The 6 hottest Android phones of 2015 square off in our side-by-side spec comparison

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.

The contenders

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

Screen

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

Next page: Which has the best power, camera, and battery?

Power and performance

You can look at the processors and the amount of RAM, but they don’t really tell you how well your smartphone will perform in the real world. All of the top smartphones are fast, and for the majority of people, they’ll deliver more than enough processing power, but there are differences.

On paper, the Galaxy Note 5 has the fastest processor of them all and a whopping 4GB of RAM, which helps with multitasking. There’s no doubt that it’s powerful and has no problem running the latest games, but it suffers from occasional lag or stutter over time. You can level the same criticism at the Galaxy S6, but with less power, the lag seems more pronounced, and even dropping back to the home screen from an app isn’t always smooth. The odd stutters are probably down to Samsung’s software, rather than the hardware, but it definitely detracts from the experience and seems to worsen as the phone ages and fills up.

The Nexus 6P feels like the smoothest operator of the bunch

The V10 is the only other phone on this list with 4GB of RAM, and it’s certainly very powerful, delivering smooth performance, though we’ve not had as long to test it. We’ll have to see how well it ages. Both the LG G4 and the Moto X Style are solid performers, but they’re definitely a little behind the rest of the pack. These three phones also run an older Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor instead of the 810, which has faced strong criticism for overheating and battery drain.

With stock Android, and plenty of power under the hood, the Nexus 6P feels like the smoothest operator of the bunch on the surface. It rarely flinches, no matter what you throw at it, though we have noticed some stuttering in the Chrome Web browser. The new Snapdragon 810 doesn’t seem to suffer from overheating, like its predecessor did, and 3GB of RAM is ample.

There isn’t a perfect performer here. The Note 5 may have the greatest raw power, but the odd hiccup can’t be ignored. The Nexus 6P offers the most consistent and powerful performance of the contenders in this list.

Winner: Nexus 6P

Camera shootout

There are a lot of different ways to judge a smartphone camera, and it’s certainly about more than the megapixel count. You would imagine Motorola’s X Style, with a 21-megapixel shooter, would obviously be better than the 12-megapixel Huawei Nexus 6P, but it’s not so clear cut. Motorola has always struggled with camera performance, and although the Moto X Style is an improvement over last year’s Motorola phones, it’s still not up to par with Samsung or LG phones. The Nexus 6P has a decent camera that’s nearly on the same level as shooters from LG and Samsung, but the limited options in the camera app prevent it from excellence.

Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Note 5 take stupendous pictures, and the camera app is easy to use. Its 16-megapixel shooter snaps excellent pictures without any adjustments. Samsung’s S6 and Note 5 offer great cameras for those who just want to point and shoot, but if you’re into manual controls and more advanced camera options, LG is king.

For speed, the LG G4 and the V10 top the tree, making it easy to capture great shots spontaneously. They also both handle low light conditions with aplomb. If you want an all-rounder, the LG G4 and the V10 perform admirably, but they also afford keen photographers the chance to manually tweak all sorts of settings, and that pushes these phones to the next level. The wide angle lens for selfies, the manual controls for video, and the extra editing options, make the V10 our photography champion.

Winner: LG G4 and LG V10

Battery test

Battery life is one of the most important areas of smartphone performance, and it’s also where the Galaxy S6 falls down to Earth. To accommodate the gorgeously svelte glass body, Samsung reduced the battery capacity to 2,550mAh, compared to the 2,800mAh battery in the S5. The closed design also means no removable battery, and the AMOLED screen is very thirsty. We’ve yet to meet an S6 owner who didn’t complain about the battery life. The phone barely makes it through a day, and if you own one, you’ve likely become a wall hugger like your iPhone using friends.

With 3,000mAh batteries inside, you may expect the Note 5, V10, G4, or Moto X Style to perform better, but they all have larger screens, so performance is pretty average. LG allows you to swap the battery in the V10 or G4 if you want to, which will be handy for some. The standout winner here on paper is the Nexus 6P, with a whopping 3,450mAh battery, but it needs a nightly charge just like all the others.

If you’ve already invested in wireless chargers, then the Note 5 and Galaxy S6 are the only ones to support it out of the box. Samsung’s fast charge capability also narrowly beats out the Nexus 6P’s USB Type-C for a full speedy charge. This a close one, but if wireless charging weighs in to your decision, the Note 5 is the best choice. Huawei’s Nexus 6P takes second place. We should also mention that if you’re a Verizon customer, the Droid Turbo 2 has the best battery life of any phone and it’s decent, overall.

Winner: Galaxy Note 5

Next page: Best durability, fingerprint sensors, and updates

Durability

The Galaxy S6 and Note 5 are glass front and back, with eminently scuffable metal frames, so they’re the last phones you want to choose if durability is really important to you. Replacing a shattered glass back or front panel is costly, too — especially if you have an Edge phone. The easily breakable and hard-to-replace Edge screen is partially what motivated us to leave it off this list of best smartphones.

The Nexus 6P is mostly metal, but there’s also a glass panel on the back that’s easy to crack. The all-metal body helps protect the phone somewhat, but the glass camera bulge is delicate, which brings its durability score down.

There is a standout performer for drops and bumps and it’s the LG V10.

Motorola sometimes makes tough and water resistant phones, but the Moto X Style isn’t one of them. It does have a metal frame and a textured finish that aids grip, so it’s fairly sturdy, but you won’t want to drop it. It’s not waterproof, either. Should you want a durable version of the Moto X Style, the Verizon Droid Turbo 2 has a shatter resistant screen and waterproofing. The leather back of the LG G4 is liable to pick up scrapes and will inevitably age, though it’s relatively easy to replace. However, the G4 doesn’t stand up well to falls.

If your main concern is water damage, then none of these phones is really going to cut it, but there is a standout performer for drops and bumps and it’s the LG V10. You can tell by looking at it that the V10 is going to be rugged, and it is. Unusually, it meets military standard 810G, which means you can drop it and it will keep on ticking. Most phones need a fairly thick case to meet this specification, making it the most durable phone on this list.

Winner: LG V10

Fingerprint sensor

It’s arguable whether you really need a fingerprint sensor in your phone, but if you’re security conscious, you’ll find the convenience of unlocking with a tap of your finger or thumb is refreshing, and once you’ve used one, you won’t want to go back. It’s quicker and easier than a password, pattern, or PIN, and it’s secure enough to provide some peace of mind. Additionally, the fingerprint sensor can authorize mobile payments, and now that Android Pay and other NFC-based payment systems are picking up steam, a fingerprint sensor will become requisite on flagship Android phones.

Unfortunately, Android Pay and the push for fingerprint sensors didn’t take off until the second half of 2015, so many flagship phones don’t have fingerprint sensors onboard. Neither the Moto X Style nor the LG G4 sport the scanner, which means they aren’t really future proof.

The Galaxy S6 and the Note 5 have fingerprint sensors on their Home buttons, and they both work well, but we do see occasional stutters and delays. Much like the iPhone, Samsung’s S6 and Note 5 have fingerprint sensors on the front of the device, and they’re physical buttons that you press. In contrast, the Nexus 6P and the LG V10 have fingerprint sensors on the back. It’s a handy placement when you’re holding your phone, but it does mean that you have to pick your phone up to unlock it. There’s also an extra button press involved with the V10, and it doesn’t always work first time. The Nexus 6P is the clear winner here, because it unlocks quickly, with no button press required, time after time.

Winner: Nexus 6P

Updates

When you look at the speed and ease of updates to the underlying operating system, the Nexus 6P is the clear winner. If you don’t have a Nexus, you’ll find that different Android manufacturers can take wildly different lengths of time to update their devices to the latest Android release. Considering that updates often include important bug fixes and security improvements, this is something that really needs to improve across the board. It also offers the cleanest version of Android that exists, which is a big deal for Android users.

Motorola has been fairly quick to update its phones recently, and its version of Android is close to stock. LG has been working to improve update speeds, and its UI isn’t too bothersome, either. However, updates can take time to materialize, even for phones like the G4 and V10. Samsung’s updates typically come in slower, because the TouchWiz user interface is more comprehensive. Its S6 and Note 5 rank the lowest in this list.

Winner: Nexus 6P

Next page: Best special abilities and value

Special powers

Most smartphones boast unique features as manufacturers try to distinguish their devices from the competition. All the phones on our list have their own special perks, and this is where the differences between devices truly shine.

Nexus 6P: The Huawei Nexus 6P will be the first device to get any new Android updates, it runs pure Android, and it has Type-C USB for quick charging. It’s special powers may sound conventional, but they are forward-thinking choices.

Moto X Style Pure Edition: The option to customize the look of your Moto X Style with Moto Maker allows you to stamp a little personality on your phone, its Moto Voice feature is one of the best voice assistants on Android, and its gesture controls are nifty.

The LG V10 has the most unique and useful special powers of the bunch

LG G4 and V10: The LG G4 stood out for having a very different design from the rest of the flagship field when it first launched. The button placement on the back, the leather cover, and the nifty Knock On feature that allows you to double tap the screen to wake, were all added incentives to buy. The V10 ticks two of those same boxes, but also adds durability into the mix, and an unusual second screen that’s always on to show you notifications, time, battery, and offer quick access to things like the flashlight app. It may be a little gimmicky, but keeping notifications off the main screen, so they don’t disturb whatever you’re doing is smart.

Galaxy S6 and Note 5: While the Galaxy S6 is an excellent all-rounder, it doesn’t have too many special features. It does offer support for wireless charging and Samsung pay, which does NFC-based payments one better by also supporting payments at non NFC terminals with its built-in MST coil, which let the phone act like a normal credit card. The Note 5 has all the same special powers as the S6, but it also comes with the smart S Pen stylus and some apps and shortcuts to go with it. If you like to jot notes rather than type, it’s something to think about, but it really comes into its own for sketching and annotating. It’s head and shoulders above your other options if you want a stylus, but there’s no need to use it if you have no interest.

Over all, the LG V10 has the most unique and useful special powers of the bunch.

Winner: LG V10

Value for money

The Galaxy Note 5 is the most expensive phone here, but the LG V10 is not far behind. The Galaxy S6 is cheaper, but far from a bargain. The Nexus 6P is more expensive than many people expected, however, it’s probably the best phone Google or Huawei have ever turned out.

The Moto X Style is a lot of phone for the money, but there’s a clear winner when we factor in the pricing of these smartphones, and it’s the LG G4. It was cheaper when it first hit the market, and it has been discounted quite rapidly, making it one of the best smartphone bargains around if you plan to buy outright.

Winner: LG G4

Next page: And the winner is…

Final rankings

It’s not easy to rank these smartphones, but, after much deliberation, this is the order we’ve put them in for people seeking a new Android smartphone today:

Winner

Nexus 6P

It has taken Google a while to produce a Nexus phone that doesn’t drop the ball somewhere, but the Huawei-manufactured Nexus 6P is just about perfect. Stock Android is really mature now and more feature-rich than ever. The few added extras offered by manufacturer’s UIs are now outweighed by the wait for updates, especially if you’re concerned about security. Its sophisticated and understated all-metal build is attractive, it has a fingerprint sensor, a strong camera, and all the specs you’d find on phones that cost $150 more. The silky performance is the star attraction, and while the Nexus 6P may not scream that it’s the best, it also doesn’t have any real weaknesses. For $500, it can’t be beat.

It has taken Google a while to produce a Nexus phone that doesn’t drop the ball somewhere, but the Huawei-manufactured Nexus 6P is just about perfect.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 is a refinement in the phablet category it popularized, and while the competition has grown fiercer, Samsung has largely capitalized on its head start. This is a powerful phone with a gorgeous design and display, a great camera, and a smart stylus that serves its niche of fans very well, but it’s also expensive, fragile, and it suffers from occasional stutters.

The big attraction with the LG V10 is the camera and that’s a vital consideration for a lot smartphone shoppers. The added durability is nice if you don’t mind compromising on aesthetic, because the V10 is not the best looking phone around. Opinions will be divided on the usefulness of the second display, but it’s certainly interesting and innovative. It also has flagship specs just like the Nexus 6P and a fingerprint sensor on the back. The price is the main downside to the V10, and it’s also the main reason why the Nexus 6P is a better buy.

The LG G4 has an interesting design that dares to be different, with controls on the back and a leather exterior. There’s also a truly excellent display and a fast camera with real depth. The fact that it’s offered at a tempting price point, without a lot of compromises is the icing on the cake. If you dislike the heft and appearance of the V10, the G4 is the perfect alternative. However, the lack of a fingerprint sensor and slower updates pull it down a notch in our rankings.

Huawei Nexus 6P
Huawei Nexus 6P

We’re very impressed at what Motorola can offer at this price point. The Moto X Style affords you some personal style, it’s fast, and the display and camera are good. The trouble is that it fails to really excite. It’s an excellent all-rounder that offers good value for the money, but it’s not an award winner.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 drops to the bottom of the field because we have concerns about its longevity. It’s not durable, the performance deteriorates over time, and there are serious issues with battery life, which counterbalance the gorgeous display and design.

Noteworthy phones to consider

None of our picks strike your fancy? Here are a few alternatives that just missed out on the list.

  • Sony Xperia Z5: The Sony Xperia Z5 is a solid smartphone, with a great camera and conveniently-placed fingerprint sensor. The only trouble is getting a hold of one Stateside.
  • Motorola Droid Turbo 2: The Droid Turbo 2 is also a very good phone if you’re happy with Verizon. It’s the most durable phone you can buy with its shatter-proof screen and it’s battery life is epic.
  • BlackBerry Priv: We liked the BlackBerry Priv, and it could be ideal if you crave a physical keyboard. However, it’s very expensive and more of a niche device for BlackBerry fans.
  • OnePlus 2: You can pick up the bargain OnePlus 2 without an invite now, though it’s still hard to come by due to limited stock. We felt it fell short of the flagship killer title, and it doesn’t offer NFC, which is an odd oversight, especially for a phone with a fingerprint sensor.

That’s the best that Android has to offer right now. Let us know which phone gets your vote.

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