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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.