The best phones we've reviewed so far in 2015 and what we thought about them

The best phones we've reviewed so far in 2015 and what we thought about them
While the bright, hot sun is a harbinger of some (hopefully) great summer days to come, it's also a reminder that for a few months, the mobile industry will be on what is essentially a standby. Sure, phones will be advertised, and phones will be sold, and device makers will fit in some smaller releases, but the big stuff is already out of the way — at least as far as the first half of the year is concerned. This is an opportunity for us to dig through our archives and hunt down the best of the best of the seasons, and highlight them for you once again.

Like last year, we're setting a time frame — only devices released between the first day of the year and now qualify. This means that solid hardware released in the end of 2014 is out on a technicality. Let's take a look...

Keep in mind that a low-end device rated higher than the flagship doesn't imply it's better, since it's rated relative to its competitors within its price class. Read more about how we rate here.

10. ZTE Grand X Max+


For most people, getting the ZTE Grand X Max+ will come down to to two reasons: great battery life, and a sticker price of just $199.99. And that's not a price with a 2-year contract — the budget phablet is available outright through prepaid carrier Cricket Wireless, offering one hell of a bang for your buck if you dislike the idea of chaining yourself to one telecom. 

That's not all the Max+ has going for it, though. For example, its beastly 6-incher of a display is very well calibrated, and offers the excellent 526 nits of brightness, making it perfect for use on the beach. Add to that a nice construction and a solid camera, and you've got yourself a winner!


PROS

  • Solid design & construction for a budget smartphone
  • Battery life is impressive
  • Camera captures some sharp photos & videos
  • $200 cost is extremely competitive

CONS

  • Sluggish performance with heavier operations
  • Underpowered internal speaker
  • Basic Android experience
PhoneArena rating:
8

9. BLU Vivo Air


If you subscribe to the thinness craze, there are very few devices that do it better than BLU's Vivo Air. The 5.1 inches-thick device, modeled on top of the Gionee Elife S5.1, proved quite the fantastic device all things considered. Not only is the body thin, but it's plastic bod is also encased within a frame made out of an aluminum/magnesium alloy. Add to that a $200 outright price, and you're left with very little room for disappointment.


PROS

  • Incredibly thin construction of 5.1mm
  • Premium aesthetics and solid feel
  • Hard-to-beat $200 outright cost
  • Great at handling phone calls

CONS

  • Camera performance is a little disappointing
  • Internal speaker is weak
  • Sluggish processing performance
PhoneArena rating:
8


8. Motorola Moto E (2015)


Motorola took the world by storm by introducing the Moto G back in 2013, and has been working on keeping the momentum since. The reasons for the Moto G's success are no secret — great hardware combined with an affordable price point. But what if Motorola went even deeper, and compromised on hardware more, but also brought down the price point with it? The result is now called the Moto E.

The ultra-affordable 4.5-incher sits at the very bottom of Motorola's range, but it does so with pride. The little munchkin (for today's standards, at least), offers a very consistent, mostly stock Android Lollipop experience (meaning very quick software updates), absolutely excellent battery life, and a $119 price tag.


PROS

  • Aggressive low price point
  • Mostly stock Android 5.0 Lollipop experience
  • Simple design
  • Long battery life
  • Perfect size

CONS

  • Sluggish performance with heavier operations
  • Speaker quality is flat
  • Poor camera quality
  • Challenging call quality
PhoneArena rating:
8


7. HTC One M9


If you're on the market looking for a flagship with a bespoke design, then few would argue against HTC's new One M9. Like previous iterations, the One M9 is wholly made out of aluminum and sports the now signature front-blasting BoomSound set of stereo speakers. But that's not all — the M9 still sports one of the cleanest, yet decidedly custom Android interfaces you can get, offers great audio quality courtesy of the aforementioned loudspeakers, and the earpiece is similarly high-end. Taking the $199, 2-year contract slot, however, the M9's disappointing camera performance and inaccurate screen are just a few things you ought to consider before committing, considering the competition in the field.


PROS

  • Still one of the best designed phones, especially premium
  • Plenty of customizable options with Sense 7.0
  • Snappy processing performance
  • Brilliant sounding speakers
  • Excellent call quality
  • Expandable storage

CONS

  • Disappointing low light performance with its camera
  • Focus adjustment with video recording is jumpy
  • Screen with inaccurate color reproduction
PhoneArena rating:
8.3


6. Huawei P8 


If bespoke design is truly what you're looking at, but you're also open to something a bit more exotic, then Huawei's new P8 certainly fits the bill.

Made out of a fusion between metal and glass, the 0.25 inches-thick P8 looks distinguished in a sea of sameness. And it's not just a pretty face, too — it's got decent display, good battery life, excellent and quite versatile camera, and a price of about $530 in Europe. On the down side, graphics performance trails the best in the class. If you ask us, it's a trade-off worth swallowing.


PROS

  • Premium metal design
  • Excellent still image quality
  • Cool low light capture modes
  • Lower outright cost than most other flagship phones
  • Expandable storage

CONS

  • EMUI 3.1 experience isn’t for power users
  • Knuckle gestures are a bit obnoxious
  • Underpowered performance with graphics processing
  • Dull looking 1080p video recording quality
PhoneArena rating:
8.5


5. Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3


We were first introduced with the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 (5.5-inch model) back at MWC2015 in Barcelona, and the highlight company reps worked to bring to our attention is its ability to be used top-down or bottom-up. Yes, there's an earpiece on both sides, and the symmetrical design makes it easy to forget that you're using the phone "wrong". There is no wrong here.

That's far from everything the 5.5-inch Idol 3 model has going for it. First off, it's priced at just $250 off contract, which is astounding for the quality build and excellent display (for the class) topping out at the amazing 665 nits. The custom Alcatel skin on top of stock Android is also pleasant too look at, if a bit slow with heavier operations, and we can't be happier with its battery life. All around, this phone easily sets the benchmark for low-ends going forward.



PROS

  • $250 off-contract is hard-to-beat
  • Mesmerizing IPS-based display
  • Thin and light construction
  • Simple Android experience that’s lightly customized
  • Extra-long battery life

CONS

  • Somewhat sluggish with heavier operations
  • Quality from the camera is lackluster
  • Battery takes a long time to charge
PhoneArena rating:
8.5


4. LG G4


In some ways, the LG G4 is a device of contrast. A super-duper high-res display, but unsatisfying color calibration. High-end silicon, but not chart-topping graphics performance. A choice of leather for the back, but a relatively boring form and a larger physical footprint than its predecessor. And yet, despite all of this, we felt that the device's absolutely top-notch camera, with the widest range of manual controls ever put on a smartphone, is very much a redeeming quality, and the availability of a removable battery and an extra memory slot remain a solid reason to consider the G4. It's a device that does great in all areas, but leads in few.


PROS

  • Camera captures some slick looking photos
  • Higher degree of sophistication thanks to the new leather back
  • Removable battery & microSD card slot

CONS

  • Slightly longer, wider, and heavier than the G3
  • Color temperature is a cold ~8000K
  • Underperforming graphics processing
PhoneArena rating:
9


3. Samsung Galaxy S6 Active


The latest high-end Samsung phone to hit the market isn't the Galaxy S6 — it's its Active sibling.

Continuing the legacy of super-rugged flagships, the Galaxy S6 Active is anything but the glass canon that is the standard GS6. First off, the thing is built like a tank and is MIL-STD-810 certified for military use, so it's shock, vibration, temperature, and humidity resistant. Add to that an IP68 certification, and you also get comprehensive dust and water resistance. But the best part? Underneath the sturdy exterior, we've got the same kind of bleeding edge hardware available with the S6 and S6 edge. And to top it all off? A giant, 3,500 mAh battery that is the current king of the hill in our custom battery life benchmark. 

No images


PROS

  • Water and shock resistant construction
  • Incredibly long lasting battery life
  • microUSB port has been treated for liquid contact
  • Camera captures amazing photos and videos
  • Strong earpiece volume
  • Accurate Super AMOLED display

CONS

  • Less appealing looking design
  • Activity Zone still lacks any serious usefulness
  • Still no expandable storage
  • Average call quality
PhoneArena rating:
9.2


Sharing the #1 slot: Samsung Galaxy S6 / S6 edge


Despite the objectively awesome S6 Active, we actually rated the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge higher, if only because they look better in the hand, and are much more widely available than the cool, but still niche Active. That shouldn't surprise you — save for battery life, the S6 and S6 edge are worthy contenders for the 2015 title of kings of the food chain, at least as of the time of this writing. 

The S6 and S6 edge themselves differ in a few ways, the most obvious of which being the display of the latter. It's mighty subjective, of course, but we tend to find it more appealing than the standard S6, even if ergonomics are definitely not as good due to that scratchy metal frame. Still, we're more than ready to let that one go, if only for the better battery life — the S6 edge held its cool for an hour longer than the normal S6, and that's a non-trivial improvement. On the whole, however, the two phones are very much alike and largely "enjoy" the same pros and cons.



PROS

  • Attractive, futuristic design
  • Premium choice of materials
  • Camera deliver impressive qualities
  • Improved fingerprint sensor
  • Themes support with TouchWiz
  • An overall specs beast

CONS

  • It’s a magnet for finger prints and smudges
  • (Galaxy S6 edge): Some features of the dual curved display are gimmicky
  • (Galaxy S6): Battery life could have been better
  • Average call quality
PhoneArena rating:
9.3


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26 Comments

1. rd_nest

Posts: 1656; Member since: Jun 06, 2010

If Active is available worldwide, this should be in 1st place.

11. jellmoo

Posts: 2628; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

Kinda depends on what you value more: rugged and battery life vs slimmer and fingerprint scanner.

14. waddup121 unregistered

Good list.

2. BobLawblaw unregistered

Can't argue with that list for 2015 phones..

3. gaming64 unregistered

Where is the Zenfone 2? It has one of the greatest screens I've seen in a $200 phone!

4. dimas

Posts: 3382; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

Gonna bookmark this article and see the changes on december.

13. Ruturaj

Posts: 1484; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

It is going to change, apple iphone 6S /plus and note 5 will be there.

5. josephnero

Posts: 783; Member since: Nov 16, 2011

http://www.esato.com/board/viewtopic.php?topic=208155&start=105 Check the last page for S6 Vs Z3+ lowlight and temperature info and see how sites overrate S6

12. Jason2k13

Posts: 1469; Member since: Mar 28, 2013

So your telling us, that the S6 is bad in lowlight and temperature compared to Z3+ because some random sony fanboy in a sony forum, with a Sony avatar posted his own video? and we should believe that over tech websites? right seriously, unless Sony is paying you your just wasting your time posting non sense. If your getting paid for trolling Samsung then thats fine, but if your not then you really need to get out more and find a gf.

17. josephnero

Posts: 783; Member since: Nov 16, 2011

Yes.because those pics are from video in youtube and not Sony fan forum members have you even watched the vid before commenting sheep?

6. NexusX

Posts: 613; Member since: May 16, 2013

Not sure how the s6 got a 9.3, battery life, average call quality, none expandable storage s are all dealbreakers

10. ihavenoname

Posts: 1693; Member since: Aug 18, 2013

And why did S6 Active got lower score than normal version? Bigger battery, and while it isn't as pretty and premium feeling as the normal one, it is less prone to fingerprints, less slippery and if you drop it, more durable too.

18. josephnero

Posts: 783; Member since: Nov 16, 2011

Simple.sammy pays reviewers

7. teodoros

Posts: 3; Member since: Dec 03, 2014

LG g2

9. darkkjedii

Posts: 31324; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

The g2 came out in 2015?

8. darkkjedii

Posts: 31324; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

S6/edge will hold the crown into fall, then the Note 5, edge plus, and the iPhone's will challenge. To date th edge is the best phone I've used, but the battery life is very subpar.

15. bugsbunny00

Posts: 2266; Member since: Jun 07, 2013

NO iphone!!!....lol.

16. darkkjedii

Posts: 31324; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

The latest iPhones came out in 2014!!!....lol. Gotta read the article dude.

25. bugsbunny00

Posts: 2266; Member since: Jun 07, 2013

your iphone is not here,even when the 6s comes out it will not be here.now you switch to android cus the iphone is no close to the devices above.

26. darkkjedii

Posts: 31324; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Gotta read the article dude. My iPhone came out in 2014. :D

21. gaming64 unregistered

Owned

19. zachki17

Posts: 294; Member since: Sep 14, 2014

Wtf i swearrrrrrrrr lG G4 performs better then the gs6 when playing games ,,, G4 is so much smoother. This isfakeeeeeeee g4 deserve 9,9 rating look at user rating. 9,9 vs gs6 8,7

23. javy108

Posts: 1004; Member since: Jul 27, 2014

G4 looks amazing.

20. legiloca

Posts: 1676; Member since: Nov 11, 2014

I find my HTC Desire Eye better than more than half of the phones featured here... :/

22. chenski

Posts: 774; Member since: Mar 22, 2015

Better specs doesn't mean better phone

24. LetThereBeLight

Posts: 113; Member since: Nov 20, 2014

As a serious reviewer site this as a CON : "(Galaxy S6 edge): Some features of the dual curved display are gimmicky" is quite ridiculous ... I mean yes, it is possibly over hyped and each user can decide it is good or bad, useful or gimmick ... but to say that is a con is... weird...

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