Top 5 smartphones of 2015

We’ve seen a lot of fantastic phones this year; too many to count. We kicked things off with the Galaxy S6, LG G4 and One M9, and quickly moved on to devices like the OnePlus 2 and Moto G, the latter of which continues to attract a fervent following. But in such a highly competitive market, which one stands out as the best? That’s a tough question to answer.

We typically highlight one phone in a given year (last year it was the OnePlus One, and before that it was the Moto X). But there were so many incredible phones this year that it was impossible to choose just one. In fact, we had many heated debates among the TechnoBuffalo staff when coming up with this list. Ultimately, we came up with what you see below.

Expanding our “Best Of” list allowed us to highlight what we felt offered the best experiences throughout 2015. Not only that, but it gave us a moment to reflect on how strong the mobile market was this year. High-end flagships continue to get better, while the low-end market is no longer an afterthought. Seriously, you no longer have to decide between buying device or paying for rent.

By and large, 2015 was a win for consumers. Even if you don’t agree with our list, there are a number of other terrific devices out there worth looking at. We liked the Xperia z5 Premium, and the ZenFone 2 was a pleasant surprise. Let us know what’s on your list of top smartphones for 2015.

1. Nexus 6P

Nexus phones have always been vessels for the latest version of Android, prototype devices meant for die-hard fans only. But Google seemingly had an epiphany a few years back, and realized that its phones were destined for a much bigger audience. We began to see a different approach with devices like the Nexus 5 and Nexus 6, and this year we’ve really seen Google come out of its shell. And that’s good news for us, because the company, with the help of Huawei, has made one hell of a phone.

When you first lay eyes on the Nexus 6P, it might not be love at first sight. I mean, those early leaked pictures we saw had us really worried about what the final device would look like. But the design grows on you, slowly captivates you with its thin profile and aluminum chassis. It feels like a premium phone, a device carefully engineered to provide a connection every time you pick it up. I’m not talking about a literal connection to the Internet; it provides a figurative connection that makes you fall in love the more you use it.

I really wasn’t expecting to like the Nexus 6P as much as I did when I reviewed it earlier this year. It seemed like such a bore leading up to the device’s official announcement. But, like I said, it quickly grew on me, to the point where I missed it when I had to move on to other reviews. In addition to its brilliant design, the camera was amazing, and its 5.7-inch Quad HD screen was just stunning. Oh, and the front-firing speakers were great, too.

Not to mention the latest version of Android, Marshmallow, is more advanced than ever. I never really found myself using Now on Tap, but features like Doze, app permissions, and more provided me with everything I needed. Android has come a long, long way, and it works beautifully on the Nexus 6P. Remember: buyers get all of this for just $499, which is an absolute steal for what the device offers.

When you consider the Nexus 6P comes with top-of-the-line specs, arguably the best mobile camera on the market, and a competitive price, plus a fingerprint sensor, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that it’s the best phone money can buy. That’s high praise, too, considering how strong the mobile market was this year. Every top flagship had something to offer, while cheap phones were suddenly very good. 

If you’re on the fence about what to buy this holiday season, look no further than the Nexus 6P. It might not offer wireless charging, a removable battery, or expandable storage. But it more than makes up for that with its design, camera and price.

2. Galaxy S6 Edge Plus

Talk about a premium smartphone. Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge Plus is probably the most gorgeous smartphone on the market right now. Reflective metal, a curved display, a screen that’s so crisp and inky you almost feel like you could take a drink from it, and a processor that continues to crush the most demanding games. And that camera, man, the photos are so crispy.

The Galaxy S6 Edge Plus is so good that I think it, along with the Galaxy Note 5 for folks who prefer the S Pen over the curved screen, will continue to be a top smartphone well into 2016. In fact, I’m still trying to think of ways Samsung is actually going to be able to improve the phone. Incredibly fast charging, support for Gear VR, plenty of storage options and solid battery life are just a few more reasons we think this is easily a top smartphone for the year.

3. BlackBerry Priv

The BlackBerry Priv was a surprise hit for us. BlackBerry did an awesome job with its first Android smartphone, which comes complete with a really solid QWERTY keyboard. I wouldn’t have believed me if you told me last year that, come December 2015, I’d be rocking a BlackBerry again, let alone loving it.

The camera is solid, if a bit slow at times, and I really appreciate the Quad HD display, wireless charging, expandable storage and great battery life. I’m still using it as my daily driver and don’t see that changing in the foreseeable future. Good job, BlackBerry, you’ve easily earned a spot on this year’s top smartphones list.

4. iPhone 6s/iPhone 6s Plus

So it didn’t redefine the smartphone, and, no, it didn’t change “everything.” But Apple’s latest iPhone is still a great phone, and a platform that’s building toward something great to come.

With the inclusion of 3D Touch, users get access to an entirely new level of navigation thanks to “Peak” and “Pop.” You can use that inside of text messages, the gallery, email and even third party applications, which let you dive right into a certain part of the app right from the home screen. Developers are still finding ways to implement the technology, but even without 3D Touch, the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus still offers a great experience, a wonderful camera, and an unbeatable ecosystem.

Add in new features like Live Photos, which we continue to fall in love with, one of the most advanced mobile processors on the planet, an excellent fingerprint reader and a robust ecosystem and, well, the iPhone 6s/iPhone 6s Plus easily fall into the top 5 list.

5. Moto X Pure

The Moto X Pure is the culmination of Motorola’s Moto X lineup. For just $399, users get access to a beast of a phone—one that comes with all the customization perks of Moto Maker. Not only that, but Motorola is consistently among the first to offer Android updates, so buyers are essentially getting a Nexus phone with Moto Maker support, and access to Motorola’s own Android tweaks.

The biggest omission here is the lack of a fingerprint reader, but you still get a 21-megapixel camera, a water-resistant design and expandable storage, in addition to a Quad HD display, Turbo Charging features, protection against light spills, Moto Display, Moto Actions and hands-free voice control. It’s a feature-packed device that doesn’t feel bloated, and that’s why we love it so much.

Shoutouts

LG V10

We had to stop at 5, but it’s unfortunate because there are a couple of other phones we want to call out. The LG V10 is one of them. It’s like the LG G4, amazing in its own right, but even better. You get not one but two front-facing cameras, expandable storage, all-day battery life, an awesome primary camera that’s especially great for videographers looking for manual controls, a stainless steel frame and a really great Quad HD display.

For the price, we think the customization options and the nearly-pure Android experience on the Moto X Pure makes it a better option for most, but do yourself a favor and consider the LG V10, too. You won’t regret it.

Nexus 5x

A worthy successor to the popular Nexus 5, the Nexus 5X builds on that device with some wonderful upgrades. Buyers get an amazing 12.3-megapixel camera, 5.2-inch Full HD screen, and a terrific fingerprint reader. It might not be the fastest phone on the market, but it can more than hold its own. And for just $379 (it’s actually on sale for $329), it offers a very good value.

If ever there was a device that struck the perfect balance between power and performance, the Nexus 5X would be it.