work best when it comes to mass appeal. 91mobiles Awards cover devices that were officially available to buy in India this year, and came across as the best in their respective segments. Considering the massive number of smartphones that were launched, and the fairly big chunk that were actually very worthy, you may or may not find your favourite device covered. To help us decide the winners in each category and to make sure the selection process remained unbiased, we also took help from a few industry stalwarts – experts who’re well known in the technology media world. Before we get on with the awards, let’s introduce the jury members.
Apart from the above, our four-member editorial team headed by Deepak Dhingra also voted to decide the final winners. Deepak has been covering personal technology for 15 years and likes to describe himself as a tinkerer.The top dog at the 91mobiles editorial team, he has worked with Digit and T3 magazines in the past, and also contributed to a variety of other blogs and publications.
Let’s get to the first award category.
As proud Indians, we created this category to recognise efforts by home-grown brands. With the Chinese incursion and concerted efforts by other brands from countries like Taiwan and the US, the going has not been easy for local vendors. However, we’ve seen some solid contenders in this category and the winner was quite tough to choose. Here are the nominees:
Runners up - tie between the Micromax Unite 2 and the XOLO 8X-1000: It seems that we have a tie for the second place. The Micromax Unite 2 is a very good value-for-money offering from Micromax, presenting a compelling option in the budget range, while the XOLO 8X-1000 is notable as the debut vehicle for HIVE UI, the first community-driven custom UI from an Indian brand.
Winner - Micromax Canvas Knight: The 91mobiles Award for the Best Smartphone from an Indian brand goes to the Micromax Canvas Knight, a stylish smartphone that came with loaded specs such as 2GHz octa-core processor, 32GB of storage and a 16-megapixel camera. The Knight also stands out as one of the first smartphones from an Indian brand that can face premium rivals from global brands without flinching.
The budget segment saw a lot of action this year, and for the first time, we saw affordable devices that offered smooth, lag-free usage, presenting capable options to consumers without involving any big compromises. The category was dominated by brands like Motorola, Xiaomi and ASUS, though Indian brands offered strong competition. For this award, we’re considering smartphones that were priced below Rs 8,000. Let’s take a look at the nominees:
Runners up - ASUS Zenfone 4 A450CG: The ASUS Zenfone A450CG was adjudged the runners-up for the Best Budget Smartphone of the year award. ASUS took the smartphone world with storm with its Zenfone range, and this particular model is the 4.5-inch variant of the Zenfone 4, offering a worthy, yet affordable device with a very capable camera.
Winner - Xiaomi Redmi 1s: The winner of this particular category was almost a given. With the kind of specs it offers, the Xiaomi Redmi 1s is unbeatable, considering its asking price of Rs 5,999. It may not run the latest version of Android, but the MIUI custom firmware comes loaded with a plethora of useful features, while that 1.6GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor and HD display make sure you’re not left wanting when it comes to specs.
The idea of value for money is different for different individuals, but that said, there were quite a few smartphones in 2014 that completely defied the usual norms associated with price vs specs. So much so that we wondered whether it’d be worth buying a super-premium smartphone anymore… While we’re still debating that, the fact remains that some of the options available this year came at prices which were too good to be true, considering what they had to offer. Here are the best ones:
Runners up - Xiaomi Mi 3: This one was pretty neck-to-neck, and a photo finish if we can call it that. After a fair bit of debate and heated arguments, it was the Xiaomi Mi 3 that was adjudged as the runners up in the Best VFM smartphone of 2014. There’s no doubt about its capabilities – with a 5-inch full HD screen, a Snapdragon 800 chip, 2 gigs of RAM, and MIUI running atop Android KitKat. It may have been around only for a very short while and tougher to get hold of than a slippery eel, but you can hardly beat the deal for Rs 13,999.
Winner - OnePlus One: With the Xiaomi Mi 3 pushed to second place, the top slot was open for the Oneplus One to take over. It only landed in India very recently, and the invite-only purchase mechanism made it next to impossible to acquire, but there’s no doubt that the smartphone offers much more than its asking price. The Delhi High court’s ban didn’t help, but the OnePlus One had a very loyal fan following even before it officially landed in India, and many had already snagged one for their own earlier. The One is one that wins the 91mobiles Best value-for-money smartphone of the year award.
You know that saying? The one that goes “the best camera is the one in your pocket”? There’s no doubt that shooting prowess is one of the most important criteria while considering a new smartphone, and despite that fact that megapixel wars have slowed down and there’s not as much innovation in this domain as we’d prefer, 2014 still brought us many a capable shooter. Here are the contenders vying for this award:
Runners up - Apple iPhone 6 Plus: It’s to Apple’s credit that its smartphones have always rocked very capable snappers and with its first phablet the 6 Plus, features like optical image stabilisation have been thrown into the mix. A classic example of why megapixel count doesn’t really matter, the Apple iPhone 6 Plus comes with an 8-megapixel camera, but scores where it counts – image quality. Camera performance is subjective of course, and we had a tough time deciding this one, but the 6 Plus managed to impress us quite a bit and is the runners up in this category.
Winner - Samsung Galaxy Note 4: Samsung has also been another very consistent performer in the smartphone photography domain, especially with its flagships. No surprise then, that the winner of the Best camera phone of the year award is its latest phablet, the Galaxy Note 4. Almost neck-to-neck with the Galaxy S5 in terms of camera capabilities, the S Pen-toting Note 4 rocks a 16-megapixel snapper that can churn out lovely images in a variety of different shooting conditions and is a fast performer to boot.
While the YotaPhone is definitely a part of our list of nominees, innovation is not always about dual screens or other fancy wizardry. True innovation is more about figuring out a unique, unexplored feature or use case that could potentially define the way forward, or benefit a large chunk of users. The devices in the nominee list of this category were chosen on the same basis, and here they are:
Runners up - YotaPhone: Opinions were divided on this one, but it was the YotaPhone that made it to the second spot in the most innovative smartphone category. There’s no doubt that with its always-on secondary e-ink display, the first-generation YotaPhone is a brilliant idea. However, it’s let down by poor implementation and is cumbersome to use, which is why it was relegated to second place. The second iteration has been recently unveiled, and we hope the usage will be improved substantially.
Winner - BlackBerry Passport: The one that received the highest number of votes, and one that is definitely deserving of the Most Innovative Phone of the Year title is the BlackBerry Passport. It doesn’t come cheap, but the innovative form factor, combined with a very capable touch-enabled QWERTY keyboard, not to mention other bonuses such as great build, a good shooter, smooth performance, and a long battery life make it very compelling. The BB OS 10.3 platform is also quite feature rich, with the BlackBerry Hub and support for Android apps taking it to high levels of productivity.
Funky title don’t you think? There’s no other word to describe the smartphones we have shortlisted here, since they all boast gorgeous looks and load up on the oomph factor – a parameter so critical for many. The smartphone is the most personal of gadgets and as one device that always stays with us, needs to be flaunt-worthy. One look at the contenders below will make things crystal clear.
Runners up - Apple iPhone 6: The iPhone 6 is the apple of our eyes here, with its lovely curves, mesmerisingly slim anodised aluminium body and the sex appeal only an iPhone can boast of. With the iPhone 6, you can be sure you’ll pull many eyeballs towards you as you pull it out of your pocket or bag, and everything else it brings is just the icing on top of the cake.
Winner - HTC One (M8): The original HTC One was one solid handset in terms of build quality, but with the One (M8), the brand took things to a whole new level. Clad in metal, sporting a curved body that feels great in the hand, the One (M8) is a great blend of style and substance. That makes it quite sexy, not just in terms of pure look and feel, but also with respects to the capabilities. We adjudge the HTC One (M8) as the Sexiest phone of the year 2014.
It takes a lot to be called a game changer, and when we use that description for a smartphone, we’re referring to a device that changed the landscape for users as well as the competition, making other brands rethink their strategies. And surprisingly, we saw a fair share of these in 2014. Here are the nominees for this coveted title.
Winner - tie between Moto G (1st-gen) and Xiaomi Mi3: If there’s one category that was the toughest to decide and witnessed the most heated debate to figure out the winner, it was this. Opinion was equally divided between the original Moto G and the Xiaomi Mi 3, both of which were great devices offering immense value for money. While the original Moto G started the online-only selling trend in the country and also pioneered exclusive online retail partnerships, the Xiaomi Mi 3 was loaded enough to boggle the mind – both with respect to what it offered for Rs 14,000, and the few seconds it took for thousands of units to disappear off Flipkart’s shelves. The Moto G (1st-gen) and the Xiaomi Mi3 are therefore, joint winners of this title.
If you’ve read through what we’ve had to say about the smartphones covered here so far, you’d know that the the year 2014 was packed with capable offerings for the Indian consumer, regardless of the depth of his or her pocket. From mind-boggling value-for-money deals to phones that sold out in mere seconds, innovative devices to loaded ones that offered the best specs and tons of features – this year saw it all. That said, there’s space for only one at the top, and our criteria for shortlisting contenders for our biggest title, the 91mobiles Phone of the year, was pure all-round capabilities. Again, there were quite a few that made the cut:
Before we get to the final set of winners, it has to be said that each one of the above devices is a winner in its own right, and offers the most well-rounded set of features and capabilities compared to all the other smartphones that came our way in 2014. With that, let’s get to the title winners.
Runners up - Apple iPhone 6 Plus: In this hotly-contest category, the Apple iPhone 6 Plus emerged as the runners up. Even though it landed at second spot, it was a hair’s breadth away from the top. The 6 Plus is very notable as Apple’s first large-screened smartphone of course, but then, it also looks rather gorgeous and brings with it all-round abilities for performance, camera and battery life. And we’re all well aware of the content and app ecosystem it boasts, along with the fluidity of the iOS platform. And, it’s an Apple.
As per Nishant Padhiar, “Although the iPhone 6 Plus doesn't seem like a big deal for Android lovers, its charm is in its usability. The same reliable iOS on a bigger screen with tiny details only Apple could consider make this a great upgrade.”
Winner - Samsung Galaxy Note 4: This is what we’ve been waiting for and this is where the drum roll reaches a crescendo… the one that, in our opinion, was the best phone of the year. And that ladies and gentleman, was the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. It’s a smartphone that offers everything – powerful innards, a superb 2K display, long battery life, great camera and unmatched features in terms of both hardware and software. It’s a very worthy option even without it, but the included S Pen and its capabilities can take usage and productivity on the go to a totally different level. Well deserved!
Here’s what some of our esteemed jury members had to say for the Galaxy Note 4.
Ashish Bhatia calls it the overall top scorer on all parameters... be it battery life, camera, features, screen, specs and build. On the other hand, PKR says “Outstanding overall. Great screen, performance, and good battery life. The S Pen rocks.” As far as we’re concerned, we just call it the SUV of smartphones.