12/03/2012 02:24 pm ET

Android Smartphones Of 2012: The Agony And The Ecstasy Of The Android User

Imagine this: In January, you buy a mattress made by a manufacturer called Sleep King. All of the reviews have dubbed this mattress the longest-lasting, softest and most comfortable mattress you can buy today. Your friends beg to come over just to lay on your top-of-the-line, newly released mattress for a minute or two. You sleep with a grin each night. You love your mattress.

In February, another company -- we'll call them Snoozy's -- releases a mattress that is softer, more comfortable and longer-lasting than yours. Reviewers rave, and you feel a pang of regret: If you had waited a month, you could be sleeping on that clearly superior Snoozy's mattress instead! No matter, though -- you still have a pretty good mattress from Sleep King. Water under the bridge.

March rolls in. Dormancy Deluxe introduces a mattress, even better than Snoozy's February's mattress, and made with real Hungarian goose feathers and hand-fluffed down. Sleep King, your mattress manufacturer, responds by updating its January mattress for durability, improving the fabric, adding stain resistance and introducing a self-warming feature. By May, your mattress is obsolete, bargain bin. Other companies are producing mattresses that make your mattress seem like an artifact from a prehistoric dig, and with each release, the flaws and shortcomings of your mattress become more and more obvious.

The Sleep King mattress that had once seemed like such a sure investment becomes, without warning, three generations old, in less than half a year.


Sound familiar? This invented fable of mercenary mattress gamesmanship is roughly analogous to the narrative that defined Android smartphones, and those who bought them, in 2012. Looking over the jam-packed timeline of Android smartphone releases this year, you realize the competitive nature of the landscape, the speed at which manufacturers updated and improved their smartphones, and the difficult choices shoppers faced to obtain a smartphone that would remain the best for any meaningful period of time.

Call it Android Anxiety: It is a predicament marked by alternating bouts of ecstasy and remorse, supreme confidence and nervousness, as well as cycles of excitement, regret, acceptance and hope. ("They're releasing a Droid Razr Maxx! I just got this Droid Razr three months ago! And now there's a Droid Razr Maxx HD? When am I eligible for an upgrade again?")

Think about the Android madness we saw in 2012 (and a bit before): In November 2011 Motorola released, with trumpets and fanfare, its Droid Razr. Not three months later, it put out a Droid Razr Maxx, improving upon the original in almost every way and thus officially beginning the Android Silly Season. February of this year saw the introduction of Samsung's first Galaxy Note phablet as well the One X, HTC's flagship phone. All of this was followed closely by announcements of three other premium HTC phones (the One S, the EVO 4G and the Droid Incredible). In the following months, Sony started releasing its Xperia smartphones internationally, and in May Samsung released its blockbuster Galaxy S III.

There was silence for a few months, as the Galaxy S III ruled. But then it was October, and HTC introduced the HTC One X+ (about six months after the release of the plus-less HTC One X); Motorola released three new Droid Razr smartphones (its third, fourth and fifth Razrs in under 10 months); LG pushed out its brand-reviving Optimus G hero-phone on Sprint; Samsung released yet another Galaxy Note, after the first one was available for about seven months; HTC showed us the Droid DNA, perhaps the most impressively-spec'ed Android smartphone ever released; and, finally, Google and LG collaborated on the new Nexus smartphone, the Nexus 4, just in case you didn't have enough of a hard time choosing which new phone you wanted for Christmas.

Did you get all that? That's about 15 Android smartphones that could, depending on the critic, have been classified as the best Android smartphone available at some point in 2012. And the year isn't even over yet.

Committed disciples of other smartphone operating systems do not face this manic situation. Apple releases one iPhone per year, and you can guess with increasing accuracy exactly what it's going to look like and when it will be available. Windows Phone has thus far sequestered its new smartphone releases to the fall, with Nokia, HTC and Samsung all-but-simultaneously announcing their best phones at once. And BlackBerry zealots (I see you!) are waiting patiently for 2013 and the launch of the BlackBerry 10 operating system for their new flagship smartphones.

To be an Android fan in 2012, however, was to live in an unebbing existential state of self-doubt. The combination of an unpredictable, truncated release schedule and consistent hardware and software improvements on Android smartphones resulted in a year that was simultaneously rewarding and exasperating for Android fans. It was rewarding because an astonishing number of high-quality Android smartphones were introduced with regularity, creating a glut of winning options, but it was exasperating because each month, it seemed, a new Android superphone would arrive without warning, potentially making that phone you had purchased weeks ago instantly second-tier.

In no one is this passion, this affliction more apparent than in HuffPost Executive Business Editor Peter Goodman. Peter has latched on to the Android operating system with the zeal that college football fans in the South attach themselves to their alma maters. Watching him agonize over the Android buying process, trading in smartphone after smartphone for the latest-and-greatest, raving over a certain smartphone one week while fiending for a different one the next, has been dizzying and enthralling. Considering the bewildering timeline of Android smartphones and the steady improvements that manufacturers have indeed made this year, Peter's mental anguish and fierce, almost-paroxysmal deliberations over which phone to buy, and when, seem justified.

Overall this is, I think, a nice problem to have: Better to anguish over the best of the best than have to settle for a subpar option. And in 2012, there was a lot to anguish over.

As we greet 2013, then -- with HTC, LG, Google, Samsung and Motorola all having put forth their own powerful takes on the Android operating system -- one irresistible question lingers: Which of these companies is going to put out an even more powerful and impressive smartphone in January that will make all of these current Android smartphones seem weak and obsolete by comparison?

Below, check out a gallery of some of the best Android smartphones released in 2012, and stay tuned for a more in-depth survey of the ways in which Android manufacturers one-upped each other throughout 2012.

The Year In Android Smartphones