It’s coming to that time of the year when you might want to grab a new smartphone either for yourself, or as a gift for someone during the holiday season. Most of the phones that will be coming out this year have been announced or launched, so if you want to make up your mind about upgrading, this is as stable as it gets in the smartphone world.

Throughout the year I have reviewed and got hands-on time with plenty of devices, especially from the Android camp simply because there’s such a sheer volume of them on the market today. I’ve used all the flagships from HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola, Sony, and more -- some of those reviews are still in the pipeline -- and below I’ve compiled my thoughts on what's currently the best out there.

HTC One (M8)

HTC was one of the first to launch a flagship Android smartphone this year and the fact that the HTC One M8 is making it to this list is testament to the great job they did with it. Built on the principles HTC established with the original One in 2013, adding in new hardware such as the Duo Camera and refining the aluminum design.

What I Liked

There’s a lot to like about the One M8, but if I had to cut it down to just one thing, it’d probably be the design. The aluminum unibody looks great and feels awesome to hold. HTC improved the ergonomics considerably over the previous-generation One and managed to enhance the BoomSound speakers in the process. Of all the Android handsets released in 2014, the second-generation One definitely looks the best.

What I Didn’t Like

As much as the Duo Camera is an interesting feature that allows you to apply cool effects to your photos, the camera as a whole is underwhelming. Compared to the competition, the HTC One M8 simply can’t keep up in most conditions, especially in terms of resolution where the four megapixel sensor disappoints. It may have an advantage in low light scenarios, but the new One is far from a high quality flagship camera.

Samsung Galaxy S5

There were no surprises when Samsung announced their latest high-end device, the highly anticipated Galaxy S5. Packing a new fingerprint sensor and heart rate monitor, Samsung made a big deal of the device being suited for fitness and activity, packing top notch hardware into a waterproof case for the first time.

What I Liked

It’s a tossup between the display and camera for what I like the most, with the latter just edging it out. It’s not the greatest in dark conditions with its f/2.2 lens and 1.12µm pixels, but at all other times it excels. The 16-megapixel sensor is simply fantastic in sunlight, delivering sharp, accurate and vibrant images loaded with detail. The provided HDR mode is also by far the best of any smartphone, and 4K recording is always a handy inclusion.

What I Didn’t Like

The aforementioned fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor are gimmicks, failing to make any meaningful improvement to the smartphone and not necessarily functioning perfectly. On top of that Samsung's design still feels behind the competition. Though there were improvements in this area, it still looks and feels cheap, which is less than ideal for an expensive flagship.

LG G3

The LG G3 was no minor revision to the well-regarded G2. The company packed in new and improved hardware, including a 5.5-inch Quad HD display and the laser autofocus assisted 13-megapixel camera with OIS, as well as a much better software offering.

What I Liked

The edge-to-edge 5.5-inch IPS LCD display is one of the standout features of the G3, and makes me want to come back and use it regardless of which smartphone I’m reviewing at the time. There isn’t a huge difference in clarity between the Quad HD resolution and similar 1080p panels, but the sharpness is definitely impressive. Paired with great color quality and a decent amount of real estate in a surprisingly compact body, the G3’s display is a definite favourite.

What I Didn’t Like

The new display comes with the downside of a having hit on performance and battery life. The G2 carried top of the line battery life but the same can’t be said of the G3. The performance hit isn’t as important, though in some taxing 3D games the GPU simply can’t render frames as frequently as it can on a 1080p handset.

Sony Xperia Z3

Sony has released two flagship smartphones this year thanks to their strange six month release cycle, the first being the quite decent Xperia Z2, and now the Z3. It’s a minor upgrade on what came before it, though the changes help refine the package and make for a very well-rounded device.

What I Liked

The entire handset feels like a top-notch, premium product that delivers both on a design and hardware perspective. We’re talking about a waterproof aluminum body, Snapdragon 801 SoC inside, 20-megapixel rear camera, and great battery life. That last point is especially crucial, with Sony clearly understanding how important it is to have a long-lasting smartphone.

What I Didn’t Like

It would appear the Xperia Z3 is lacking a "killer feature" but there are no obvious omissions either. Also, Sony’s smartphone strategy at the moment is somewhat unclear: releasing a new flagship every six months make buyers of the Z2 feel like their handset is outdated quite quickly. Will this happen again with the Xperia Z3? I sure hope not.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

Alongside the Z3, Sony released the Z3 Compact catering to folks who don’t want such a large handset. With a 4.6” display and essentially the same internal hardware as the Z3, the Z3 Compact is a great choice if size (and battery life) are major considerations.

What I Liked

The Z3 Compact is one of the few Android smartphones on the market that combine flagship hardware with a smaller-than-usual form factor, and does so successfully. Not everyone wants a 5.2-inch or 5.5-inch phone, so the 4.6-inch Z3 Compact is very attractive in this respect. Let’s not forget it also has a powerful Snapdragon 801 inside, waterproof body, and the same 20-megapixel camera from the Z3, plus astonishing battery life.

What I Didn’t Like

For the market this smartphone is occupying, there’s not much to dislike. However, as with the Z3, I’m not a huge fan of Sony’s software skin that fails to add any interesting, standout features, and it does look a bit antiquated in comparison to stock Android and recent skins from HTC or LG.

Motorola Moto X (2014)

The original Moto X was a crowd favorite even though it skipped on high-end specs, it made up with phenomenal ergonomics and customization options. This year Motorola has released a new version, including better hardware, a refined design with a larger AMOLED display, and improved software.

What I Liked

There are two aspects to the Moto X working in tandem that make it such an attractive device. First is the new and improved hardware which includes a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC, similarly attractive ergonomics, an excellent 5.2-inch 1080p display and much-needed camera upgrade. Combined with excellent contextual software and always-on voice controls, the new Moto X is a great mix of solid hardware and software.

What I Didn’t Like

Some aspects are still slightly behind the competition, notably the camera and battery. The 2014 Moto X may be far ahead when software is concerned with a very clean Android experience, but some of the always-on features hamper battery life, which doesn’t appear to be as good as its competitors. The camera, while improved, also fails to stand up to the flagship powerhouses in this area.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung has been perfecting the large-screen Note formula for a few years now, and with a refined design and cutting-edge hardware, this is best Android phablet yet.

What I Liked

The use of metal around the edges of the Galaxy Note 4 finally makes this handset feel premium. Samsung has listened to the past criticism and noticeably improved the design, and I welcome it. Top notch performance is a given (Snadragon 805 or Exynos 5433 inside), and OIS adds to an already great camera sensor. If you don't mind the size, it's the best Samsung device in the market.

What I Didn’t Like

TouchWiz still seems bloated and visually mediocre, as Samsung hasn’t put a huge amount of emphasis on changing what they delivered in the Galaxy S5.

What About The Mid-Range?

Understandably you might not want to fork out $500+ for any one of the flagships I’ve mentioned above. So what smartphone would I recommend for those out there who are looking to save a bit of cash?

The second-generation Moto G. For just $179, you get a high quality 5-inch display, a very good camera for the price point, and decent performance. On top of that, Motorola gives you stock Android with a few first-party and genuinely useful applications, making it my affordable smartphone of choice. The one main downside is that the handset doesn’t come with LTE, which is definitely disappointing, though for the price it's hard to complain.