Ultimate Guide

The best Android phones of 2016

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. There have a lot of excellent choices for an Android phone this year. Here, now, are the best Android smartphones you can buy, as chosen by our editors.

UPDATE: As we're into February 2016 the list below remains the best you can buy right now. But, with the Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5 on the horizon at Mobile World Congress later in the month, there's also a case for hanging on a little if you're interested in those two manufacturers.

Nexus 6P Samsung Galaxy Note 5 BlackBerry Priv Moto X Pure Edition (2015) LG G4 Samsung Galaxy S6 HTC One A9
4.66
4.53
4.42
4.31
4.29
4.14
4.06
Excellent Excellent Very good Very good Very good Good Good
The Huawei Nexus 6p, one of the best Android phones The Samsung Galaxy Note 5, one of the best Android phones The BlackBerry Priv, one of the best Android phones The 2015 Moto X Pure Edition, one of the best Android phones The LG G4, the best Android phones The Samsung Galaxy S6, one of the best Android phones The HTC One A9, one of the best Android phones
Google: $499.99 View Amazon: $639.99 View BB direct: $699.99 View Amazon: $399.99 View Amazon: $599.99 View Amazon: $699.99 View HTC: $499.99 View
The best big phone you can buy combines a svelte design, excellent camera and a solid rear fingerprint scanner with guaranteed timely system updates. Samsung's flagship smartphone is all grown up, with an outstanding QHD display and a great camera coupled with decent battery life. BlackBerry has proven it can build one hell of an Android phone. And it brought its legendary keyboard along for the ride. A much-needed if unfortunately large evolution in the Moto X line of Android smartphones. 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. Samsung has rebooted its smaller flagship with sleek new lines, a beautiful display and one of the best cameras you'll find. Battery is poor, though. HTC is still rudderless as a company, but the A9 is a solid (if somewhat puzzling) addition to its lineup with an improved camera.
  • Great build quality
  • Excellent camera
  • Pure Google software
  • Gorgeous display
  • Full-featured S Pen stylus
  • High-quality camera
  • Superb physical keyboard
  • Excellent battery life
  • Mostly stock Google interface
  • Moto apps are still awesome
  • Battery life is decent
  • MotoMaker options are exceptional
  • Excellent design
  • Top-notch camera
  • Optional leather backs
  • Great design
  • Excellent camera
  • A fingerprint scanner that works
  • Compact, sleek design
  • Android 6.0 out of the box
  • Lightning fast fingerprint sensor
  • A little slippery
  • Limited stock
  • No wireless charging
  • More pricey the other offerings
  • Slippery glass back
  • Underwhelming speaker
  • Wireless charging not available in all models
  • Weak front facing camera
  • Launches on Android 5.1.1
  • Camera struggles to get the shot every time
  • Uncomfortable to use with one hand
  • No wireless charging
  • User interface is better, but still overbearing
  • Still prone to some bugs
  • Plastic parts are still plastic
  • Battery life is poor
  • User interface still busy
  • Horrendous speaker
  • Abysmal battery life
  • Full price is unfortunately high
  • No wireless charging
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    The Breakdown

    Huawei Nexus 6p

    The best big phone you can buy. Period.

    • Great build quality
    • Excellent camera
    • Pure Google software
    • A little slippery
    • Limited stock
    • No wireless charging

    We’ve usually had to recommend a Nexus phone with a rather large caveat — and that’s usually had to do with the camera. Not so with the Nexus 6P, manufactured by Huawei. It’s got a camera that doesn’t make us want to carry around a second shooter, just in case. It’s got the design and build quality that stands up against any other phone. And perhaps most important is that it’s going to always be updated to the latest version of Android, and that goes for the monthly security updates, too.

    Read More Review Accessories Google Store Huawei CPW

    Samsung Galaxy Note 5

    It's big, and it's spectacular.

    • Gorgeous display
    • Full-featured S Pen stylus
    • High-quality camera
    • More pricey than other offerings
    • Slippery glass back
    • Underwhelming speaker

    Samsung did the big screen thing first with the Note line, and now in its fifth iteration the Note 5 is just average sized at 5.7 inches. In fact, Samsung has shrunk down the bezels around the Note 5 so much that it's actually smaller than the Note 4 even with the same screen size. It's got a beefy processor, an ample 4GB of RAM and a high-resolution QHD display. It's running Android 5.1 Lollipop, with an update to Android Marshmallow on the way eventually, 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 Samsung Pay is an excellent contactless payment option. 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. But it's lacking in the software update department and is still very expensive. On the other hand, it's also available.

    Read more Review Accessories Amazon AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon

    BlackBerry Priv

    It's really good. Even we were surprised.

    • BlackBerry's superb physical keyboard
    • Excellent battery life
    • Mostly stock Google interface
    • Wireless charging not available in all models
    • Weak front facing camera
    • Launches on Android 5.1.1

    BlackBerry is a legend in the smartphone arena. The question is whether it's a relic. The Priv hopes to stave off that title, promising privacy and privilege — and it's certainly a privilege to use. This is the best physical keyboard ever seen on an Android phone to date — though it's been a long time since anyone's actually attempted one — with the rest of the hardware matching up to the rest of the smartphone elite. Plus it's got a gorgeous high-resolution screen, excellent battery life, good camera and a mostly Google Android experience, enhanced in places with BlackBerry's own apps and services.

    Lots of people wanted BlackBerry to do well with its first Android phone, and it did. This is one of the finest experiences on any Android phone this year.

    Read More Review Accessories BlackBerry Amazon

    Moto X Pure Edition (2015)

    A larger yet predictable Moto X.

    • Moto apps are still awesome
    • Battery life is decent
    • MotoMaker options are exceptional
    • Camera struggles to get the shot every time
    • Uncomfortable to use with one hand
    • No wireless charging

    The Moto X line keeps getting bigger and better, though depending on who you ask only one of those is a good thing. This generation saw Motorola switch from an AMOLED to LCD display, as well as a noticeable reduction in starting price. The Moto X Pure Edition is also the first Moto X where there were almost no “new” software features, due largely to Motorola’s decision to constantly update features through the Google Play Store.

    Read More Review Accessories Amazon Motorola

    LG G4

    A sleek option from LG.

    • Excellent design
    • Top-notch camera
    • Optional leather backs
    • User interface is better, but still overbearing
    • Still prone to some bugs
    • 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. It's starting to get its Android 6.0 Marshmallow update in the last couple months of the year.

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

    Read More Review Accessories Amazon AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon

    Samsung Galaxy S6

    The best (small) Galaxy you've seen yet.

    • Great design
    • Excellent camera
    • A fingerprint scanner that works
    • Battery life is poor
    • User interface still busy
    • Horrendous speaker

    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 had 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 usable, 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. And Samsung Pay is a nice addition.

    But the battery life turned out to be anything but acceptable. 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.

    Read more Review Accessories Amazon AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon

    HTC One A9

    A curious and costly option.

    • Compact, sleek design
    • Android 6.0 out of the box
    • Lightning-fast fingerprint sensor
    • Abysmal battery life
    • Full price is unfortunately high
    • No wireless charging

    HTC’s all-metal designs have been winning awards and turning heads for a couple of years now, but their big phone this year was an all around mediocre experience. Where the HTC One M9 failed to grab everyone’s attention, the HTC One A9 stands out for several reasons. The updated metal body bears a striking resemblance to something decidedly not HTC in design, but the overall experience is something just about everyone can appreciate.

    Read More Review Accessories HTC

    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 two-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 here looking for the best "Android" phone then you know each of these phones is running on the same basic system — right now, either Android 5.1 Lollipop or 6.0 Marshmallow. Being on a newer version of Android is always better, but it's also important to make note of the customizations each manufacturer make to Android.

    Samsung, LG, Motorola, etc. all make varying amounts of changes to Android, each trying to add more value to differentiate the phone from the group. This may be as simple as a suite of manufacturer apps and a few visual tweaks, all the way up to a complete redesign of the interface, animations and stock apps.

    It can be hard to determine which manufacturer adaptation of Android is right for you, so be sure to check out the phone in person if possible or at least see the software selling points listed by the company to get a feel for it.

    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 percent of the time bigger is always better, though it does mean heavier phones and longer charging times (though quick-charging technology has helped with that).

    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 at least 8MP, with some devices sporting cameras of 13MP, 16MP 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.

    The bottom line

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

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