This year has introduced some brilliant smartphones, among them the Samsung Galaxy S7, the Google Pixel, and two brand new iPhones: the SE and the iPhone 7. All these phones and the rest of this year’s praiseworthy devices run either iOS or Android operating systems, and it’s no surprise why. The two software systems completely dominate the smartphone landscape, accounting for a towering majority of phone sales.
If you’re after Apple’s iOS setup, only an iPhone will do, while Google’s Android can be found on many smartphones from a range of manufacturers. Here’s a selection of the best phones you can buy this year: iPhone 7 The iPhone 7 is Apple’s new flagship smartphone, replacing the iPhone 6S at the top of the iOS food chain. It looks very similar to the last one, sporting a refined design rather than an all-new look. It’s a tidier phone, though, with neater antenna bands.
Apple has focussed on cameras in a big way with its latest iPhone. The lens is now a wide f/1.8 aperture to allow 60 percent more light onto the sensor, meaning snaps at night time and difficult conditions should be better. On the larger iPhone 7 Plus, there’s a dual-camera system with a telephoto lens for optical zoom capabilities.
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The display is the 3D touch-enabled screen from the iPhone 6S, although Apple says it is 25 percent brighter and should be a lot more colorful, thanks to the wide color gamut taken from the iPad Pro. Controversially there’s no headphone jack, but an adaptor is included in the box. Prices start at £599 for the 4.7ins device with 32GB storage, and you can read more about the iPhone 7 here. Alongside the new device, Apple has dropped the iPhone 6S to £499 and upped its minimum memory to 32GB. It’s still a brilliant smartphone and one worth considering.
Samsung Galaxy S7
The handset many tips as the main rival to the iPhone, Samsung’s newest flagship smartphone is the “most capable smartphone on the market today,” says Alpha. In terms of features, the Galaxy S7 steps forward in several ways compared to the S6 while bringing back some old favorites. For instance, the camera hardware is entirely new – it’s a 12-megapixel setup, a smaller count than on the Galaxy S6, but mated to optimized hardware and software additions.
A MicroSD card slot is useful for upping the standard 32GB memory, and the phone is rated IP68 water and dustproof.
Samsung’s phones have always been renowned for their displays, and the S7 is no different. On the standard phone is a 5.1ins OLED panel, according to DisplayMate, which delivers “absolutely stunning and beautiful images.” An Edge version of the phone uses a 5.5ins screen curved at the edges. The S7 is also a good choice for power users. UK phone users get an Exynos 8890 chip mated to 4GB RAM. Prices start at £569, SIM-free.
The newest smartphone on the market has been created by the internet giant to directly compete with Apple’s iPhone 7, although HTC actually makes it. The standard phone uses a 5ins AMOLED display with a Full HD resolution, while the Pixel XL phablet has a 5.5ins screen with a higher resolution, Quad HD panel. The 12-megapixel camera puts it on par with the iPhone 7, and the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chipset means it should be a powerful handset. It’s also the first phone to be compatible with Google’s new Daydream virtual reality platform. Priced from £599 – just like the iPhone 7 – it could become the ultimate android alternative to Apple’s flagship.
Samsung Galaxy J5
At the opposite end of the spectrum to the many expensive smartphones on the market is the Samsung Galaxy J5, a budget smartphone that Alpha reckons is brilliant value for money. This full-sized handset can be bought for as little as £140 sim-free, yet it boasts performance and specifications close to flagship phones from not so long ago.
At a glance, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything marking it out as a budget phone. The J5 has a simple slate design and boasts a 5ins touchscreen display. The screen is a Super AMOLED unit with an HD resolution of 1280×720 and a pixel density of 294 – not on par with the ultra HD smartphones you’ll spend more than £500 on, true, but still impressive enough and “an incredible contender for the price.
What really makes the J5 stand out compared to other budget smartphones is its performance. It has 1.5GB RAM onboard, making it a fairly fast and reliable device. Only the most strenuous games will tax it. Camera hardware on paper is decent, with a 13-megapixel snapper on the rear and a five-megapixel selfie camera, although performance isn’t as polished as you’d expect. At least the battery life is huge – Alpha managed to clock the J5’s lifespan as being longer than you’ll get with the firm’s Galaxy S7. Overall, the J5 stacks up very well for its puny price tag and is one of the best budget options out there.
At £500 SIM-free, the LG G5 is an Android flagship likely to tempt people looking for something a bit different. It’s a modular smartphone that users can really dig their teeth into and customize by unbuttoning parts and panels and attaching accessories. The “modular expansion system” allows users to drop the battery out and load a new one or use it to attach additional camera hardware. The screen is a 5.3ins QHD display – slightly smaller than the LG G4’s screen, which measured 5.5ins – and offers a pixel density of 544ppi and a resolution of 2560×1440. A dual-camera sits on the back, with a 16-megapixel sensor joined by an eight-megapixel camera with ultra-wide viewing angle capabilities. Powering the G5 is a Snapdragon 820, mated to 4GB RAM. HTC 10
While most of the specs on Taiwanese brand HTC’s latest release are what you’d expect on a flagship Android handset – 4GB RAM, Snapdragon 820, removable MicroSD card slot – the HTC 10 is the best smartphone the company “has made in years” thanks to significant camera revisions, says Alpha. The 12-megapixel sensor with a wide f/1.8 aperture, laser autofocus, and optical image stabilization (OIS) moves the game on considerably from the HTC One M9. The front-facing camera is a big improvement, too; a five-megapixel sensor also boasting OIS, which HTC calls an “ultra selfie” camera. The phone gets a 3,000mAh battery with quick charging capabilities, a MicroSD card slot, so the 32GB internal memory can be upped easily. It can record in 24-bit audio for high-quality sound.
Trusted Reviews declares it to be the android phone to beat in 2016.
“From the lovely screen to the speedy performance to the fantastic representation of Android, the HTC 10 ticks all the boxes,” it says. “It might not be the best in every area, but it’s strong in pretty much all of them.”
It’s £570, SIM-free.
Design-wise, bar the rose-gold color option, the SE isn’t new at all. It uses the same casing as the iPhone 5S released back in 2013, but with good reason: Apple’s most recent flagship devices moved away from four-inch displays in favor of larger screens, reaching phablet sizes with the Plus versions of the iPhone 6 and 6S. The SE is for those who have stuck around on Apple’s older, smaller platforms. Though smaller and cheaper than the iPhone 6S, the SE is almost as powerful, using the same A9 processor chip mated to 2GB RAM.
There’s a spate of other new additions, too, the camera hardware being a particular coup. The little SE gets a 12-megapixel iSight main camera like the big 6S and can record video in 4K with Live Photos support. Users also get Apple Pay as a near-field communications chip is installed. Available with either 16GB or 64GB internal memory, the SE starts from £359.
Chinese firm OnePlus has become renowned for delivering handsets boasting flagship specs at a significantly lower price than rivals Samsung and Apple. This year sees the release of its fourth phone – the OnePlus 3, a 5.5ins phablet that, on paper, can compete against some of the best on the market. It gets an AMOLED display; although the full HD 1080p resolution can’t compete with the Quad HD displays, you’ll find the likes of the Galaxy S7. However, the 16-megapixel camera and the eight-megapixel selfie sensor are more than adequate, and the powerful internal specs are definitely on par with some of the most expensive phones around.
OnePlus 3 gets Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 chipset, mated to 6GB RAM, so in theory, it’s a more powerful device than many, and multitasking should be a doddle. There’s no expandable memory, but it comes with an adequate 64GB storage. The OnePlus 3 runs a modified version of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow called Oxygen OS and is priced at £309 – a very tempting price.
Google’s new Pixel XL may have replaced the Nexus 6P as the latest Google-backed smartphone effort, but it’s still on sale and is still an excellent buy if you’re after a quality phablet-sized device. The Nexus 6P uses a 5.7ins Quad HD AMOLED display, so for the money, you’ll get a big, bright screen with pin-sharp resolution and a pixel density of 518ppi. The phone has a good-quality full metal body, with a fingerprint scanner embedded on the backplate underneath the camera.
The main camera is a 12.3-megapixel sensor capable of recording video in 4K resolution and 240 frames per second slow-motion capture, while the selfie camera is an 8-megapixel setup. Power is provided by a Snapdragon 810 chipset mated to 3GB RAM, so while there are more powerful phones on the market, this is an excellent and snappy device for day-to-day use. The phone is available with 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB internal storage, and at £449, it’s cheaper than many flagship devices. Pocket-Lint says it’s “a wonderful pure Android handset that undercuts many Android flagships.”