The best Android phones of 2015

The Breakdown


Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Big and Beautiful

Pros & Cons: 
  • Excellent build quality
  • Swappable battery
  • Excellent camera
  • May be too big for some users
  • More pricey the other offerings
  • Anachronistic hardware buttons
Big phones sell. You might think they’re getting too big, but the simple fact is that folks are buying them. And they’re buying a lot of them. And not only is the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 one of the best oversized phones available, it’s also one of the best all-around phones, period. It's got a beefier processor than last year's model and the higher-resolution QHD display, also bumped up in size to 5.7 inches. It's running Android 4.4.4 KitKat, with an update to Android 5.0 Lollipop on the way, and comes with a removable 3,220 mAh battery.

The addition of optical image stabilization (OIS) on the 16-megapixel camera makes it one of the better low-light shooters available, and it’s definitely improved over the Galaxy S5.
Plus, the Note 4 has Samsung’s excellent pen input features, which nobody else has even bothered to attempt to replicate. It’s that good.

Add all that up, and you’ve got a major contender.


Samsung Galaxy S6

The best Galaxy you've seen yet

Pros & Cons: 
  • Great design
  • Excellent camera
  • A fingerprint scanner that works
  • Battery life
  • Software is still overbearing
  • Hardware buttons
It's sort of been a while since we've really been excited about Samsung's Galaxy S line — go all the way back to the Galaxy S3, really. But the GS6 has us singing its praises, and for good reason. It's got a design and build quality as good as anything you've seen before — and that's without even talking about the curved "edge" model.

The 5.1-inch display is gorgeous. The fingerprint scanner is actually usable now, even if we'd prefer on-screen buttons most of the time. And the 16-megapixel camera is as good as you'll find in any other phone on any platform.

That's not to say there's not room for improvement. The battery life is just OK. The speaker is underwhelming. And while Samsung has included wireless charging out of the box, it's taken away the removable battery, and the expandable storage. But it has increased the top on-board storage level to a full 128 gigabytes.


LG G3

The cutting edge

Pros & Cons: 
  • Extremely sharp display
  • Removable battery and storage card
  • Excellent camera
  • Rear buttons take a little getting used to
  • Plastic looks like metal, feels like plastic
  • Too big for some users
One of the most innovative phones of the past couple years (really, there are awards for that stuff) continues to impress in 2014. The LG G3 was the first of the large-screen phones to up things to QHD resolution, packing a 1440x2560 display into 5.5 inches — but all in a phone that doesn't feel that large.

What's more is that the power and volume buttons you'd usually find on the side or maybe on top of the phone have remain on the back side. It's a devilishly simply design that is far more intuitive than you'd expect.

LG's also coming along nicely in the software department; it just has to be sure to pump out those system updates as quickly as possible. Android 5.0 Lollipop is finally starting to trickle out for it.
The G3's 13-megapixel camera is one of the best you can get these days, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of an optical imaging stabilization system and laser (as in pew pew!!!) autofocus.
The G3 also sports a 3,000 mAh removable battery, and it has a microSD card slot for expandable storage.


Moto X (2014)

Leather or wood? Your call

Pros & Cons: 
  • Customizable exterior
  • Handy Moto Assist apps
  • Nearly stock Android
  • No expandable storage
  • Average battery life
  • Camera is still just okay
The Moto X was one of our favorite phones of 2013, and it's grown up a bit in late 2014 and remains a contender in 2015. Motorola shed the diminutive size of the original and scaled the display up to 5.2 inches at 1080p. It's also improved the camera quality a bit with a 13-megapixel shooter capable of recording video in 4K resolution. Motorola's also added a video highlights feature, so you can easily share the best of your events in just a few touches.
But the standout feature of the Moto X continues to be its software. Motorola doesn't do much to the basic look and feel of Android as Google intended it to be, but there are a few choice customizations that will help your phone be smarter when you're sleeping, driving and busy in meetings.
And Motorola has set the bar extremely high when it comes to updating the software on its phones, so you'll likely get the newest version of Android before just about anyone else. (It was one of the first to get Android 5.0 Lollipop.)
What's more is that you can customize your own Moto X, getting it in a variety colors and styles. (Leather, anyone? Or how about wood!) It's currently available.


Samsung Galaxy S5

Feature-packed powerhouse

Pros & Cons: 
  • Great battery life
  • Waterproof
  • Fingerprint scanner & heart rate monitor
  • Overwhelming software customizations
  • Uninspiring hardware design
  • Annoying cover over charging port
We're just about halfway into the product cycle for the fifth iteration of Samsung's flagship smartphone. And as you'd expect, this one's the best of the Samsung bunch. It's not a huge change over last year's model, insofar as design goes, but it's all the little tweaks that makes it so great.
The 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display (at 1080p resolution) is among the best you'll find today. And the brightness and color both adapt to the ambient lighting around you. The 16-megapixel camera remains among the best you can get in an Android smartphone, though it does disappoint somewhat in low light.

If you're looking for power, the Galaxy S5 has it, sporting a quad-core processor at 2.5GHz, 2GB of RAM and a removable 2,800 mAh battery.

Plus Samsung has all the software features you can shake a stick at. Maybe too many. But if you're looking for it, chances are it's built in, no downloads required.

And Samsung made this thing dust- and water-resistant out of the box.


Moto G (2014)

More bang for fewer bucks

Pros & Cons: 
  • Excellent bang for buck
  • Loud stereo speakers
  • Big, bright screen
  • No LTE
  • Camera is still just okay
  • Similar internals to last year’s model
The 2014 Moto G brings a level quality not often seen in the sphere of budget phones. It packs a 5-inch 720p display, fashionable color selection with replaceable shells, and it’s already rocking the latest version of Android, Lollipop. For the price, the Moto G is very hard to beat. For some CDMA carriers you’ll be stuck with the original Moto G, but even that’s still a great choice.


HTC One M9

Last year's phone gets (mostly) a little better

Pros & Cons: 
  • Proven hardware design gets even better
  • Excellent front-facing speakers
  • Fast software
  • Camera still lags competitors
  • New predictive home screen is a flop
  • Battery life a bit disappointing
HTC's phone don't rule the smartphone world, but they're consistently ranked among the best designed. That continues with the M9, even if it's more of a refinement of last year's model than anything else.

The sleek body is now easier to hold. The front-facing "BoomSound" speakers are about as good as always. And HTC's software is about as light and fast as any you'll find that deviates from "stock" Android — though the new predictive home screen is a bit of a miss.

The other big change for the M9 is in moving the "UltraPixel" camera from the rear to the front of the phone, and instead opting for a more traditional 20MP sensor in the back. The results have been serviceable, but not remarkable.

But add in HTC's new "UH OH" insurance plan — a free replacement phone should you break yours in the first year, and $100 off your next HTC phone if you don't — and you've got one of the more compelling Android phones that's outside the top spot.


Motorola Nexus 6

Big, bold, Lollipop

Pros & Cons: 
  • Latest Google Hardware
  • Running stock Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • Brilliant QHD AMOLED Display
  • May be too large for many users
  • No expandable storage
  • Poor camera
The Nexus 6 is a big, big phone. As the name implies, the display’s been increased to 6 inches, in a form factor that’s nearly identical to the smaller (but not exactly tiny) Moto X. The differentiator here is that the Nexus 6 is the first phone to sport Android 5.0 Lollipop. It’s also got dual front-facing speakers, a 13-megapixel camera and the ability to be seen through your pants pockets from 100 yards. It’s that big. But the kids are gonna love it.

That is, so long as they can put up with the relatively rocky release that has been Lollipop. This is one of those times in which you can expect to be a bit of a beta tester. We’re not in full-stop, don’t buy it territory, but performance issues coupled with crashes have darkened the experience for us a bit. And good luck finding a 64-gigabyte model.


Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

QHD with a curve

Pros & Cons: 
  • Eye-catching curved display
  • Great Note-style stylus
  • Great battery life and performance
  • Edge screen functions gimmicky
  • Not made for lefties
  • Burdened with Samsung's software quirks
The Galaxy Note Edge takes everything you'll love about the Note 4 — high-resolution display, S Pen input, etc. — and adds a slick secondary edge display to it, bringing forth a number of new possibilities. You've got 160 pixels on that curve that lead you to new ways to launch apps or see messages and notifications — or even use it as a ruler.


Criteria

Price

There are many things that you’ll want to take into consideration when buying a new phone, but one of the biggest is price. Most newer devices will run you quite a bit, but if you’re riding a 2-year contract — or just happen to find the right deal — you can snag one of our top picks at a great price. Even if you’re on a budget, you still have some great options for a new phone. If you’re really in a crunch, you can also go with an older phone instead of the latest tech. This will save you some cash and still get you a great device.

Display

Displays on smartphones are all across the board these days, and what size you get really depends on just what you’ll be using your phone for. People that like gaming or watching videos may want to go for a large screen, while those that are just using social networks and email may not need one quite as big.
You’ll also want to consider things like contrast, saturation, and screen brightness. Some screens may look great to you but not to others — and vice versa — so it’s always best to take a look at a few for comparison to see which fits you best. There are different types of display technologies like IPS-LCD and AMOLED as well that will affect a display’s appearance both indoors and out.

Software

If you’re buying a new smartphone you most likely already know what software or platform you like — the big players at this point are iOS (iPhone), Android, and WIndows Phone. For the most part, all of the devices in this list are running the latest software for their respective platforms, or will soon be upgraded to do just that. In many cases you’ll want to stick with the platform you’re currently using so you won’t have to adjust to a different usage style or having to pay for apps & games you’ve already purchased on another platform.

Breaking things down, iOS is plainly simple to setup and use, with very little room for error. The software remains the same across the latest generation of devices. Google’s Android is much more customizable and comes in a few flavors, some devices having “skinned” versions of the software based on choices from the manufacturer. Windows Phone devices bring the best of what Windows users love on the desktop into a mobile experience for smartphone use.

Also keep in mind that many older devices will still be updated to the latest software, fixing bugs and adding new features along the way. However many are also becoming outdated after just a few years, so if you want the latest & greatest you’ll have to buy a new device to stay current.

Battery

Perhaps the single most important feature to consider when buying a new smartphone is battery life. The battery is the heart of your phone when on the go, so 99% of the time bigger is always better.
Everyone will use their phone in different ways, so you’ll have to take into account how you will be using your phone to know just how much battery you’ll be able to squeak out in a day. Watching videos, streaming music, or playing games all use a lot of battery, while web browsing and sending emails won’t have the same immediate effect on battery life.

Batteries are measured in milliampere-hour (mAh) and the higher the number, the bigger the battery. Most newer devices will make it through a day of casual use, but heavy users many run short if they don’t find the time to top-off throughout the day. There are plenty of things you can do to prolong your battery life as well — turning down the screen brightness, disabling features like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when not in use, or just limiting your overall usage time. Charging up when you can doesn’t hurt either. We’ve got plenty more battery-saving tips which should help regardless of which phone you end up buying.

Camera

It used to be that we used a standalone camera for taking photos, but as technology evolves, more and more people are using their smartphone camera as their full-time camera. If you’re one of these people, you’ll want to make sure that the camera in your device is up to the challenge so you get the best shots no matter what the situation may be.

Most phones will have a rear and front camera, the later being used for “selfies” or things like video chat — meaning the rear stats are what really matter in the long run. Most decent smartphone cameras come in at around 8MP, with some devices sporting cameras of 13 MP, 16 MP or more. The camera software on the device can also play a big part in just how good your photos look as well. Take a gander at our photography hints to take some really great snaps with your phone.

Conclusion

This is by no means a conclusive ranking of all Android phones — these are some of the best. Certainly, they're on the more expensive side (Moto G aside), but you'll get what you're paying for. High-end specs and experiences come with high-end prices.