The Gadgets You Should Consider Splurging On

By Gerald Lynch on at

We're halfway through the year, and with many of the major players having shown off their flagship smartphones and tablets, it's high-time we gave you an updated look at the gadgets you should buy in 2014. From the LG G3 to the Xperia Z2 tablet, here's what you should be saving those pennies for.

 

Smartphones

HTC One (M8) -- RRP £549

The HTC One, HTC's 2013 flagship phone, got  an update on the 25th March, when HTC's 'mystery' event spewed forth the HTC One (M8). Arguably HTC's best smartphone yet, it sports a 5-inch, 1080p display, and has a nifty dual-lens Duo Camera on the rear, letting you easily add professional-style bokeh effects to your smartphone shots. It's pricey at £549 SIM-free, but its full aluminium unibody makes it every bit the equal of a premium-priced iPhone, let alone a plasticky top tier Samsung Galaxy.

 

HTC One Mini 2 -- RRP £352.98

Rather than put out a One M8 Mini too, HTC put out the HTC One Mini 2 in May. A halfway house between last year's HTC One Mini and this year's One M8, it has a 4.5-inch 720p display and a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. It drops the Duo Camera in favour of a standard 13MP rear sensor, but the majority of the One M8's software features carry over unscathed. It's a shame to see the Motion Launch gestures dropped, but at £352 it's worth considering.

Samsung Galaxy S5 -- RRP £599

The Galaxy S5 broke cover at MWC, bringing with it a virtually unchanged screen from the Galaxy S4 (that's a good thing, in case you're wondering); a leatherette back that's a vast improvement from the S4's acres of plastic; a 2.5Ghz processor, and a totally not-copied-from-Apple fingerprint sensor. If all that floats your boat, you can pick one up now for around £550-600, depending on the retailer.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini

As was always inevitable, there's a Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini on the way too. For once, it's not quite as hamstrung as its predecessors, managing to keep the fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor of the full-fat versions. Measuring 4.5-inches, it's still pretty big, with a 720p display and 1.4GHz quad-core processor on board. No pricing to share yet, but it'll be in stores before the end of July.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

All that's left, then, is the inevitable Galaxy Note 4, which will, given Samsung's history, most likely launch around September/August. Specs will probably include the S5's fingerprint sensor, a more powerful processor, better cameras, and a screen big enough to chop a loaf of bread on.

Nokia Lumia 930

After a dalliance with Android handsets at MWC, Nokia followed up in April with the the Nokia Lumia 930, a 5-inch handset with a Full HD OLED display and 4G LTE that was every bit the Nokia Icon that our US counterparts had been enjoying. Equipped with a speedy 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and 20MP PureView camera, it uses the Nokia Cyan OS build, which is basically Windows Phone 8.1 with a few Nokia-specific tweaks. It's priced at £525 SIM-free, (£33 on contracts) and will hit stores on July 17th.

Additionally, even though it'll be manufactured with even more oversight from Microsoft than previously (given the MS takeover of Nokia's Devices and Services Division last year), there'll almost definitely be a new flagship Lumia smartphone in 2014, although we'll probably have to wait until the latter half of 2014 for a true Windows Phone king phone to emerge.

The current Nokia range is a little confused -- the 925 is the prettiest and slimmest high-end phone, but the 1020 has the all-seeing all-powerful Pureview camera, so it would stand out at the top of the range, were it not for the 1520, which trades a slightly worse camera for bigger screen.

Hopefully, guided by the Yoda-like powers of its new owners, Nokia will be able to squeeze all these attributes into one super-device for 2014. Given that Windows Phone is starting to gain a veneer of respectability in the UK (more than 10 per cent market share, natch), and the App Store grows ever-mightier, this could be a great year for the runt of the mobile OS litter.

LG G3 -- RRP £479

LG certainly isn't your average phone maker -- rather than trying to perfect the traditional smartphone recipe, it enjoys throwing genuinely novel features onto its phones with gay abandon -- the LG G2's buttons on the back of the device, or the curved screen of the LG Flip or Curve or Banana or whatever spring to mind.

It was no surprise then that the LG G3 landed with some totally ridiculous features. A 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 resolution screen? Check. A Laser Auto Focus camera system? Check. A "metallic skin" casing? Check. OK, that last one turned out to be marketing speak for "a plastic case that sorta kinda nearly looks like metal", but the LG G3 had some impressive features nonetheless. It's streamlined software, complete with customisable keyboard, was a vast improvement over its predecessors too. While it does have some battery issues, it's worth a look if you love excess. Expect to pay in the region of £500, SIM-free.

If smaller fare floats your boat, it might be worth checking out LG's offerings from this year's Mobile World Congress: the G2 Mini sports a 4.7 inch 960x540 screen (side note: when in the name of all that's holy did 4.7 inches become 'mini', in the phone world at least?), and equally watered-down specs, presumably with a watered-down price tag to match.

The G2 Pro, on the other hand, gets a spec bump, with the screen swelling to 5.9-inches (from 5.5), with 3GB of RAM doing the heavy lifting alongside a Snapdragon 800, with a 3200mAh battery powering the show.

And of course, there's the inevitable LG G3 Mini to hold out for.

Sony Xperia Z2 -- RRP £559.99

Sony's 2014 flagship is the follow-up to the rather popular Z1, a phone cunningly named the Z2. The waterproofing is kept, as is the design language and most of the internals: the improvements here come with the visuals. 4K video recording is the headline feature, along with a bunch of software camera stuff that might prove genuinely useful. A TriLuminous 5.2-inch screen gives you real estate to view the photos, and from the sounds of things, it's an impressive piece of kit. It's available now, with a SIM-free RRP of £559.99.

As with the other leading smartphone manufacturers, keep an eye out for a "mini" version of the Xperia Z2 to pop up at some point later this year. Sony's last miniaturised flagship spin-off, the Xperia Z1 Compact proved truly impressive, shrinking down the flagship's frame without compromising on the internal specs. If you're into smaller, more sensible phone sizes, it may be worth holding out to see if an Xperia Z2 Compact eventually rears its head.

Amazon Fire Phone

The rumours were true! Amazon did put out a 3D-sensing smartphone in June, called the Amazon Fire Phone. It didn't however, start a fire in our hearts. With a 4.7 inch display and 590 nits of brightness, it's powered by a 2.2GHz quad-core processor, with a 13MP camera on the rear. A pretty standard-looking smartphone, heavily reliant on Amazon's cloud and Kindle services, with hands-free gestures facilitated by an array of embedded depth-sensing cameras, it all felt a bit undercooked and gimmicky, simply serving to sell more products through Amazon integration. No word yet on a UK release date, but, seeing how it's pretty much just basically Amazon.com in phone form, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Apple

Shock/horror, there will be an iPhone 6 this year. It'll be revealed in September, when Apple pretty much without fail releases a new (or sorta-new) smartphone every year.

The big question that's being asked (sadly) is what screen size the 6 will be sporting. Some reckon (with uber-dubious 'leaked' photos to back them up) that the iPhone 6 will lean more towards a 5-inch screen size, leaving the iPhone 5C (which will presumably become the 5S C or something) to carry on the 4-inch form factor for Apple.

Although that position sorta makes sense insofar as big screens have proved popular in the Android world, it doesn't follow so much for Apple: forcing developers to make apps for two different iPhone sizes would run the risk of Apple losing some of its most powerful asset, the App Store.

More likely, then, the iPhone 6 will be slimmer, lighter, possibly incorporating the more curved design philosophy of the new iPads, and doubtlessly with some hardware gimmick tacked on for added effect. You can check out our round-up of all the rumours and whispers surrounding the iPhone 6 here.

Keep in mind that whatever size the next iPhone turns out to be, it'll definitely be running iOS 8, recently revealed at Apple's annual WWDC showcase. It's a big update, and my swing your buying decision, so check out all we know about the operating system's new features here.

 

Tablets

Apple

The most hotly-anticipated tablet of 2014 will once again be whatever Apple churns out in October -- a thinner, lighter version of both the grown-up's Air and the Mini Retina. Although rumours of a budget iPad Mini have been circulating for months, making a cheapo knockoff of one of its products would go against normal Apple policy, and have Jobs spinning in his (doubtlessly perfectly designed) grave. IOS 8 will feature here too.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S -- RRP £399.99

The next-most-prolific maker of tablets after Apple, Samsung has ambitions to conquer both the Android and Windows tablet markets this year.

June saw Samsung introduce its Samsung Galaxy Tab S Android tablet, pictured above, the most concerted effort it's made to trouble the premium end of the market for some time. It features an impressive 10.5-inch 2560x1600 288ppi Super AMOLED screen in the top-tier edition (an 8.4-inch model is also available, with the same incredible pixel count) and runs Android 4.4 KitKat with a Samsung skin. Quad and octo-core variants, each with 3GB of RAM, will be available when it launches in July ( the UK will probably just get the quad-core version. In the US the 10.5-inch model will go for $500 and the 8.4-inch for $400, with the UK getting the 10.5-inch edition for £399.99.

Samsung has also shown off the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro, its 12.2-inch super-tablet competitor. The Galaxy Tab 4 range proved at best a modest upgrade, while there's still the potential for a flexi-tablet to pop up before the year is out. Because the world needs one of those.

Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet -- RRP £399.99

Shown off at MWC, the Xperia Z2 Tablet set the record for being the world's slimmest and lightest waterproof tablet -- worth pointing out, however, that it's actually the world's only waterproof tablet (in the western markets, anyway). At 6.4mm thick, it also has a qHD 4.8-inch screen, 8MP camera and 4G connectivity. Sadly, bloated software make it hard to recommend at its £355 price point, unless you're prepared to root it.

Asus/Nexus

Of course, if you're in the market for a budget tablet, you've probably had the phrase "BUY A NEXUS 7" screamed at you in the real-life version of all-caps. There will doubtless be a new Nexus 7 outed sometime this year -- it's been the standout success from the Nexus line -- but given that it only got refreshed a handful of months ago, we'll be waiting until the second half of 2014, no doubt.

 

Wearables/Gadgets/Other Cool Stuff

Oculus Rift

Although this jaw-dropping virtual reality kit's been around in one incarnation or another for a good year, full consumer release has only ever been pegged for '2014'. That sounded forlornly long away last year, and, sadly, it looks more likely now that we'll all have to wait until Christmas 2015 for our VR dragon slaying lives to begin. (For more details on why that should have you drooling, read our latest hands-on here.)

Google Glass -- £1,000

In the same vague category as Oculus Rift (but pretending to be far more grown-up), 2014 is the year in which we saw Google Glass being launched on an unwitting but slightly suspicious British public. The Explorer Edition prototype that you've probably seen skulking on the internet costs £1000; needless to say, we're hoping that any eventual consumer version in stores will cost about a fifth of that.

Smartwatches

2014 is going to be a bumper year for smartwatches -- that much is clear. Which ones are worth buying, and which burning, is another question altogether. The introduction of Google's Android Wear software, aimed at smartwatches, sets a unified standard that all manufacturers can work within, which should sure up the quality somewhat.

Of the first wave of Android Wear devices sits the Moto 360 and LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live. They're a vast improvement on any smartwatch that's gone before them, if still not quite perfect. Priced around the £160 mark, if you insist on buying a smartwatch, the Android Wear devices should be your first port of call.

Elsewhere, on the 'buy' pile is firmly the Pebble Steel. The second iteration of Pebble's original smartwatch, this takes the practical goodness of the original Pebble, and whacks it inside a housing that you might consider wearing around other members of the human race.

Samsung's also put a few other wearables out early this year: at MWC, the smartphone giant released the Gear Fit, Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo. These improve on the frankly gopping Galaxy Gear, in a number of important respects, though none fully right the wrongs of the preceeding device.

The Gear 2 is the Galaxy Gear's straight upgrade, with a spec bump, slicker design, changeable straps, and support for multiple wristbands. If you want a sleeker watch, the Gear 2 Neo, which ditches the camera, but is identical in almost all other regards.

Finally, for the fitness addicts, there's also the Gear Fit. In many ways, it's the most gorgeous of the bunch -- most of the functionality of the other Gears, but with more fitness-tracking capabilities, and in a form factor that's downright sexy.

This article was published in its original form on January 10, 2014.