The US is blessed with more handsets in our market than can possibly succeed. Yet as plentiful and as dizzying as the options are through carrier stores, there are still scores of phones that never find a place in providers' portfolios. Dipped in gold, imbued with innovative features, or just plain wacky to look at, here are some of the most attention-grabbing styles we've seen elsewhere.
Editors note:This story originally published March 19, 2014 and updated May 12, 2014.
The pretty glass OnePlus One hails from China, where its bright 5.5-inch 1080p HD screen, zippy quad-core processor, and Android 4.4 KitKat-based CyanogenMod 11S jostles elbows with other regional rivals. While we're told it will touch down in Europe, Asia, and the US, our eyes are still scanning the horizon for the first telltale sign of its arrival.
Who wouldn't want to own a sleek, glass-backed number like the Sony Xperia Z2? This 5.2-incher impresses with its 20.7-megapixel camera, waterproofing, quad-core speeds, and cutting-edge mobile 4K HD video capture. An Android 4.4 KitKat OS ices the cake. Announced at MWC, the Z2 begins fanning out into Europe at the end of March, but there's no word of a US release. In fact, Sony only just recently sold a scaled-back variation of its popular Z1 with T-Mobile.
Good luck catching sight of the 5.5-inch Oppo Find 7 with its 2K display (2,560x1,440-pixel resolution). Although the brand-new aluminum-titanium handset, complete with its zoomtastic 13-megapixel camera, will make its way to markets outside China by mid-April, Oppo's absent relationship with US carriers means that the $599 off-contract phone will likely slip from your grasp.
That pivoting 13-megapixel camera module is all you really need to know about the Oppo N1's innovative design, though the 5.9-inch HD smartphone also has an invisible rear touch panel, Android 4.2, and a quad-core chipset. The N1 costs about $574 from Oppo's Web site, and does not support LTE.
The most noteworthy thing about the Nokia XL, and indeed, the entire Nokia X family of phones unveiled at Mobile World Congress, is its unusual operating system, a mashup of Android capabilities married to Windows Phone and Asha ecosystems and visuals. Strong hardware design and a price tag of €109 help target the Nokia X to emerging markets.
Put aside its sluggish performance and underpowered features for a moment to appreciate the Nokia Asha 503's unique design. Perfectly straight sides help it stand up on its own, always a fun little perk. But it's the clear plastic coating sheathing the yellow, red, blue, green, black, or white phone hue that gives this handset its eye-catching frozen-in-ice aesthetic.
Another phone that stands out more for its unique approach than for the adeptness of its day-to-day use, the YotaPhone has Android on the front and e-ink on the back. The Russian device-maker is all alone in this novel application. And you should see the packaging. Proving it has a fresh take on design, the YotaPhone's box literally unrolls to reveal the phone and cables. We look forward to spending more time with the second edition.
I'm guessing that few people would actually buy a gold-plated smartphone like the gilded HTC One, even if they could afford the hefty price tag. The truth is that none of the five 18-karat gold units, or two 24-karat gold versions were up for sale. Instead, HTC made them as giveaways to lucky prize winners for various contests. If, however, you're dying for a gold phone of your own, the Danish-made Aesir AE+Y handset is still on sale for €42,000 (you can buy the stainless steel version for a mere €7,250.)
It may not be dipped in gold, but the Vertu Constellation is chock-full of premium materials, from its sapphire crystal screen and titanium accents, to its genuine leather backing. It's the build materials that make this phone a hotshot, not exactly its specs -- but with its $6,000 price, it's all about the status anyhow.
Sold only in Korea so far, the Samsung Galaxy Round is already known worldwide for that deep curve that shows off the power of Samsung's flexible display technology. The phone itself won't bend; instead, it's captured in a perpetual smile. The Round has compelling Android features, to boot. US buyers longing for a phone with a curved display can buy LG's G Flex with three carriers, though the specs fall short of Samsung's product.
Introduced at CES 2014, the pretty, portable, and powerful Xperia Z1 Compact is just about the best sub-5-inch Android experience you can buy. Although it's being distributed in Europe, US residents can buy it unlocked only through Sony's online store, for about $600.
China's Vivo Xplay 3S sure boasts some top-notch specs, specifically its 6-inch, 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution display -- otherwise known as 2K. This sky-high resolution is a first for smartphones, but it's one we're expecting to see come to next year's high-end devices, especially the larger-than-5-inch set.
It doesn't hurt that the Xplay 3S also boasts a 5-megapixel front-facing camera to go with other top-tier innards: a speedy quad-core chip, 13-megapixel rear camera, and Android 4.3.
It's the Sailfish OS and two-tone casing that'll make you look twice at the Jolla phone. Birthed from the ashes of the Linux-based Meego OS abandoned by Nokia, this spinoff is at the very least a risky endeavor that's worth our notice. A slow starter, the Jolla phone sells in Europe for about €400.