See also: Top Ten Business Smartphones of 2009
A few readers asked me for a Top 5 Smartphones of 2009 list. One even suggested that I'd promised such a list a few months back. I don't remember that, but I believe him … and am happy to oblige, as tough as it's been to settle on such a list.
So here you go, sorta. My Top Ten Smartphones of 2009 is actually two lists: The Top Ten Business Smartphones and the Top 5 Consumer Smartphones. Considering that smartphones are becoming more and more mainstream, and that subtle differences between "productivity smartphones" and "entertainment smartphones" are becoming more and more important to consumers, a dual list seemed like the way to go.
Bear in mind that this list will likely be close to obsolete before the first three months of 2010 have come and gone - that's how fast the marketplace changes. But for now, looking at 2009, I've made my picks.
And so here's one half of the list, my ten favorite consumer smartphones of 2009:
Top 10 Consumer Smartphones
1. Apple iPhone 3GS/3G
Fanboys. Haters. Biases. Prejudices. Nothing seems to inspire extreme emotions amongst tech blog devotees like an Apple product. And no Apple product inspires more of those feelings than the iPhone.
Fine, whatever. It's the best consumer smartphone out there right now - as in, if you told me I had to recommend a smartphone to someone who I knew nothing about, and I couldn't ask any questions about their likes or usage habits, I'd recommend iPhone. Why? No other phone combines Web, Email, Fun, and Usability like Apple did with this thing. And, oh yeah: Apps, apps, apps. You might not care about them, but Average Joe and Jill do. iPhone OS is due for a serious overhaul, as even the average consumer is going to want multitasking out of their smartphone this year. But for now, it doesn't really matter - so long as Apple and AT&T work out that nasty dropped call business sooner than later.
2. HTC Droid Eris/Hero
HTC's Hero was the first Android phone I really got excited about. Why? HTC took what they'd learned from years of making Windows Mobile more usable and applied it to a modern, open-source mobile platform in Android. Sense UI means that users who aren't interested in tinkering get home screens full of useful goodies right out of the box. HTC's custom apps mean they also get iPhone-style pinching and zooming on the Web and in their photo albums. Sprint's version of Hero traded the European version's iconic angles for a rounder (some say blander) look, and then Verizon came along with a thinner, slightly faster take on what Sprint had launched. The result is my current favorite of all the Android phones out there.
3. (tie) Palm Pixi/Palm Pre
Like I said, WebOS is awesome. If your thumbs can deal with Pre's tiny little keyboard, go for it: You'll get WiFi and a larger display as compared to Pixi. Me, I'll take Pixi because I just never get tired of how light and sleek it is. Pixi's display is small but high-res enough to be usable, and its QWERTY board is the one Pre should have had in the first place. Here's hoping Palm launches a revamped Pre (or successor) at CES sporting a Pixified thumbboard.
5. Motorola Cliq
Despite the fact that MOTOBlur is something of a hot mess of information overload, it's got a few good widgets to it and the rest can be turned off. Get past that, and Cliq is T-Mobile's new Sidekick: A flexible messaging phone with a solid QWERTY board and all kinds of social networking tricks up its sleeve. Add to that the power and expandability of the Android OS and "Cliq" is what I tell tweens who ask me which Sidekick they should get next.
6. Motorola Droid
Why is Droid #4 on the business list but only #6 here? Because it's not user-friendly enough and its QWERTY board is too flat. Business users who want Android will appreciate Droid's horsepower, built-in Navigation and the fact that it has a hard QWERTY at all. Consumers should note that Droid Eris is thinner, has a prettier & more useful interface, and supports multitouch Web and photo browsing.
7. BlackBerry Curve 8900 Series
Some consumers, like many businesspeople, just want a smartphone that can handle Email and messaging and does so with a big, comfortable keyboard and an easy to read screen. Boom: BlackBerry Curve. Now with semi-decent, if still not great, Web browsing.
8. (tie) Samsung Omnia HD / HTC Touch HD2
These exotic beasts are more about the near future than the present, with their eye-popping gorgeous touch displays and off-the-chart spec sheets. Samsung blew me away with a demo of video playback on Omnia HD back at Mobile World Congress, and HTC knocked my socks off more recently with HD2's impossibly giant touchscreen and more impossibly thin profile. Whichever company ports their display technology into an affordable device running Android wins. If they both do, and some carriers pick those devices up? We all win.
10. Nokia N86
Nokia's N86 is arguably the best cameraphone on the market. Legions of Symbian users swear by their platform and the Finnish giant who churns out scores of solid, high-end handsets that run it. Me? I've yet to see a cameraphone whose image quality and shoot-reload time makes me ready to give up my point and shoot digicam altogether, so anything beyond 3 megapixels on a cameraphone is all the same to me. And I'm tired of Symbian S60. But like I said, thousands of Nokia users swear by their N86s. And who am I to argue with that kind of crowd wisdom, right?