2015 was the year when design and style in phones were the foremost concern of phone makers, as slimmer phones made of metal arrived in massive quantities from all sides. A much needed break from uglier plastic designs of the past, this is probably the most lasting impression that 2015's phones make.
2016: changes big and small are coming
There were other notable events, of course, fingerprint scanner security started arriving on more affordable phones, great cameras became much more common, and the market started feeling saturated. Also, the Snapdragon 810 overheating fiasco stopped a lot of excitement in the chip space from happening.
In 2016, we expect a whole lot of advancements, from small to big. We hope Apple finally kills the 16GB base tier in its iPhones and rumors say Samsung is bringing back expandable storage via microSD cards to its flagships. Some more radical changes like Force Touch on Android are coming, and an even more radical decision to cut the 3.5mm headset jack might change the form of the modern smartphone. It will all be decided by the most successful phones of 2016. And here are the best candidates for this title: with no further ado, here are the 16 most anticipated phones of 2016.
*We have also taken the liberty to add an imaginary punch line that we feel describes each of the phone and its unique propositions. Let us know how you like these in the comments below!
#16: BlackBerry Vienna
Expected release date: Unknown
Punch line: BlackBerry's last chance
After years of investing huge funds and resources in its home-baked BlackBerry OS, it seems that the company will finally quit the effort in 2016, as it's betting it all on Android. After the BlackBerry Priv, an interesting slider of a phone, expectations are that BlackBerry will make another huge unveiling in 2016: the BlackBerry Venice.
A phone with a physical QWERTY keyboard right below the display, the Vienna will not be a slider, but instead a more traditional slab of a phone. It's still unconfirmed and there is not even a time frame for its release, but the remaining BlackBerry loyalists should be interested. After all, this might be one of the last chances for the company to prove it can stay relevant in the phone game.
#15: 2016 Samsung Galaxy A series
Expected release date: Early 2016
Punch line: Mid rangers with extremely stylish and slim build
The Samsung Galaxy A 2016 series has already been announced, so there will be no surprises as to the devices, but their actual release date is set for early 2016. The phones are on the expensive side, but in exchange for the premium sum you'd pay for them, you get a very slim and stylish metal builds, thin side bezels and sleek overall form factor. The Galaxy A 2016 series come in three flavors: the 4.7" Galaxy A3, 5.2" Galaxy A5, and 5.7" Galaxy A7.
#14: Moto G 2016 Edition
Expected release date: Jul 2016
Punch line: A new era for the affordable phone?
The Moto G is easily one of the most revered affordable phones on the planet (and especially in the West). In 2016, a brand new Moto G 2016 edition is due and it should finally do away with the nasty 8GB starter edition in favor of a more sensible 16GB option. We would be surprised if the Moto G remains plastic: the majority of its rivals have introduced affordable metal phones in this class, and that's seen as an advantage. So would be a fingerprint scanner, another feature we hope to see in the new Moto G 2016.
#13: OnePlus 3
Expected release date: Fall 2016
Punch line: 'Flagship killer of 2016'
OnePlus is probably the most successful PR act in the history of the mobile industry, going from zero to hero in less than two years. Towards the end of 2016, we expect it to release the OnePlus 3 in its traditional way with a ton of teasers and likely an alluring price tag. As before, expect the invitation model to stay. After all, part of the company's business plan seems to be to throw a big show for devices that it only makes available in bigger quantities after quite a while.
#12: New Moto by Lenovo flagship
Expected release date: Late Summer 2016
Punch line: A new affordable flagship
The Motorola brand name is going the way of the dodo. After decades of being in existence, the phone and radio pioneer, will be replaced by 'Moto by Lenovo' branding that will convey more clearly the message that Motorola is now part of the Lenovo.
In 2015, the company released the Moto X Pure, a $400 phone that felt extremely well-refined and is commonly quoted as one of the phones offering best value for the money. We expect a successor of sorts in 2016 and given the annual tradition, the unveiling should happen sometime in the summer of 2016.
#11: Sony Xperia Z6 / Xperia Z6 Compact
Expected release date: Fall 2016
Punch line: Gradual evolution and new hardware
Sony is a brand with a strong name and it's great to see it continue releasing new phones. In 2016, we expect it to bring at least two new phones: the Xperia Z6 and Xperia Z6 Compact. Known for their stylish looks, premium Sony devices like these usually carry the latest hardware in two different form factors. Our guess for this new generation would circle around the Snapdragon 820 system chip and all the new capabilities it allows.
#10: Huawei Mate 8
Release date: Early 2016
Punch line: Giant and beautiful
Huawei was probably one of the fastest growing phone makers of 2015. In a market with slowing growth, Huawei just stomped through its rivals: it sold a whopping 108 million smartphones for the full year, up from 75 million in the preceding year.
Now, the Huawei Mate 8 is one important phone for the company: it was unveiled in late 2015, but Huawei re-introduced it to a more global audience at CES 2016, so we expect it to be a key driver of the company's profits (not so much market share). The Mate 8 is an extremely stylish and thin phone with a very big, 6-inch screen and it runs on Huawei's own Kirin 950 system chip.
#9: HTC One M10 / HTC Perfume
Expected release date: March 2016
Punch line: The comeback kid
HTC was the biggest loser amongst the big phone makers in 2014, it was the biggest loser in 2015, but can it make a turn-around in 2016? It seems like an uphill climb at the moment, but the company will certainly try: all eyes are on its HTC One M10, a device also referred to under the codename HTC Perfume. The phone is expected to make its official debut at MWC 2016 in late February. The expectations? A metal body, great sound quality, and hopefully - keep your fingers crossed - an actually good camera.
#8: Xiaomi Mi 5
Expected release date: Feb 2016
Punch line: Big in China
The Xiaomi Mi 5 is another phone that was just about to launch anytime in 2015. Despite all the rumors, though, the Xiaomi Mi 5 did not make an official appearance in 2015. Instead, Xiaomi focused on killer-pace innovation in its extremely popular affordable phone series.
In 2016, though, the Chinese company will start with a bang: the Xiaomi Mi 5 has already leaked out and CEO Lei Jun has confirmed that the Mi 5 will be officially unveiled in February with the Snapdragon 820 system chip. One might powerful device, we expect it to step up the game in terms of style, bring a more refined version of the nice MIUI skin and the typical for Xiaomi phones excellent battery life.
#7: Apple iPhone 6c
Expected release date: March 2016
Punch line: A 4-inch phone in 2016
Apple might throw not one daring challenge this year (yes, the removal of the 3.5mm jack in the iPhone 7 would be the one), but two such challenges: the second one might be a brand new 4-inch iPhone. Coming under the expected iPhone 6c moniker, this device should replace the iPhone 5s at the bottom of Apple's bracket. Of course, it is aimed at customers who want a small phone that can be easily used with just one hand. And who knows, given the supersizing that's going on in the industry, the iPhone 6c might be one of a very few - if not the only new - 4-inchers on the market.
#6: Microsoft Surface phone
Expected release date: Unknown
Punch line: Windows 10 mobile flagship
The Microsoft Surface phone, like a proverbial ghost, has been 'surfacing' in rumors every once in a while in the past few years. After a few chaotic years at Microsoft, it seems, though, that 2016 will be the year that we finally see it become a reality. In fact, it seems that 2016 is the absolutely last chance that Microsoft will have to launch the Surface Phone, as its Windows 10 platform on mobile is facing some huge issues with market share shrinking.
Good news is that with new executive Panos Panay at the helm, the company has sharpened its focus and follows a clear path of making stunning new devices. The Windows 10 platform needs its mobile flagship and at the moment Microsoft is the only company that can deliver it. We'd be looking for announcements in early spring around the Build conference, a good time for an unveiling given the availability of the new and powerful Snapdragon 820 system chip.
#5: LG G5
Expected release date: May 2016
Punch line: The alternative to Samsung
The LG G4 was probably one of the biggest surprises of the year. LG has been making 'good enough' phones for a while beforehand, but in 2015 it outgunned itself with the G4: a phone with a truly outstanding camera that was one of the very best on a phone ever. The genuine leather back cover is also a refreshingly warm and pleasing to touch material, unlike the dominant these days stylish, but very cold, aluminum on other phones.
At the moment, there is a limited amount of information that we have about the LG G5: we know that it's coming this spring, likely in May, if we look at LG's tradition. LG has shown commitment to keeping features that are valued in the Android community: expandable storage via microSD cards, removable batteries, and we expect the LG G5 to have these. We also expect a further coat of polish to the already excellent camera. The one thing that was probably the most disappointing in the LG G4 was battery life and we hope to see it improved in the G4.
#4: New Nexus phones
Expected release date: Late Oct 2016
Punch line: Stock Android, made by Google
Google sent a statement in late 2015 by launching not one, but two new Nexus phones: the Nexus 6P and 5X. Unlike earlier Nexus phones, these are now widely available and not just for hobbyists: you can buy them not just in the Google Store, but also on Amazon and Best Buy, and the prices are extremely alluring.
Having the latest version of Android, the promise of timely updates, and the knowledge that Google engineers have worked on polishing these phones makes them one of the top picks in the Android world.
We would be disappointed if Google did not introduce two new Nexus phones towards the end of 2016. After all, a new version of Android will certainly make its debut this year and it will need a proper platform to shine on.
#3: Mysterious Samsung foldable phone / Galaxy Note 6
Expected release date: Sept 2016
Punch line: A revolutionary new category
With the Samsung Galaxy S7 ticking the boxes with both its regular sized version and expected larger-screen model, the need for a Samsung Galaxy Note 6 in the fall seems less pronounced. Could this be because Samsung is preparing to launch a true game changer?
Nobody knows just yet, but some rumors claim that Samsung will launch the first ever foldable phone this fall, a new type of a phone with a screen that unfolds to a much larger, tablet-like scale. There are more questions than answers about this and it would be hugely impressive if Samsung pulls such a miraculous piece of gadgetry this year.
The more realistic scenario, however, seems to revolve around a very limited launch of such a device (if it even exists) and chances are that the Galaxy Note 6 will be the big star of the show in late 2016.
#2: Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge
Expected release date: Late Feb 2016
Punch line: Gradual evolution, microSD cards are back
The Samsung Galaxy S7 is the first truly massive launch of 2016. Expected to be unveiled at the Mobile World Congress 2016 in late February in Barcelona, the Galaxy S7 is expected to arrive in various flavors: a 5.1" flat-screen regular version (allegedly, called the Galaxy S7) and a larger, screen, possibly 5.5" Galaxy S7 Edge of sorts that might have a curved body.
The Galaxy S7 is expected to retain the glass/metal design of last year's S6, but polish it further and come without the huge camera hump that the S6 had. It is also said to be one of the first phones to feature Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 820 (an Exynos version should also be available in some markets) and it is said to bring expandable storage back. New features that should grace it are also water-proofing and an impressively capable camera in low light: a new camera sensor and an impressively wide, f/1.7 lens are all allegedly in the plans.
#1: Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus
Expected release date: Sept 24th, 2016
Punch line: The first phone with no 3.5mm headset jack
2016 is expected to be a crucial year for the iPhone series: with smartphones now in every pocket, it is becoming much harder for companies to grow their sales. Analysts are already plotting the first year-on-year decline for Apple in the first quarter of 2016 when it comes to the iPhone, and that's why the iPhone 7 will be of particularly huge importance.
It's still too early to know much about the final design of the alleged iPhone 7, but here is what common sense and rumors dictate so far: there will be two devices, an iPhone 7 and larger, iPhone 7 Plus, they will have a different design and will be even thinner than now, they are expected to make a radical change by removing the 3.5mm headset jack in order to achieve that thinness, both are expected to have water-proof bodies and wireless charging capabilities. It is also widely expected for Apple to finally move to an entry level model with 32GB of internal storage, double the current 16 gigs. Naturally, a new generation Apple A series chip will certainly bring a speed boost, camera improvements are in tow, and Force Touch functionality should be polished and adopted by a much larger amount of apps.