The past year has flown by at breakneck speed, leaving in its wake a wealth of technological goodies for us to enjoy. Android entered the 64-bit era, with faster phones and tablets, eye-popping displays and faster performance than ever. But as phone hardware has started to plateau, we've seen innovation in other fields too. VR, wearables and digital imaging are just a few of the areas in which 2015 has brought us real, tangible progress.
So that's what I'm focusing on as I reflect on my favorite tech stuff of the past twelve months. Head past the break to find out what I've been using — and enjoying — in 2015
1. The LG G4
The LG G4 is an under-appreciated phone. It's not as pretty as the Galaxy S6 or HTC One M9, or even Motorola's expanded lineup of Moto X Phones. By all accounts, it doesn't appear to have sold in huge numbers. But what it is is an old-school Android nerd's phone, catering to an audience that happens to include myself.
The biggest and most important thing that the G4 nails is the camera. And because of it, the LG flagship offers arguably the best imaging experience on any 2015 handset. (Let's exclude the V10 for a minute, because LG's not selling it outside of the U.S. and Korea.) Between the wide aperture, competent optical image stabilization and unique color spectrum sensor, the G4 is the king of low-light photography, and that's a big deal when just about everyone (even Motorola!) is managing to produce great-looking photos in daylight. And it shoots in RAW, if that suits your photo nerd dreams.
What's more, the G4 is about the only Android flagship of note with a removable battery, and an easy way to get hold of replacements and charging boxes. Of course there's fast-charging support too, but nothing beats the ability to simply power off, swap batteries and be up and running at 100 percent a minute later.
What else is there to like? Speedy performance (improved after a few software updates), a great-looking screen, expandable storage and a really competitive price tag that puts it neck and neck with the Moto X Style (Pure Edition). (On eBay you're looking at £260-290 for a brand new, leather-backed G4.)
So if you can see past its plasticky exterior, you'll find a really great phone in the LG G4, and I can't wait to see what the Korean company comes up with in 2016.
- Read our full review
- Get the latest news
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- Camera showdown vs. GS6 and iPhone 6!
- Complete LG G4 specs
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- Where to buy the LG G4
Newer model: LG G5
2. The HTC Nexus 9
It's been a weird year for Android tablets. Sony has given us a token offering of a 10-inch Lollipop tablet in the form of the Xperia Z4 Tablet, but besides that pickings in the high-end space have been slim. Even Samsung has focused on more mid-level hardware with its Tab S2 range. And the recently-launched Google Pixel C has roundly failed to impress.
That's why my favorite Android tablet of this year is last year's model. With price cuts now placing the HTC-built Nexus slate around (or even under) the £200 mark in the UK and under $400 in the United States, the Nexus 9 is now worth a look. And with software updates fixing the performance issues that plagued the tablet at launch, you'll get a much better experience than if you were buying at launch.
For the money, you'll get a basic, metal-framed, plastic-backed stock Android tablet with the promise of fast updates and zero bloat. The Tegra K1 CPU (and integrated GeForce GPU) makes it a good bet for mobile gaming, and with Android 6.0 Marshmallow's doze mode, idle power usage is basically zero.
The Nexus 9 isn't a perfect tablet. Arguably, no Android tablet is right now, and that's a shame. But for me, the Nexus 9 is about the best tablet you can get for the money — a value proposition made all the more clear by the recent arrival of the Pixel C.
3. The Samsung Gear S2
This was the year Samsung finally got smartwatches. It might've taken seven generations, countless form factors and way too long to get there, but the Gear S2 is something I actually want to put on my wrist. The design — whether it's the sporty Gear S2 vanilla, or the more traditional Gear S2 Classic — is uncharacteristically understated for a Samsung product. Meanwhile the new interaction paradigm -- the rotating bezel -- makes navigating through screens and menus easier than tapping a tiny circular touchscreen.
Samsung gets a lot right when it comes to information density, UI and battery life too. The Gear's screen may be small, but it's actually better at showing longer emails or messages than larger-screened Android Wear watches. It's easy to see where everything is at the home screen level, thanks to the sensible arrangement of notifications, watch face and widgets. And the Gear's promise of 2-3 days of battery life actually matches what you'll see in the real world.
Perhaps best of all, this is a Gear smartwatch you can use with any Android handset, and it'll work with your LG G4 or Moto X just as well as your Note 5. There's really no functional difference, besides the need to download some extra stuff onto your phone.
- In-depth Samsung Gear S2 review
- Full Gear S2 specs
- Here are the phones that work with Gear S2
- Gear S2 vs. Apple Watch
- Join the discussion in our forums!
4. HTC Vive
The momentum behind VR continued to build in 2015, with Samsung and Oculus, among others, bringing products to market. My favorite is a product that's still in development, but which I've been lucky enough to preview a couple of times over the past year: HTC and Valve's Vive experience.
The biggest problem with Vive, both for journalists writing about it, and HTC marketers trying to build hype behind it, is that it's difficult to accurately describe it in a way that does it justice. No amount of photos of gawping, headset-wearing nerds will convey the immersion offered by Vive, nor the potential of the technology once Moore's Law has taken care of initial barriers to entry. Vive is amazing, and it's something you should absolutely try if you're able.
Putting on a Vive headset at HTC HQ and transporting myself to a sunken pirate ship or robot factory or futuristic kitchen is one of those moments when you realize you're truly living in the future.
And it's a reminder that even as certain areas of mobile technology are starting to plateau, there are still new frontiers to explore.
5. Other bits
The Android camera revolution
Android cameras got really good in 2015. LG and Samsung lead the pack, but Sony, Motorola and Google are finally working out how to put great hardware (backed up by great software) in high-end phones. Just a year ago there were few Android cameras that could credibly challenge the iPhone. Now, that's true of just about every Android flagship. It's a topic we explored in the final part of our Android History series.
Taipei's tech markets
Occasionally we like to do things a bit differently here at Android Central. And so, in a break from our usual Western-focused coverage, we decided to give a photographic tour of some of Taipei's bustling technology marketplaces, including the famous Guanghua market. We were in the Taiwanese capital covering the Computex show this summer, which gave me the opportunity to see what Taipei's shoppers buy and how they buy it. It's also a welcome break from the usual grind of news and reviews, and definitely worth a look.
Sub-$400 phones that don't suck
2015 was the year of the inexpensive Android flagship, with several manufacturers starting to huddle around (or below) the $400 mark in the U.S. And with good reason: It's now possible to build a decent Android phone, sell it at this price point direct to the consumer, and make a decent bit of money on it. Nobody believes this more than Nextbit design and product chief Scott Croyle, formerly of HTC, who leaves you with the impression that this will become the de facto Android high-end in years to come. But it's not just Nextbit with phones at this new sweet spot — Motorola, HTC, Google and others all fielded decent phones that don't cost an arm and a leg.
What do you think of my picks for 2015? Have I missed any gems? Shout out in the comments, and be sure to check out the rest of our best of 2015 series for thoughts from the other AC editors.