We’ve seen a relentless wave of new smartphones over the last 12 months, staggered throughout the year, but real innovation has been in short supply. In a “tick” year we expect something different, but this was a “tock” year, where most manufacturers focused on refinement. If you bought a flagship in 2014, there weren’t any irresistible reasons to upgrade, but that doesn’t mean there were no highlights in the class of 2015.
If you’re in the market for a new Android smartphone, these are the ones we think you should consider. Instead of creating a chart, we’re going to go through this category-by-category in hopes of helping you identify, not just the best smartphone, but the best smartphone for you. If you crave a ranking system of some kind, don’t worry, we’ll get to it in the end.
Before we get into the battle that lies ahead, we’ll introduce the contenders. After several days of painstaking deliberation, our shortlist is as follows:
Each of these phones scored at least eight out of ten in our reviews, most of them scored a nine. A few good phones didn’t make the list, either because they weren’t quite good enough, or because of limited availability, but we’ll mention them at the end.
Comfort and beauty
Which phone is the fairest of them all? The biggest change this year, in terms of aesthetics, came from Samsung with the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Both immediately caught the eye with metal frames and curved glass, though the curved display of the Edge proved to be more of a gimmick than a functional necessity. The standard S6 is also much more comfortable to hold. Samsung carried the new look over to its phablets, the Galaxy Note 5 and the S6 Edge Plus. The Note 5 is every bit as beautiful and comfortable to handle as its little brother. The S6 Edge Plus, while gorgeous, was just as gimmicky and uncomfortable to hold as its smaller sibling. The backs of Samsung’s phones are glass, though, which is prone to breaking and picks up fingerprints like crazy.
Motorola is giving people the chance to customize its phones with Moto Maker. You can choose from a number of different soft-touch backs in different colors, leather, or even wooden backs. The phone sports a metal frame for protection, and the slightly curved back make sit comfortable to hold — even for a big phone. It’s the most customizable of the bunch, though it isn’t the sexiest option.
The chamfered metal body of Huawei’s Nexus 6P is part of a minimalist style that seems to chime nicely with Google’s stock Android, but it’s not something you lust after. Google’s bold Nexus branding on the back of the phablet holds limited appeal for those who aren’t total Android buffs. The glass camera bulge at the top of the phone is also prone to cracking, according to several users.
For LG, the G4 retains the same profile as the G3, but the leather back is an interesting change that looks good, feels comfortable, and stands out from the crowd. Although LG doesn’t offer as many options as Motorola, the G4 does come with a variety of back cover options. The V10, meanwhile, is a heavy brute of a phone that combines textured silicone with a stainless steel frame. It’s more sturdy than the others on this list, but it’s also the least attractive of the bunch.
If we’re going with looks and comfort alone, Samsung has it wrapped up this year with its slick glass back and metal frame, but the G4 has a nice alternative look and is very comfortable to hold.
Winners: Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5
LG kicked things up to Quad HD with the G3, and the G4 boasts the same 5.5-inch 2,560 x 1,440 pixel screen, but with better brightness and richer colors. The V10 stretches the same resolution to 5.7 inches, but it still looks great, and it boasts an unusual 2.1-inch secondary display with a 160 x 1,040 pixel resolution, which we’ll get to later. The Moto X Style matches the V10 with a display that’s exactly the same size and resolution.
Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology really does shine.
Both LG phones, and the Moto have IPS LCD panels, but the Nexus 6P has an AMOLED screen, which also comes in at an impressive 5.7-inches, with a 2,560 x 1,440 pixel resolution. In general, AMOLED screens are brighter with deeper blacks and better viewing angles, but some people argue that colors look more natural on IPS LCD displays.
The Note 5 matches the V10, Moto X Style, and Nexus 6P, but the Galaxy S6 packs the same number of pixels into a 5.1-inch AMOLED that’s extremely sharp and very bright when you need it to be. Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology really does shine. In a side-by-side comparison with the S6, all the competition falls short. There’s simply no better-looking display.
Winner: Galaxy S6