Smartphone Showdown: Your Cheat Sheet For Holiday Shopping

Here's the lowdown on size, features and value for the most popular devices.

ByALYSSA NEWCOMB
December 01, 2014, 12:07 PM
PHOTO: A definitive guide to buying a new smartphone.
A definitive guide to buying a new smartphone.
Getty Images

— -- intro: Big, bigger and biggest has been the theme of new smartphone releases this year. Then there's the question of iOS, Android or Windows Phone?

And don't even get us started on color options and battery life.

Smartphones are a hot item on many shopping list this year. It can all be a bit daunting, but here's the lowdown on some of the most intriguing devices for 2014 -- including the features that make each one stand out from the pack.

quicklist: 1title: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plustext: Apple CEO Tim Cook called the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus the best phones Apple has ever made -- and it seems millions of people agree.

The most obvious physical difference between previous iPhones and the latest devices is the screen size. The iPhone 5S screen was 4 inches.

The iPhone 6 is 4.7 inches, while the iPhone 6 Plus measures 5.5 inches diagonally. The new devices come with a more vibrant camera and the ability to use Apple Pay, the company's secure mobile payments system.

If the big screen doesn't sound appealing but you're still looking for a new iPhone, look out for deals on the iPhone 5C, which is being offered for free by some carriers with a two year contract. The iPhone 5S, which comes with Touch ID but it not equipped for Apple Pay, starts at a slashed price of $99.

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quicklist: 2title: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edgetext: Samsung has kept up its tradition of building gigantic smartphones for media junkies and multitaskers who want an alternative to Apple.

The company has released a slew of phones in the past year, but the latest Samsung spawn are standouts:

The Galaxy Note 4 has a 5.7-inch display that is able to reproduce clearer images and better viewing angles. One distinguishing factor between the Galaxy Note 4 and its predecessors is the Snap Note feature, which allows users to take a photo of their notes and easily convert them into an S Note.

The Galaxy Note Edge -- better known as "that Samsung phone with the curved screen" has a side that is essentially frameless. At that curved edge, you can customize a menu bar with different background colors and apps, making it a new multitasking experience for the phones 5.6 inch screen.

Samsung Unveils Curved Phone, Virtual Reality Headset

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quicklist: 3title: Nexus 6text: The Nexus 6 has a display that is 6 inches diagonally but it's surprisingly easy to hold in one hand. Another bonus: Google's smartphone runs on Android Lollipop, giving users the sweetest, most up to date experience.

The Nexus 6 also stands out from the competition with its "turbo charger," which allows users to get as much as six hours of use with just 15 minutes of charge.

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quicklist: 4title: BlackBerry Passporttext: "Working wide" is the draw of BlackBerry's square Passport phone, which was unveiled in September. The 4.5-inch square screen can show 60 characters per line on its touchscreen, making it easier to read, write and edit documents on the go.

The Passport also comes with a touch-enabled keyboard, an improved audio experience, a new Siri-like personal assistant and up to 30 hours of battery life between charges.

BlackBerry may be the butt of jokes, but the Canadian company still has fans in high places -- from President Obama to Kim Kardashian.

The device is the third phone BlackBerry released this year. The company will round out 2014 with the BlackBerry Classic, which will start shipping later this month.

Read More: BlackBerry Passport Wants to Make It Hip to Be Square

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quicklist: 5title: Amazon Fire Phonetext: Amazon's much-hyped Fire phone hasn't sparked much interest from consumers, but the company hopes holiday shoppers will give it a second chance.

With $250 knocked off list price, an unlocked Fire phone now retails for $199. The price is a sweet spot in the wireless industry, with competing smartphones such as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 starting at around that amount for customers who also choose a two-year contract.

Three months after its debut, the Fire, which featured what Amazon called "breakthrough" technology, was being sold for 99 cents with a contract.

While the device has been criticized as being more of a "shopping machine" that doubles as a smartphone, it does have some intriguing features.

It's equipped with a feature that allows users to identify almost any product, along with a 3-D display ideal for gamers.

Amazon Slashes Price on Its Fire Phone, Hoping to Lure Users

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quicklist: 6title: Kyocera Brigadiertext: If your desk drawer looks like a smartphone graveyard, it's worth giving the Kyocera Brigadier a try. While other phones may not be able to survive a tumble on the sidewalk or an accidental drop in the toilet, the mighty Kyocera Brigadier can withstand the torture.

The Android device is an armored tank among other more attractive, aesthetically pleasing phones. It's heavy -- weighing in at 6.6 ounces -- but it lives up to its promise of durability.

Watch here how it holds up after being scratched, dropped and thrown again a wall.

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quicklist: 7title: Microsoft Lumia 535text: Microsoft's budget smartphone is one of the smaller choices in a market dominated by gigantic phones, however at 5-inches, it's still big.

The Lumia 535 comes loaded with Microsoft Office (which is also now available for iOS and Android devices.) Where it stands out from the pack is its super smart and sassy personal assistant, Cortana.

Microsoft's smartphone virtual assistant correctly predicted the outcome of several World Cup games and "Dancing With the Stars" eliminations. It's kind of like having your own personal clairvoyant.

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quicklist: 8title: Moto X and Droid Turbotext: The second generation MotoX is perfect for someone who wants their smartphone to make them standout from the rest. There are thousands of difference ways to customize the Android device, including a wood paneled look or a pig skin case that feels just like a football. The Moto X is also a great value, making it an ideal first phone for teens. It starts at $99.99 with a two year contract.

Then there's the Moto X's juiced up cousin, the Droid Turbo. The Verizon exclusive phone is fast and packs some serious battery life, lasting as long as 48 hours. Like the Nexus 6, it also comes with a turbo charger, allowing it to gain eight more hours of battery life with a 15 minute charge. 5.2 inch screen. It's the perfect phone for someone who consumes plenty of videos on their mobile device but doesn't always have time to stop and charge it.

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