The 12 most distinctive phones of 2014 (pictures)

From the novel to the wince-worthy (and sometimes both at once), these handset "firsts" and "bests" helped define our year in smartphones.

Jessica Dolcourt
1 of 12 CNET

VIPs: Very important phones

There are phones that defined the year for everyday buyers, and there are phones that are significant to the industry, even if they never made much of a commercial mark. Some handsets embodied an attempted comeback; others sputtered in ignominious failure. In the past 365 days, these dozen phones mattered to the mobile industry, for better or for worse.

2 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

Nokia X

Before Nokia sold its devices arm to Microsoft, the all-Windows Phone shop did something a little bit risky. The Nokia X (and X+ and XL) ran a mashup of Nokia's Asha OS and Windows services that was custom built on top of the open-source Android code.

And built badly, too. The phones were nonstarters meant for emerging markets, and revealed Nokia's Android aspirations (the remaining company has since announced an Android tablet). Microsoft's first task after the acquisition? Killing off the Nokia X.

3 of 12 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Motorola Moto G times two

While the 3G Moto G stole our hearts with its solid budget performance and unbeatable price, it's the Motorola Moto G LTE that sealed the deal with faster 4G data. This September's Moto G (2014) update also refreshes the excellent starter phone's specs, stealing the show when it comes to budget phones.

4 of 12 James Martin/CNET

Amazon Fire Phone

Amazon's gutsy Fire Phone, which tacked four infrared camera sensors onto the handset's front corners in an ambitious bid to pioneer this form of 3D viewing on one's phone. The technological undertaking ultimately didn't add much meaning and drained the battery. The Fire Phone's shopping emphasis wasn't enough of a lure to sell phones, even when paired with a free year of Amazon Prime. So much for trying something really new...and really out there.

5 of 12 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung Galaxy Alpha

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha wasn't the fanciest of Samsung's 2014 phones (that honor belongs to the Galaxy Note 4), but it was the first to introduce metal into Samsung's typically all-plastic design. The Galaxy A3 and A5 are the first of Samsung's all-metal line.

6 of 12 CNET

OnePlus One

There aren't a whole lot of low-cost phones out of China that drum up global excitement like the OnePlus One, a sleek 5.5-inch handset that runs on the Android-based CyanogenMod OS. Unfortunately, it looked better on paper than it worked in real life, and the company became embroiled in a sexist, ill-considered marketing campaign.

7 of 12 CNET

iPhone 6 Plus

The iPhone 6 Plus is big, not just in size (5.5 inches), but also because it backtracks on co-founder Steve Jobs' famous quote that "no one's going to buy" a big phone. Apple's eventual acquiescence on the "phablet" front is a huge win for fans of both iOS and larger phones.

8 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

Samsung made one of the edgiest phones of 2014. Literally, the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge's curved screen ends in a sharp ridge that gives this pricey, premium device a daring asymmetrical shape. Figuratively, Samsung created an entirely new interface and navigational strip along the curve in an attempt to put the new shape to good use.

Read alsoHow the Galaxy Note Edge got its Edge: Samsung designers tell all

9 of 12 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

HTC Desire Eye and Sony Xperia C3

What do the HTC Desire Eye and Sony Xperia C3 have in common? They're among the first phones to embed a flash along with their front-facing cameras. With selfies all the rage, a vendor that can differentiate its wares by way of self-portraits might sway a certain phone-buying demographic to its side.

10 of 12 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Microsoft Lumia 535

Microsoft started its tenure as a phone-maker not with a bang, but with a whimper. The rather bland, entry-level Microsoft Lumia 535 picks up where Nokia, the Lumia originator, left off. Let's hope for more exciting phones to come.

11 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

BlackBerry Passport and Classic

After more turmoil than I care to list, beleaguered BlackBerry bottom-loaded the year with two more stabs at modernizing the source of it former glory. The result: the QWERTY keyboard-equipped BlackBerry Passport and BlackBerry Classic.

12 of 12 Josh Miller/CNET

More in 2014

Individual phones weren't the only area we paid attention to this year. 2014 saw a lot of hardware and software trends that will carry us into the new year. Check out 8 of our smartphone highs and lows.

More Galleries

Huge Historic Locomotives and More at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum

Huge Historic Locomotives and More at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum

47 Photos
2023's Best TV and Streaming Shows You Can't Miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and More

2023's Best TV and Streaming Shows You Can't Miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and More

62 Photos
See Samsung's Galaxy S23 Lineup
Samsung Galaxy S23

See Samsung's Galaxy S23 Lineup

10 Photos
Hubble and James Webb Space Telescope Images Compared: See the Difference

Hubble and James Webb Space Telescope Images Compared: See the Difference

12 Photos
2024 Mazda CX-90 Is Large and In Charge
2024 Mazda CX-90

2024 Mazda CX-90 Is Large and In Charge

52 Photos
Audi Activesphere Is a Transforming All-Terrain EV
Audi Activesphere concept

Audi Activesphere Is a Transforming All-Terrain EV

51 Photos
Yamaha motorcycle and instrument designers trade jobs (pictures)

Yamaha motorcycle and instrument designers trade jobs (pictures)

16 Photos