The first half of 2016 is just about in the books and we’ve some exciting releases already this year for flagship phones. While some manufacturers have focussed on refining and improving its already excellent phones, others have gone in a completely new direction. Here are our picks for the best flagships released from January 1, 2016, until June 1, 2016.
#5: LG G5
LG went outside the box with its newest flagship device the G5. It gets high marks for trying to innovate, but less so for execution. Modular phones are more than likely where the industry is going to go- and LG tried to get there first. In order to bring modular design to the masses, LG implemented detachable modules which are found on the bottom of the device. Named “LG Friends”, the modules improve various aspects such as camera functionality or battery life.
However, there have been major issues with the phone. Reports of the bottom of the phone coming off way too easily are widespread, as are reports of a gap that shows up where the bottom of the phone connects with the rest of the body. The unibody metal design doesn’t feel like metal due to the coating technique that LG used and the software on the device received no major improvements. In fact, they removed one of the things that differentiate Android from iOS, the application tray. Now, it’s up to you to decide whether that’s an improvement or not, but it’s certainly different. It does get high marks for shipping with the latest version of Android and it continues to receive security patches.
LG saw success with the LG G4 and was hoping to change course and innovate with the G5. While the device did take some folks by surprise, it’s obvious that the G5 isn’t favored by many.
#4: Huawei P9
Huawei has been one of the biggest players in smartphones for a while, yet hasn’t become a household name in the United States due to its almost exclusively Asian sales. That all changed with the Nexus 6P which introduced the Chinese juggernaut to Android enthusiasts. Making a good impression on those who are most passionate about Android devices is a good way to build your reputation in a market you’re trying to enter. Huawei followed up the Nexus 6P with the P9, which found many raving reviews.
Released in April, the Huawei P9 packs an interesting set of specs. The screen isn’t a monster (5.2″) like it’s cousin, the Nexus 6P (5.7″). Huawei made the decision to go with a lower resolution display (1080P) than most flagships (2K) since it’s easier on the processor and the battery. The P9 is powered by a Krillin 955 processor that has quad-core 2.5GHz cortex A72 & quad-core 1.8GHz Cortex A53 cores to fly through any task. The 32GB model has 3GB of RAM and the 64GB model has 4GB of RAM and both feature a 12MP camera with Leica optics.
We’re still waiting to see if Huawei will make the P9 its second major release in the US or if they will continue to focus on Asian territories, but the message is clear: Huawei has nowhere to go but up.
Review: Huawei P9
#3: Xiaomi Mi5
Xiaomi is another Chinese smartphone maker that’s on the rise. As of the Q4 2015, Xiaomi trailed only Samsung, Apple, and the aforementioned Huawei in market share worldwide. This year Xiaomi blew our socks off with its excellent new flagship, the Mi5.
The Mi5 was one of the first phones to feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor, which powers many of today’s flagship devices (the P9 being notably absent from that list). You can buy multiple models of the Mi5, but the most popular version has so far been the versions with 3GB of RAM and either 32GB or 64GB of storage. There’s also a pro version with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal storage.
The Mi5 has a 5.15″ 1080P display, 3000mAh battery and a 16MP camera to round out the flagship’s specs. But, one of the biggest selling points of the Mi5? The price. It ranges from $370 for the 3/32GB mode all the way up to $415 for the 4/64GB model on Gearbest. That’s about 45% cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
#2: HTC 10
HTC is back, or at least that’s what everyone is claiming. The Taiwanese giant had stumbled as of late with overall negative reviews of the HTC One M9 which weighed down the sales numbers for HTC last year. In fact, HTC has been in serious financial trouble recently which had us doubting how long the company would last. Could this be HTC’s last flagship?
If HTC is on the rocks, then it’ll be going out with a bang. Overwhelmingly positive reviews for the HTC 10 has us excited about the future of the company if it can continue to put out phones like this. The HTC 10 made a small redesign, dumping the front-facing Boomsound speakers for bottom-firing speakers, raising the screen size to 5.2″ and increasing the resolution to 2K. Additionally, the phone is faster and deals better with thermal throttling due to the new Snapdragon 820 processor.
But, what may be the biggest improvement is the camera. HTC has been bouncing around with exactly what its focus in camera technology would be. The HTC One M7 was released with only a 4MP ultra pixel camera which shocked many with its low resolution. The follow-up to the M7, the M8 saw a dual camera setup that in practice appeared to be little more than a gimmick. Last year’s HTC One M9 blew up the megapixel count to 20 MP, but the results stayed mediocre at best.
None of these cameras were stand-outs like we see on other flagships like the Galaxies and iPhones of the world. It was hard to take consistently good shots with all of them. HTC dialed it back this year and went with the same 12 MP camera we’re seeing in many of today’s flagships and results have been pretty positive. Our own Scott Webster said “We found the HTC 10 camera to be among the absolute best smartphone shooters we’ve ever tested. Time and again we were impressed with the shutter speed, focus, and colors.”
Review: HTC 10
#1: Samsung Galaxy S7
Despite its standard flagship price, the Samsung Galaxy S7 still reigns supreme this year. Samsung did the right thing last generation by redesigning its flagships to be more beautiful devices even though there were some major issues with them (battery life, lack of expandable storage). This year has brought us devices that received refinement instead of a complete redesign like last year, and Samsung absolutely knocked it out of the park with the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
What may be the biggest change to its early-year flagships is the software. Samsung seems to finally have gotten the memo about scaling back its TouchWiz skin. We’re now seeing more subtle color pallets, less bloat, and faster performance from TouchWiz, turning a negative into a positive. While it’s not stock, it has become one of the better Android skins out there today and Samsung has given customers many options to customize the software to their liking through a very impressive theme store and apps like
While it’s not stock, it has become one of the better Android skins out there today. Samsung has given customers many options to customize the software to their liking through a very impressive theme store and apps like Good Lock which alters functionality, as well as aesthetics.
Samsung also gave us back a few features that featured prominently in Galaxy S5 but were dropped for the Galaxy S6; water-resistance and expandable storage. The IP68 rating has been one of the biggest selling features for the Galaxy S7- featured prominently in television ads, and the return of expandable storage means that all three major US flagships so far this year (Galaxy S7, G5, and HTC 10) feature expandable storage. A trend we hope continues.
The Galaxy S7 gets the top spot due to its excellent performance, long-lasting battery life, detailed and vibrant camera, and fantastic build materials. If you’re looking to pick up a flagship phone, it’s hard to recommend anything else over the Samsung Galaxy S7.
Review: Samsung Galaxy S7, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge