Two things can make smartphones fast: the speed of their data transfer, and the pure performance power of their processor. The former varies from carrier to carrier, market to market, and even quite possibly from building to building; but internal clock speed is a measure we can compare across phones.
Chipmakers constantly push the boundaries, which translates into liquid gameplay and buttery-smooth video playback, among other finessed touches of a faster phone. These top contenders (in no particular order) will leave rivals in the dust.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Note Edge
As the first two smartphones to use Qualcomm's bigger, better Snapdragon 805 chipset, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge use the 2.7GHz quad-core powerhouse processor to help make multitasking and writing with their styluses smoother. Some markets may use Samsung's own 1.9GHz octa-core Exynos 5433 instead, but all variants get 3GB of RAM to help them along.
Google Nexus 6
Read the full Google Nexus 6 review.
Motorola Droid Turbo
The fourth phone with the exact same 805 processor, Verizon's Turbo stands out for fast recharging (like the others listed above) and for a huge 3,900mAh battery store. Although the custom Android 4.4 layer is leaner than on other phones, it does include Motorola's signature touches, like always-listening commands that let you order the phone around, even when it's locked.
Read the full Motorola Droid Turbo review.
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
Apple enjoys keeping the chipset information on its iPhones shrouded in mystery, perhaps to steer clear of the processor rat race. Its latest, the A8 processor, promises to run between 10 and 20 percent faster than the iPhone 5S that came before it. The benchmarking tool Geekbench reveals clock speed between 1.35GHz and 1.39GHz for both iPhones. While neither phone is quite a nimble as those above, performance was still terrific in both diagnostic tests and in real life.
Samsung Galaxy S5
On pure numbers alone, the Samsung Galaxy S5' Snapdragon 801 CPU isn't quite as zippy as the 805, but trust us, its 2.5GHz quad-core chipset still leaves plenty of other phones in the dust. Best yet for mainstreamers, the 5.1-inch model isn't as dominating as some other, larger phones.
Read the full Samsung Galaxy S5 review.
Holiday Gift Guide
reading•The fastest phones around (roundup)
Dec 20•This is it: The Audiophiliac's top in-ear headphones of 2014 (pictures)
Dec 13•Oodles of audio and music holiday gift ideas
Dec 13•An affordably audiophile 2014 holiday gift guide (pictures)
Dec 12•Christmas 2014 online shopping deadlines