These days, almost every smartphone contains the same bag of tricks, with little to differentiate handsets, apart from the hardware and maybe some software extras.
Sure, one might have a better camera, more external or internal storage, and other specs that help us tell one phone from another. But on the whole, you can access e-mail, text messages, and social networks from them all, share photos and videos, surf the Internet, and install any number of apps.
This kind of uniformity is actually good news, since it means that even midrange smartphones can be just as capable as high-end products, even if they have a smaller screen or shorter battery life, for instance. Of course, there are some smartphones that stand out from the crowd for a certain physical or software feature. In no particular order, here's the current crop of unique handsets that have me looking twice.
Nokia Lumia 920 (AT&T), November 9, 2012
Although the Nokia Lumia 920 isn't the only phone to come with wireless charging and a screen sensitive enough to operate with gloved hands or even a fingernail, this model was the first U.S. entrant to do either. HTC's Droid DNA also includes wireless charging, as does the Nokia Lumia 820 series. Verizon's Nokia Lumia 822 also includes that touch-screen sensitivity. Read the full Nokia Lumia 920 review.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon), October 24, 2012
Samsung's Galaxy Note 2 is simply the best for adding stylus-based navigation and functionality to a large-screen smartphone. It's true that the pool is tiny, but a lack of meaningful competition didn't stop Samsung from trotting out a massive helping of S Pen features that makes the large Android 4.1 device do double-duty as a smartphone and a virtual note pad. Read the full Samsung Galaxy Note 2 review.
Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD (Verizon), November 21, 2012
When it comes to pure battery prowess, Motorola's Droid Razr Maxx HD is the phone to beat. Its 3,300mAh battery plays back video for nearly 14 hours and streams video for 13 hours. The Maxx HD's outstanding longevity per charge cycle is the main reason to purchase the phone above others, but the Android smartphone also has some other excellent characteristics, like a neat Kevlar backing and a large screen. Read the full Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD review.
Nokia 808 PureView (Unlocked), June 13, 2012
Handset-makers occasionally produce smartphones with larger camera sensors that boast photos with 13- to 16-megapixels of information. Nokia's 808 PureView not only tops the list with a camera capable of capturing 41 megapixels of information, it also is one of the few smartphone cameras that actually lives up to its promise. The unlocked Symbian phone may be a niche device, but it's one heck of a proof-of-concept. Read the full Nokia 808 PureView review.
Samsung Galaxy Beam (unlocked), July 9, 2012
There are only a few scenarios that call for a smartphone with a built-in projector -- impromptu campfire screening of a home video, anyone? -- but in times requiring sharing with the group, the Samsung Galaxy Beam has you covered. The pico projector can double as a flashlight or strobe, but the most gratifying surprise is that the smartphone itself isn't just a one-trick wonder. With a 4-inch screen, Android OS, and a solid 5-megapixel camera, the Galaxy Beam is truly a reliable midrange smartphone first and party trick second. Read the full Samsung Galaxy Beam review.