Ultimate Guide

The best Android phones of 2015

By Phil Nickinson

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What is it that makes a phone a great phone? There are a dozen measurable factors and a dozen more that are purely subjective. In 2015 there are a lot of excellent choices for an Android phone, both flagship and entry-level. Simply put, these are the best Android smartphones you can buy.

UPDATE: The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 has bumped out its predecessor and the Moto G (2015) is now out, but there's still lots more to come.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 LG G4 Samsung Galaxy S6 Moto X (2014) HTC One M9 Moto G (2015) Motorola Nexus 6
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The Samsung Galaxy Note 5, one of the best Android phones The LG G4, the best Android phones The Samsung Galaxy S6, one of the best Android phones The Moto X (2014), one of the best Android phones The HTC One M9, one of the best Android phones The 2015 Moto G, one of the best Android phones The Nexus 6, one of the best Android phones
Amazon: $999.99 View Amazon: $599.99 View Amazon: $699.99 View Amazon: $499.99 View Amazon: $649.00 View Amazon: $179.99 View Amazon: $649.99 View
Samsung's flagship smartphone's all grown up, with an outstanding QHD display, matured multitasking features, and a great camera coupled with phenomenal battery life. LG’s got an excellent all-around smartphone on its hands here. It’s fast, the camera’s better than ever, the software continues to improve, and it keeps optional features many clamor for. Samsung has rebooted its flagship, with sleek new lines, a beautiful display and one of the best cameras you'll find on any smartphone anywhere. While the newest Moto X is larger than its predecessor by a good bit, it's still a great phone with nearly stock Android 5.0 with a few unobtrusive and handy additions. If you loved last year's M8, you'll love the M9 with its refined design, microSD card support and sensible software. The camera, however, still has room for improvement. The Moto G comes with nearly-stock Android with a few useful tweaks. It doesn't have the best screen or camera, or the fastest processor or radio, but it excels when it comes to value. The latest in Google's Nexus line is the Nexus 6 — it's like an enormous Moto X, though without the handy software customizations. But it'll always have the very latest Android from Google, and that's worth something.
  • Premium build quality
  • Full-featured S Pen stylus
  • High quality camera
  • Excellent design
  • Top-notch camera
  • Optional leather backs
  • Great design
  • Excellent camera
  • A fingerprint scanner that works
  • Customizable exterior
  • Handy Moto Assist apps
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop software available now
  • Proven hardware design gets even better
  • Excellent front-facing speakers
  • Fast software
  • Excellent bang for buck
  • Good build quality
  • Performs admirably
  • Latest Google Hardware
  • Running stock Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • Brilliant QHD AMOLED Display
  • Underwhelming speaker
  • More pricey the other offerings
  • Slippery glass back
  • Will be large for some users
  • Software is better, but still a bit much
  • Plastic parts are still plastic
  • Battery life
  • Software is still overbearing
  • Hardware buttons
  • No expandable storage
  • Average battery capacity
  • Camera is still just okay
  • Camera still lags competitors
  • New predictive home screen is a flop
  • Battery life a bit disappointing
  • Display merely adequate
  • No NFC
  • No quick charging
  • May be too large for many users
  • No expandable storage
  • Poor camera
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    The Breakdown

    Samsung Galaxy Note 5

    Big and Beautiful

    • Premium build quality
    • Full-featured S Pen stylus
    • High quality camera
    • Underwhelming speaker
    • More pricey the other offerings
    • Slippery glass back

    Big phones sell. You might think they’re getting too big, but the simple fact is that folks are buying them. And they’re buying a lot of them. And not only is the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 one of the best oversized phones available, it’s also one of the best all-around phones, period. It's got a beefy processor and the high resolution QHD display, also 5.7 inches like its predecessor. It's running Android 5.1 Lollipop, with an update to Android Marshmellow on the way, and comes with a 3,000 mAh battery.

    The addition of optical image stabilization (OIS) on the 16-megapixel camera makes it one of the better low-light shooters available, and it’s definitely improved over the Galaxy S5.

    Plus, the Note 5 has Samsung’s excellent pen input features, which nobody else has even bothered to attempt to replicate. It’s that good.

    Add all that up, and you’ve got a major contender.

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    LG G4

    The quantum edge

    • Excellent design
    • Top-notch camera
    • Optional leather backs
    • Will be large for some users
    • Software is better, but still a bit much
    • Plastic parts are still plastic

    LG’s flagship phone keeps getting better. For 2015’s model, the LG G4 keeps the QHD display but gets the bugs worked out and makes the colors pop like never before. It also keeps the expandable microSD storage and removable 3,000 mAh battery at a time when most other phones have done away with both.

    But perhaps most impressive about the G4 are the optional leather backs, and the quality of the camera, which absolutely holds its own with the likes of Samsung’s own excellent cameras. The laser autofocus is fast as ever, and a new sensor helps reproduce colors more accurately. Plus you now have full manual control and can shoot in the RAW format.

    The G4 software, while still imperfect, has improved a good bit and takes a flatter, more Material Design feel.

    All in all, this is an excellent choice coming to all major carriers worldwide.

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    Samsung Galaxy S6

    The best Galaxy you've seen yet

    • Great design
    • Excellent camera
    • A fingerprint scanner that works
    • Battery life
    • Software is still overbearing
    • Hardware buttons

    It's sort of been a while since we've really been excited about Samsung's Galaxy S line — go all the way back to the Galaxy S3, really. But the GS6 has us singing its praises, and for good reason. It's got a design and build quality as good as anything you've seen before — and that's without even talking about the curved "edge" model.

    The 5.1-inch display is gorgeous. The fingerprint scanner is actually usable now, even if we'd prefer on-screen buttons most of the time. And the 16-megapixel camera is as good as you'll find in any other phone on any platform.

    That's not to say there's not room for improvement. The battery life is just OK. The speaker is underwhelming. And while Samsung has included wireless charging out of the box, it's taken away the removable battery, and the expandable storage. But it has increased the top on-board storage level to a full 128 gigabytes.

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    Moto X (2014)

    Leather or wood? Your call

    • Customizable exterior
    • Handy Moto Assist apps
    • Nearly stock Android
    • No expandable storage
    • Average battery life
    • Camera is still just okay

    The Moto X was one of our favorite phones of 2013, and it's grown up a bit in late 2014 and remains a contender in 2015. Motorola shed the diminutive size of the original and scaled the display up to 5.2 inches at 1080p. It's also improved the camera quality a bit with a 13-megapixel shooter capable of recording video in 4K resolution. Motorola's also added a video highlights feature, so you can easily share the best of your events in just a few touches.

    But the standout feature of the Moto X continues to be its software. Motorola doesn't do much to the basic look and feel of Android as Google intended it to be, but there are a few choice customizations that will help your phone be smarter when you're sleeping, driving and busy in meetings.

    And Motorola has set the bar extremely high when it comes to updating the software on its phones, so you'll likely get the newest version of Android before just about anyone else. (It was one of the first to get Android 5.0 Lollipop, and the Android 5.1 updates.)

    What's more is that you can customize your own Moto X, getting it in a variety colors and styles. (Leather, anyone? Or how about wood!) It's currently available.

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    HTC One M9

    Last year's phone gets (mostly) a little better

    • Proven hardware design gets even better
    • Excellent front-facing speakers
    • Fast software
    • Camera still lags competitors
    • New predictive home screen is a flop
    • Battery life a bit disappointing

    HTC's phone don't rule the smartphone world, but they're consistently ranked among the best designed. That continues with the M9, even if it's more of a refinement of last year's model than anything else.

    The sleek body is now easier to hold. The front-facing "BoomSound" speakers are about as good as always. And HTC's software is about as light and fast as any you'll find that deviates from "stock" Android — though the new predictive home screen is a bit of a miss.

    The other big change for the M9 is in moving the "UltraPixel" camera from the rear to the front of the phone, and instead opting for a more traditional 20MP sensor in the back. The results have been serviceable, but not remarkable.

    But add in HTC's new "UH OH" insurance plan — a free replacement phone should you break yours in the first year, and $100 off your next HTC phone if you don't — and you've got one of the more compelling Android phones that's outside the top spot.

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    Moto G (2015)

    More bang for fewer bucks

    • Excellent bang for buck
    • Good build quality
    • Performs admirably
    • Merely adequate display
    • No NFC
    • No quick charging

    The 2015 Moto G brings a level quality not often seen in the sphere of budget phones. It packs a 5-inch 720p display, fashionable color selection with replaceable shells, and it’s rocking the latest version of Android, Lollipop. For the price, the Moto G is very hard to beat. For some CDMA carriers you’ll be stuck with the original Moto G.

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    Motorola Nexus 6

    Big, bold, Lollipop

    • Latest Google Hardware
    • Running stock Android 5.0 Lollipop
    • Brilliant QHD AMOLED Display
    • May be too large for many users
    • No expandable storage
    • Poor camera

    The Nexus 6 is a big, big phone. As the name implies, the display’s been increased to 6 inches, in a form factor that’s nearly identical to the smaller (but not exactly tiny) Moto X. The differentiator here is that the Nexus 6 was the first phone to sport Android 5.0 Lollipop, and it's the first to run Android 5.1. It’s also got dual front-facing speakers, a 13-megapixel camera and the ability to be seen through your pants pockets from 100 yards. It’s that big. But the kids are gonna love it.

    That is, so long as they can put up with the relatively rocky release that has been Lollipop. This is one of those times in which you can expect to be a bit of a beta tester. We’re not in full-stop, don’t buy it territory, but performance issues coupled with crashes have darkened the experience for us a bit. And good luck finding a 64-gigabyte model.

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    Criteria

    Price

    There are many things that you’ll want to take into consideration when buying a new phone, but one of the biggest is price. Most newer devices will run you quite a bit, but if you’re riding a 2-year contract — or just happen to find the right deal — you can snag one of our top picks at a great price. Even if you’re on a budget, you still have some great options for a new phone. If you’re really in a crunch, you can also go with an older phone instead of the latest tech. This will save you some cash and still get you a great device.

    Display

    Displays on smartphones are all across the board these days, and what size you get really depends on just what you’ll be using your phone for. People that like gaming or watching videos may want to go for a large screen, while those that are just using social networks and email may not need one quite as big.

    You’ll also want to consider things like contrast, saturation, and screen brightness. Some screens may look great to you but not to others — and vice versa — so it’s always best to take a look at a few for comparison to see which fits you best. There are different types of display technologies like IPS-LCD and AMOLED as well that will affect a display’s appearance both indoors and out.

    Software

    If you’re buying a new smartphone you most likely already know what software or platform you like — the big players at this point are iOS (iPhone), Android, and WIndows Phone. For the most part, all of the devices in this list are running the latest software for their respective platforms, or will soon be upgraded to do just that. In many cases you’ll want to stick with the platform you’re currently using so you won’t have to adjust to a different usage style or having to pay for apps & games you’ve already purchased on another platform.

    Breaking things down, iOS is plainly simple to setup and use, with very little room for error. The software remains the same across the latest generation of devices. Google’s Android is much more customizable and comes in a few flavors, some devices having “skinned” versions of the software based on choices from the manufacturer. Windows Phone devices bring the best of what Windows users love on the desktop into a mobile experience for smartphone use.

    Also keep in mind that many older devices will still be updated to the latest software, fixing bugs and adding new features along the way. However many are also becoming outdated after just a few years, so if you want the latest & greatest you’ll have to buy a new device to stay current.

    Battery

    Perhaps the single most important feature to consider when buying a new smartphone is battery life. The battery is the heart of your phone when on the go, so 99% of the time bigger is always better.

    Everyone will use their phone in different ways, so you’ll have to take into account how you will be using your phone to know just how much battery you’ll be able to squeak out in a day. Watching videos, streaming music, or playing games all use a lot of battery, while web browsing and sending emails won’t have the same immediate effect on battery life.

    Batteries are measured in milliampere-hour (mAh) and the higher the number, the bigger the battery. Most newer devices will make it through a day of casual use, but heavy users many run short if they don’t find the time to top-off throughout the day. There are plenty of things you can do to prolong your battery life as well — turning down the screen brightness, disabling features like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when not in use, or just limiting your overall usage time. Charging up when you can doesn’t hurt either. We’ve got plenty more battery-saving tips which should help regardless of which phone you end up buying.

    Camera

    It used to be that we used a standalone camera for taking photos, but as technology evolves, more and more people are using their smartphone camera as their full-time camera. If you’re one of these people, you’ll want to make sure that the camera in your device is up to the challenge so you get the best shots no matter what the situation may be.

    Most phones will have a rear and front camera, the later being used for “selfies” or things like video chat — meaning the rear stats are what really matter in the long run. Most decent smartphone cameras come in at around 8MP, with some devices sporting cameras of 13 MP, 16 MP or more. The camera software on the device can also play a big part in just how good your photos look as well. Take a gander at our photography hints to take some really great snaps with your phone.

    Conclusion

    This is by no means a conclusive ranking of all Android phones — these are some of the best. Certainly, they're on the more expensive side (Moto G aside), but you'll get what you're paying for. High-end specs and experiences come with high-end prices.

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