We compare three 5in smartphones launched at CES 2013 - the Sony Xpera Z, Huawei Ascend D2 and ZTE Grand S - all of which feature a Full HD screen. 

Xperia Z, Grand S, Huawei Ascend
The Sony Xperia Z, ZTE GRand S and Huawei Ascend D2 battle it out for best smartphone at CES 2013.

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is winding down and, as has been the way of late, there was a noticeable lack of major smartphone and tablet announcements from the big players in the market.

With most companies waiting for the smartphone-focused Mobile World Congress at the end of February or holding their own launch events throughout the year, CES is not the place most companies chose to launch their products.

That said, this year saw the launch of smartphones from Sony, ZTE and Huawei which all feature 5in Full HD displays, which marks a new standard in smartphone screen technology.

HTC has already launched a similarly specced phone in Asia, called the Butterfly, but the three phones launched at CES sees the adoption of a Full HD screen as mandatory for all flagship models.

While the screens are identical, the phones themselves are somewhat different, so here I'll look at what the different phones offer in terms of design, hardware and software.

Design

Since Sony bought out its former partner Ericsson and went solo with its Xperia line of smartphones, the look of its range has been evolving. Recognisable by their squarer design compared to most smartphones, the Xperia Z continues that trend, though its look has been softened somewhat.

Available in three colours (black, white and a rather fetching purple) the phone features an all-flat design, which feels nice in the hand and has a very premium feel. Sony has also made the phone dust and water proof, which is a welcome addition to usually vulnerable smartphones.

Moving onto the ZTE Grand S, this is far-and-away ZTE's most attractive phone to date. At just 6.9mm thin, ZTE is boasting that it is the thinnest 4G phone on the market, and with a matte plastic finish, the lightweight Grand S was my favourite phone of CES 2013.

Available in seven colours in total, the Grand S may feel a little less premium that the metal and glass iPhone, but there was no flex or impression that the Grand S was made from anything but top quality materials.

The Ascend D2 on the other hand felt decidedly cheap for such a high-end smartphone. The problem with the Ascend D2 was that it simply felt too lightweight, despite being 25g heavier than the Xperia Z. I didn't get the sense that it was particularly well built or that it would withstand much in the way of wear or tear.

With the most uninspiring design out of all three phones, the Ascend D2 is available in white and blue, and while some won't have a problem with the design, compared with the Xperia Z and Grands S, the Huawei flagship phone just didn't stack up.

Hardware

As well as needing to have a spectacular screen, nice design and good software a modern day super phone also needs a great camera.

And all three of these smartphones come with a camera featuring a 13 megapixel sensor, LED flash and autofocus. AT CES 2013 it was difficult to assess the merits of the three cameras as conditions were variable and we couldn't take the phones outside to test them properly.

That said, the results we got from the Xperia Z looked the most promising which isn't surprising considering Sony's in-house digital imaging expertise, with the camera featuring Exmor RS technology, allowing it to claim to be the first smartphone camera with HDR video capabilities.

Turning to the processors in the smartphones, the Xperia Z and Grand S are both powered by the popular Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip with the former clocked at 1.5GHz while the Grands S is running at 1.7GHz. The Huawei smartphone is powered by an in-house chip, the Huawei K3V2, which features a quad-core processor running at 1.5GHz.

All three phones come with 2GB of RAM, and while it was again tough toproperly judge if one was significantly faster than the others, all three should be well able to handle pretty much anything you throw at them.

In terms of storage, the Ascend D2 comes with 32GB of flash storage but lacks any way to expand on this. The Xperia Z and Grand S both come with 16GB of built-in storage but both feature a microSD card slot letting you boost the storage by a further 32GB.

Software

All three phones will come with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) but none will offer a "pure" Android experience, with all three manufacturers preferring to slap their own software UI on top.

Sony's I is probably the most intrusive, with a lot of Sony's own apps for the likes of music and films dominating the look of the home screen when you first power on the device. While these apps in themselves are perfectly acceptable, it's hard to see what benefit they offer the consumer over the native Android apps.

ZTE has also put its own custom UI on the Grand S but one of this tweaks could actually make a big difference - to me at least. The new feature is a pop-up menu button which can be placed where ever you like on the screen and when tapped expands to four context buttons, such as home, back and search.

With a 5in screen and small hands, I find navigating the UI can be tough at times and by placing this pop-up menu in an easily accessible position, you won't find yourself stretching in vain to reach the other side of the screen.

Huawei has also added its own skin to the Android software, but it's pretty lightweight and with a bid of fiddling around most of the Huawei specific apps can be removed from the home screen and you will get an experience pretty close to the stock Android one.

Verdict

All three phones offer superb screens, 13 megapixel cameras and powerful processors. This means customers decisions will be based on pricing as well as the phone's design and software. So far no pricing has been announced for any of the phones, with the Ascend D2 likely to be the first on the market this month, followed by the Xperia Z in March and the Grand S in Q2.

In terms of overall impression, the Grand S was my favourite, followed by the Xperia Z and finally the Ascend D2. The Grand S is a stunning phone in terms of design, performance, and hardware. It's superb 1080p screen is complemented by a 13 megapixel camera, 2GB of RAM and a quad-core processor.

The question is though, will these phones be able to compete with the latest phones from Samsung and Apple when they arrive later in 2013? The answer is likely to be no, and not necessarily because these phones are not good, but because they don't have the brand recognition (and marketing spend) the Samsung Galaxy S phone do, and of course the iPhone has.