Best budget and high-end phablets money can buy in 2015
A little over a year ago, we went for a do-over with one of our polls from 2011. The idea behind the repeat survey was to showcase just how much our preferences have changed when it comes to what we consider an ideal smartphone display size. As it turned out, our master plan succeeded – there was a very sharp increase in the number of people that were looking for ever larger smartphones, and almost exclusively at the expense of those preferring more compact solutions. Keeping in mind how the market for phablets has progressed in the past year, we'd be willing to bet that were we to poll you again today, even more of you would choose a phablet-y sized smartphone (generally, 5.5'' and above).
This shift in preferences can be attributed to a number of things. For example, as technology improves, smartphones are becoming increasingly better at keeping you away from your laptop or desktop computer, both of which are now starting to feel like dedicated work machines. If that wasn't enough, you have to also keep in mind that pretty much every phone maker nowadays offers at least one phablet model – even Apple caved in.
But you don't need us rationalizing your choices for you. Chances are, if you're here, you're at least a little bit interested in picking a larger-screened smartphone, and you're looking for options. Of those you have tons, and we spent some time breaking them down into a few tiers for an easier browsing – from high-end, premium phablets, down to more affordable options that won't break the bank. Pick your poison:
We all want the good stuff, so it's only natural that we start with the best manufacturers have to offer. These are the aforementioned high-end phablets, or the best money can buy right now.
Let's start with...
$299 with a 2-year contract
If you're looking for a premium Android phablet, then Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 is a bulletproof choice. The 5.7-incher sports an attention-grabbing resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels (Quad HD), or a pixel density of 515 ppi, has a powerful quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor and 3GB of RAM, and flaunts a best-in-class, 16-megapixel rear camera with optical stabilization. Best of all, the Note 4 was recently bumped to Android 5.0 Lollipop – the latest version of the platform – so you'll get to enjoy some up-to-date visuals, too, should you go for it.
$299 with a 2-year contract
With the iPhone 6, Apple finally caved in to popular demand and introduced a bigger smartphone. But the real shock was the iPhone 6 Plus – a 5.5-incher that towers above most smartphones currently on the market.
Like the Note 4, the iPhone 6 Plus offers no-compromise experience – whether you're talking about gaming on the big screen or making use of the optically-stabilized, 8-megapixel main camera on the back. Regardless of what you call yourself – an iOS or an Android guy, which is down to preference – if you're looking to game a lot on your new device, the iOS ecosystem of developers still has the lead on Android, so you should consider that.
$399 with a 2-year contract
Very little and quite a bit differentiates the Note Edge from the comparatively pedestrian-looking Note 4. For one, truthful to its name, the Note Edge features a 5.6-inch main panel, with an inch or so extra sloping to the right hand side of the device. While all the rest of the hardware on the inside mirrors that of the Note 4, it is also worth pointing out that the Note Edge has slightly different proportions and dimensions – it's shorter, but wider.
$199.99 (Sprint) or $249.99 (AT&T) with a 2-year contract
The Motorola-made Nexus 6 is the first modern device in the Google-mandated program that you can't get super cheap. Thankfully, for the money, you're still getting quite the phablet – a 6-incher with 1440 x 2560 resolution, Snapdragon 805 processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 13-megapixel, optically-stabilized rear camera. And the best part? Since this is a Nexus device, you're getting stock Android (the way Google intended it) and new updates before everyone else.
~€500 across Europe
Huawei likely won't be releasing its excellent, metal-clad Mate 7 phablet in the States, but those of you in Europe sure have some considering to do if in the market for a big phone. At about €500, this 6-inch phone (1080 x 1920 resolution) has quite a bit to offer. It's got a powerful octa-core Kirin 925 processor, 3GB of RAM, a great 13-megapixel camera with optical stabilization, and a giant, 4,100 mAh battery. This is also one of the smallest 6-inch phablets money can buy, thanks to an excellent screen-to-body ratio.
€549 across Europe
Oppo is one of the few Chinese manufacturers that has set up a distribution channel in places other than China, and Europeans can make use of its online store dedicated for the continent. Through it, they can get their hands on the Oppo N3 – a decent phablet with a 5.5-inch display (1080 x 1920), quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 16-megapixel swivel camera (it rotates!).
If you're not looking to grab a new phablet right now and are willing to wait, the below candidates might just be exactly what you're looking for. These are phablets worth waiting for.
Coming soon! (Q1)
If you are patient and dig LG devices, then the wait for the G Flex 2 may well be worth it. Featuring a 5.5-inch, bent screen (horizontally), the device can be flex, as its name suggests. The OLED panel in question houses 1080 x 1920 pixels, and is complemented by an octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 13-megapixel camera with optical stabilization. We expect LG's latest to take the $399 price slot with a 2-year commitment.
Asus definitely made waves at CES 2014 with the ZenFone 2, and how could it not? For $299, you're getting a 5.5-inch, 1080 x 1920 resolution display, a quad-core Intel Atom Z3580 processor, 2GB or 4GB of RAM (latter expected to retail for about $450), a 13-megapixel, and Android 5.0 Lollipop with ZenUI on top.
The successor to the Desire 816, the HTC Desire 826 follows in the footstep of its predecessor by combining stylish design, higher mid-range specs, and an affordable price tag (about $370 equivalent in China). For that kind of dough, HTC is offering you a 5.5-inch phablet with a 1080 x 1920 pixel resolution display, a 64-bit, octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor, 2GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel main camera, a 4-megapixel UltraPixel selfie shooter, and Android 5.0 Lollipop out of the box.
If style is as important as hardware specs for you, then the Samsung Galaxy A7 is the perfect blend between the two. A 5.5-incher (1080 x 1920, Super AMOLED), the A7 is expected to launch at the end of Q1 2015, and the rumored price hovers around €500 for Europe. Samsung is offering a 64-bit, octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor with the wafer-thin (0.25 in / 6.3 mm), metal A7, along with 2GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel/5-megapixel camera combo.
Looking to strike a deal? To get the most out of your hard-earned cash? If yes, you sure have options, though some will require a bit more work than others (depending on where you live).
$149.99 with a 2-year contract, $478.99 retail
By smartphone standards, the LG G3 has already matured, and is now aging. But it's still the same powerhouse it was when the company unleashed it back in May of 2014. Better yet, due to it being perceived as going out of fashion, carriers have lowered the asking price dramatically.
For a little less than $480 (AT&T) or $450 (T-Mobile), you're getting quite the device. The G3 sports a 5.5-inch display with 1440 x 2560 resolution, a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, an excellent 13-megapixel camera with optical stabilization, and Android 5.0 Lollipop.
For the price of most 2-year contracts, OnePlus is offering you the One – its first ever smartphone, and a phablet at that. It's a deal worth considering, as you're getting a 5.5-inch display with a 1080 x 1920 resolution, a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, 13-megapixel camera, and CyanogenMod's OS, based on Android 4.4 KitKat. While the invite system for the OnePlus is still in place, you can order the device invite-free every Tuesday.
$199 (Cricket) retail
If you live stateside and dig Cricket's services, you can grab a ZTE Grand X Max+ for as little as $199 – a steal considering the quality you get in return. The Max+ features a large, 6-inch (720 x 1280) display, a quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, a 2GB of RAM, and 13-megapixel/5-megapixel camera combo. Most impressively, the 3,200 mAh battery of the ZTE Grand Max+ held its ground for the impressive 10 hours and 20 minutes in our battery life benchmark, which is an excellent result.
The phablets on the list so far are all expected to be available in at least a few major regions. The ones that are to follow, however – not so much. This isn't to say that the more adventurous of you can't get one if they're willing to shop online, but it does mean that most people in your area won't have access to them. That's both a pro and a big con.
¥3299 (~$528) retail
We can hardly have a list with hard-to-get phablets and not have the brand new, ultra-slim Xiaomi Mi Note Pro. At about $528 in China, the Mi Note Pro is an amazing buy. You're getting a 5.7-inch display with 1440 x 2560 resolution by JDI, a 64-bit, octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel Sony camera with optical stabilization, a 4-megapixel front-facing "UltraPixel" cam, 64GB of storage, and Hi-Fi audio (ESS ES9018K2M sound processor, and two OPA1612 amp chips from Texas Instruments).
¥2299 (~$371) retail
If you dig the Xiaomi Mi Note Pro's design and specs, but would settle for something a little cheaper and less hardware-insane, the Mi Note is an excellent choice, too (provided you can get your hands on one). It's also super slim, has a large, 5.7-inch display (1080 x 1920 pixels), a quad-core Snapdragon 801, 3GB of RAM, a 13-megapixel Sony camera with optical stabilization, a 4-megapixel front-facing "UltraPixel" selfie cam, and Hi-Fi audio (ESS ES9018K2M sound processor, and two OPA1612 amp chips from Texas Instruments).
$579 with free shipping
The Meizu MX4 Pro is another excellent phablet from China that managed to win our hearts when we reviewed it. It's pricey if you order it from Meizu's online store (free shipping), but you're still getting a great bang for your back. The MX4 Pro has a 5.5-inch display with 1440 x 2560 pixel resolution, an octa-core Exynos 5430 processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 20.7-megapixel rear camera.
If you're looking for a beast of a phablet that won't break the bank, then what you've been searching for is the Meizu M1 Note. For that kind of cash, Meizu has pimped out the M1 Note with quite a bit, including a 5.5-inch IGZO display by sharp (1080 x 1920), a 64-bit, octa-core MediaTek MT6752 processor, 2 gigs of RAM, a 13-megapixel camera complemented by 2 LED lamps at the back, and a 5-megapixel camera at the front.
¥1999 (~$322 equivalent) for the 3G model and ¥2499 (~$402) for the LTE version
While Huawei has elected not to sell the Honor 6 Plus in Europe and the States, its Honor 6 Plus phablet will still be available through third-party, online retailers for a temptingly small sum of cash. You're looking at a 5.5-inch IPS display with a resolution of 1080 x 1920, an octa-core Kirin 925 processor, 3GB of RAM, and a special 8-megapixel "Duo" rear camera. Don't confuse it with the unit available with the HTC One M8, though, for this one actually features two separate 8-megapixel shooters with different lens aperture, allowing for cool depth-of-field post-processing.