This year in smartphones was far from revolutionary. In fact, the top smartphones this year were almost all about what improvements manufacturers could bring to their pre-existing lineup (with one notable exception).

Still, incremental improvements often don't get the credit they deserve: sometimes it's the difference between good and great.

10. Samsung Galaxy S5

Overall, this device was a disappointment with the public and for Samsung's bottom line. But there are some great things to be said about the latest Galaxy S smartphone (read the full hands-on review for more details).

Chiefly, the GS5 kept important aspects of the Galaxy S series, like microSD slot availability, a fast processor and a brilliant screen, while improving on the previous year's S4 by making it waterproof and extending the battery's overall lifespan.

If only Samsung could reign in the software gimmicks and give the next S a nicer design.

9. Sony Xperia Z3

Speaking of waterproof, Sony, the king of waterproof smartphones unleashed a specs monster of a phone this year in the Xperia Z3. The 2.5 GHz, 3GB RAM, 5.2-inch 1080p display carrying, 3100 mAh-powered slate comes with a 20.7 megapixel camera to boot, and manages to be thinner and lighter than the Z2.

However, it's still got that boxy Sony design, which looks nice but makes actually using it unnecessarily awkward. Add to that the Z3's limited availability in the U.S. (only officially on T-Mobile) and high price, and we had to leave it further down on this list, despite how awesome it looks on paper.

8. HTC One M8 (also w/ Windows)

HTC has had a hard couple of years, and it's difficult to say if the company's ultra-premium gambit will pay off in the end. But in the second year of the HTC One, it certainly has created a nice handset for Android or Windows operating systems.

With a 5.0-inch display, microSD expansion up to 128GB, front-facing stereo speakers, fast charging battery, and HTC's low-light ultrapixel camera (not to mention all of HTC's unique extra hardware features), the One M8 is a solid follow-up to its 2013 model (see our hands on for more details).

But perhaps HTC could focus more on the internals and less on the heavy aluminum "premium" feel next time.

7. OnePlus One

This was the one "new" device on our list for 2014. From a manufacturer you've probably never heard of, the One packs mainstream flagship-level specs -- like a 2.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon, 3GB RAM and a 1080p 5.5-inch display -- into a handy slate that costs around $300 off-contract.

On top of that, OnePlus One gained attention by being a truly subversive, customizable Android phone. Right out of the box, instead of pushing its own Android OEM version, the One offered a bootable Cyanogen mod Android option as well.

Too bad it requires some "light" hacking to get it working on U.S. carriers, none of whom offer the One in stores.

6. Google Nexus 6

Simply put, Google's Nexus 6 is a beast -- for better and worse. Besides the run-of-the-mill camera, the Nexus 6 boasts some of the fastest guts and one of the nicest, biggest screens out there.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt that it was the first smartphone that came with the completely redesigned, highly-rated Android 5 Lollipop installed. Read the full hands-on for more details, but the long and short of it is that this is a great smartphone that most will nonetheless find highly impractical in both size and price.

5. Apple iPhone 6 Plus

The iOS counterpart for the Nexus 6, Apple finally produced a phablet that puts iOS on a 5.5-inch display. Other than the updated operating system and bigger footprint, the iPhone 6 Plus shares most of the incremental hardware improvements that Apple included in the iPhone 6, with the much-welcome addition of optical image stabilization added.

As a phablet, it's still impractical for a lot of people (even with Apple's "reachability" feature), and the price isn't welcoming, either. But it's an iPhone, and it's got a display over 5-inches, and that's big news, no matter how late in the game it arrived.

4. Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 deserves a higher place than Apple's first phablet attempt though, and not just because Samsung got there (three years) earlier.

With a fast-charging, ultra energy saving mode battery, microSD support, a Quad HD 5.7-inch display, a fast processor, and big-screen accessibility software that has been refined over nearly half a decade of trial and error, the Galaxy Note 4 is a better phablet than both Apple and Google's first attempts. It's also very expensive, of course.

3. LG G3

After a concerted attempt to re-launch its brand last year, LG has become somewhat a surprise Android smartphone powerhouse -- especially with this year's follow up to the LG G2.

Coming out relatively early in the year, the G3 nevertheless boasts the first ultra high QHD resolution on a 5.5-inch display, garnering it a ridiculous 534 pixels per inch (beat that, Apple), along with internal hardware that's snappy and up to snuff with all of the other flagships of the year.

And while its 13-megapixel camera doesn't look amazing on paper, its phase detection, optical image stabilization, dual-LED flash, and laser autofocus makes it a surprising contender for the best quality/easiest smartphone snapper in actual use.

I'm still not fully on board with the back panel-based volume rocker/standby button combination, but that feature -- along with incredibly slim bezels top, bottom, and on both sides -- does help bring what otherwise might be considered a phablet down to a manageable size.

If you want a brilliant display, balanced features, quick Android upgrades, and a price tag that beats other devices in its screen-size class, look no further than the LG G3. 

2. Apple iPhone 6

To be honest, Apple's latest iteration of the iPhone isn't incredibly impressive in many of its hardware specs, compared to Android equivalents.

But Apple's increasingly interconnected device ecosystem, app selection, and ease of use -- which only gets more user-friendly with every new device and iOS upgrade -- makes up for the iPhone 6's relatively small incremental step up this year. So does the (finally!) larger screen.

While Apple's iPhone 6 was a little more divisive this year -- see our highly-commented double-feature reviews "Why I'm Getting Rid of My iPhone 6 and Leaving Apple After Four Years" and its follow-up, "In Defense of the iPhone 6" for more details -- it's still good enough to warrant an (almost) top spot for the smartphone of the year.

However, if Apple continues to rest on its laurels, only following device trends from Android manufacturers years after they originally innovate them, don't expect the iPhone 6s, 6c, 7, or whatever Apple releases in 2015 to hold such a top spot.

1. Motorola Moto X (2014)

The Motorola Moto X (2014 edition) is the prime example of how incremental improvements can take a good piece of technology and make it great.

It might not be the highest-powered specs beast of the pack, it doesn't come with a pixel-packed QHD screen or an experimental Oculus VR kit, and it's not built with a full "premium" aluminum unibody or offered in gold.

But for all its lack of ostentation, the Moto X 2014 makes up in pure down-to-earth, good-old usability.

Remember -- hype aside -- at their core, smartphones are supposed to be about how easy and connected they make our lives in the day-to-day.

In this respect, the Moto X 2014 hits it out of the park better than any smartphone I've used since the iPhone 4s introduced iOS 5 and Siri.

The full details are in our hands-on review, but to summarize: The Moto X 2014 balances the most perfect mix of size, specs, durability, customizability, carrier flexibility, a truly hands-free convenience and price (especially unlocked, off-contract) of any device released this year. That doesn't mean it doesn't fall short in some aspects, like the relative lack of storage space (and no expansion), a camera that's just "good," and a battery that could stand to last longer.

But if you want a great smartphone with all of the most important features at a great price, all bundled into an incredibly snappy, handy, well-balanced and distinctly convenient package, look no further than the Moto X (2014) -- an unassuming smartphone that will surprise you every day with how smartly it was designed.