Best smartphone 2016 - buying guide & top mobile phone picks
Our smartphone is one of the most important devices we use on a daily basis, but picking the right one for your needs and budget can be tricky when there are so many different handsets lining the shelves. To help you make the right choice, we've sifted through all our reviews to bring you the definitive shortlist of the best handsets currently available and which ones are the best value for money.
Every smartphone on this list has been tested and benchmarked in full, but we'll be updating this list regularly with new entries as and when they come in for review. Be sure to also check out our handy buying guide on page two to help narrow down your choice even further. We explain everything from which operating system you should go for to screen quality, battery life and performance, and how much storage you'll need. We also explain whether you need 4G and the best ways to buy your new handset.
New entry: LG G5
LG's done the impossible with the LG G5, as it's managed to combine a full metal unibody and an interchangeable battery. How has it achieved this feat of technical wizardry? By making the phone modular. It may not be the prettiest phone in this list, but the ability to tap a button and simply slide out the battery gives it a huge advantage over its fixed rivals.
Slotting in extra batteries isn't the only thing the G5 can do, either, as LG has also released two additional modules called the LG Cam Plus, a wedge-like camera grip, and the LG Hi-fi Plus, a portable hi-fi module developed in partnership with Bang & Olufsen that supports hi-res audio. These slot into the bottom of the phone and come with their own batteries, giving you an extra burst of power at the same time.
It's also incredibly quick, and its graphics performance even surpasses the Samsung Galaxy S7 below. Its 5.3in display is superb as well, and its rear dual cameras give it plenty of flexibility when taking photos. The main 16-megapixel camera is excellent, but its wide-angle 8-megapixel lens is also a really fun addition, giving creative types plenty to get stuck in with.
Processor: Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Screen Size: 5.3in, Screen resolution: 2,560x1,440, Rear camera: 16 + 8 megapixels, Storage: 32GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 149x74x7.7mm, Weight: 159g, Operating system: Android 6.0.1
1. Samsung Galaxy S7
On the outside, Samsung's brand-new Galaxy S7 doesn't look that much different from the Galaxy S6, but the number of improvements it's received inside make it by far the best Android smartphone we've ever seen. Its battery life is incredible, its speed is unprecedented, and, more importantly, it's nowhere near as expensive as the S6 was when it first launched this time last year.
It also rectifies lots of the problems we had with the S6, as the S7 now has a microSD slot to expand the phone's storage up to 200GB, and it's also dustproof and waterproof up to a depth of 1.5m for 30 minutes, making it more practical. The curvy S7 Edge is arguably more attractive than flat S7, but this year it's also much larger, making the the regular S7 a better fit for those who want something a little more hand and pocket friendly.
Price when reviewed: £569 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Samsung Galaxy S7 review
Processor: Octa-core 2.3GHz Samsung Exynos 8890 Screen Size: 5.1in, Screen resolution: 2,560x1,440, Rear camera: 12 megapixels, Storage: 32GB / 64GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 142x70x7.9mm, Weight: 152g, Operating system: Android 6.0.1
2. Motorola Moto X Force
The Motorola Moto X Force is truly the king of all smartphones. With its incredible shatterproof display, you never need to worry about breaking your phone's screen ever again. We've hit it with a baseball bat, chucked it on the floor (concrete or otherwise) and it's come out completely unscathed.
It's an astonishing feat of engineering, and to make things even better, Motorola has also equipped it with a gorgeous 5.4in 2,560x1,440 AMOLED panel, a super fast octa-core processor, a fantastic camera and one of the largest batteries we've seen this year. Even if you've never dropped a smartphone in your life, you never know when that dreaded day might arrive. With the Moto X Force, you can just keep on rolling with the punches, making it our top smartphone of 2015.
Price when reviewed: £480 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Motorola Moto X Force review
Processor: Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 Screen Size: 5.4in, Screen resolution: 2,560x1,440, Rear camera: 21 megapixels, Storage: 32GB / 64GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 150x78x7.6mm, Weight: 169g, Operating system: Android 5.1.1
3. Apple iPhone 6
It took Apple a while, but it finally increased screen size with the iPhone 6 range. Now with a 4.7in display, a fast processor, improved battery life and iOS 8.1, the iPhone 6 is an improvement in every way on the iPhone 5S. We also think that it strikes the perfect balance between screen size and physical size, making it the best iPhone for most people.
Price when reviewed: £619 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full iPhone 6 review
Processor: Dual-core 1.4GHz Apple A8, Screen Size: 4.7in, Screen resolution: 1,334x750, Rear camera: 8 megapixels, Storage: 16GB / 64GB / 128GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 138x67x6.9mm, Weight: 129g, Operating system: iOS 8
4. Motorola Moto G (3rd Gen, 2015)
The 2nd Gen Moto G was an exceptional smartphone, but the latest version of Motorola's monumental handset is even better. While it's not quite as good value as its predecessor, the 3rd Gen Moto G is by far one of the most comfortable and attractive budget smartphones around. Its large 5in HD screen looks great, it has a fantastic 13-megapixel camera, and its battery life is best in class. It also comes with 4G support and a microSD card slot, making it even more versatile than ever.
Price when reviewed: £159 SIM-free. For the latest prices, see our full Moto G 3rd Gen 2015 review
Processor: Quad-core 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, Screen Size: 5in, Screen resolution: 1,280x720, Rear camera: 13 megapixels, Storage: 8GB / 16GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 142x72x6.1mm, Weight: 155g, Operating system: Android 5.1.1
5. OnePlus 2
When it first launched in 2015, you needed a special invite to get hold of OnePlus' excellent OnePlus 2, but now those restrictions have been lifted, allowing anyone to get one of the best flagship smartphones of 2015 for just under £300. With its top-end specs and great camera, the OnePlus 2 gives almost every other premium smartphone a real run for its money, providing an excellent alternative to both the Nexus 5X and Moto X Play. If you're after the best value smartphone money can buy, the OnePlus 2 is the phone for you.
Price when reviewed: £289 SIM-free. For the latest prices, see our full OnePlus 2 review
Processor: Octa-core 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 Screen Size: 5.5in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080, Rear camera: 13 megapixels, Storage: 16GB / 64GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 152x75x9.9mm, Weight: 175g, Operating system: Oxygen OS (Android 5.1)
6. Nexus 5X
It's that time of year again, when we not only get a new Nexus phone but a whole new version of Android to go with it. This year, it's the Nexus 5X and Android 6.0 Marshmallow, making this the go-to phone for Android purists. After last year's disappointing Nexus 6, the 5X is a breath of fresh air. It may not be the most attractive phone you've ever seen, but its fast internals and excellent screen make it great value for money. It's also got one of the best cameras we've seen in recent months, too, making it a fantastic all-round package.
The Nexus 5X isn't the only Nexus phone this year, though, as Google has also launched the super-sized Nexus 6P, which is made by Huawei. The 6P is equally good value for those after a big screen phablet, but for us, the Nexus 5X has the greater long-term appeal. It's cheaper, it's slightly easier to hold and it's generally a bit more practical.
Price when reviewed: £339 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Nexus 5X review
Processor: Hexa-core 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 Screen Size: 5.2in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080, Rear camera: 12.3 megapixels, Storage: 16GB / 32GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 147x73x7.9mm, Weight: 136g, Operating system: Android 6.0
6. Sony Xperia Z5
The Xperia Z5 has the most colour accurate LCD display I've ever seen, delivering bright, punchy colours that outshine almost every other smartphone display I've tested. If that wasn't enough, it's one of the fastest Android phones around, too, with blistering web browsing speeds and exceptional gaming performance. Topping it all off is Sony's brand-new chassis, which has a gorgeous frosted glass finish that dramatically improves the phone's grip and comfort, and a handy fingerprint sensor built straight into the power button, making it easier than ever before to keep your phone secure.
Price when reviewed: £549 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Sony Xperia Z5 review
Processor: Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 Screen Size: 5.2in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080, Rear camera: 23 megapixels, Storage: 32GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 146x72x7.3mm, Weight: 154g, Operating system: Android 5.1.1
7. Sony Xperia Z5 Compact
If the Z5 is just a little bit too big for your pocket, the Z5 Compact is the phone for you. While its screen only has a 720p resolution rather than Full HD, the Z5 Compact is just as fast as its big brother and has exactly the same camera sensor, making it excellent value for a miniature flagship smartphone. It's also got a fantastic display and a beautiful design, borrowing the same frosted glass finish as the Z5.
Price when reviewed: £429 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Sony Xperia Z5 Compact review
Processor: Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 Screen Size: 4.6in, Screen resolution: 1,280x720, Rear camera: 23 megapixels, Storage: 32GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 127x65x8.9mm, Weight: 138g, Operating system: Android 5.1.1
8. Motorola Moto X Play
The Moto X Play may not be Motorola's flagship smartphone any more, but this mid-range monster is extremely good value. With a battery life to rival the Samsung Galaxy S6, this smartphone has more than enough stamina to keep you going all day, and its octa-core processor Snapdragon 615 has plenty of speed, too. Its 21-megapixel camera is also excellent, providing plenty of detail with bright, rich colours.
Price when reviewed: £270 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Motorola Moto X Play review
Processor: Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615, Screen Size: 5.5in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080 Rear camera: 21 megapixels, Storage: 16GB /32GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 148x75x8.9mm, Weight: 169g, Operating system: Android 5.1.1
9. Samsung Galaxy J5
The Samsung Galaxy J5 is an incredible budget handset. Not only does it have a gorgeous Super AMOLED display - a real rarity at this end of the market - but in our tests, its battery life even surpasses that of the significantly more expensive Galaxy S7. That's a pretty impressive feat for a phone that doesn't cost more than £200 SIM-free, and it shows you don't have to spend a lot on a top-flight flagship handset to get the best a phone can offer.
In fact, it's a pretty close run race between this and Motorola's 3rd Gen Moto G for our favourite best budget handset, and a large part of it will come down to whether you prefer to use plain Android (as on the Moto G) or are happy with Samsung's TouchWiz interface. The Moto G has the edge when it comes to camera performance, but the J5 is still a highly accomplished smartphone for its price, and is easily one of Samsung's best budget handsets to date.
Price when reviewed: £160 SIM-free. For the latest prices, see our full Samsung Galaxy J5 review
Processor: Quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, Screen Size: 5in, Screen resolution: 1,280x720, Rear camera: 13 megapixels, Storage: 8GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 142x72x7.9mm, Weight: 146g, Operating system: Android 5.1.1
10. Vodafone Smart Ultra 6
The super-sized Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 is something of a budget miracle. Better value than the Moto G, this £125 handset has a 5.5in Full HD display, 13-megapixel camera and a super-fast Snapdragon 615 processor. It's tied to Vodafone, of course, but you won't find a better value smartphone for less.
Price when reviewed: £125 PAYG. For the latest prices, see our full Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 review
Processor: Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615, Screen Size: 5.5in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080 Rear camera: 13 megapixels, Storage: 16GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 154x77x8.4mm, Weight: 159g, Operating system: Android 5.0.2
11. Motorola Moto E (2nd Gen, 2015)
If you're looking for extremely low-cost Android phone that you can buy outright, the 2015 edition of the Motorola Moto E should be top of your list. Available for just £109, it's extremely good value. Its 960x540 screen is a little low-res, but its quality is very good. Performance is also respectable, and its battery life of 13h 30m in our video playback test is also extremely good for a budget handset. It even runs the latest version of Android, Lollipop.
Price when reviewed: £109 SIM-free. For the latest prices, see our full Motorola Moto E (2015) review
Processor: Quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410,Screen Size: 4.5in, Screen resolution: 960x540, Rear camera: 5 megapixels, Storage: 8GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G,Size: 130x67x12.3mm, Weight: 145g, Operating system: Android 5.0.2
12. Vodafone Smart Speed 6
Motorola's budget phones are excellent, but for those that don't want to pay £90 for the 2nd Gen Moto E (listed below), the £50 Vodafone Smart Speed 6 is a truly excellent alternative. You'll need to join Vodafone to get one, as it's only available on Pay as You Go, but if that doesn't bother you, then this compact smartphone is easily the best in its price range. It's just as fast as the Moto E, has great battery life, and runs stock Android, too, making it very simple and easy to use.
Price when reviewed: £50 PAYG. For the latest prices, see our full Vodafone Smart Speed 6 review
Processor: Quad-core 1.0GHz MediaTek MT6735M Screen Size: 4.5in, Screen resolution: 854x480, Rear camera: 5 megapixels, Storage: 8GB, Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 132x65x9.9mm, Weight: 146g, Operating system: Android 5.1