There isn’t a single mobile phone that isn’t, well, mobile. Whether you’re traveling around the world or mostly on the move to an office, you need the best intersection of portability and functionality. You might hate the constant upgrading cycle you feel trapped in with cell phones but the reality is they’ve reached a technological plateau making usability their most distinguishing features. (Much like PCs in early 2000s and laptops several years after that.)
All this means that any mobile you buy now has the potential to last you 3+ years without feeling like an abacus so if you want to save more for your travel budget with less on electronics purchases, here are the best phones for your pocket.
1. Moto X 2014
The Moto X is a piece of technology that has gotten me excited about phones again. The Touchless Controls (called Moto Voice) let you send text messages, listen to emails, open Skype and make calls (plus a lot more) without having to physically interact with your phone. Apple fans listen up, Moto Voice is a smarter Siri that doesn’t require you to hit the home button every time you want to speak to it. Another feature, Moto Assist, automatically detects when you’re driving, letting you answer calls, listen to texts, reply, and more – again, without touching the device.
There are a number of other really neat features that have me giddy like I was after the first iPhone announcement. Small things I wish iOS could do, like light up the screen when I take the phone out of my pocket or wake the camera up with a shake of the device. I’m sure Apple will incorporate some of these features (cough, cough touchless Siri) by the end of 2015 – though given what I’ve read in the Steve Jobs biography, the company that once led is now following without the strong influence of its stubborn innovator.
Motorola Moto X – 2nd Generation, Black Resin 16GB (Verizon Wireless)
There’s one main thing I don’t like about the Moto X – I’m in the minority if these studies are to be believed – is the size of the device. It’s 140.8 millimeters (5.54 inches) tall and 72.4 mm (2.85 in) wide – about the size of an iPhone 6 but with more area devoted to screen.
- More Things I Like: Well, the unlocked price of $499 (check your carrier for contract prices), turbo charger that gives you 8 hours of battery life after 15 minutes, customizable designs on Moto Maker, the overall Star Trek feel of the phone – which you know I love.
2. iPhone 5s And (Reluctantly iPhone 6)
Alternatively, the best “small” phone you can get right now is the iPhone 5s. A year old but now discounted, it’s a worthy purchase if you want to rebel against large screens. (The iPhone 5 in case you’re wondering is cheaper but a lot older on the inside.) The iPhone 6 is a good phone but not the innovative leader that Apple is when it comes to the best travel laptops of 2014.
If you’re on the fence about iOS or Android, it’s a debate much like asking whether you should buy a Mac or Windows laptop for your travels, except that mobile platforms try to lock you in more. Apple’s iOS gives you iMessage and Facetime, which you’ll lose if you go Android. Most respectable apps (like recently reviewed TunnelBear) are on Google Play and iTunes though with the latter, purchased movies won’t be available on your Android.
iPhone 6 is great if you’re committed to iOS, have or will purchase a Macbook 2011 or later (as OS X Yosemite will bring these features), or want one of the best cameras on a mobile. Keep in mind, you’ll pay a premium for all of it. The iPhone 5s is good choice for small (hell, normal I would say) hands less likely to drop a device this size.
3. HTC One M8
If you want the genetically spliced combination of the two phones above, seriously consider the HTC One M8. It’s got the body of an iPhone 6 with the heart of an Android named Data. The HTC One M8 feels great in the hand and some of its coolest features can be found in its camera app, which takes advantage of its dual lenses that add depth to images.
HTC One M8 – Factory Unlocked 32GB
Two More To Consider
- Sony Xperia Z3 Compact – Has a relatively smaller 4.6 inch screen compared to many other late-2014 model phones, excellent camera, and is waterproof; perfect for kite-surfing selfies in Hurghada.
- Samsung Galaxy S5 – A solid overall phone with expandable storage, replaceable battery, plus water-resistant enough to be drowned for a few seconds and survive.
Why I’m (Mostly) Not Mentioning Specs
Primarily because phone guts these days aren’t going to set them apart in any discernible way for the average user. Screen resolutions are at qualities our eyes can’t see beyond so for the most part, unless you’re seriously gaming on your phone; besides, a faster chip isn’t going to make reddit load any quicker. No matter what phone you end up with make sure it’s unlocked for international travel (which is legal by the way) and turn your mobile phone into a better digital camera if you don’t own one of these best point and shoot cameras for travelers.
I have a Samsung Galaxy S5 and I swear by it! The photos are very clear and high quality, most of the time people don’t even notice that the photo was took with a phone. The only downside is the battery – which is an issue with most Samsung phones – but I can live with it.
Bigger screens haven’t been coming with bigger batteries unfortunately, pretty much across the board.
My phone is way to slow when taking pictures. Looking for a new one great to get some ideas.
Most of these are pretty quick on the draw, especially if you’re upgrading from a device that’s more than 18 months old.
One of things worth mentioning about the HTC is that it, unfortunately, does not support as many LTE bands as other phones making it less desirable for travelers. I was looking at that one as my next phone until I discovered that it wouldn’t work in Colombia where I am often. Still trying to decide where to go after my current Samsung S3 Mini – back to iPhone (I’m generally a Mac guy), or stick with Android (which I like too). Decisions. Decisions.
It’s definitely a concern with a lot of phones:
(and frustrating it’s an issue in 2014.) If you’re purchasing in the US, AT&T unlocked offers the widest band range.
…for the HTC One M8.
I’m a really big fan of the Google Nexus. It’s got a lot of great built in features that can be activated or deactivated pretty simply – such as Google Cards. The card I use the most is currency conversion – it automatically recognizes when I’m in a new country and updates accordingly. Also, the camera is pretty good, especially in low-light situations. I like it much better than the iPhone I had before.
Great phone, though the new 6, not sure I can handle that size.