Year end lists are fun. It’s always good to look back and reminisce about the
beginning of the year when you naively thought this year was going to bring something better over the pain and suffering of the previous year things that came out earlier on in the year and see how far you’ve come since then, which might not seem like much since it’s only one year but even a year can be a lot in the realm of technology. I made one list last year of the best phones that came out in 2014 and I thought that was pretty great so I’ve been meaning to do this one for some time now but waited almost till the end to get my hands on as many phones I could. I used three different new phones in the last two days alone, so clearly this was a good idea.
Now the title might suggest I’m going to list ALL the good phones that came out this year, but in reality I’m only going to list the ones I’ve actually used. No poser bullshit here; if I haven’t used it, I’m not going to talk about it. As such, quite a few phones are missing from this list, the iPhone 6s, most notably. As much as I’d like to, I still haven’t managed to spend any amount of time with the device. I’m sure it’s a great phone and I can see it has already made it to several people’s year end lists but I haven’t used it. Same goes for any LG phone, including the G4 and the V10, the latter not even being launched in India. Also for the Sony Xperia phones, the Z5, Z5 Compact (again, not launched in India) and the crazy Z5 Premium with the 4K display. And the BlackBerry Priv, which I was greatly looking forward to get my hands on.
Still, I did manage to use around 50 different phones this year from different manufacturers (pretty sure half of them were Samsung). So from those 50 something, here are the ones I thought were the best, in no particular order.
Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+
The launch of the S6 earlier this year saw Samsung coming back to form. An original design made out of quality materials, something people have been asking for years from Samsung, coupled with the usual high quality display, cameras, and top of the line specs. But while the S6 and the S6 edge were good first steps, it was the S6 edge+ that was the real winner in Samsung’s line up this year. After polishing the rough edges from its smaller siblings and fixing some important things (the battery life, most importantly) Samsung finally had a real flagship on its hand. Although obnoxiously overpriced, the S6 edge+ almost had it all, from a beautifully unique design, high quality materials, stunning design, by far the best camera I’ve used on any phone this year, and solid hardware and performance. It had its flaws, with software design still being an Achilles’ heel for the company, but as with the hardware I’m sure they’d get there one day. Overall, this was one of the more memorable phones I’ve used this year.
Moto G 3rd Generation
The third generation Moto G is the perfect ammo for the argument that specs aren’t everything and that real world experience trumps on-paper numbers any day. Everyone and their dog complained about how expensive the phone was at launch for the kind of specs it had on paper, and eventually every one of these people ended up swallowing their words (and their dogs) after they had a chance to use the phone. With the help of software optimization and some good old fashioned virgin sacrifice, Motorola managed to extract the kind of performance from a Snapdragon 410 that left phones costing twice as much stuttering in its wake. Add to that a decent display, vastly improved camera, exceptional battery life, and a waterproof body, and the new Moto G was actually way better value than some of the cheaper phones in its segment. More than anything else, this phone showed everyone never judge a phone before you actually use it.
HTC One A9
You probably won’t be seeing this phone on many best of 2015 lists. Just like with the Moto G, a lot of people shat on this phone simply because it loses out in the dick measuring contest. But despite the lack of high-end specifications, I was pleasantly surprised with how good this phone was. The design might be a rip-off of the iPhone 6 but it’s still an attractive phone, the build quality is amazing and it just feels nice to use. The display is lovely and despite the lack of a flagship processor, the performance is actually really good most of the time. For whatever reason people thought this was a flagship phone and judged it as such. The A9 is designed to appeal to those who prefer craftsmanship, finesse and quiet elegance over fancy specs and crazy performance figures. It’s basically a phone for grownups. No wonder Android fans hated it.
There really is no perfect phone. Practically every phone on the market has some corners cut somewhere, compromises made somewhere for the sake of categorization or avoiding jeopardizing its stablemates. But if there’s one phone that comes closest, it would be the Nexus 6P. Let’s see, good design, good build quality, great display, great camera, great performance, great hardware, great battery life, great stereo speakers, latest version of stock Android, and a fairly reasonable price. The only thing for me that works against it is the size, which is too big for me and I am generally okay with big phones. Otherwise, it is the Android phone to buy today, and possibly the phone to buy if you’re not willing to kidnap the Ambani kid for the ransom money to buy the iPhone 6s.
If you had told me last year I’d have a Gionee phone on my best of 2015 list I’d have laughed long and hard. And then I’d have laughed some more. But this has been a crazy year and having a Gionee phone on this list is hardly the craziest that happened. Anyway, to say I was pleasantly surprised by this phone would be an understatement. Their phones have generally been well-made so that wasn’t really a surprise but the software, which had traditionally been sucky, was actually quite good this time around and it worked really well most of the time. I still see this phone in the hands of several reviewers and these are the people who have access to the latest and greatest devices. Even I used it for a considerable amount of time, long after my usual review duration. Again, I wouldn’t exactly tell people to go ahead and buy it but I’d be damned if I don’t admit I was highly impressed with how good this phone was.
I’m putting this phone right at the end because it’s not exactly a good phone but one of the guilty pleasures I allow myself every year (last year it was the LG G3). Truthfully, you could do a lot better than the OnePlus X. The Lenovo Vibe S1, for example, is much better overall and I’d recommend over this any day. But I still like the X and for nothing more than the industrial design. It’s a beautiful phone, one of the best around today, and I love how it feels in my hand. It almost makes me forgive it for its flaws, like the carcinogenic camera, mediocre battery, and enough bugs for Pixar to make a movie on. I’m a whore for good design, and it’s kinda sad how rarely we get to see truly great design on phones. But the OnePlus X was easily the best I saw this year, and for that I had to include it here, even though you should definitely not buy it.
This is not the most exhaustive year end lists out there and a lot of people probably won’t agree with it. I assess phones for more than just their specs or how they quickly they perform task A or task B. All those things are important too but in the end it also matters how the phone feels and how it makes you feel, considering how much time you end up spending with it. All of these phones have a personality, and they are like people in that, where some might be incredibly accomplished but ultimately quite boring (Nexus 6P, Moto X Style, etc.) while some could be flawed but still be likable in some way (OnePlus X, S6 edge+, etc.). It might seem that I have a thing for the flawed ones and I kinda do. They have a more memorable personality. They might be deeply flawed in some aspect but they have at least one significantly redeeming quality that makes them that much more interesting than all the perfect phones out there, which is why I end up using a OnePlus X over a Moto X Style. I know it makes no sense. I’ve been told it’s a problem with me because it goes beyond phones, but I digress. Regardless of whether people understand or not my fascination with the personalities of phones, I try to make it a factor in my reviews because I don’t think anyone should be buying phones just based on performance and specs alone.
So just like the phones therein, this list might be a bit flawed, but that just makes it that much more interesting.