2014There are many devices launched every year and it is impossible to keep track of all of them. Manufacturers are putting a whole lot of effort so that their devices would linger in our mind and not be forgotten. Some of them succeeded but even more of them went unnoticed in the crowd of all devices. It is time for us to do a recap of the technology world in 2014. Here are my unscientific 10 most notable devices in 2014 in my opinion. These devices might not even be the best in their category but in my opinion, these devices played their parts in improving the whole landscape and in changing how we see other devices.

HTC One M8

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2013’s HTC One M7 received so much praise and everyone wondered how HTC was going to improve it. Luckily, HTC did not disappoint us at all. The HTC One M8 carried the DNA of its predecessor and improved at almost all parts. A faster processor, a bigger battery, a larger display, micro SD card support and improvement on the already impressive BoomSound speaker were included. The Duo camera where two cameras are placed on the back to capture depth information of the image might be a gimmick but it is the first of its kind.

The most notable part of the HTC One M8 is its metallic body. HTC had crafted one of the best looking phone ever. It feels really solid in hand too. With the high standard of build quality, the HTC flagship made other phones launched at the same time looked really bad, especially the Samsung Galaxy S5. The HTC One M8 is still the one to be beaten in terms of the industrial design and build quality and we are still comparing all the new devices to it. With the handsome look and top notch performance, it had been the poster boy for Android phones for a few months.

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Later in August, HTC launched HTC One M8 for Windows. It is exactly the same phone but it is running Windows Phone instead of Android. While it was not a major hit in the market, Microsoft and HTC have shown us that it is possible to load Windows Phone to a phone designed to run Android at the first place. It is Microsoft’s strategy to encourage more manufacturers to launch Windows Phone devices. However, dual booting both OS on one phone is still a dream yet to be realized.

OPPO Find 7

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OPPO has never been afraid to adopt new technology. OPPO Find 5 is the first phone to sport a 1080p display. This year OPPO has launched OPPO Find 7 and it is one of the first phone to be equipped with QHD display. The resolution of the 5.5″ display is 2560×1440 and it brings the pixel density to 534 pixels per inch. Given that I can hardly see any individual pixels at 1080p display, QHD display is really amazing. Not everyone can tell the difference between 1080p and QHD displays at first glance but OPPO Find 7 had started a new era in smartphone displays.

The other notable part of the device is the support of VOOC Rapid Charger. It is a special type of charger which will get the phone to 75% of full charge in 30 minutes. This is great since processors and displays are always getting better but the battery technology has no major breakthrough for some time. The fast charging technology is one of the innovative way to improve the situation. Different standards for this technology such as Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 has been introduced since then. Fast charging is getting common in phones recently and it is much welcomed.

LG G3

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LG G3 is the LG’s 2014 flagship and it is a solid upgrade over the G2. The new design of the UI is well thought and greatly simplified. It is a great step over its predecessor. The KNOCK Code is a secure yet efficient way to unlock the phone. The camera is equipped with new technology. Apart from the new optical image stabilisation, LG includes an infrared laser which helps to reduce the auto focus time.

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It also has a 5.5″ QHD display but there is something worth noting about the design: the bezels. LG G3 has very thin bezels around the display. The screen-to-bezel ratio is still one of the highest until now. The size of the bezels matters because the display size is getting larger and larger and holding the phone will be difficult. Having a small bezel means that the physical footprint can be reduced and it will help in grabbing the phone. Just for the sake of comparison, LG G3 has dimensions of 146.3 x 74.6 x 8.9 mm and the iPhone 6 Plus with the same display size has dimensions of 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1 mm. Except for the thickness, LG G3 is significantly smaller in height and width. The thin sides make a phone like iPhone 6 Plus looks so big in comparison.

Sharp AQUOS Crystal

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The bezel of LG G3 is thin but Sharp brought the idea one step further. Sharp AQUOS Crystal is a budget friendly device with no top and side bezels. The 5″ 720p display stretches to the edge and this results in a great design. The bottom chin is thick but the Sharp AQUOS Crystal is still easily the smallest 5″ phone in the market. The display looks awesome, especially you are taking photos and watching videos. The design is really impressive even though it is not a powerhouse. We have to give credit to Sharp for being bold enough to try such design. The best part of it? Sharp AQOUS Crystal cost only $150 in the US without a contract. Who says cheap devices can not have a striking design?

Surface Pro 3

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When tablets like the iPad were launched years ago, people thought that these tablets will kill off all the regular laptops. The sales of normal PC and laptops had been affected but it was far from dead. If you ever tried to work on an iPad or an Android tablet, you will know how unproductive it is. Microsoft tried to answer that question with the Surface and Surface Pro. While the Surface running Windows RT is pretty much dead, the Surface Pro which is running the full version of Windows is getting a warmer reception. In the third iteration, Microsoft has finally convinced people that the Surface Pro 3 is a tablet that can truly replace their laptop.

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There are so many improvements over the device which makes it so appealing. The Surface Pro 3 has a 12″ display with 3:2 ratio. It works fine in landscape with the multi-angle built-in kickstand and the optional Type Cover. The aspect ratio works fine in portrait mode too when you are holding it. The lighter and thinner chassis helps too. This time, Microsoft has provided options for both processors and storage at different price. The Surface Pen has been improved too. The Surface Pro 3 has made people rethink of the function of a tablet. Is it enough to be a media consuming device for the price we are paying for tablets or we need something that is as productive as the Surface Pro 3.

Nexus 6

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Nexus 6 is one of the most anticipated devices of the year after the success of the Nexus 5. However, it turned out a little disappointing, at least for me. The processor, the display, the camera and almost everything else received an upgrade. The other highlight of the Nexus 6 is Android 5.0 Lollipop. The new version of Android has a visual overhaul and packs in some cool new features. Being the first phone to carry the Android Lollipop, Nexus 6 has shown us how the new software would work.

However, the Nexus 6 has grown to a 6″ inch phablet and it is simply too big for a lot of people. The huge increase in price compared to the Nexus 5 might be a deal breaker for some potential buyers. With the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 being affordable even though they had flagship class specifications at their time. The fact that the Nexus 6 has the similar price tag with other flagships is understandable, but still disappointing.

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We can see that Google is trying to push harder in the phablet category. The 6″ phone is not for everyone at this moment but we should remember well that there were days when we said 5″ phones were too big. The Nexus lineup is considered the reference design made by Google to show other manufacturers how Android device should be. The Nexus 6 might indicate that Google is trying to convince people that 6″ phone is totally usable. However, one thing that is bugging me is that Google did nothing much to make full use of the big display. There is no support of running more than 1 applications simultaneously and other features that let us do more except seeing more content at one time.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

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The Note series has been the main player in the phablet category and it played a heavy role in convincing people that smartphones with larger displays are better. In 2014, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is still the best phablet in the market. While powerful processors and QHD displays are not rare, Samsung did a great job to fully utilise them. TouchWiz may be full of bloatwares and the features that you do not need. However, unlike the Nexus 6, Samsung has provided a better reason for packing in a large display in TouchWiz. The support of multi-window application in the form of split-window and pop-up window makes sense on a large display like this.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is not the first Note to support this but Samsung has improved the multi-window feature by a lot. Some may argue that we do not need to run more than one application at once because not everyone is good at multitasking. However, light tasks like watching music videos from YouTube while checking out Facebook are still manageable by a lot of people. So why not have it?

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The other reason for people to choose the Note 4 over its competitors is the S Pen. The S Pen is still the best stylus in the market. The success of S Pen is not without reason. Not only you can write and draw on it, you can use it to select multi items, preview messages and photos in albums, snip the screen, creating application pop-up window and so much more. The only thing that it cannot do properly is zooming in and out as I still find pinching in and out a more natural choice. If anyone wants a stylus, the Galaxy Note 4 is still the best choice.

iPhone 6 & iPhone 6 Plus

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iPhones had been small in size for some years and a lot of people have been asking for a larger iPhone for a long time. Apple granted their wish with 2 new iPhones this year. The iPhone 6 has a 4.7″ display and the iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5″ display. Both iPhones have the similar new design. To make it easier to grab, Apple makes the side curved. The front glass also curved the edges where the the glass meets the aluminium back. The seamless design make the phone feels great in hand, especially when we are swiping from the edge.

There are improvements here and there too. The thinner chassis, faster processor, larger battery, new sensors and iOS 8 are all welcomed and yet unsurprising. There is nothing really mind blowing in the new iPhones. However, the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus have enjoyed the best sales record ever. It seems that the large display is enough to attract these sales and the public really wants a larger iPhone. It is ironic to see that Apple is enjoying the great phablet sales after Samsung pioneered in convincing the people in accepting the phablets. While the iPhones did not give us a lot of surprises, it is good to see that Apple is willing to change. Apple had said that nobody wants a large phone as it cannot be used easily with one hand. Fortunately, Apple is willing to change its stand and gives its users what they wants.

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The inclusion of NFC chip in the new iPhones makes mobile payment possible. Apple has announced Apple Pay where users can use its phone to make payment. NFC-based mobile payment like Google Wallet had been around for some time but it is still far from popular due to lack of partnership in actual stores. Apple has reached out to other business to adopt Apple Pay. It has support from VISA, MasterCard, American Express and banks. Merchants like McDonalds, Disney, Subway, Walgreens and others are in the list of participating merchants too. Apple Pay seemed to have a good start by claiming 1% of the digital payment in November in participating retailers. The public seems to be willing to give it a try. We shall see if this will be more popular in the future and when will it extend its reach out of the US.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact & Xperia Z1 Compact

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While more phones are getting larger, there are still people who want a smaller phone as some people value one-hand usability and the ease of carrying it. Unfortunate for them, the recent flagship phones are not small and the ‘mini’ versions of the flagship phones are crappy. Sony saw this as an opportunity and launched the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact in January and the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact. Sony named them as ‘Compact’ instead of ‘Mini’ for a good reason.

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Most manufacturers watered down the specifications along with the reduced screen size when they are creating the ‘minis’. Basically, they are not powerful enough yet priced higher than most mid-rangers. Sony took a different approach. The Z1 Compact and Z3 Compact essentially have the same specifications with their full version brothers except for the display and the battery size. So they will perform similarly and they are cheaper too. This strategy is only adopted by Sony so if you want a small phone with the best specifications, you cannot overlook this.

OnePlus One & Other Budget Friendly Devices

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In my opinion, 2014 is really the “the year of budget friendly flagship”. There are so many devices which are offering flagship class specifications with half or one third of the price. The most notable device of this class would be the OnePlus One. Since its launch in April, OnePlus One is the phone to get for a lot of people. Not only the specifications are top notch, the partnership with Cynogenmod ensures that the software experience is just as great. Combined those with a phone that is well-built and quite handsome-looking and a killer price, it is hard not to get tempted by it. Unlike other budget flagships which are sold mostly in emerging markets, OnePlus One targets the established market such as the US and UK where these markets are traditionally strongholds for brands like Apple and Samsung.

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While the people in emerging markets such as China, India and South East Asia usually go for cheaper device without contract, the situation is totally the opposite in established market. What OnePlus One did was not only creating a buzz. It managed to post a difficult question to all other brands. It let us rethink why should we pay so much for flagship devices previously. Of course, this will not be enough if OnePlus is the only company which is doing this. Brands like Xiaomi, Honor from Huawei, ASUS and others are doing a great job in providing us cheap and good choices. The Xiaomi Mi4, Honor 6 and ASUS PadFone S are all phones with great specifications and affordable price.

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We also see much improvement in low end devices. There are people with limited budget and even those budget friendly flagship is a luxury to them. Luckily, we can see that the low end devices from smaller brands are improving by a lot. The low cost phones like Microsoft Lumias, Xiaomi Redmis and ASUS ZenFones are all solid options. Long gone the days where cheap are equivalent to crappy. We are happy to see that more people can enjoy the technology like we do.

Verdict

2014 is a good year for mobile technology in my opinion. While the flagships are getting iterative upgrades instead of anything really special like the flexible LG G Flex in 2013, those improvements are very welcomed. The wider adoption of micro SD card expansion up to 128GB, fast charging technology, better display, wider and faster LTE bands and biometrics recognition is obvious. Manufacturers have more concern on details like the build quality and feel in users’ hand too. More attention has been paid on software and user interface. There is a common trend for all manufacturers to simplify their UI and removing unwanted features while adopting the modern flat design. We also see more major software updates available to more devices. While iOS and Windows Phone are delivering updates to all possible devices, the improvement in Android devices is obvious too. Some devices even get update faster than older Nexus devices.

However, the most important changes in the mobile technology landscape in 2014 is probably the emerging of budget friendly devices. They offer so much more for every penny you pay for them. For a lot of people, there is no reason to go for more expensive devices since these “flagship killers” are serving them well. With the average price of smart gadgets getting lower and they offer more than what we expected, it is hard to imagine how the trend will go further in 2015. We will just wait and see.

So, what is the most notable device for you in 2014? Share your thoughts in the comment section down below!