These are the best smartphones we reviewed in the first half of 2016
While the likes of Samsung and Apple didn't disappoint in 2015, it's probably fair to dub last year as rather underwhelming in terms of the smartphones makers came up with. The reasons for that ranged from poor battery, through problematic performance, down to simply uninspired design and decision making. In comparison, we tend to feel much better about our choices this year.
Some 30 or so smartphones have come and gone through our offices since the beginning of the year, and those we've pitted against each other a dozen times to determine how they compare deathmatch style. For the curious at heart, here are our best picks of the first half of 2016, in ascending order:
A 9.4 out of 10 for the LG G2. A 9.2 out of 10 for the LG G3. A 9 out of 10 for the LG G4. And an 8.3 out of 10 for the LG G5. Notice the trend?
We've always liked LG's work, that much is made obvious by the above summary going back to the truly excellent LG G2. But ever since then, LG's been increasingly pressured by ever improving competitors, not to mention errors on its part. For example, in the rush to a Quad HD display, LG released the G3 with an otherwise great processor that was simply not powerful enough to drive as many pixels. The G4 improved upon that, and the G5 is even better, but despite its semi-modularity, we just couldn't rate it as highly as competing solutions.
"We like the new direction LG is taking with design—both on the hardware and software front..."
For years now, Samsung has been releasing bulky, rubberized versions of its flagship Galaxy S line, lately as an AT&T exclusive. 2016 and the Galaxy S7 series were no exception.
Like its predecessor, the Galaxy S7 active is all that the Galaxy S7 is, but much tougher and better lasting. But this year, it's less of a 'rugged' upgrade, as the standard S7 and S7 edge are both dust-tight and water-proof (formerly a great pro of the 'active' line), and this rugged beast comes at a $100 premium over the standard model. Throw in the continuing, but unfortunate AT&T exclusivity, and we just couldn't rate it as highly as we did the Galaxy S6 Active from last year.
"Considering the stock GS7 is water-resistant this year, there are bound to be users who would rather slap an impact-absorbing case on a regular Galaxy S7."
Up to its third flagship since its conception, OnePlus has, unlike last year, delivered. The OnePlus 3 is not only affordable (despite being more expensive than ever before), but actually delivers in most key areas. Sure, the display is concerning (but supposedly being taken care of through a future update) and battery life is underwhelming, but considering you're otherwise getting flagship-level hardware—and as importantly, performance—for a fraction of what you'd be paying otherwise, this is one deal worth your consideration.
Best of all? Invites are no more!
"The OnePlus 3 is in many ways like an HTC phone - great design without much going on in terms of special features. It works well. And at that $400 price, it’s definitely something special."
Apple iPhone SE
For the longest time, Apple held onto a philosophy of designing smartphones that one could utilize single-handedly without straining himself. But eventually, market pressure became too great, and Apple had to adapt, releasing a larger 'smaller' iPhone 6 (and 6s), alongside the giant iPhone 6 and 6s Plus. Not one to give up on its loyal customers who preferred the smaller footprint of its older devices, however, Apple eventually bent again and released the 4-inch iPhone SE.
On the inside, the iPhone SE is a no-compromise device, mimicking the spec sheet of the powerful iPhone 6s with a few exceptions. On the outside, however, it comes in a very familiar package—that of the iPhone 5/5s. That, more than anything, is what weighed heavily into our final score. Still excellent, sure, but we would've appreciated it if Apple didn't re-use its old design.
"Considering what it could have been, it almost feels like Apple's intentionally restricting the appeal of the SE."
It's been a while since HTC last had a winner on its hands, and it needed one badly, what with its stock prices reaching record lows in 2015. Thankfully, the HTC 10 proved the break the Android pioneer hoped for, and we rank it among the very best of the first half of 2016.
With the 10, HTC did something we've been hoping for for a while now: great execution of the oft-overlooked basic building blocks of a smartphone, with little to no attempts to woo us with 'extra features' that, more often than not, turn out to be silly and inconsequential gimmicks, not to mention distractions from what's important. The HTC 10 is rock solid because it skips over just that.
"A tool to get the job done and then stay out of the way instead of wasting your time with gimmicks."
If anyone still had any doubt about Samsung's lasting investment in its 'edge' line of devices, the Galaxy S7 edge ought to have put those worries to rest. Unlike last year, however, instead of splitting its edge line into two with the Galaxy S6 edge and S7 edge+, the company this around has opted for the latter, with the S7 edge sporting a large, 5.5-inch display that curves to the sides.
Further setting the S7 edge apart from the standard S7 is the larger battery, which ensures better battery life, not to mention that Samsung has further added value to the edge screen through a new, more useful UI for it. This makes the $100 premium on top of the cost of the S7 more stomachable.
"...the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge is a noteworthy phone rich in both the experience and performance – with a price point that’s justified against its sibling."
Whatever Samsung's shortcomings as far as smartphones go, at the very least you could never complain that the South Korean giant is being complacent, and the Galaxy S7 proves that yet again. In comparison with its predecessor, the S7 offers water resistance, a better fingerprint scanner, larger battery, and an incredible camera. Performance, too, is better than ever overall.