Smartphone supertest: Apple iPhone 7 Plus vs Google Pixel vs OnePlus 3 vs Honor 8 vs Sony Xperia XZ

Can a £300-odd Android phone really compare to the £720 iPhone 7 Plus? There’s only one way to find out

2016 is almost in the can and we now know the best phones of the year. My, didn't that fly by?

The quality of this year’s top phones has been incredible - at least it is as long as we sweep the little issue of exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7s under the fire-retardant carpet. And at least that gave us all something to talk about, eh?

Big innovations from the class of 2016 include cameras so advanced they sound like they’ve been teleported out of someone’s daydream and batteries that charge so fast you’ll get a day’s juice in less time than it takes a cup of tea to go cold.

For those of you who are out to buy rather than just peer in the shop window wistfully, though, the question is whether it’s worth spending big on the tech wizardry of the iPhone 7 Plus and the cutting-edge software of the Google Pixel. Or should you give your bank balance a break and pick the OnePlus 3 instead? Or, for that matter, Sony's newest flagship, the Xperia XZ or the unsung and possibly underated Honor 8? Let's find out.

The detail

Design

One annoying thing about the iPhone 7 Plus is that it’s big. Bigger than almost all the 5.5in Android phones. It’s just something you have to accept. It’s otherwise as lovely as ever, though, and there are new shades: black and glossy black. The glossy one is the stealth bomber of phones. Seriously cool. But it is also a fingerprint magnet par excellence and isn’t half easy to scratch. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Everyone will know you have an iPhone 7 Plus even if you opt for plain old silver too because this is the only iPhone with two cameras on the back. Don’t worry, bragging rights come as standard. 


Camera

Loads of two-camera phones have appeared over the last five years, but none quite like this. The iPhone 7 Plus has a 'normal' camera right next to 2x zoom one that lets you take better, sharper shots of far-away subjects. The killer app is portraits, though. Not only can you stay a bit further away from your muse, the new Portrait mode blurs out the background so your photos look like they’ve been taken by a pro with a £1000 camera. Instead of, err, a near-£1000 phone. But hey, a DSLR can’t play any of those brain-rotting casual games.

OS and Apps

Everyone knows iOS now, right? You might not know about all the extras iOS 10 added, though. Siri now works in third party apps, 3D Touch adds a whole new later of interaction and there are widgets for your lock screen. Oh, and you can now delete the Stocks app. Finally.

Screen

The screen specs of the iPhone 7 Plus won’t blow you away. It’s 5.5in across, an LCD and 1080p resolution. In person, though, it is up there with the best. Great contrast, deep blacks and colours that look vivid while being much more natural than a lot of the punchier-looking Androids.

The detail

Design

Aluminium and glass. That’s what you get here, and lots of it. Don’t worry too much if you don’t instantly fall in love with the glass back panel. You get used to it after a while, and at least it’s not boring. Aside from a rear finger scanner, what you need to note is quite how small and friendly the Pixel feels. With a 5-inch screen it’s a great choice if holding an iPhone 7 Plus makes you feel like you’re handling a gigantic plank of phone. The Pixel isn’t the slimmest mobile around, but its aluminium curves feel great. This is a phone you’ll grow to love. 

Camera

On paper the Pixel’s camera doesn’t sound like a killer. It has a high-end 12MP sensor, but no optical stabilisation to counteract a bit of hand wobbliness. However, in person it’s fab. It’s fast, the processing churns out routinely great images and while night shots end up a mite noisier than the best, it’s one of the best non-stabilised night shooters around. Having a brand new fancy-pants sensor from Sony probably helps. It doesn’t have a ‘zoom’ lens like the iPhone or two cameras like the Honor 8. But we still care most about a) the image quality and b) the hit rate. And the Pixel is a star on both fronts.

OS and Apps

The Pixel UI is a vision of what Android may become in the future. There are more gestures than you normally get in Android. To bring up the apps menu, for example, you flick up on the home screen rather than pressing one of the soft keys. Familiar but different.

Screen

We’re looking at the dinkier of the Pixel twins. This one has a 5in 1080p OLED screen rather than a mammoth one. This keeps it pocket-friendly, if a bit small for movie-watching while you’re on the treadmill. Or the toilet (no-one's judging). If that's an issue for you, consider the bigger Pixel XL. Either way you'll be getting a high-quality, punchy screen.

The detail

Design

Glass on the back, glass on the front and aluminium on the sides, this is the kind of glamour you’d normally have to pay more for. It’s also pretty pocket-friendly thanks to the 7.5mm-thick design and 5.2in screen. It’s the one-colour style that adds the Honor special sauce here.

Screen

Fresh out of the box our Honor 8’s screen looked a bit ‘cool’, but you can tweak this in the phone’s settings. Other than that it’s a top-quality display, with powerful but not overpowering colour and nicely eye-searing brightness. It’s a 5.2in 1080p LTPS LCD screen. No standard-setter, but good enough.

Camera

The Honor 8 has two cameras on its back, both 12MP. One is monochrome, though, to help boost its low-light skills. It’s a neat idea that makes sense tech-wise, but we’re in the big leagues now and it’s a little too prone to taking blurry photos at night if you don’t keep your hands dead still.

OS and Apps

EmotionUI 4.1: not all of you are going to like this. It does some strange things, such as ditching the apps menu and plastering your lock screen with wallpapers that could have been lifted from IKEA’s art department. There’s plenty of customisation on tap, though, so you can mod away bits you don’t like.

The detail

Design

Sony has dropped its obsession with glass. An aluminium rear means you can stop worrying about shattering both sides of your phone.

Screen

Sony pours colour into its LCD phone screens like they’re reservoirs for the stuff. The Xperia XZ has the most lively tones of all these phones: great for a punchy look, but may be a bit OTT for some of you. It’s a 1080p screen but that still looks sharp across 5.2in. 


Camera

Play tech Top Trumps with the Sony Xperia XZ and it rules. A 23MP rear camera sounds like a compact killer. Sadly, it’s not. This is possibly the worst camera in this test, making fine details look fizzy and lacking the OIS needed for quality night photography. Oh well.

OS and Apps

Sony puts its “we’re so slick” stamp on Android 6.0.1 in the Xperia XZ. It’s an inoffensive, grown-up look. And it doesn’t ruin Android’s layout either, although does use old fashion apps pages. There are also custom Sony media apps and you can hook up to a PS4 with Remote Play. 

The detail

Design

Showing Apple how to design a 5.5in phone, the OnePlus 3 feels pretty manageable despite its big ‘ole screen. Its all-aluminium, skinny frame also feels gloriously expensive given the price. One funky little extra is the silent mode switch on the side, perfect for those trips to the cinema.

Screen

At launch the OnePlus 3 caught some flak over its inaccurate screen colours. With current software you need to play with the colour temperature to get it looking right, but it’s only as oversaturated as the other Androids here. The main attractions: it’s big at 5.5in and sharp enough to satisfy most with a 1080p panel. 


Camera

Today’s trend is to use a slightly lower-res camera than the OnePlus 3’s, for better low-light performance. However, as it has OIS you can still take good night photos. And with the manual mode you can push stabilisation to the max. Just keep those hands still. 

OS and Apps

OnePlus has pulled quite a trick with the Oxygen UI. It looks and feels a lot like normal Android 6.0, but has loads more customisation options, as well as a bonus homescreen. It’s called Shelf and holds those notes and widgets you need but don’t want littering your homscreens.