What's the best smartphone? And should you buy an iPhone, Android or Windows Phone? We look at the best alternatives to getting an iPhone.

iPhone 5 vs Galaxy S4

iPhone vs Android: Why the iPhone and iOS beat Google Android

While the iPhone is (in our humble opinion) the best smartphone on the market, it’s not the only option available. There are a lot of alternatives to the iPhone on the market: rival smartphones with powerful processors, large screens and unique features.

And they’re not all cheap knockoffs (some of them aren’t even cheap to start with). Phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One, Nokia Lumia 520 and BlackBerry Q10 all offer something different.  After all, they all sell in their millions, so people are buying them. They must be doing something.

In this feature we thought we’d take a look at the biggest competitors to the iPhone and see what they have to offer. So: which is the best smartphone?

Read first: iPhone 5s review and iPhone 5c review

Best smartphones, option 1: Samsung Galaxy S4

  • Unlocked price: £414.99 (Amazon)
  • Key features: 5-inch display; 1.9GHz Quad Core processor; 13-mp camera;  
  • Operating System: Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean)

What people say: The Galaxy S4 is a great phone with outstanding hardware and performance, but it's not flawless. We're disappointed with the build quality considering the handset costs a fair bit more than its rivals and while the S4 is packed with features we find a lot of them to be gimmicky.

Read more: Chris Martin, PC Advisor

What we think: Samsung’s flagship “Galaxy” range is the iPhone’s closest commercial competitor, and the two are largely neck-and-neck in the charts. So there is something worth watching here.

At the price (originally £629 but it’s dropped a bit) you can’t dismiss it as a cheap knockoff, and it offers a larger display than the iPhone 5s and powerful processor. On the whole it’s a great piece of kit on the technical level, although the design and build quality leaves a bit to be desired (especially when placed next to an Apple product). It comes to a toss between the iPhone’s iOS software and Android, and which you prefer. Android is a more open environment which enables software like SwiftKey, but it requires more maintenance and there are security concerns in Android that that we find troublesome. We don’t really see the point in getting an Android phone if you’re going to pay the same amount as an iPhone.

See: iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone comparison review – is the Samsung phone better than iPhone?

Samsung S4  

Best smartphones, option 2: Google Nexus 5

  • Unlocked price: £299 (Google Play)
  • Key features: 5-inch display, 2.26 GHz processor; 4G,; wireless charging
  • Operating system: Android 4.4 KitKat

What other people say:Google and LG have done a fantastic job with the Nexus 5, producing a very desirable phone at an outrageously low price. It's the best value-for-money smartphone out there right now.

Read more: Chris Martin, PC Advisor

What we think: Unlike the Samsung S4, the Google Nexus 5 has certainly got the matter of pricing on its side, and the official Google Phone has good specs for the money. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy this is clearly cheaper than the iPhone, but there is little else that is cheap about this phone – it offers quite a fair bit for the cash. Google must really want you to buy an Android phone to be taking this kind of a hit on its own phones. If we were going to buy an Android phone over an iPhone 5c then this is the one we’d go for.

See: Nexus 5 vs iPhone 5c smartphone comparison review - how does Apple's cheaper iPhone compare?

Google Nexus 5

Best smartphones, option 3: Nokia Lumia 1020

  • Unlocked Price: £554 (Amazon)
  • Key features: 41-megapixel camera; 4.5-inch display; 1.5GHz Snapdragon CPU;
  • OS: Windows Phone

What other people say: “The Lumia 1020 has an amazing camera, the best in a smartphone, and will tempt most smartphone photographers. However, it's expensive for what is essentially a now out-of-date Lumia 920 with a better snapper. Poor battery life and a lack of good apps for the OS put us off significantly

Read more: Chris Martin, PC Advisor

What we think: Nokia certainly has thrown all its eggs into the camera basket. There’s no denying that a 41-megapixel camera is a jaw-dropping key feature, and perhaps ones that keen photographers will find invaluable. But we think most people will get on just fine with the cameras on the iPhone 5s, 5c and higher-end Android models. Windows Phone is an okay operating system and the Lumia 1020 has a comparable set of specs to the iPhone, but Windows Store simply lacks the breadth of apps found in iOS and Android (particularly Google Apps and services). We hope you like Bing and Nokia maps. We wouldn’t. Not at this price… nope!

See: iPhone 5 vs Lumia 1020 smartphone comparison review - 41Mp cameraphone better than iPhone?

Nokia Lumia 1020

Best smartphones, option 4: BlackBerry Z10

  • Unlocked price: £225 (Amazon)
  • Key features: 16GB storage; 4.2-inch display; 8-megapixel camera; 4G LTE
  • OS: BlackBerry 10

What other people say: The design and build quality of the Z10 just makes it seem like a cheap plastic iPhone to us. Hardware is reasonable with the screen being the standout feature and the BlackBerry 10 software makes this the most attractive BlackBerry smartphone to date. However, given the price, the iPhone or a decent Android handset is still a preferable option.

Read more: Chris Martin, PC Advisor

What we think: “It’s only a bargain if you were going to buy it in the first place” is a good maxim to remember here. It’s true that the BlackBerry Z10 has been reduced from its RRP of £776 all the way down to £225. And what it offers techwise at that price is a pretty good deal. But we wouldn’t buy a BlackBerry phone these days for love nor money. Its time seems to have passed. The BlackBerry app store is pretty much inconsequential, and given developer apathy it’s likely to stay that way. BlackBerry itself as a company doesn’t look too healthy these days.

See: BlackBerry Z10 vs iPhone 5 tech specs

BlackBerry Z10

Best smartphones, option 5: Nokia Lumia 520

  • Unlocked Price: £99 (Amazon)
  • Key features: 4-inch display; 8GB storage; 5-megapixel camera; 1Ghz Dual Core Snapdragon
  • Operating System: Windows Phone

What other people say: The Nokia Lumia 520 doesn't tick all the boxes on our features wishlist, but it capably handles those that are most important. Windows Phone 8 is a beautiful operating system, but it still lacks apps. If you can get past this and don't mind sacrificing some performance and connectivity, the Lumia 520 is a strong budget buy.

Read more: Chris Martin, PC Advisor

What we think: If you're looking to get a respectable smartphone for very little cash then the Nokia Lumia 520 offers a lot and asks for very little. In some ways the tech is a little behind: It lacks 4G, NFC,  doesn’t have a Flash, and the camera quality is pretty poor (and there’s no front facing camera). And the Windows Store is missing a lot of key apps (but it does have some games). But on the upside the screen is good, the processor is fine, and Windows Phone is a slick interface for doing all the smartphone things and you get 8GB of storage on board and 7GB of SkyDrive storage for free. For £99? If we couldn’t afford better we’d go for it.

See: iOS 7 vs Windows Phone 8: which mobile platform

Nokia Lumia 520

Best smartphones: What's the best alternative to an Apple Phone?

We’ve looked here at five different phones all of which offer something over the iPhone 5s. Of course, there is also the Apple iPhone 5c to consider, although at an unlocked price of £449 we’d suggest getting it on contract or upgrading to the iPhone 5s. We're - as you'd expect - diehard Apple fans and truly suggest getting an older iPhone model rather than moving out of the iOS ecosystem. 

See: What to watch for when buying a used iPhone

Having said that: we think there are two rivals to the iPhone 5s here worth considering. Both are budget options, so it’s really a trade-off between quality and cash. We advise you trade the least quality for the most cash.

The first is the Google Nexus 5, which at £249 is a little over half the price of the iPhone 5s. And no matter which way you look at it; the Nexus 5 is not half the iPhone. We think it’s slightly below the 5s and iPhone 5c in terms of quality, but Android is a little more open in some areas and a little more clunky in others. And unlike BlackBerry or Windows Phone, Android has a thriving app store. We’d miss apps like GarageBand, iMovie and iPhoto, but then it has integrated Google Now, Google Voice Search and Google Maps (so it’s swings and roundabouts). We imagine Google will sell an awful lot of these phones. If you can’t afford an iPhone then this is a good alternative. Not as good as an iPhone; but still half the price.

The other phone that’s interesting here is the Nokia Lumia 520. Make no mistake, it’s nowhere near in the same league as the iPhone 5s (or iPhone 5c). It’s not even in the same ballpark. It’s in the cheap seats watching others play the real game. But it is very cheap and offers an awful lot for just £99. It’s like somebody took an old iPhone 3Gs and slapped a bigger screen and faster processor on it. The camera is lousy and it’s a shame it runs Windows Phone as the operating system, but apart from that it’s really not that bad. It's a slick mobile phone than enables you to run apps, play games, browse the internet, check email… we hear the Nokia Lumia 520 selling very well and we imagine it’s a popular choice for schoolkids. It's worth buying if you don't want to put a £200+ phone in your child's pocket but they demand a smartphone. It delivers.