Each year we look back at the smartphones of 2015 and decipher which stood out from the bunch. The truth is that we expect a lot out of the smartphones we use. It needs to perform great, have an amazing camera, a beautiful display, and the perfect software. It’s a lot when you think about it—but for good reason: there’s not a single computer you will use more in your life. Your smartphone is always with you and it’s the one you need to have be reliable throughout the thick and the thin.
Fortunately, there are a huge number of smartphones that came out in 2015 that match many of these qualities. Not only do we now have a huge variety of flagship smartphones to choose from that are excellent, a good amount of them sell for well under $500. You can’t go wrong with any of the phones on this list—they all come highly recommended from us.
The HTC One M9 might not be the standout device it was when it came out at the beginning of the year, but we’d regret not mentioning the line of phones that has had a large influence on the direction of Android smartphones (and even iPhones, arguably). The One M7 had a beautiful unibody design that was made of aluminum materials and put together like no other Android device in 2013.
The M9 certainly doesn’t stand out as much as the line used to—and is still held back by its less-than-great camera—but it was still one of the best smartphones released in 2015. We’ll have to wait to see what HTC does in 2016, but for now, the M9 is the best phone HTC has ever made.—Luke Larsen
After shaking the market with two budget-conscious but decidedly premium phones, last year’s OnePlus One and its successor the OnePlus 2, the Chinese phone maker has once again defied odds with the X. It’s latest is smaller and cheaper with an even more premium build than its pricier brothers. The glass and metal build feels phenomenal and its diminutive size (by today’s gargantuan standards) make it easy to use with one hand. At the $249 pricepoint, it’s got virtually no competition—and that’s an accomplishment all on its own.—Eric Walters
For a long time, LG’s devices were hidden in the shadow of Samsung’s successes, despite being quite similar in specs, design, and features. But last year, LG changed that with its LG G3, an overall great smartphone with a cutting-edge design, top-of-the-line specs, and even a trimmed down software update.
This year’s G4 doesn’t change much of what made the G3 great, which is actually a good thing. Perhaps most impressively, the G4 has a fantastic camera that rivals those from Samsung and Apple. While the G4 is getting a little old at this point due to the fact that it came out early in the year, you’ll be hard-pressed to find G4 users today complaining about the experience.—LL
Nexus phones have always been for hardcore Android fans, but this year Google wanted to change that by bringing a budget-friendly phone ($379) to the market that just about anyone would want to pick up and use.
It’s made out of plastic and has a pretty basic design, but it’s really light in the hand and has a nice textured feel. Furthermore, it has just a 5.2-inch display, so it’s quite a bit smaller than most other Android smartphones out there. Most importantly though, Google (in partnership with LG) has made one of the best budget phone out there and pretty much erases the notion of ever buying a “midrange” smartphone ever again. It’s not the absolute best value (see the OnePlus phones for that), but if the stock Android 6.0 experience for cheap is what you want, get the Nexus 5X.—LL
Motorola was one of the first companies to pioneer the cheap, flagship unlocked smartphone and they really did do it right. Nowadays, it takes a bit more to stand out from the crowd though.
The new Moto X hits all the right marks—great display, performance, and near-stock Android. The design isn’t my favorite—and the camera still struggles at points—but the Moto X Pure Edition is still one of the best smartphones of 2015. The ability to customize it through MotoMaker will always be one of the best features of Motorola phones and that’s no different here.—LL
Although we prefer the cleaner software on devices like the Moto X Pure Edition, it’s hard to deny all the things that Galaxy S6 has in the hardware department. It still has an excellent display and the best camera on an Android device you can find. The stunning design of the S6 Edge in particular really makes it feel like the display is completely edge-to-edge, resulting in a device unlike anything we’ve ever held.
Now that we’ve seen the Note 5, though, we think it is easily the best Galaxy device from this year. If the bigger screen and stylus aren’t your cup of tea though, the S6 is still one of the best.—LL
There’s a lot of reasons why longtime Samsung fans have ditched the Note 5, most notably because of its lack of a removable battery, waterproof casing, and expandable storage. However, if none of those things matter to you, the Note 5 is clearly the best smartphone Samsung has ever made. The design and build quality is spot on, the stylus is more useful than ever, and the camera is the best you’ll find on an Android device. If it wasn’t for the clunky Samsung software, this phone would have shot to the top of this list, but even as is, it’s still a great option.—LL
A premium phone in every way imaginable for just $329? That’s always been OnePlus’ motto as the “flagship killer,” and it still holds true with the OnePlus 2. It’s not a perfect device, but it hits almost every benchmark with flying colors—whether that is its beautiful display and impressive performance to its clean customizable software and excellent build quality. The OnePlus 2 also has amazing battery life, outdoing every other phone on this list on benchmarks. The best part? It’s become available again after being sold out, just in time for the holidays. —LL
People who buy iPhones will probably always buy iPhones—it’s plain and simple (that is, until they realize that they are paying at least twice as much for one than some smartphones that are every bit as good). The iPhone 6s Plus in particular is certainly the best iPhone ever made, bringing in some great new features like 3D Touch and Live Photos, as well as updating the camera. Speaking of the camera, the iPhone still takes the cake with its incomparable image processing that turns photos into Instagram gold. We’ll have to wait until the iPhone 7 for an interesting new design, but for now, the 6s and 6s Plus are Apple at the top of its game.—LL
Last year’s entry in the Nexus line, the Nexus 6 by Motorola, was essentially a disaster. In a world of big phones, it was the biggest. Bulky and pricey, it went against the core tenets the Nexus program were founded on. Google learned from Shamu, and it delivered in 2015. Both Nexus phones are solid Android devices, but the Huawei-built Nexus 6P is an Android lover’s dream. The metal construction is exquisite and its one knock, the glass bar housing necessary sensors and the camera module, really grew on me over time. The screen is immaculate, only a touch lower than Samsung’s efforts this year, and the camera is vastly improved.
As with any Nexus phone, though, the 6P’s best asset is the stock Android experience, 6.0 Marshmallow here. It’s the best Android phone money can buy, and at $499 it comes in much lower than other phones in the same weight class.—EW