"What's the best phone right now?" That's probably the question we get around here more than any other. It's subjective, and it's not easy to answer. And truth be told there are whole lot of phones out there right now that you just can't go wrong with.
So as we get further into 2015, we're going to take a look at what's currently available, as well as what's on the horizon, and simply say this:
These are the best Android smartphones that are currently available on U.S. carriers.
Both Samsung and HTC are expected to announce new flagship phones in early March. The HTC One M9 will likely be in shelves shortly afterwards, while the we're not anticipating the Samsung Galaxy S6 to be available until April at the earliest. We'll update this guide to the best Android phones once we've had a chance to review them.
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 4 one of the best oversized phones available, it’s also one of the best all-around phones, period. It's got a beefier processor than last year's model and the higher-resolution QHD display, also bumped up in size to 5.7 inches. It's running Android 4.4.4 KitKat, with an update to Android 5.0 Lollipop on the way, and comes with a removable 3,220 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 4 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.
We're just about halfway into the product cycle for the fifth iteration of Samsung's flagship smartphone. And as you'd expect, this one's the best of the Samsung bunch. It's not a huge change over last year's model, insofar as design goes, but it's all the little tweaks that makes it so great.
The 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display (at 1080p resolution) is among the best you'll find today. And the brightness and color both adapt to the ambient lighting around you. The 16-megapixel camera remains among the best you can get in an Android smartphone, though it does disappoint somewhat in low light.
If you're looking for power, the Galaxy S5 has it, sporting a quad-core processor at 2.5GHz, 2GB of RAM and a removable 2,800 mAh battery.
Plus Samsung has all the software features you can shake a stick at. Maybe too many. But if you're looking for it, chances are it's built in, no downloads required.
And Samsung made this thing dust- and water-resistant out of the box.
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.)
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.
Another of our favorite phones of 2014 remains a good buy today. The HTC One M8 is the second generation of the Taiwanese manufacturer's flagship metal smartphone sports a 5-inch 1080p display sandwiched between two excellent front-facing speakers that truly will change the way you watch videos and play games on your phone. The trade-off is that this phone is really tall, even if it is thin and curvy in all the right places.
The M8 also is one of the fastest phones we've used of late, even with HTC's custom user interface atop the newly updated Android 5.0.1 Lollipop. It's all powered by a Snapdragon 801 processor with 2GB of RAM, but somehow HTC's managed to make it faster than other phones with the same internals. We're not complaining.
What still gives us pause, however, is the camera. It's good, but with a total resolution of just 4 megapixels you don't get as much information in each picture, and the camera's limitations show themselves more quickly. Tempering that a bit are all the post-processing effects HTC's built in, including video highlights and a number of filters and effects. That's also where the secondary camera lens comes in — it allows for some fun 3D effects.
One of the most innovative phones of the past couple years (really, there are awards for that stuff) continues to impress in 2014. The LG G3 was the first of the large-screen phones to up things to QHD resolution, packing a 1440x2560 display into 5.5 inches — but all in a phone that doesn't feel that large.
What's more is that the power and volume buttons you'd usually find on the side or maybe on top of the phone have remain on the back side. It's a devilishly simply design that is far more intuitive than you'd expect.
LG's also coming along nicely in the software department; it just has to be sure to pump out those system updates as quickly as possible. Android 5.0 Lollipop is finally starting to trickle out for it.
The G3's 13-megapixel camera is one of the best you can get these days, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of an optical imaging stabilization system and laser (as in pew pew!!!) autofocus.
The G3 also sports a 3,000 mAh removable battery, and it has a microSD card slot for expandable storage.
The Galaxy Note Edge takes everything you'll love about the Note 4 — high-resolution display, S Pen input, etc. — and adds a slick secondary edge display to it, bringing forth a number of new possibilities. You've got 160 pixels on that curve that lead you to new ways to launch apps or see messages and notifications — or even use it as a ruler.
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 is the first phone to sport Android 5.0 Lollipop. 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.
The Moto G without question is one of the more affordable phones out there at $179.99 off contract. And you get a lot at that price, too. You get a pure Android experience, an 8-megapixel camera, and the knowledge that Motorola’s going to keep it updated quickly. The trade-offs at this price are low on-board storage — 8GB, but you do have a microSD card slot. And you don’t get LTE data. But if you can deal with that, you’ve got yourself a great phone at less than $200.
The LG G Flex 2 is a little bit of an odd beast, seated firmly between 2014’s LG G3 and whatever this year’s flagship becomes. As the name implies (and its predecessor showed off), the G Flex 2 is flexible. You don’t have to bend it to use it, but should you sit on it or drop it you’ll have a better chance of the phone surviving. It’s also a tad smaller than the original G Flex, with a much better display and the same excellent camera as is on the G3. Look for the the G Flex 2 on AT&T and Sprint in the coming weeks.
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