A look back at the commendable Android phones of 2015

[dropcaps]We’ve certainly had our fill of exciting Android releases in 2015. When I look at all the differentiation between each manufacturers’ offering, I get reminded of Android’s newly established motto, “Be together. Not the same“.

Each flagship presented to us have strengths and weaknesses, making the designation of the “best phone” only apparent when resolving what best suits you. It is in this respect that we’ve compiled a rundown of the top phone options at the halfway point of 2015, in impression and comparison. Let’s get started![/dropcaps]

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Flagship phones

Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge

s6I think we can all agree this iteration to Samsung’s flagship brought the biggest change to design and build. And it was about time! Last year’s Galaxy S5 proved that Samsung could not keep recycling the same design and remain successful.

From the front of the Galaxy S6, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that anything has changed. Samsung has retained the same button, earpiece, and sensor layouts as before. Touring the sides and back is where you notice a serious makeover. A curved metal frame surrounds the device and a flat glass back seals it up. Yes, Samsung succumbed to a non-removable back cover for the sake of a premium build (forgoing the traditional removable battery and microSD slot).

Samsung also took this opportunity to take the curved edge concept from the Note Edge a step further and put it on both sides to form the S6 Edge. Although it adds little to functionality, no one can deny it is certainty neat to look at, especially as content falls off the screen.

Under the hood we got another surprise, a home-brewed Exynos processor instead of the usual Qualcomm Snapdragon. The 16 MP sensor was upgraded to a f/1.9 aperture lens, resulting in great low light performance. Samsung’s TouchWiz UI was said to be toned down, making those lags and stutters yesterday’s news.

[row][third_paragraph] s6_en_s6_edge [/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Premium design and feel[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Arguably best phone display, with excellent outdoor visibility[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Arguably best Android camera[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Curved edge variant[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Refined fingerprint sensor[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Sub-par battery life[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No microSD support[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]TouchWiz UI still present[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Expensive[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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HTC One M9

m9-hero-imageHTC has taken quite a bit of flak for what they delivered to us this year, and I won’t say it wasn’t well deserved. It made more sense to look at the One M9 as a One M8+; we didn’t get much change.

It pained me to see HTC sticking with a 5″ display. It is simply too small for a flagship in this day and age. And what made it worse is that HTC shortly released the One M9+ with a 5.2″ display overseas soon after the M9 launch in the US.

It was also painful to see the infamous black bar (surrounding the HTC logo) still present. Bezel should be a sensitive subject when the stereo speakers add so much of it. HTC should have worked harder to reduce it (perhaps a larger device could have provided the extra space for the circuitry).

But whatever negativity befalls the One flagship, it was still a solidly built, sexy slab of metal. HTC updated the design with a two-tone finish, for flare and jewerly-like attractiveness. The speakers underwent a dolby-surround upgrade. The Sense UI (currently version 7.0) is still one of the quickest.

The camera got both an upgrade and a downgrade. Upgrade in megapixel count, downgrade in quality. Reviews found that the Toshiba-manufactured sensor isn’t where a flagship should be. Not having OIS results in grainy shots, low light shots are fuzzy, and light balance is iffy (whites get overexposed in shots with dynamic ranges). It’s like HTC flipped their ideals from a couple years ago, when they held quality over MP count.

And where is that phablet!?

[row][third_paragraph] m9 [/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Proven design and solid build[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Best smartphone speakers[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Fast UI[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]MicroSD support[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Uh-Oh damage protection (free 1-time replacement)[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Exhausted look[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Primary camera can’t compete[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No wireless charging[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Bad power and volume button ergonomics[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Sense 7.0 doesn’t add much[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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LG G4

G4_Genuine_Leather2It’s a funny thing that LG has been creeping their flagship launches closer and closer to the Spring each year. The company has refined the G-series into a very competitive device and wants it to play with the big boys.

Like HTC, LG took the route of minor design changes. The G4 bore a striking resemblance to the G3 the year before. The big difference in the design was the back cover options, where we have either a diamond-texture plastic shell or leather. The continuation of a plastic build maintained access to battery and microSD card (something that has quickly been going the way of the dodo). Also, although subtle, the G4 got a little influence from the Flex line, with a slight curve to the chassis.

Most of the updates on the G4 were internal. Although the screen remained at a 5.5″ QHD display, the quality was bumped up quite a bit – due to LG’s home-brewed IPS “Quantum” LCD panel. It came with improved vividness, contrast, and color gamut. This was the LCD to rival Samsung’s S-AMOLED screen.

The other large improvement was with the camera. LG packed a lot of technology in the 16 MP shooter: OIS (in all three axis of movement: x, y, and z), laser autofocus, color-spectrum sensor (for light balance), and tons of manual controls in the camera app.

[row][third_paragraph] lg_g4_black_leather [/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Fantastic display quality[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Powerful camera and control[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Swappable battery and microSD support[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Minimal bezel[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Leather option[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Plastic build[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Uses the Snapdragon 808 (not more powerful Snapdragon 810)[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No wireless charging[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Unattractive UI[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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Moto X Pure Edition

Moto_X_Pure_Edition_2015_pure_Android_smartphoneMotorola’s flagship phone has built quite the reputation since its debut back in 2013. At each refresh, the Moto X receives those just right bit of improvements to continue winning the hearts of its fans. Motorola no doubt follows a “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” mentality in regard to the Moto X’s design, and this year is no exception with the Moto X Pure Edition (or “Moto X Style” in international markets).

Fortunately, Motorola is commonsensical enough to not try throwing a fast one on consumers and charge the same for a recycled design. The Moto X Pure launched retailing for $100 less than than its predecessor did, at $400 for the base model (16GB). And the aggressive pricing gave Motorola the final nail in the coffin to break free of carriers for good.

Together with the fact that Motorola phones are a near-stock Android experience, the Moto X Pure suddenly became a shinning star in the eyes of unlocked Android enthusiasts. It still has the power of a “flagship” smartphone (Snapdragon 808 SoC and 3GB of RAM), but carefully tuned with the right compromises.

The two largest updates occurred on the display and camera. The Moto X is now well into “phablet” territory with a 5.7″ sized screen (from 5.2″ last year). Motorola recognized that the Moto X’s camera has historically been poor and made sure that this time it could stand up with the best. The new camera module (Sony IMX 230, 21MP, f/2.0 aperture) won critics from the bat. Combine those improvements with the excellent customization options from Moto Maker and we have a flagship offering to be reckoned with.

[row][third_paragraph]moto_x_pure

[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]More customization than anyone else offers[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Near Stock Android experience, with useful Motorola enhancements[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]front facing speakers[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Great base price of $399[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]One of the best Android cameras[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]MicroSD expansion[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]TFT LCD display[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]So-so battery life[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Exhausted design[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No wireless charging[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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OnePlus 2

oneplus_two_1OnePlus showed in 2015 that it’s not going to let up on the momentum that the startup hyped up in the Android community. In the summer, its flagship was refreshed as the OnePlus 2. Most would call the sequel an evolution rather than revolution, but that happens to be a common story with smartphones nowadays.

The changes were mostly welcomed improvements, except for a controversial exclusion – NFC (sorry Android Pay fans). OnePlus hopes it made that up to you with the addition of a fingerprint scanner on the front. The phone’s build was also spiffed up with a metal perimeter, adding more value to that attractive low price. The SwapStyle back cover options make a comeback after some refinement (OnePlus had some issues with its swappable promise the first time around).

The camera also received quite the update. Although OnePlus ditched the use of a Sony module (a risky move), the Omni-Vision sensor (13MP with f/2.0 aperture) now in place has a larger 1.3 micron pixel size, to tackle low-light situations. OnePlus also took the opportunity to utilize the brand-spanking new USB Type-C port in the OnePlus 2 (but at the cost of fast charging). Lastly, the “Flagship Killer” is powered by a tamed Snapdragon 810 SoC (4GB of RAM) and a packs a considerable 3,300 mAh battery.

Oh, and OnePlus recently made purchase of the OnePlus 2 permanently invite-free.

[row][third_paragraph]473243-oneplus-2[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Fantastic value[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Great performing camera[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Large battery[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]The latest USB Type-C standard[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Lots of back cover options[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Display not as good as pricier flagships[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No fast charging[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No NFC[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No microSD support[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No wireless charging[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]You have to toss anything you have with a microUSB plug[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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Note 5 and S6 Edge+

note5Samsung’s Galaxy Note series will always be highly regarded. The first Note started the phablet trend, back in 2011, when a 5.3″ screen was considered enormous. In the following years, screen size in other flagships began to grow aggressively, and soon the Note found itself in a good place, as the leader of the pack of pocket-busting phones.

With the Note5, Samsung predictably repeated the new glass/metal design introduced on the Galaxy S6 earlier in the year. Additionally, the S6 Edge was blown up to form S6 Edge+. Yes, we had a duo phablet launch by Samsung in the Fall. Although, some regarded that fact as superfluous. They were practically the same phone, only differing by the stylus on the Note5 and curved edges on the S6 Edge+. The core specs were mirrored in every way.

Nonetheless, no one can deny that these two are of the top phones of the year. Samsung’s S-AMOLED display holds the crown, the camera performance is among the best in a smartphone, and the Exynos processor is extremely snappy despite the heavy UI. The stylus experience with the Note5 is second to none. And although the curved edges are still not very practical, they look sexier on a larger footprint. Samsung also alleviated the battery concerns from the S6 with a 3,000 mAh battery (although, it’s still sealed in – a fact that Note fans didn’t take to kindly).

[row][third_paragraph]galaxys6edgeplusnote5[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Leading S-AMOLED display[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Arguably the best Android camera[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Top-end specs[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Unique S-pen functionality[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Unique curved display option[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Wireless charging (capability for fast wireless charging)[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Expensive[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Fragile-feeling and smudge magnet[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No microSD support[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]TouchWiz UI still present[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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Sony Xperia Z5

xperia_z5_familyAs of late, Sony’s presence in the mobile market has been regarded as dubious by much of the industry. The Xperia Z4’s very quiet launch was bundled with rumors that Sony may be on the verge of selling its mobile division following mediocre sales.

Instead, Sony both shot down those pessimistic rumors and upgraded its Xperia family in the Fall. It’s true, the design of the Xperia phone remains largely the same. But we’ve had a more notable expansion of the line. Where there was previously either a small or large offering, we now have a middle ground – Sony is hoping you’ll find your perfect phone size in its lineup.

The Xperia’s top-end offering now has the moniker “Premium” (with a price tag to match). The Z5 Premium has all the bells and whistles that the technology giant could stuff in a smartphone, including a ridiculously pixel-dense 4K screen in a 5.5″ size. The middle sibling, known as the Xperia Z5, is still at 5.2″ (1080P) and has forgone the glass back from a matte plastic cover. Lastly, the Z5 Compact still offers the best specs you can find in a 4.6″ (720P) smartphone.

The great thing is that all the phones have the same Snapdragon 810 SoC and Sony’s best camera sensor to date (we can’t forget that the cameras in many flagships are supplied by Sony). Also, no other manufacturer has committed to making their phones water and dust-proof like Sony has.

[row][third_paragraph]Sony_Xperia_Z5_family[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Proven design and build[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Top-end specs (including 4K option)[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Leading camera[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Water and dust-proof[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]MicroSD support[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Front-facing stereo speakers[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Very minimal change from predecessor[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Expensive[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Unattractive Sony UI[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No wireless charging[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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Droid Turbo 2 (Verizon)

droid_turbo2Motorola has had a close relationship with Verizon since the debut of the original Droid back in 2009 (can you believe that was six years ago?). Last year we got the pretty epic Droid Turbo, which was essentially a souped variant of the Moto X 2nd Gen. Following the launch of this year’s Moto X, many Droid fans were wondering what shape the Turbo sequel would take.

While the overall design of the Droid Turbo 2 mimics Motorola’s pure flagship, the OEM cooked up something not yet seen before in a smartphone display – shatterproofing. The Turbo 2’s screen is reinforced with five layers of protection. The display itself is 5.4″ in size and uses plastic-AMOLED technology. Compared to the Moto X Pure, the Turbo 2 also received a boost in the form of a Snapdragon 810 SoC and considerably larger battery – 3,760 mAh. Otherwise, we have the same cameras, 3GB of RAM, and stereo front speakers.

Customization through Moto Maker also drops in this time (the original Turbo only had pre-set designs), and there is still that awesome Ballistic Nylon material option. Now if only Verizon could stop stamping its fugly logo on the front. Check out our review.

[row][third_paragraph] Droid Turbo 2 Front and Back (1)[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Shatterproof display[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Large battery[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Top-end specs[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Great camera[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]MicroSD expansion[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Moto Maker and cool material choices[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Only for Verizon[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Thick phone[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Expensive[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Verizon bloatware[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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Nexus 6P

nexus_6pWhat I love about the Nexus program is that we get something completely different every year. 2015 was certainly no exception, for the first time in Nexus history we got two releases – the premium Nexus 6P and budget Nexus 5X.

For the top-notch offering, Google partnered with Huawei this time around. Huawei has been quickly ramping up its quality, so it was no surprise to see the manufacturer able to deliver a premium, metal-dominated build. Early reception from leaks criticized the weird glass visor on the back, but everyone changed their tune upon the launch. Weirdness aside, the Nexus 6P is a beauty to behold from head to toe.

Many owners of last year’s Nexus 6 are clinching tight, but the fact of the matter is that Google continues to push the technological envelope. The 6P has a fingerprint scanner (with the fabulously responsive Nexus Imprint), bleeding-edge USB Type-C port, and main camera sensor with large 1.55 µm pixels that runs circles around the Nexus 6’s camera performance in low-light situations. Bundle that with Samsung’s most current S-AMOLED panel, a considerable battery capacity, stereo front-facing speakers, and the latest Marshmallow goodness from Google, and we have a winner.

[row][third_paragraph] Google-Nexus-6P[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]QHD S-AMOLED display (from Samsung)[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Stock and latest Android experience[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Nexus Imprint is fantastic[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]High-end specs[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Dual front-facing speakers[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Terrific camera performance[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Latest USB Type-C standard[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Wireless charging has been left behind[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Large for a 5.7″ phone[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]You have to toss anything you have with a microUSB plug[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No microSD support[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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LG V10

LG-V10-Second-ScreenThe launch of the LG V10 was fairly quiet, but boy did it make a splash with reviewers (including myself). The “V” moniker is unfamiliar, but consumers shouldn’t let that deter. LG built on the G4’s success, and it’s doing so many good things.

Firstly, the build has been strengthened up, both in robustness and grip. That rubbery back cover does wonders with handleability (and no fingerprint smudges whatsoever), supplemented by the metal rails on the sides. Yes, the two stapled features of the V10 can come off as somewhat gimmicky (secondary screen and dual front cameras), but you don’t have to use them. LG also saw the upgrade as an opportunity to tack on a fingerprint scanner on the power button.

The core specs of the V10 follow in the G4’s footsteps: Snadragon 808 SoC (hexa-core processor), 16MP f/1.8 camera (modified Sony IMX234 module), and QHD Quantum IPS LCD screen. The RAM had a slight bump from 3GB on the G4 to 4GB. Also, LG saw the V10 as an opportunity to show that smartphones can have excellent audio playback. The V10 is fitted with a dedicated DAC (digital-to-analog converter) for processing Hi-Fi audio.

[row][third_paragraph]LG-V10-03[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Fantastic grip and handleability[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Fantastic LG-made display[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Leading camera[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]HiFi audio[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Removeable battery[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]MicroSD expansion[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Large phone[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Bottom mono speaker[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Boring user interface[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No wireless charging[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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Budget phones

Nexus 5X

nexus_5xFor the first time in Nexus history, Google partnered back up with a past manufacturer. The original Nexus 5 (manufactured by LG) was so popular that Google couldn’t help but create a sequel, especially in light of all the criticism over last year’s ginormous Nexus 6. The new Nexus 5X serves as a more compact Nexus for fans of a phone with a smaller footprint and a pure Android that is easier on the wallet (like the Nexus 5 was).

So did Google succeed in repeating the greatness of the Nexus 5? In a lot of ways, yes. The 5.2″ sized display is a sweet-spot that still allows for one-handed use and the starting price of $379 (currently $50 at $329) is still low enough to make the 5X an enticing deal. Additionally, it’s powered by the very capable Snapdragon 808 SoC (same as the LG G4) and the same excellent camera and fingerprint scanner (with Nexus Imprint) that’s on the more premium Nexus 6P.

However, it would be silly to not expect compromise in the 5X. The build has been said to feel lackluster. The quality of the display leaves to be desired. Lastly, while it looks like there are stereo speakers on the front, only the bottom speaker grill fires audio playback. But many would agree that these were the right compromises, and Google didn’t forget about that brand-spanking new USB Type-C port.

[row][third_paragraph]5x-buy-white-1600[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Sweet spot phone size for one-handed use[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Stock and latest Android experience[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Great specs for the price[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Top-notch camera[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Nexus Imprint fingerprint scanner[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]The latest USB Type-C standard[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Build feels cheap[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]LCD quality leaves to be desired[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Mono external speaker[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]You have to toss anything you have with a microUSB plug[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No microSD support[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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OnePlus X

oneplus_x_phoneOnePlus surprised us this year by dropping a secondary phone. The OnePlus X is a smaller brother to the company’s OnePlus 2 flagship. But fortunately, the OnePlus X is much more interesting than just a smaller OnePlus 2. The build is completely different (in a good way). The frame is a textured metal and the back is flanked by glass with 2.5D. This makes the OnePlus X one of the most (if not the most) premium budget phones on the market, at a starting price of only $249.

However, we can’t forget that budget is a game of give and take. You won’t be blown away by the OnePlus X’s specs, but it should be enough to get you by just fine. We have a 5″ AMOLED display (1080P), Snapdragon 801 with 3GB of RAM, 16GB of on-board storage (expandable up to 128GB via microSD), 13MP f/2.2 rear and 8MP f/2.4 front cameras, and 2,525 mAh battery.

It’s a bummer that the Invite system is still technically in place for the OnePlus X, but fortunately, the company is starting to lighten up. You can purchase the OnePlus X invite-free every Tuesday.

[row][third_paragraph]OnePlus-X-mobile-phone-4G-FDD-LTE[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Premium-built phone for only $249[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Minimal bezel and compact size[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Great performance for price[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Expandable storage[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Software isn’t too invasive[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Camera leaves to be desired in real-world use[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Relatively small battery[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Yesteryear SoC[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No quick charging[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No NFC[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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HTC One A9

htc_one_a9_gallery_1HTC has a lot of catching up to do. Following the mediocre reception of the One M9 at the beginning of the year, the company said there was something strong coming in the Fall. That surfaced as the One A9 and it was…interesting.

HTC saw the evolution of its metal design coinciding with what Apple has done. At the risk of looking like an iPhone copier, the company stuck to its guns and made it anyways. However, once you look past the all-too-familiar design, you’ll begin to see a great smartphone. The One A9 is in the shadow of HTC’s true flagship, but that distinction begins to haze once you look at the whole package.

The One A9 still has a compact 5″ display (this time with a more current AMOLED panel) and is powered by a capable Snapdragon 617 octa-core SoC and 3GB of RAM. The primary camera had an overhaul and performs better than the one on the M9 (the front is still the 4MP Ultrapixel sensor). The battery might seem low at 2,150 mAh, but our review showed that it is efficient. There is also now a fingerprint scanner on the front (it’s quick too).

The One A9 was launched at a price of $399. Unfortunately, it has gone up since then (pushing the upper limit of “budget”). We believe it should have kept that launch price for a better fighting chance. If you want to save some moolah, you can find it on Amazon.

[row][third_paragraph]one_a9[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Compact design and solid build[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Great rear and front cameras[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Fast UI[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]MicroSD support[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Quick fingerprint scanner[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Uh-Oh damage protection (free 1-time replacement)[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]iPhone-y appearance[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Display too small for many Android users[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Bottom mono speaker[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Price is high for a mid-range phone[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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Droid Maxx 2 (Verizon)

mot-droidmaxx2-personalizeTo our surprise, Motorola and Verizon had more in store than just the Turbo 2. The Droid Maxx was resurrected from the dead. The companies saw Motorola’s more budget Moto X variant, the Moto X Play, as an opportunity for the Maxx 2. You’d be right to be scratching your head on this one. Whereas the original Maxx led the Droid lineup, the Maxx 2 is now a cheaper option. The Turbo 2 is actually the maxed out beast.

The Maxx 2 is powered by a mid-end Snapdragon 615 (octa-core) SoC with 2GB of RAM. You won’t find that shatterproofing offered in the Turbo 2. We have a 5.5″ 1080P display behind last year’s Gorilla Glass 3 protection.

Fortunately, the great primary 21MP camera is carried over from the flagship, along with a weighty 3,630 mAh battery. Stereo speakers didn’t make the cut, but the one on the bottom is at least front-facing. And although the Maxx 2 only comes with 16GB on-board storage, there is microSD expansion up to 128GB.

You won’t get Moto Maker with this one but you are allowed to remove the back cover and swap out different colored shells. The Maxx 2 retails for $384.

[row][third_paragraph]maxx_2[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Sweet-spot 5.5″ size[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Large battery[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Great camera[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]MicroSD expansion[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Changeable back cover[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Only for Verizon[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Only 2GB of RAM[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Poor speaker quality[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No OIS on camera[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Verizon bloatware[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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Asus Zenfone 2

Asus-Zenfone-2-heroAsus has been in the smartphone scene for quite some time…it just wouldn’t be necessarily known because the manufacturer hasn’t made much of a dent in the Android world. That is, until the Zenfone 2 this year. Asus has shifted their smartphone focus to value.

Similar to the Oneplus strategy, the Zenfone 2 can be seen as a flagship at a budget price. We have a common 5.5″ IPS LCD display at 1080P, quad-core 64-bit CPU (Intel Atom Z3580 SoC), 4 GB of RAM, 13 MP rear camera with dual-LED and dual-tone flash, 3,000 mAh battery, 64 GB of on-board storage with microSD expansion, and Android 5.0 Lollipop, all for $300. Killer deal if you ask me. There is also a cheaper variant with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of on-board storage for $200 as well.

But do expect to see some some compromises. The quality of the display is just okay, the camera is not on par with the greats, and the Asus software is undesirable.

[row][third_paragraph] zenfone2[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Great value[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]”Sweet spot” display size[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Quad-core, 64-bit CPU, 4GB RAM[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]MicroSD support[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Lots of back cover choices[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Mediocre display quality[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Mediocre camera quality[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Mediocre build quality[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Weak speaker[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Undesirable UI[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3

alcatel_onetouch_idol3Alcatel is not a house-hold name in the smartphone world, but they have been around, slowly building their presence. It debuted the OneTouch Idol 3 this year, with very respectable specs for the asking price. Be sure to check out our review.

Like the Asus Zenfone 2, we’re looking at a 5.5″ 1080P IPS LCD display, 13 MP rear camera, and plastic build. We start to see differentiation when we look more closely. The Idol 3 is powered by a more-common Qualcomm SoC, the Snapdragon 615 (octa-core, 64-bit, 2 GB RAM). The screen quality on the Idol 3 unarguably bests the Zenfone 2, with more accurate colors and wider viewing angles. Alcatel put some focus on sound, with dual front-facing speakers (powered by JBL audio), something we never see on budget phones. The Idol 3 costs slightly more than the comparable Zenfone 2.

[row][third_paragraph] Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Great value[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Fantastic display for a budget phone[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Octa-core, 64-bit CPU[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]JBL front stereo speakers[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]MicroSD support[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Plastic build[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Okay camera quality, no OIS[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Only 2 GB of RAM[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No quick charging[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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Moto G and Moto E (2015)

moto_gMotorola made quite a name for themselves in the budget sector, first with the Moto G, then followed by the even cheaper Moto E. At sub-$200 price tags, the company wanted to cover a range of low budgets, with phones that only had what you needed to get the job done, without thinking poorly of them. Hence, the review process is different when you take a tour around the devices, and the question becomes, what am I getting for my money?

Turns out, you get quite a bit. At $180, the 2015 Moto G gives you a 5″ screen with 720p resolution, quad-core Snapdragon 410 SoC, 13MP f/2.0 aperture rear camera, dual front-facing speakers, microSD expansion (up to 32 GB), and stock Lollipop (something you don’t see often).

The even cheaper Moto E gets you a 4.5″ with 540×960 resolution, quad-core Snapdragon 200 SoC, 5 MP f/2.2 aperture rear camera, mono front-facing speaker, microSD expansion (up to 32 GB), and stock Lollipop. There is the option for a slightly better model of the Moto E, with LTE and a Snapdragon 410 SoC.

Something to note is that neither phones have NFC, so you won’t be able to utilize Android Pay to make in-store purchases with your phone.

Moto G (3rd Gen.)

[row][third_paragraph] moto-g-2nd-gen-front[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Exceptional price for what you get[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Dual front speakers[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]MicroSD support[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Stock Lollipop[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Plain design[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Camera and screen quality are just okay[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Base price gives you only 1 GB RAM and 8GB storage[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No NFC[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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Moto E (2nd Gen.)

[row][third_paragraph] moto-e-2nd-gen-front[/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Good [list][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Exceptional price for what you get[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Option for LTE and better Snapdragon 410 SoC[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Larger battery than Moto G[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]MicroSD support[/item][item icon=”fa-plus” ]Stock Lollipop[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

[third_paragraph] The Bad [list][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Plain design[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Slightly worse camera and screen than Moto G[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]Only 1 GB of RAM[/item][item icon=”fa-minus” ]No camera flash[/item][/list][/third_paragraph]

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Did you like our list? Was there an Android phone we should have included? Sound off in the comments below.

Here’s to hoping that 2016 will be another great year for Android!

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