Update, 17 January 2017: Google Pixel is still our top pick, but we've replaced the LG V20 with the new Huawei Mate 9, which is now available unlocked in the U.S.

Best overall

Google Pixel

See at Google See at Verizon

The Google Pixel does almost everything right. Its metal body is well-built and easy to grip — in either the 5-inch or 5.5-inch size — and its spec sheet is top-notch, featuring a Snapdragon 821 and 4GB of RAM.

But Google's Pixel, available in two sizes and screen resolutions, really makes the case for Google owning the hardware and the software. Android has come a long way, but even the best manufacturers can't achieve what Google has with its first-party powerhouse.

Android 7.1 flies through every task, and the small software additions add up to something larger. Then there's the camera, which is one of the best in the business, helped along by Google's exemplary electronic stabilization schemes.

Bottom line: It may cost more than the Nexus line, but Google handily competes with Samsung's best.

One more thing: The Pixel is available unlocked through Google's store in most countries, but if you're in the U.S. may we suggest getting it through Google Fi.

Why the Google Pixel is the best

Google could have built another Nexus phone with a partner like Huawei, LG or even HTC, but with the Pixel it decided to go it mostly alone. Tapping HTC for the manufacturing, Google's first "real" Android phone hits all the right marks.

In either size, the design is familiar but striking, with a plain front in either black or white and a dual-toned rear finish in silver/white, silver/black, or blue/blue. The larger of the two models, the Pixel XL, is the true enthusiast phone, boasting a large 3,450mAh battery and 5.5-inch QHD AMOLED display, but both devices have largely the same internals and camera setup.

To that end, the Pixel flies: Qualcomm's Snapdragon 821 chip, coupled with Google's own take on Android 7.1 Nougat, is the fastest Android experience we've had to date.

Alex Dobie, in his review, explained it this way:

The chassis is attractive, though some may say it's not as bold as Samsung's glass and metal designs. The software is fast and mostly good-looking. It's always going to be up-to-date with the latest Android software, and exclusive tricks from a new and highly ambitious AI-focused Google. The battery easily lasts a day, and charges quickly. The camera matches the Galaxy S7.

While the phone lacks waterproofing and expandable storage, Samsung's Galaxy S7, our former recommendation, is still two major Android revisions behind, and its software can't match the effortless polish of the Pixel.

And then there's the camera. The cornerstone of any flagship, if the Pixel's camera wasn't as good as the S7's, it probably wouldn't have topped our list — but it is. Despite lacking optical image stabilization, the Pixel's camera takes amazing photos in almost every condition.

 

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Best for features

Samsung Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7

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The Galaxy S7 rocks a beautiful metal-and-glass design that's waterproof while also holding a solid battery, top-end internals and a microSD card expansion slot. Around front you'll find an industry-leading 5.1-inch QHD SuperAMOLED display that's beautiful in every situation, and around back you can capture fantastic photos with the 12MP camera. It's also rated IP68 water resistant, which is helpful in many situations, unforeseen and otherwise.

The software may take some getting used to if you haven't used a Samsung phone before, but that's hardly a reason to look away from all of the fantastic features that the Galaxy S7 has to offer. It's compact, powerful, easy to use and takes wonderful photos — it really is one of the most complete packages in the Android world.

Bottom line: The Galaxy S7 has the best hardware in Android, but its software keeps it behind the Pixel.

One more thing: If you don't want to buy from a carrier, Samsung offers a U.S. unlocked model of the Galaxy S7 for a cleaner experience.

Best for a budget

OnePlus 3T

See at OnePlus

OnePlus took an interesting approach in 2016, choosing to bump the internal specs of its flagship OnePlus 3 and make a new model the OnePlus 3T. The new version has a slightly faster Snapdragon 821 processor, optional 128GB of storage, a larger 3400 mAh battery and new front-facing camera.

The update keeps the OnePlus 3T relevant for that much longer, and it still stands as an excellent option that competes with the rest of the flagships at a much lower price — even though it is a tad more expensive than the original, at $439. The hardware, camera and software can all stand up to the competition that retails for $200 more.

Bottom-line: Though it doesn't have some of the fringe features you'll find elsewhere, the OnePlus 3T offers the best value in a high-end Android phone today.

One more thing: The OnePlus 3's Dash Charge fast charging solution isn't compatible with any other quick charging standards, so you'll need to invest in new chargers if you want to top up quickly.

Best "big phone"

Huawei Mate 9

Huawei Mate 9

See at Amazon

Huawei's Mate series has a sizeable following that love its big screen, big battery life and full set of features. With the Mate 9 Huawei has kept that all around, but dramatically improved the software experience with EMUI 5.0 to complete the package. The new software has removed many of the annoying idiosyncrasies and bugs that burdened previous Huawei phones, and it lets the Mate 9 shine.

The 5.9-inch display is only 1080p, but it looks fantastic and makes the battery life amazing. The rest of the internal specs add up for great performance, and while the "Leica" name on the back is mostly for show the camera is still great.

With its recent expansion to the U.S., the Mate 9 is a top-end phone we can recommend right alongside the rest. It also has an attractive price of $599 which compares favorably to the big competition.

Bottom line: A big phone with all of the modern features power users want can be yours for just a hair under $600.

One more thing: Huawei's fast charging standard can be hit-or-miss in its interoperation with other fast chargers — it's best to stick with the included brick if you want the fastest speeds.

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Conclusion

The best overall Android experience right now can be obtained by either the Google Pixel or Pixel XL. Regardless of which size Pixel, you're getting a great design, excellent build quality, incredible performance, and one of the best cameras on the market. That, combined with Google's simple-but-beautiful interpretation of Android 7.1 Nougat, and always-first updates, makes the Pixel the best option for most people right now.

Best overall

Google Pixel

See at Google See at Verizon

The Google Pixel does almost everything right. Its metal body is well-built and easy to grip — in either the 5-inch or 5.5-inch size — and its spec sheet is top-notch, featuring a Snapdragon 821 and 4GB of RAM.

But Google's Pixel, available in two sizes and screen resolutions, really makes the case for Google owning the hardware and the software. Android has come a long way, but even the best manufacturers can't achieve what Google has with its first-party powerhouse.

Android 7.1 flies through every task, and the small software additions add up to something larger. Then there's the camera, which is one of the best in the business, helped along by Google's exemplary electronic stabilization schemes.

Bottom line: It may cost more than the Nexus line, but Google handily competes with Samsung's best.

One more thing: The Pixel is available unlocked through Google's store in most countries, but if you're in the U.S. may we suggest getting it through Google Fi.

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