Some might argue that we’ve reached a point where smartphones are no longer improving. Moore’s law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. However Intel stated in 2012 that Moore’s Law had in fact slowed as technology reached a point of lesser growth.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing as hardware prices have come down, and has allowed for a flood of manufacturers to enter the smartphone market. We’ve seen incredible phones from relatively newcomers such as OnePlus, LeEco, Huawei, Xiaomi, and Nextbit.
Samsung, Motorola, LG and HTC have all made and released intriguing phones this year, while Apple has followed the path of least resistance with a design that has worked for its bottom line. Samsung had a massive blow up (pun intended) with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, but research shows a great majority of its users would stick with the brand and are looking forward to the Galaxy S8. Even Google switched gears up recently and decided to take control of its destiny with the Pixel phones.
There’s just been so many phones in 2016 that very few people are able to keep up with all of the latest devices. So I asked myself, with a budget of $1000, which phone would I pick if I could only choose one?
The phones I’ve used this year
I’ve used so many phones in 2016 that I’m honestly tired of swapping my SIM card. The phones I have used this year; The Huawei Nexus 6P and GX8, LG Nexus 5X, LG V10 and G5, Samsung Galaxy S7 edge and Note 7, Xiaomi Mi5, iPhone 6S Plus and 7 Plus, Moto Z, Honor 5X, Nextbit Robin, OnePlus 3 and most recently, the LeEco Pro3.
I’ll start off with LG. LG has fantastic concepts when it comes to devices, but the build quality just isn’t there anymore. The LG Urbane 2nd Edition recall was proof the company needs to do more testing before it releases a product. The V10 and G5 were fantastic concepts, but my V10 wouldn’t last more than five hours away from a wall plug, and my G5 just felt overpriced. The G5 also was a failed concept as there have been no modules to add to it since the release. I’m done with LG and won’t return to it unless it focuses on improving the quality of its flagships.
The LG V20 looks like it is packed with features, but to me it’s more of the same.
Apple’s smartphones are well built and predictable. After three generations of the same design, I would hope that Apple has the quirks worked out and it does. However a three year old hardware design is tired on the 7 Plus – the weight and size are simply too much for a phone with a 5.5″ display. The price is also outrageous with the cheapest model starting at $749 for the Plus version. The cheaper iPhone SE is from a four year old design, while the newest phone designs are three years old. I miss Steve Jobs.
I think the most underrated premium smartphone on the market is the Moto Z. Motorola went away from mid-range designed phones in 2016, and as a phone geek I love the choice to go premium. The Moto Z is the slimmest phone in the US measuring in at 5.2mm. iPhones are known for their slim form factor and small batteries, but the Moto Z manages to be 2.1mm thinner. I barely even notice it in my pocket. It’s also a great phone because it can be purchased unlocked and used on any network, including Verizon and Sprint.
The Moto Mods aren’t cheap, but the integration using magnets is the path modular phones should follow. If Moto continues with this design, I think its users will be happy campers, especially if Lenovo maintains Moto’s track record of fast software updates.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Samsung ever since it went away from the utilitarian designs of the Galaxy Note 4 and S5. However, as much as I try to stop buying its expensive Galaxy lineup, I am so attracted to the physical build, gorgeous displays and top of the line cameras that I always pick up the latest no matter the cost.
I love that Samsung still keeps wireless charging as a feature while others have gone away from it. It’s also nice that Samsung listened to us and returned our expandable storage too, even while Google continues to leave it out of its own smartphones.
I firmly believe Samsung killed off the Galaxy Note 7 because it couldn’t stop the negative press and clickbait. Ever since Samsung recalled all of the Note 7 smartphones, we haven’t heard of another story of the phone catching fire even though there are still one million out in the wild. The media blew the Note 7 recall out of proportion and there was nothing Samsung could do to end it. The most recent stories of the Note 7 smartphone replacements catching fire have still yet to be verified.
When the Galaxy S8 is released, I am sure there will be stories of that phone catching fire too. Samsung’s PR team needs to earn its money to prevent those stories from going viral the next go around.
At least the unverified news stories have stopped, and people are now looking towards the future.
My main problem with Samsung is its super slow software updates and its bloatware. Samsung has way too many duplicate apps and allows for carriers to load up its premium devices with junk that can’t be removed. If it really wants to win back its customers, Samsung needs to commit to long term ownership of its most premium devices. Looks and build only go so far. With all that said, I’ll still be getting an S8 and I still use my Note 7 on a regular basis.
There was a large void of premium devices in the second half of 2016. LG announced its V20 almost two months ago and are now finally shipping the devices. The Note 7 was recalled leaving the Pixel, formerly Nexus to save the day. The Pixel and Pixel XL are two incredible devices that are super fast and stable. HTC put its masterful touch on the build of the Pixel devices, and I hope it continues to build Google’s lineup. The major downsides to the Pixels are the lack of expandable memory and the astronomical price tag. As good as these devices are, I have a hard time recommending them at over $750.
The camera is legitimately as good as Google said it is too.
Huawei and Honor
Huawei and its sub brand Honor entered the US market last year with a splash in the Nexus 6P, Honor 5X and GX8. The Nexus 6P has proven to be a reliable phone, even being over a year old. It’s one of the few devices that runs Android Nougat 7.0 and it is still fast, has a great display, above average camera, and is USB C compatible. In summary, even though it is one year old, it is one of the most complete Android packages available today at half the cost of the new Pixel XL. Even with a year of ownership, the fingerprint reader still works like it is new. The 6P is one of the best built phones I have used in a long time.
The only downside to the 6P is the large build. While that build was good a year ago, Samsung proved you can fit the same amount of phone into a much smaller package.
The Honor 5X is still selling well with its price tag under $200. I occasionally still use my 5X to test out long term ownership, and think it is an incredible value. Read the 1700+ reviews on Amazon and you’ll see many others think the same as I do.
Huawei is an exciting company and its growth in 2016 is proof it is on the right track.
Xiaomi and LeEco
The premium budget category is an exciting area of growth for the smartphone industry. I’m 100% certain that companies like LeEco and Xiaomi will replace tired companies such as Sony and LG. They have enough money to support the development of its devices as well, unlike OnePlus and Nextbit.
Xiaomi has yet to enter the US market, but all signs are pointing to its entrance within a year or two. The Xiaomi Mi5 is a fantastic phone but is limited by its lack of LTE bandwidth in the US. I’d rate the build quality up there with Samsung, and am eagerly awaiting it to enter the market.
LeEco is a brand most of you just heard about two weeks ago. It’s got a premium device with a mid-range price tag at $399 in the LeEco Pro3.
It runs a Snapdragon 821, has 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal memory, and has a beautiful 1080p display that gets bright and colorful. It does run a heavy UI skin, but I like it and love that there is media content built into the device. I think the Pro3 will make waves for those who care about saving their money and don’t think a $800 smartphone is necessary. At $400, this is easily one of the best purchases you can make in an Android device. Verizon and Sprint customers are out of luck with this one as it is not compatible with CDMA networks.
So which smartphone would I buy?
I work hard for money just like you do. I have a normal job and pay for about 80% of the phones I use, which is a heck of a lot of money. However most of those phones are used to research what is the best so I can transmit that information to you.
Right now my first instinct is to go with the Pixel XL. It is incredibly fast, has unlimited photo storage with the highest rated camera ever, and is packaged in a premium build. It’s also compatible with all four networks too. But the real problem is its hefty price tag. Even if I had $1000 to spend on it, there are too many choices at a fraction of the cost that perform the same functions.
I’ve been a Samsung fanboy since the Note 3, and thought the Note 7 was great except for its bloatware and lag. The S7 edge is arguably the best looking phone of 2016, but the edges don’t serve much purpose and tend to get in the way.
LG is just junk to me after the G5 and V10. I hope it gets its act together fast.
The Moto Z would probably be my goto phone, if it weren’t for its beefy price tag at $700. The Moto Mods are a bit pricey, but they should drop once more come out. It’s a great phone and you can’t go wrong with it.
Of all of the phones I would buy, it might sound extremely lame and boring, but it would be the Huawei Nexus 6P, with the LeEco Pro3 right behind it. Even though it doesn’t have expandable memory, I would purchase the 64GB for $440 unlocked. I’d then move my number to Project Fi and spend $40-50 a month and spend my $1000, rather than blowing it all on one smartphone. Or I would get the 6P and a Pixel C tablet to round out my mobile experience.
It performs the same functions at the same speed as today’s devices and even runs Nougat. The 6P will continue to get security patches and software updates faster than carrier phones and meets all of my needs, even with the large build.
Even though my decision is on an old device, it’s still one of the most complete packages in a smartphone. The fact that you can pair it with Project Fi is a huge bonus, and the accessories for the 6P are dirt cheap now. The returns on smartphones are far less than they were a year ago, and I really don’t need to spend eight Benjamins on a phone these days.