It was a big year in the Android world (and beyond).
Each December we like to reflect on the year that was, taking a look back at the products, services and ideas that we each found intriguing and useful. Phones, tablets, watches, accessories, apps, services and more — there's so much to look back on this year.
Each of us here at Android Central is making a list (and checking it twice, even) of our favorites of 2015 — here's mine.
1. Google and Samsung did a damn good job
It may sound a bit like a broken record at this point, but I still have to say I'm incredibly impressed by the Nexus 6P. I still find it a tad large — mostly tall, really — in a few different circumstances, but that really fades away because everything else is so great. It's the best camera in a Nexus to date, that's for sure, and the rest of the software is fast and smooth as you'd ever want. The hardware is really solid — as anyone who has used recent Huawei phones will know — and the fingerprint scanner is absolutely wonderful. Just like the camera, the battery life on the 6P is the best of any Nexus I've used.
The Nexus 5X is still the phone I want to love because it's easier to hold due to its size, materials and weight, but that's really the only things I enjoy about it right now. Until (if ever) the software gains much-needed speed and stability I'm far happier with the Nexus 6P. I can easily deal with the larger size in order to get dramatically better performance and battery life.
An unfortunate issue with "end of year" lists such as this is that we often put lots of emphasis on the products released latest. The Nexus 6P and 5X are the latest big phones and definitely deserve praise, but I don't want them to completely overshadow what Samsung did this year.
The Galaxy Note 5 still stands as an amazing device, and one that is absolutely the best choice for some people — including myself, had I not been so impressed by the Nexus 6P. The Note 5 is built better than any previous Samsung phone, is blistering fast and has a great camera that's still faster than the Nexus 6P and arguably takes better photos. Samsung really needs to figure out its software design and tone it back a bit, because it gets the in the way of everything else that's so good about the Note 5.
- Nexus 6P review
- 5 things to know about the Nexus 6P
- Read the latest Nexus 6P news
- Learn about Project Fi
- Join our Nexus 6P forums
- Nexus 6P specs
2. Google became a carrier, and it's great
I got in on Project Fi quickly after it was announced — even buying a Nexus 6, which I was less than excited about — earlier this year, and I've been using it ever since. I of course still have lines with the other carriers at various points for testing purposes, but when it comes to my own phone I'm glad that I can use Project Fi on the Nexus 6P.
Sure the pricing isn't completely competitive when you get into the higher data allotments on some carriers, but you just can't beat the simplicity of Project Fi. The billing couldn't be more straightforward, the transparency on prices and fees are great and for the most part the service has been spotless. I've seen the positives of having access to both cellular networks, and the Wi-Fi assistant has saved me several gigabytes of data in the past months by keeping me on open Wi-Fi connections. The only real issues I've come across are my legacy ties to Google Voice and the sheer number of devices I go through on a regular basis, but I can't really knock it for that — that's really my own doing.
I don't hesitate to recommend Project Fi to people if they have or are considering a new Nexus phone, particularly as I continue to hear of poor experience from the big four carriers here in the U.S. It doesn't work for everyone, but that doesn't mean it can't easily be the choice for many.
3. Moved to Google Photos and not looking back
My strategy for handling photos on my phones used to be "turn on Dropbox Camera Upload and call it a day" — fortunately, now I have Google Photos. While I still prefer the plain "series of folders" approach of Dropbox when it comes to bulk collection of photos, Google Photos has completely changed how I manage and view my photos across devices.
Whereas my photos would previously just get uploaded and hardly looked at before, having the Google Photos app installed on all of my phones — and accessible through the web on any computer — means I have dramatically increased the amount I view and share my photos with others. The search and discoverability are so good that I really don't even bother with albums or stories — I just type in what I want to see or show and I can find it. Sure it takes a bit of getting used to not having complete control over everything in my library, but the features of Google Photos just overshadow that completely.
Now I still keep all of my RAW photos from my cameras in Adobe Lightroom for professional-level categorizing and editing, but when I pick out the handful that I'm happy with I often export them and upload them to Google Photos manually. This used to be a completely separate silo, and now Google Photos is bridging the gap between photos taken on all of my phones and cameras.
- Getting to know the new Google Photos
- Get your Google Photos library started
- Manage Google Photos backup settings
- What happens when you delete pictures in Google Photos?
- Managing your shared photo links
- Where did Auto Awesome go?
- Discuss Google Photos in the forums!
4. The Dell Chromebook 13, my favorite Chromebook
I keep using as many Chromebooks as I can for review purposes, and this year I found one that impressed me like no other Chromebook has. The Dell Chromebook 13 strikes a perfect balance between high-quality components and a reasonable price, putting other cheap Chromebooks to shame while also not pushing up into Chromebook Pixel price points.
It's a pretty standard Chromebook on the inside, but on the outside the money was spent to give you a great experience. A solid build, wonderful trackpad, great screen and super long battery life — just what everyone is looking for. It's a little heavy, but that's a price you are likely willing to pay. If you want a Chromebook and don't want to feel like you're using a toy, this is the one.
5. The Shield Tablet K1 is a great value
I was a big fan of the original Shield Tablet, and now that NVIDIA has re-released it with a few design changes and an all-new price, I'm still super happy with it. For just $199 you get one hell of a capable 8-inch tablet, with great performance, a near-stock software experience (soon to get Marshmallow), gaming chops and lots of little extra features.
It's the best value in Android tablets today, for sure — and even those who aren't necessarily looking to pinch pennies will be happy with it. It's a shame the flip cover accessory is a bit expensive at $39, but for a total package of $238 it's hard to resist.
- Shield Tablet K1 hands-on
- Original Shield Tablet review
- Latest news
- Shield Tablet K1 specs
- Forums discussion
6. And the rest ...
I like some other things, too. In no specific order of importance (and not exactly all Android related):
- The Galaxy Tab S2 8.0: I'm actually still in the middle of reviewing this thing, but I'm really enjoying it. As far as high-end mid-sized tablets go, this thing has it all — a fantastic screen, super build, light weight and good performance. The software is typical Samsung (read: not wonderful), but everything else is fantastic. You've just gotta be willing to spend some extra dough on it, and most people don't want to.
- My Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag: Whether it's getting around town here or flying across the world for this job, I always have my Timbuk2 messenger. I have the "large" one, and it easily carries everything I need, and then some — laptop, several phones, tablet, hotspot, cables, chargers, headphones, cameras, tripod ... I can get it all in one bag. And it looks great and is built like a tank, too.
- Peak Design CapturePRO Camera Clip: I carry a camera most of the time I leave the house, and I never use a camera strap. I have converted fully to using the CapturePRO Camera Clip. It's essentially just a tripod plate screwed into your camera, with a corresponding slot that you can put on a belt, bag or whatever, and clip your camera into securely. No more dangling cameras!
- Top Pot Doughnuts: In Seattle and looking for doughnuts? Go here. Don't ask questions, just go.
- Xiaomi Mi Headphones: I'm not an audiophile, but I do need comfortable headphones every day and I appreciate when something sounds good. The Mi Headphones are a great on-ear pair with metal construction, soft ear cups, a tangle-free cord and in-line mic/controls. At $80 they won't break the bank, either. They aren't my choice for airplane travel considering how little passive noise cancellation they offer (I usually just go with earbuds), but for around the house and walking around the city, they're wonderful.
- Xiaomi Mi Power Bank: High quality batteries inside of a high quality casing for a fantastic price. I carry the 10,000 mAh version in my bag, and it never lets me down. There's no Quick Charge support, but I don't really mind ... this thing always keeps everything I have charged up.
- TSA PreCheck/Global Entry: Not exactly a product ... but if you travel as much as I do, you want to just sign up for TSA PreCheck (and preferably just go up the next level to Global Entry). I can't fathom the number of hours I've saved with the express airport security lines (not to mention not having to empty bags or take off shoes/coats/belts), and all I needed to do was pay $100 and take a brief interview at the airport. The card is good for 5 years, too. If you travel often, there's really no reason not to have it.
This post could go on forever, but I'll cut it off here — this is what I liked most from 2015!