Another calendar year is drawing to a close, making it the perfect time to take a step back and reflect a little on the last twelve months. There’s no surprise that it has been yet another huge year for the smartphone industry, with some of the market’s biggest players continuing to grow from success to success. It’s also extremely positive that 2015 has been a year that some of the lesser-performing companies have managed to sneak into our “best of” list, as outlined below.
We’re going to take a look at our own, entirely subjective view, of some of the best smartphones of 2015 and the categories that they fall into. Enjoy.
Best Camera Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 5
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 6s Plus
This was an extremely close call, but South Korea-based Samsung managed to pip Apple with the fantastic camera embedded in the Galaxy Note 5. The OIS-supported 16-megapixel rear module is backed by a Sony Exmor RS IMX240 sensor that offers a wide f/1.9 aperture for unbelievably bright and vivid photographs with an unbelievable attention to color accuracy, and it records 4K videos as well. Apple’s iPhone 6s Plus comes close in the 2nd place with its 12MP rear shooter with OIS and 4K video recording, but Samsung takes this one. Do note that the OIS of the iPhone 6s Plus cuts it really close with the same tech found on the Note 5.
The front cameras on both the smartphones feature 5MP sensors, with Samsung’s offering having wide-angle support for selfies while Apple’s offering has Retina Flash feature to take clear bright selfies in low light.
Best Design & Build Quality
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 6s Plus
Once again, we find ourselves with an Apple and Samsung head-to-head. And once again, we feel that Samsung just pips it from Apple with the design of the Galaxy S6 Edge+ and the giant curved-edge display on both sides. In terms of build quality, Apple has made significant improvements over last year’s iPhone 6/6 Plus in 6s series by utilizing 7000 series aluminum and adding a slight amount of additional weight and thickness to the device for an improved look and feel in hand. But the design of 6s series remains exactly same as last year’s models. However, the brand new design of the S6 Edge, coupled together with the stunning edge display and mixture of shiny glass and aluminum just puts Samsung’s at the top of the stack for this year.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6 Active
Runner-up: LG V10
Consumers tend to purchase devices based on how they look, how they are marketed, and what cutting-edge features they have. Rarely do we go after a device that offers durability packed into a lasting design. However, if that characteristic is top of your “must have” list for your smartphone, then Samsung has you covered with the Galaxy S6 Active manufactured from reinforced plastic, and complete with underwater capabilities and impressive battery life, it’s our clear pick for best durable smartphone of 2015. This phone is built like a Tank!
Prefer something that does not scream “rugged” in public yet offers great protection? LG V10 with its almost drop-proof characteristics has you covered in second place in this category.
Best IPS Display
Winner: Sony Xperia Z5 Premium
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 6s Plus
Hurrah for the underdog. We imagine that no-one would really expect to see a Sony Xperia smartphone on a “best of” list this year, but here it is. The 4K display of the Xperia Z5 Premium, which packs in a 3840 x 2160 pixel resolution and offers a whopping 806ppi pixel density is just truly beautiful to look at and interact with. Granted, Apple’s 3D Touch-enabled 1080p offering on the iPhone 6s Plus is impressive at 401ppi for an IPS display with its color accuracy and all, but not impressive enough to take the top spot here.
Samsung versus Samsung. There can only be one winner. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 makes its second appearance at the number one spot by taking our title of having the best AMOLED display of any smartphone in 2015. The Note 5 itself probably didn’t receive the credit or the success that it deserves as one of 2015’s outstanding “phablet” offerings, but we have no hesitation in offering credit where credit is due. The display on the Note 5 is just great to look at, with all its vibrant colors and contrast ratios, it has the best display on any smartphone this year with Galaxy S6 Edge+ coming in as close second. On paper, there’s not much difference between the two but if you hold the two phones side by side, you will see Note 5 having that edge over Galaxy S6 Edge+’s display.
Best Fingerprint Sensor
Winner: Huawei’s/Google’s Nexus Imprint on Nexus 6P
Runner-up: Apple’s Touch ID v2 on iPhone 6s/6s Plus
Fingerprint scanners were the must-have feature on smartphones during 2015. Apple started the trend in 2013 by introducing the initial Touch ID experience on the iPhone 5s. Competitors took a while to truly get up and running with biometric detection of the quality of Apple’s Touch ID. Two years later they have finally caught up, with some even surpassing Apple’s Touch ID. Apple’s second-generation Touch ID on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus is a massive improvement over first iteration. If you have used one, you will know just how fast it is. But the Nexus Imprint sensor on the Nexus 6P has that slight edge over Touch ID v2 when it comes to speed. Both sensors are lightning quick and have great accurate recognition, but Nexus 6P with its marginally faster sensor wins this one with Touch ID v2 on 6s/6s Plus coming in as very close second.
Best Battery Life
Winner: Motorola DROID Turbo 2
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 6s Plus
Battery life is a funny thing. Granted, some devices can ship with larger battery capacities than others, but that’s no real indication that they can maintain a longer up time. By best battery life we mean the handset that is capable of actually getting the most out of its power pack and stay powered up for the longest amount of time when in use.
Apple with all its iOS optimizations to get best possible battery life out of iPhone 6s Plus takes second place in our tests, while first place is grabbed by the extremely efficient Motorola DROID Turbo 2 with its massive battery.
Most Innovative Tech
Winner: 3D Touch on Apple’s iPhone 6s/6s Plus
Runner-up: Continuum on Microsoft’s Lumia 950/950 XL
Innovation is a word that we hear a lot. Investors love companies that innovate. Analysts love companies that innovate. Consumers love companies that innovate. In fact, everyone loves a bit of innovation. Apple can finally be happy with a number one spot as we feel that the pressure sensitive 3D Touch feature built into the display of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus was definitely the biggest smartphone innovation of 2015. You will be seeing many flagship smartphones from competitors in 2016 taking a leaf out of Apple’s book but Apple can rest safely knowing they paved the way for it all.
In second place we have Microsoft Continuum, which essentially allows supported Windows 10-powered smartphones, such as Lumia 950 and 950 XL, to morph into desktops on connected screens.
Best Budget Phone
Winner: OnePlus X
Runner-up: Motorola’s Moto G (third-gen 2015)
The under $300 mark, when it comes to purchasing a brand new fully unlocked smartphone, is often considered the budget territory, and well there’s always a place in the market for a good budget phone. The excellent OnePlus X manages to take our top spot as the best smartphone of 2015 that falls into the category of devices that cost less than $300, and comes SIM-free with impressive specs and build quality for just $249.
In second place, we have the latest third-generation Motorola’s Moto G with its clean stock Android coming in at just $179.99.
Winner: Apple iPhone 6s Plus
Runner-up: Huawei’s/Google’s Nexus 6P
The best all-rounder isn’t necessarily the smartphone that packs in the best specs and features on paper, but the smartphone that manages to get the most out of what it’s got. Apple continually pushes the importance of the marriage between hardware and software and how it’s possible to get insane performance from a device that is accompanied by proprietary software designed specifically for that hardware. The Nexus 6P is another great all-round phone, but Apple’s iPhone 6s Plus is the perfect combination of hardware and software working great together and that is why it takes our top spot for best all-round phone of the year with Nexus 6P coming in at second place.
Again, both of these phones are great, and they don’t necessarily offer the best specs, but they get most things right.
-HTC One M9
There’s always going to be disappointments in the smartphone industry. You simply cannot infiltrate the market with as many devices that we see land each year and not have some of them just be way off the mark. The HTC One M9 managed to fill a lot of people with hope before launch, but turned out to essentially be almost the same device as its predecessor, the M8, with no real improvements or innovations taking place. HTC One M9 takes our award for biggest dud of the year.
Anyone remember the BlackBerry Priv? You know, BlackBerry’s first Android-powered handset? The display was impressive, but the sketchy performance, high price tag, plastic build, and the physical keyboard made it a lacklustre experience.
We don’t even know where to start with Microsoft’s Lumia 950 and 950 XL. It took Microsoft nearly two years to come up with a new flagship for Windows phone. After a lot of speculation and positive pre-launch hype, both devices turned out to be among the biggest disappointments of this year. The cheap plastic body compared to the high end materials used in competitor’s phones and higher price point didnt help its cause either. Microsoft’s decision to go with an iris sensor (Windows Hello) instead of a fingerprint scanner was also a bad move as it did not work as effectively and efficiently as fingerprint sensors in competitor’s phones.
Lumia 950/950 XL did have a trick or two up its sleeves, like Continuum, but the poor selection of first-apps on the platform combined with lack of innovation and performance issues in Windows 10 Mobile means Microsoft will have a tough time convincing iPhone and Android crowd to jump to Windows phones.
-Moto X Style/Pure Edition
They may not have taken top spot in any of the above, but there’s still some devices that deserve a mention as being a success in 2015. The Moto X Style (also known as Moto X Pure Edition in some regions) is definitely one of those that was being offered at a very attractive pricing point for a piece of kit that came equipped with not only a flagship design and build quality, but also packed in excellent specifications that actually transcend its price-tag.
LG also deserves a pat on the back for the design and release of LG G4. The 5.5-inch display on the smartphone is simply beautiful, and there’s a whole lot to say about the premium feel and build quality of the handset. The curved design is gorgeous to look at and hold, and the improved camera really shows that LG has done its best to offer a great Android experience. You can check out our video review of LG G4 here.
So what do you guys think? Did we miss giving credit to any particular favorite of yours from this year? We have embedded a reader’s choice poll below with all of the smartphones mentioned in this article so that you can vote and let us know your favorite smartphone of the year 2015.
Also share with us your top best smartphone in 2015 for each category mentioned above in the comments section below.