It’s been a year full of drama in the world of smartphones. Headphones jacks have gone missing, unexpected competitors have just suddenly popped into the game, and devices have literally exploded in people’s pockets. In the midst of it all, 2016 has been something of a monumental year in smartphones. Never before have there been so many smartphones that are each worthy of being your daily driver—with each their own unique take on this all-important category of consumer tech.
But which phones streamline all this amazing technology into beautiful packages that are worth the price of admission? Find out in our picks for the best smartphones of the year below:
Every year, the cheap flagship Android smartphone space gets tighter and tighter. The brand new manufacturer Nextbit just released its first phone, the Robin, with a very particular problem it was looking to solve: storage. Using its seamless cloud storage, you’ll never have to worry about filling up your limited storage with photos, videos, and apps.
Aside from the great storage solution, the Robin also has a pretty unique look, as you can see in the photo. The $399 pricetag is also attractive, but you should know that the camera and display won’t be competing with the Galaxy S7 anytime soon. Even with that in mind though, the Robin is a great inexpensive Android smartphone alternative that comes with some really interesting ideas on storage.—Luke Larsen
Budget smartphones have improved vastly in the last handful of years, with $400 or less now buying you great hardware, specs and camera performance. The $400 Axon 7 is a prime example of this. It’s a solidly built machine, that has a significant heft which helps give it a sense of durability. It comes with all the specs you’d want in a 2016 flagship including a Snapdragon 820, 4GB of RAM and a healthy 3,250 mAh battery. Though OnePlus still holds the title of best budget-conscious manufacturer, ZTE announced emphatically this year that it’s ready to play. —Eric Walters
Despite what some people think, there is a market for smaller phones out there—and it’s one Apple has been trying to re-tap into for years. The iPhone SE, though, is their first successful attempt since going big with their flagship devices. The 4-inch smartphone is the same size and design as the iPhone 5, which has always been a fan favorite. But this time, it also has a lot of the specs that were found in the iPhone 6s, a phone that is only one year old. That makes the iPhone SE a inexpensive way to get an iPhone that isn’t extremely outdated, but also a way to just get a great smartphone in general.—LL
Far more accessible than LG’s other phone this year, the experimental G5, the V20 is a high-spec workhorse of a phone. This huge 5.7-inch phablet might lack some of the glitzier features of its rivals, like a dual-curved glass display or the ability to survive a dip in the pool for those summer selfies, but LG has packed in extra hardware to let the V20 do more. It’s packed in two displays (that’s right, a smaller 2.1-inch screen up top), three microphones, and four cameras. On top of that, the V20 has a removable battery, a much-missed feature of many Android devices that alone should bring some Samsung defectors over to it.—Chuong Nguyen
After Lenovo acquired Motorola, the entire tech world knew the longstanding Chicago telecommunications company was in for a shakeup. Google Motorola and Lenovo Motorola were going to offer the world very different products.
That has rung true with the Moto Z. It is an entirely different animal to the Moto X, but one with a similarly great experience and its own set of quirks that make it distinct from the rest of the smartphone market. If, and this is a massive if, the modular idea catches on, it could change how people look at smartphones. Instead of seeing a device they’ll hope lasts them two years, consumers might look at the Z and see it as a phone that will be great when they buy it, and maybe even better in the future.—EW
The newest hotness from HTC isn’t exactly the most standout device. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the company in 2016, which means it might not be the savior of this smartphone manufacturer that it needs to be. But when you just look at the phone itself, it’s hard to find much to complain about.
The device feels great in the hand and it’s a design that has been iterated upon over the years quite well. It’s a bit clunkier than what you’ll get with a phone from Apple or Samsung, but there’s also no questioning this thing’s durability and some people are going to love the idea of going caseless with the HTC 10. What’s more, the HTC 10 feels a step further than the Galaxy S7 or LG G5 on the software end of things, not overly relying on the company’s proprietary Android skin much at all. Instead, you get a light, responsive, and clean interface that makes the new HTC 10 one of the very best options for Android smartphones out there right now.—LL
Photo by Flickr user Maurizio Pesce
Samsung’s “other” phone. Though it’s now over six months old, the Galaxy S7 is the smartphone Samsung would much rather have you talk about at this point. You won’t find the Galaxy Note 7 on this list, which is a phone we can no longer recommend.
With the S7, Samsung reintroduced waterproofing and expandable storage, which pleased many Android users. Most importantly, Samsung pulled in these features without having to compromise the great design and build quality that it introduced last year. Oh yeah—and then there’s that incredible OLED display, which you have to see in person to truly appreciate. The S8 is that far away, but the S7 is still a fantastic smartphone.—LL
The $439 OnePlus 3T is simply unbeatable when it comes to value. Even at $40 more than its predecessor, OnePlus’ flagship phone competes with the best from Google, Apple, and Samsung at a fraction of the cost. Coming from an underdog company like OnePlus, it’s hard not to root for this phone. It’s got an impressive camera, a great display, fast performance, and a fantastic design. As an added feature, it’s got the best fast charging system out there, which is something the likes of Apple and Google still haven’t caught on to.—LL
Photo by Maurizio Pesce
As Apple likes to say, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus truly are the best iPhones ever made. Aside from the expected speed and performance updates, the camera upgrade alone makes the iPhone 7 a justified purchase for iPhone users. The inclusion of optical image stabilization on the 7 Plus as well as the 7 was a huge welcome that results in some fantastic mobile photography.
Yes, yes—the headphone jack is gone. In my time with the phone, however, I found myself more than happy to give up the headphone jack in exchange for a better camera, battery life, and performance—and I’m sure most iPhone 7 users will agree. The iPhone 7 probably won’t convince Android users to switch over, but it will surely please the hordes of people who love their iPhones and want more of what they love.—Jamie Pham
After years of dancing around the idea, Google finally released a phone designed entirely in Mountain View. If it performs well, it could end the Apple-Samsung duopoly that has dominated the market for nearly a decade. That’s a big deal. But it can’t be a big deal if the Pixel doesn’t live up to expectations. Google clearly learned from the Nexus program, and its other hardware ventures like the Chromebook Pixel and Pixel C, because its first smartphone is rock solid. The design may not impress, but the experience of using the phone certainly does.
From a hardware perspective, even if it echoes the iPhone too much, it’s a well built machine that lives up to the standards set by other premium smartphones. On the software side, Google is showing real innovation with the Google Assistant which, while not perfect, is clearly the company’s idea of the future. The Google Pixel is the most important phone of 2016. It may not be the one most remembered, thanks to the explosive tendencies of the Note 7, or the best, thanks to the stacked field of 2016, but it’s the device that will have the most impact on the industry moving forward. Fortunately, it’s also the device that we find the easiest to recommend to just about anyone.—EW