Best Overall: Samsung Galaxy S8
There’s a new monarch that rules over Android country, and its name is the Samsung Galaxy S8. With a top-tier display, powerful performance and the latest version of Android, it’s the envy of the kingdom.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Samsung Galaxy S8 is its stunning 5.8-inch quad HD screen, which is bezel-less and takes up almost all the room on the front of the phone. You’ll next notice that it’s super speedy, thanks to its octa-core (2.3GHz quad + 1.7GHz quad) 64-bit processor and 4GB of RAM. Other big-ticket features include an eight-megapixel front-facing camera for selfies, a 12-megapixel back camera, 4K video recording and a microSD card slot for adding more storage on the fly. The phone comes in the following five colors: midnight black, orchid gray, coral blue, arctic silver and maple gold.
The only potential hang up for the Galaxy S8 is its 3,000 mAh battery, which lasts about a day on a charge. This will work for most people, but if you use your phone heavily throughout the day, it’d be smart to invest in a great portable phone battery charger too.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Google Pixel
Google quietly retired their line of Nexus phones in 2016, but that doesn’t mean the tech giant is quitting the mobile market for good. In fact, they’ve released the Google Pixel, an Android smartphone that makes the most of the OS and works with Google Project Fi while rivaling Apple’s simple and intuitive UI.
The design is two-tone black with a slight wedge form that makes the phone easier to hold in one hand. The bottom has a USB port, a speaker and a microphone. On the top of the back is a fingerprint scanner that you can swipe to open your screen, again facilitating one-handed use.
The five-inch screen uses AMOLED for a full HD screen. Pixel is the first to use Android v7.1, the latest and greatest edition of Android. The new OS is intuitive and cleaner than previous versions, replacing the app drawer with an upward swipe to show your apps. The Pixel also includes Google Assistant, the machine-learning AI deployed in Google Home. Locked in an arms race with Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa, the Google Assistant learns more about you the more you use it, responding to a host of voice commands. As with all assistants, it still is in the early stages and has a ways to go before it functions perfectly, but still has plenty of functionality and is a big upgrade over Google Voice.
The Pixel camera is 12.3MP with HDR+ enhancing darker areas and competes with the best camera phones, scoring an all-time high of 89 on DxO tests. The 2,770mAh battery, however, lags behind a bit with high-end Android competitors.
Best 2016 Release: Samsung Galaxy S7 (Unlocked)
Launched in early 2016, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is the the crème de la crème of Android smartphones. It is the primary competitor of Apple’s latest iPhone, the 6S, and if budget is not an issue, it is the best Android smartphone you can find.
The S7’s major selling points have nothing to do with individual components or features—like a high-megapixel camera or long-lasting battery (though it certainly has both). The S7 is more an exercise in balance. It’s a jack of all trades, capable of delivering performance, reliability and longevity on par with that of the iPhone. In short, it packs a whole lot of tech into a super sleek, super slim package. The 3000 mAh battery allows up to nine hours of continuous use; the 12-megapixel main camera promises solid image resolution; and the 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 820 CPU provides a solid foundation for gaming, browsing, sharing, texting, listening and every other smartphone activity. It also features a super sharp 5.1-inch AMOLED screen, a water-repellent coating and a MicroSD slot. There’s no standout feature with the S7, but you’re even harder pressed to find a drawback. This phone on Verizon customers can find the phone here.is an international version and will work with T-Mobile and AT&T.
Best for Gaming: Google Nexus 6P (Unlocked)
Google continues to up its smartphone game with the latest generation Nexus 6P. This phone has all the features you should expect from a phablet device—or, more accurately, a gaming device. It has a 5.7-inch, 2560 x 1440 screen bolstered by a 3GB and 3,450 mAh battery—specs that ensure solid, high-performance gaming for more than nine hours. But it’s not just a gaming device. If you’re not much of a gamer, the 6P offers impressive video performance as well. Some users have complaints about Google’s software integration, which is surprising when you consider how the Android OS is developed by Google. But most agree that these issues are marginal when compared to the excellent camera (12.3-megapixel rear; 8-megapixel front-facing), battery life and Super AMOLED display. The Nexus 6P is, first and foremost, a smartphone, but if you’re a fan of phablets and smartphone gaming, this is one worth looking into.
Best Battery and Value: Moto Z Play
Want a phone that can hold a charge for most of the work week? Well lucky for you, the Moto Z Play has arrived, with a fast-charging 3,510mAh battery in tow. The phone lasts over 4 days on normal usage, and can be recharged via the USB-C connector in less than an hour.
In addition to the massive battery, this is the mid-range entry in Motorola’s customizable Moto Z series. Like its cousins, the Moto Z Play can be equipped with any number of snap-on customizations that do everything from boost sound quality to add 10x optical zoom.
But even if you eschew the accessories, the Z Play boasts an excellent build for the price point. It has a large 5.5-inch display with a serviceable 403 pixel density and HD 1920 x 1080 resolution. The 2GHZ octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor and 3GB RAM deliver an enjoyable browsing experience, while the 32GB storage can be supplemented by a microSD slot.
Best Camera: LG G5 (Unlocked)
The LG G5 is unique among competitors in that it features a semi-modular build. This allows you to slide out the bottom of the device and switch in various accessories and components. The most compelling of these modules is the battery, a factor which may intrigue smartphone users who are tired of their batteries croaking before their phones. You can also add USB accessories like a camera grip or digital-to-analog converter. The modular capabilities are somewhat limited, so don’t expect your smartphone experience to be completely revolutionized. However, this very feature allows for something quite unexpected: an awesome, highly versatile camera. It’s actually two cameras in one: The main, rear camera features both a 16-megapixel sensor with a 78-degree lens and an eight-megapixel sensor with a 135-degree, wide-angle lens. Even the front-facing camera is above average at eight megapixels. Add in the camera grip enabled by the modular design and you have a fairly novel camera experience for the world of smartphones.
Best Budget: Motorola Moto G4 (Unlocked)
There’s value, and then there’s budget. What’s the difference? Well, value implies the best bang for your buck, while budget suggests price is the overriding factor in the purchase decision. If you find yourself in the latter camp, the Motorola Moto G4 is the smartphone for you. This is a bare bones mobile device for people who want a smartphone but are limited by a sub-$300 budget. Its specs are middling: Snapdragon 617 processor (1.5 GHz); 5.5-inch, 1,280 x 720 display; 3000 mAh display; 2 GB RAM; 16 GB of storage space (expandable up to 32 or 64 GB. The 13-megapixel camera is a step up from its predecessors, and is actually pretty decent for the price poin. What’s important here is the price. For its cost, there really isn’t much competition.
Best Audio/Sound: HTC 10 (Unlocked)
The HTC 10 could compete with the likes of all the major Android flagship phones—the Galaxy S7, Nexus 6P, G5—but it has one standout feature that gives it an edge when it comes to audio and sound quality. Unlike pretty much every other device on the market, the HTC 10 features a front-facing tweeter and a subwoofer that doubles as the speakerphone along the base of the phone. This allows the phone to blast sound for a whole audience—and at a decent quality that’s not too shabby in the bass department. It’s the first Android phone to officially support Apple AirPlay, the WiFi protocol used by most wireless speakers. But it’s not just a portable speaker; the HTC 10 features fast performance and a solid design, to boot. With the Snapdragon 810 processor at 2.2 GHz, 5.2-inch display and 3,000 mAh battery capable of lasting up to seven hours, it’s every bit as good as its competitors in most areas. The 12- and five-megapixel rear and front-facing cameras are nothing to write home about, but it’s also nothing to complain about.
Best Phablet: Galaxy S8 Plus
When it comes best Android phablets (the largest phones you can buy), it’s a tossup between the Google Pixel XL and the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. Frankly, we love them both.
As for raw features, the Galaxy S8 Plus isn’t too far from our Best Overall pick, the standard Galaxy S8. This means the S8 Plus offers fast performance with an octa-core 64-bit processor and 4GB of RAM, while also including must-have features such as a front-facing eight-megapixel camera and a 12-megapixel camera on the back.
What sets the S8 Plus apart is its larger screen size and larger battery. The screen is a beautiful 6.2-inch bezel-less wonder with the display taking up most the S8 Plus’s front side. As for the battery, it offers 3,500mAh of power, which will last most people more than a day on a single charge. And if for some reason it doesn’t, this phone has fast wireless charging.
Runner-Up, Best Phablet: Google Pixel XL
The Google Pixel XL is the best phablet out there and has a large 5.5” screen with quad-HD resolution display. Images on the screen are immersive and captivating with AMOLED protected by Gorilla Glass4. The vibrant images on the screen are totally lag-free, thanks to the latest Snapdragon 821 processor and 4GB RAM.
Other than the improved screen resolution and beefier 3,450mAh battery, the Pixel XL is nearly identical to its smaller brother. That means the simple two-tone back and wedge design with a stenciled Google “G.” It also means you get the highly-rated 12.3MP camera and latest Android software, which provides an unrivaled and uncluttered user experience on Android devices.