Best phone 2016: the 10 top smartphones we’ve tested
Update: The Google Pixel and Pixel XL have made it into our 10 best phones list – bringing a clean, fuss-free Android experience, excellent cameras and a whole heap of power with them.
The end of 2016 is coming into view, and pretty all the big phones of the year have launched. The latest arrivals are Google’s newest offerings, the Pixel and Pixel XL.
They join the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus,Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, LG G5 and HTC 10 in our list of, frankly, amazing smartphones.
Here TechRadar we check out every phone under the sun, putting the ones that matter through our rigorously vigorous testing process to create our in-depth mobile phone reviews.
With so many to choose from, we’ve spent hours whittling them down to a top ten, taking into account the power, specs, design and, most importantly, value for money, although we’ll always point you in the direction of the latest handsets to help you find the best smartphone (and if the price is too high, check out our list of the best cheap handsets that won’t cost you more than £200).
After all, nobody wants to be carting around a phone that won’t be getting any updates in a year’s time, right?
So whether it’s one of the many slick Android handsets or the latest iPhone (although we do keep an eye on the best Windows Phone and BlackBerry devices) we’ve got the best of the best listed here, in our rankings for the best smartphones around, currently available in the UK.
- Already know your favourite kind of phone? Then check out our best iPhone or best Android phone round up
- Not fussed with what’s below but not sure how long to wait for the next big hitters? Try our well-stocked iPhone 8 release date or Samsung Galaxy S8 release date pages to help you out.
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Google’s new phablet sports a new name (it’s ditched Nexus for Pixel), a top notch QHD display and a whole heap of power under the hood.
That makes it great for VR – keep an eye out for the Google Daydream View headset coming soon – while also making it a strong all round performer.
On screen and Google’s latest Android software is a joy to use, with smooth, slick performance and a clutter free design.
Fire up the camera app and the 12MP rear shooter is one of the best around, while a fingerprint scanner keep yours phone secure.
Minor weak points are battery life, design and the lack of waterproofing – but they don’t stop the Pixel XL from being an excellent flagship phablet.
Also consider: How about the smaller Google Pixel? The 5-inch handset also features in our top ten, and if a smaller screen (and smaller price tag) takes your fancy then you’re in luck. It retains the excellent power, camera and Android interface from the XL, in a more palm-friendly package.
LG’s back, and with an innovative bang. This is a phone that’s designed to fall apart – well, come apart at least. You see, on top of the clever dual camera there’s a clip at the bottom that lets you pull the battery out.
That’s good in itself – too many phones lack a removable power pack – but you can attach new modules to improve the audio, battery life or camera grippability with more to come.
Another ‘alternative’ phone from LG, and we’re big fans of the brand trying to keep separating itself from the rest of the market.
Also consider: Last year’s LG G4 isn’t a million miles away from this phone in terms of spec, and it’s a darn sight cheaper now. It’s not got the attractive metal body, but if you can rustle up the leather variant you’re getting an absolute steal of a smartphone.
The Chinese firm has improved on a number of issues fans had with its predecessor, wrapping the OnePlus 3 in a new premium suit and managed to keep the price low enough to worry the established names in the market.
We love the new design, the AMOLED display is bright and vibrant and the fingerprint scanner is much improved and lightning fast.
The lack of a microSD card, and a battery which doesn’t last more than a day may put some off, but considering the price you’re paying the OnePlus is fantastic value for money.
If you’re desperate for a high-end phone, but don’t have the money to stetch that far the OnePlus 3 will make you very, very happy.
Also consider: If OnePlus isn’t doing it for you, then check out the Moto G4 Plus which has slightly less power, but a still very strong feature set – or go a little more left field and take the Oppo F1 Plus for a spin.
After the success of the HTC One M8, the world wondered if time was up for HTC after it didn’t really ignite the smartphone game with the One M9.
Well, that’s not the case as the brand went away, made a beautiful phone that’s ‘sculpted by light’, added in a genuinely impressive camera and improved the battery life.
But that’s not the best bit – that comes when you plug headphones into this thing. It’s sensational – can this thing pump beautiful, Hi-Res Audio into your ears or what? It’s sensational.
For that reason alone it’s worth a place in the top ten, and the myriad other improvements impress equally.
Also consider: It’s hard to know what to recommend here, as last year’s model was so underwhelming. We’d suggest having a gander at the LG G5 if you fancy an ‘underdog’ brand that can still make it big… great camera and some fancy innovation on offer there.
The Google Pixel is an excellent flagship phone that’s only let down by mediocre battery life and the still-developing Assistant. If you can stomach the price point, the Pixel is a breath of fresh Google air in a world of Android over-complication.
The 12MP camera on the back is one of the best on the market, while the clean, fresh Android Nougat interface is a joy to use.
There’s heaps of power under the hood making it perfect for gaming and multi-tasking, while the bright, colorful screen provides an excellent viewing experience for your movies and TV shows.
It may not be the most attractive handset on the market, and it’s far from ugly. What you can be sure of is a lot of bang for your buck.
Also consider: Like what you see, but need more screen real estate? You you’ll want the Google Pixel XL – the 5.5-inch brother of the Pixel which boasts an eye-popping QHD (that’s 2K) resolution.
Moto Z takes the modular accessory idea we liked so much about the LG G5 and actually makes it work with better add-ons and an easier-to-use snap-on design.
It’s an Android phone that performs well right now and the potential behind its future accessories hold a lot of promise down the road. Usually when we talk about mid-cycle upgrades, we’re strictly talking about new software. Moto Z could take on new form at any time.
It may be the world’s thinnest phone, but that comes at a cost with a reduction in battery size and the loss of the headphone jack – potential issues for some users. If you can overlook these shortcomings though you’ll have a truly innovative device in your hands.
Also consider: The only phone which comes close to matching the Z’s modular capabilities is the LG G5, although it’s the Sony which has the more intriguing line up of mods. The LG is potentially a better all-round device, and it does have a headphone jack.
The new iPhone isn’t the phone that many will have been waiting for, as it comes with a similar look and feel to previous models.
That doesn’t mean it’s a bad phone, far from it in fact with a power boost under the hood, water resistant and a decent camera upgrade making a difference.
There’s no point upgrading from the 6S to 7, but if you’re currently using an iPhone 6 or older then the jump to the 7 is a good one.
Also consider: If you want to save yourself a bit of money then the iPhone 6S is still an excellent smartphone. It looks identical to the 7, also runs iOS 10 and has the benefit of still having a headphone jack. Those wanting something a bit bigger should look at the iPhone 7 Plus – the best iPhone currently around.
The iPhone 7 Plus is the best iPhone available right now, giving you a whole heap of power, water resistant body, not one, but two cameras on the back and super slick performance.
It does use the same design as previous handsets, and Apple’s removed the headphone jack and upped the price – but if your pockets are deep and headphones wireless you’ll love the 7 Plus.
The camera is a big improvement on the 6S Plus, and it’ll only get better once Apple rolls out its depth-of-field feature later this year.
Also consider: The standard iPhone 7 is very good too, with a more manageable form factor and lower price point it’s the phone that’s likely to appeal to a wider audience – but for those looking for Apple perfection it has to be the 7 Plus.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 is a phone that initially looks just like the S6 from last year – but pick it up and you’ll see there’s a world of difference.
Firstly, the rear of the phone feels much nicer thanks to a curved back (through a process called 3D Thermo Forming), it’s now water resistant and a microSD slot is a welcome feature to return, after it was dropped last year.
The camera is just brilliant – it’s lower in megapixels but improved in quality. You’ll get brilliant pictures time and again, and you’ll want to keep trying it in different scenarios. It’s a great phone that you’ll be happy to pull out of your pocket.
Also consider: An easy one: go for the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge if you can afford it. It’s a compact phone with the screen size of a phablet, and offers all the same features with a more attractive design.
Last year’s Galaxy S6 Edge was a good phone, but not brilliant. It was the same as the Samsung Galaxy S6, but had a curved screen – and that was it. It was the same size, power and camera, and that wasn’t enough.
Fast forward to today and the S7 Edge takes all the great looks of the S6 Edge, makes the phone even curvier and combines it with the superb power and feature set of the S7.
The camera is just brilliant, the mix of metal and glass is really nice to hold, and even the Touchwiz overlay is turning into something more usable than before. Battery life improvements are hugely welcomed, and while the price is higher, it’s now affixed to a phone that offers simply the best in nearly every department, so many will be happy with the outlay.
Also consider: Like the phone above, this is an easy decision: go for the Samsung Galaxy S7 if you’re not feeling the cost and price of the Edge. It’s got all the power, but it’s more compact and costs a little less. The LG G5 is nearly here too though – that could be a dark horse in the mix.
We’re all about reviewing and rating all the phones here at techradar. There’s nothing we like more than brewing a pot of tea and deciding where each new phone should sit in the list.
However, sometimes they don’t make it into the top 10 – sad, we know, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a quick look to see if they fit your needs. After all, there are very few bad phones these days…
ZTE Axon 7
High end features on a stranger to the flagship game
OS: Android 6 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1440×2560 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 3250mAh | Rear camera: 20MP | Front camera: 8MP
This phone is about to drop into our top ten and – spoiler alert – it’s looking like it’s going to feature highly as it punches.
It’s got dual speakers, good battery life and a whole heap of power, along with an impressive screen and a few other features folks might not expect from a brand like ZTE.
What’s more, it comes with a low, low price compared to the competition – so how will it fare compared to the likes of the OnePlus 3?
Huawei Mate 8
Great battery life but a middling interface
OS: Android 6 | Screen size: 6-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | RAM: 3-4GB | Storage: 32GB/64GB | Battery: 4000mAh | Rear camera: 16MP dual | Front camera: 8MP
This is obviously more phablet than phone, but it’s an intriguing one given it’s lower on the price scale. There’s a great, speedy fingerprint sensor on the rear, the display is still stunning despite not being the sharpest around and the battery life is much stronger than most on show here.
However, Huawei’s Emotion UI is still a bit hard to master, trying to ape the best bits of both Android and iOS but not really managing either. The speaker grille doesn’t look amazing, and we wish the fast charging cable came along at purchase.
Smaller, but still (almost) perfectly-formed
OS: Android 6 | Screen size: 5.2-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16GB/32GB | Battery: 2700mAh | Rear camera: 12.3MP dual | Front camera: 5MP
The Nexus 5X is a phone that offers the very latest version of Android, a decent (ish) spec list and a more hand-friendly size to plop in your pocket.
The screen is a decent resolution and really clear to boot, and the price isn’t as high as you might find on other phones in this spec bracket.
The best thing is that this will be constantly updated to the latest version of Android for a good while yet, and with an improved camera it’s definitely worth a look – especially if you’re not a fan of the cumbersome skins Samsung and LG like to chuck on their phones.
Microsoft Lumia 950
The beginning of a smartphone revolution?
OS: Windows Phone 10 | Screen size: 5.2-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2560 | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 32GB |Battery: 3000mAh | Rear camera: 20MP | Front camera: 5MP
Maybe you’re bored of the iPhone. Perhaps Android just doesn’t do it for you. Maybe you’re just wondering if there’s something different out there? Well, Windows Phone 10 on the Lumia 950 will intrigue you. It can offer a PC-like experience by extending out to a larger monitor, and the camera is pretty strong.
However, there’s one issue: apps. Or the lack thereof – and when combined with the slightly plastic design, it fails to trouble the top 10. However, it’s a legitimate choice and easily one of the most impressive Windows Phones ever.
BlackBerry + Android = more impressive than expected
OS: Android | Screen size: 5.4-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2560 | RAM: 3GB | Storage:32GB| Battery: 3410mAh | Rear camera: 18MP | Front camera: 2MP
BlackBerry is back – and it’s taking a new direction by finally jumping into bed with Android. It’s got a slide-out keyboard, a superbly sharp screen, splendidly powerful innards and some decent privacy settings too.
However, it’s not cheap. At all, and the keyboard – something we all used to love – now feels a little outdated. Combined with the chunkier design (to facilitate that keyboard) and some lag in performance, this isn’t top table worthy. But there’s a lot of promise here, and we’re glad to see BlackBerry is still swinging.
The ‘flagship killer’ with a fantastic price
OS: Android 5.1 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1920 x 1080 | RAM: 3GB/4GB | Storage: 16GB/64GB | Battery: 3,300mAh | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 5MP
The OnePlus One was a brilliant phone in 2014, offering a great price for top end specs – it truly was a bargain phone.
The good news is the One Plus 2 has repeated that trick, upgrading the internals while (mostly) keeping the same low price. Its clever overlay still impresses and the little tweaks (such as audio improvement) work quite nicely.
We would have liked to see some upgrades on the screen front, or NFC for mobile payments, but on the whole the brand has managed to avoid stumbling over the ‘tricky second album’ – it’s not quite top ten material, but for the price it’s a decimatingly good smartphone.
HTC One M9
Beautiful design – as always from HTC – but not quite as good as the M8
OS: Android 6 | Screen size: 5-inch | Resolution: 1920 x 1080 | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 32GB | Battery: 2,840mAh | Rear camera: 20MP | Front camera: 4MP
The HTC One M9 is no longer in our top list of phones, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a stunning device with loads of great features.
For one, it’s still got some of the best construction we’ve ever seen on a phone – it’s jewellery-grade, according to HTC, and we’re largely inclined to agree.
The screen is still clear and crisp, and while the rear camera isn’t as innovative as the dual-sensored One M8, the front facing affair takes some superb selfies.
Available for a lot less cash nowadays, the HTC One M9 is still a decent buy.
Sony Xperia Z5 Compact
A compact beast with a splendid price
OS: Android Marshmallow | Screen size: 4.6-inch | Resolution: 720 x 1280 | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 32GB | Battery: 2,700mAh | Rear camera: 23MP | Front camera: 5.1MP
The Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is another in the line of smaller handsets from the Japanese brand, packing in all the power into a smaller, more manageable phone.
It’s got all the same power credentials as the Xperia Z5 and Sony Xperia Z5 Premium, but has the added bonus of being a lot more pocketable.
The main reason you’d go for this phone is that it’s a dinkier device, with a 4.6-inch screen combined with the strong camera, waterproofed chassis and allows you to hear all your audio in beautiful upscaled sound quality.
Battery life could be better, but it’s no worse than a lot on this list – and Sony certainly has a unique design that plenty like to fondle.
Also consider: If you’re not a fan of the size of this phone, the Sony Xperia Z5 ‘normal’ packs the same great camera, waterproofing and Hi-Res Audio as the larger version, but in a more easy-to-handle frame.
The best phone for those that like a simple interface
OS: Android Marshmallow | Screen size: 5.7-inch | Resolution: 2560 x 1440 | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 32/64/128GB | Battery: 3,450mAh | Rear camera: 12.3MP | Front camera: 8MP
The Nexus 6P is a larger phone, but that means it comes with some upgraded specs too. There’s a vivid QHD display, which is much sharper than many other smartphone around, but Huawei (the brand making the Google Nexus phablet) has tried hard to make it more palm-friendly.
You’ll always get the latest version of Android first with Nexus phones (currently the highly-rated Android Marshmallow) and there’s the innovative placement of the fingerprint scanner on the back – which is both quick and accurate, while being much safer than a PIN.
It’s not super-cheap like the old Nexus phones (although it’s more competitive than other phablets in the same screen size bracket), but it’s very well made, and thanks to the improved camera and battery capabilities you’ll likely be very impressed with what Huawei has made here.
Also consider: If you’re after a Nexus phone, you’re thinking about getting the latest version of Android in a smartphone – and you can get that in the Nexus 5X too. It’s cheaper, and not as powerful in some ways, but it’s cheaper and more palm-friendly.
iPhone 6S Plus
The best phablet you can buy
OS: iOS 9.3 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1920 x 1080 | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16/64/128GB | Battery: 2,750mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 5MP
Apple on the slide! Regular visitors to our best phones ranking will note that Apple’s duo of flagship phones have taken a tumble down the order of late. Why? Well while the Android army has been busy in 2016 launching their latest and greatest, the Cupertino firm has been patiently biding its time.
That’s not to say the iPhone 6S Plus has gone backwards – it’s still a great handset – it’s just that the competition has moved on since its launch in September 2015. Of course, we could see the Apple brand leap back up the chart later this year with the arrival of the iPhone 7 Plus, but that will all depend on whether it’s actually a decent upgrade.
If you’re OK with a larger iPhone, then you’re in for a treat with the iPhone 6S Plus. It packs all the same upgrades as the smaller 6S – namely the innovative 3D Touch screen and upgraded camera – and fixes some of the flaws we all hate.
The battery is larger, and while the screen is Full HD (with a really great ability to show colours) this is easily the longer-lasting of the two iPhones, meaning you won’t have to reach for the charger as often.
The camera is actually better than on the iPhone 6S, with optical image stabilisation providing sharper and brighter images thanks to mechanical help.
If you’re an Apple fan looking for a ‘bigger’ experience, this is the phone for you.
Also consider: You’ll obviously want to look at the iPhone 6S as the smaller option here – the reason to go smaller would be if you’re not a fan of the phablet and want the lower cost. In the interest of fairness the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ has to be mentioned here as another brilliant phablet, but Apple fans will consider that sacrilege.
The best iPhone Apple’s ever made
OS: iOS 9.3 | Screen size: 4.7-inch | Resolution: 1334 x 750 | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 16/64/128GB | Battery: 2,750mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 5MP
Apple tumble! Like the 6S Plus, the iPhone 6S Plus has also dropped in the rankings. Fear not, for it’s still a great handset, it’s just that the competition has moved on since its September 2015 launch. We may see Apple leap back up the chart later this year with the arrival of the iPhone 7, but that will depend on whether it’s a decent upgrade.
The iPhone 6S might look the same as 2014’s model, but peer below the hood and there are a number of interesting upgrades.
The camera is enhanced, the processor is once again more powerful to let you play ever-better apps and games with speed, and the 3D Touch display is proving innovative.
The new touch system lets you press harder into the screen to open quick shortcuts – so taking a selfie is merely a hard push and swipe of the camera icon away.
It’s still a brilliant iPhone, the phone that loads of users are desperate to get their hands on, and Apple’s not done any harm at all with this upgraded model.
Also consider: The obvious move is to the iPhone 6S Plus, as it’s got a sharper screen and longer-lasting battery – the price is higher and it’s a bit harder to hold, but you’ll likely get used to it pretty quickly.
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