We’re currently working toward our best smartphone of the year award, highlighting several devices for stand-out features as we move along. I wanted to highlight five of my favorites, though, some of which aren’t going to make it into that list for some obvious and some not-so-obvious reasons. These are the five phones I found to be the most exciting of the year, however. Let’s go!
I wasn’t sure about the Pixel and Pixel XL at first. I thought it was basically a new name for the Nexus program but, it turns out, I was pretty wrong. It’s really Google’s foray into the hardware space — even though they’re built by HTC — in an effort to compete with Apple. The Pixel and Pixel XL stand out thanks to excellent displays, great cameras, top-notch Android software and gorgeous design. The Pixel XL is my personal favorite phone of the year for those reasons. The stellar battery life certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
I know OnePlus has the OnePlus 3T out now, but I was most excited for the OnePlus 3 launch earlier in the year. I had seen the device in early briefings and was super excited by its low price point but incredible design and awesome software. I was so pumped I went to the company’s pop-up store launch in NYC and bought one with my own dough. I wish OnePlus would consider adding features like support for Google Daydream in the future, but for now I’m happy enough with the OnePlus 3 (and OnePlus 3T for that matter) as is.
Lenovo’s Motorola Mobility launched the first smartphone with a really solid modular ecosystem. You can add all sorts of gadgets to the Moto Z family of devices, including a Hasselblad camera attachment, extra batteries, a projector, a car mount and more. Lenovo is standing by the ecosystem, too, and hopes to launch dozens of additional products in 2017. I love the ease of which you can attach each accessory, too. Kudos to Motorola for pulling this off, especially knowing that Google’s Project Ara is now dead.
Lenovo Phab 2 Pro
This phone isn’t getting enough love right now. The UI aspect of it stinks, and I hope Lenovo fixes that, but everything else is awesome. It’s huge – massive even – with a 6.4-inch Quad HD display and a rock solid metal build. It’s the first consumer-focused Google Tango device, though, and takes advantage of additional camera sensors to create a true augmented reality experience. AR can be used to transform your living room into an interactive game, to place and size new furniture, or even to find the perfect size TV for your stand. It’s a super fun phone, though still needs a few bugs ironed out before it’s ready for my recommendation as a daily driver.
Galaxy Note 7
Hey I said exciting! There’s no denying the Galaxy Note 7 was an exciting device, from its debut as the most powerful and feature-rich smartphone on the market, to its headline-grabbing fall from grace. I’ve argued it was the phone of the year, and easily would have grabbed that award had it not been so prone to exploding in user’s hands, cars, in airplanes and on night stands. Damn, just talking about it makes me miss the Galaxy Note 7.