Smartphones are perhaps the most personal tech we own. That’s why it’s super important to pick the phone that’s best for your needs. There are many factors to consider from design and operating system to security and durability. We consider every aspect of the smartphone to determine whether it’s a good buy for you or if you’re better off with something else.
When it comes to choosing the best smartphone, it’s always a tough decision. This year was particularly difficult, because we had two incredible contenders: the iPhone 7 Plus and the Google Pixel XL. After much debate and soul searching, we landed on the iPhone 7 Plus as our top pick for the best smartphone of 2016. However, the Pixel XL is the closest second we’ve ever had in this race. It very nearly won. Here’s why the iPhone 7 Plus ultimately triumphed, and a list of our picks for other smartphone categories.
Why should you buy this: You want the most powerful, secure, and shutterbug-friendly phone ever
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants the most simple, easy to use phone.
How much will it cost: $770+
Why we picked the iPhone 7 Plus:
What’s not to love about Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus? Its iconic aluminum design is now fully waterproof, its A10 Fusion processor makes it the fastest smartphone you can buy — period, the dual-lens camera pulls off amazing DSLR tricks, and iOS has never looked better or been more functional. Add to that Apple’s commitment to your security and privacy, as well as its industry-leading customer service, and you have one helluva smartphone.
The impressive 12-megapixel dual cameras are among the most compelling reasons to buy the iPhone 7 Plus. One of the cameras is a telephoto lens that offers 2x optical hardware zoom and up to 10x software zoom. The quality of 2x zoom on the iPhone 7 Plus is just extraordinary. It beats out every other smartphone on the market. You don’t lose detail, and your zoomed picture turns out excellent. You can go up to 5x in good lighting conditions without too much noticeable loss in quality, which is still better than you can say of any other smartphone’s zoom.
The dual-camera lenses also enable the best bokeh effect (when the background blurs around the subject of the shot) we’ve ever seen on a smartphone. Other phones, including the Pixel, tend to mess up the blurring effect on the small details. Apple is also well known for reproducing colors accurately, while Android phones consistently oversaturate images. It comes down to personal preference, but we prefer the iPhone’s natural hues. It also produces strong images in low light, rivaled only by the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.
Apple really hit it out of the park in terms of performance with the A10 Fusion processor. It’s the fastest smartphone in benchmarks, leaving every Android phone in the dust. Even though it has less RAM, the iPhone 7 Plus is smoother, slicker, and more efficient than any Android phone. The battery life is a solid day and a half, which is equal to (or more than) every other phone on this list. It even comes standard with 32GB of storage, which is a big upgrade from 16GB, though not as great as last year’s 64GB option.
Since Apple designs the hardware and software together, iOS 10 runs like a dream on the phablet. It is the best version of iOS to date. Interactive notifications, the incorporation of 3D Touch into every aspect of the interface, and the new iMessage are a game changer for iPhone users. Every app and game meets Apple’s design standards, which results in a fluid, seamless experience across the OS and other Apple devices.
Instant software updates are the icing on the cake with iOS. Unlike with an Android phone, you never have to worry that your iPhone will miss an update or vital security patch. Apple has your back when it comes to security and your personal privacy. Our lives are on our phones and hackers are becoming more skilled every day. Security has never been more important and your privacy is of high value. That’s why Apple went to war with the FBI to guarantee your right to encryption and data privacy.
Then there’s Apple’s customer service. If you have an iPhone, you can walk into any Apple Store and get help for free. Apple will even repair your device right there in the store and get it back to you on the same day most of the time. No other company gives you that option.
The lack of a headphone jack is the only major blight on the iPhone 7 Plus’ near-perfect record. It comes with Lightning EarPods, but if you have your own headphones, you may struggle with the included 3.5mm-to-lightning adapter. You may also want to purchase wireless headphones, but it neither of these scenarios are the end of the world. After two months with the iPhone 7 Plus, we can tell you with confidence that you will survive. It’s not ideal, but the same change is coming to Android phones already and will be the standard in a few years’ time. Mark my words.
I’ve personally tried every Android phone on this list, and no matter how good or innovative they are, I always go back to the iPhone, and the iPhone 7 Plus is the best one yet.