The 10 best smartphones of 2016 so far

The shiny slabs of handheld goodness that have won our hearts this year

Do words such as 'megapixels', 'RAM' and ‘unibody aluminium’ make you feel all fuzzy inside? Then this is the corner of the internet for you.

Below you'll find our pick of the best phones we've reviewed so far this year, celebrating everything from gorgeous displays to bonkers innovation and everything in-between. Before we dive into the smartphone rabbit hole, though, we’d like to make it clear that this isn’t our Top 10 smartphone list; that’s the place you want to go to if you’re after a new smartphone and want some expert advice. Indeed, some of the phones below aren’t necessarily the ‘best’ around.

But what they do all do is offer something different enough to make them stand out, and that's why we're shining our spotlight on them. So, on with the show.

Most desirable: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is pretty much as perfect a smartphone as we’ve ever laid eyes (or indeed, hands) on. For starters, it’s bloomin’ gorgeous. The second you pick it up, you’ll be drawn in by the tantalising bends of its curved screen and lovely solid metal and glass build.

It’s not just a pretty face though - it’s packing some serious, serious power beneath the hood, with a Samsung-made Exynos processor and 4GB RAM providing a smartphone experience that’s slicker than a greased up cheetah on an ice slide. Throw in the best smartphone camera we’ve ever tested, and you’ve got yourself a pocket wonder.

Best for the planet: Fairphone 2

The Fairphone 2 is, in many ways, the worst phone on this list. Its camera, while offering decent, if unspectacular snaps in regular conditions, will throw up fuzzy noise in a dim bar. It’s running Android 5.1 as opposed to the newer 6.0 Marshmallow (albeit with a few nice software tweaks). Its rear speakers are pretty terrible, and it’s also really, really fat, measuring up at around 11mm thick - practically obese by today’s smartphone standards. Oh, and it’s also made of plastic.

So why is it in our list? Well, first off, it’s modular - even more so than the LG G5, in that you can order replacement cameras and even screens, swapping them out yourself should you find anything broken after a sambuca-fuelled dancefloor backflip.

More important, however, is what the Fairphone 2 stands for. Namely, fairness. Obviously. It’s produced ethically, using components, minerals and raw materials that aren’t mined in dubious human right-violating ways, and its workers aren’t subjected to the long hours and poor conditions that still sadly plague our world. For that alone, it’s earned itself a well-deserved place on our list.

Most innovative: LG G5

LG looked around at all the other smartphones this year and stuck its middle finger up at them all by magically creating the G5: an all-metal phone with a removable battery and microSD card slot - the twin pillars of the holy grail of Android power users worldwide.

The secret lies in the G5’s crazy ability to dislocate its lower jaw, revealing a hidden battery compartment. This same trick also lets it play nice with various LG modules, including a camera grip - the LG Cam Plus - and a rather excellent DAC (the LG Hi-Fi Plus), which supercharges your music while you’re out and about.

Its photography game is on point too, with two excellent rear cameras - one of which is solely designed for super-wide shots, cramming more into each single photo. More innovation like this please, everyone.


Best small phone: Apple iPhone SE

Silly name aside, we have to give Apple credit for its 2016 not-flagship iPhone. While the iPhone 7 has yet to fully reveal itself (you’ll have to wait till September for that like the rest of us), the iPhone SE graced us with its miniature presence in March, going against the grain by cramming in the same internals as the iPhone 6s into what is essentially an iPhone 5s’ body.

The end result is a powerful phone with a very manageable 4in screen, offering smaller-handed gadgeteers a taste of the flagship life, at a reasonable (for Apple) £360.

Best sub-£100 phone: Vodafone Smart Prime 7

The Vodafone Smart Prime 7 makes the Moto G look expensive: it costs just £75. Seriously, that’s it. We’ve had takeaways that set us back more than that, though admittedly we are a sucker for over-ordering. You can never have enough peshwari naan, in our opinion. But we digress.

Naturally, £75 won’t buy you the very best of the best when it comes to screens, performance and camera smarts, but that’s OK, because the Vodafone Smart Prime 7's screen and battery life hold up very well, and its snaps are some of the best we’ve seen at this price point. Living proof that dirt cheap doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting actual dirt. Unless you’re at a garden centre, we suppose.

Best all-rounder: HTC 10

The HTC 10 is a beautiful looking thing. Fans of the company’s past flagships will recognise the design DNA of the stunning M7 and its M8 and M9 brothers, but the 10 surpasses them all with its simple, minimalist style and soft curves.

Apart from being a spectacular-looking slab of metallic goodness though, the HTC 10 throws everything you’d expect from a modern smartphone champion straight at you. An excellent camera, detailed screen and software smarts are all present and accounted for, making the stellar two-day battery life the delicious fluffy buttercream on an already moist and drool-worthy cake. Mmmm, cake.


Best mid-range phone: Lenovo Moto G4 Plus

The Lenovo Moto G4 Plus’ £230 price tag won’t bleed your wallet dry like a money-sapping vampire, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be getting a load of rubbish for your cash either. Its 5.5in Full HD screen is vibrant and punchy, making it great for games and video, and its Glance display - which turns on the clock automatically when you pick it up - is useful for pretending you have magical powers.

Throw in a great camera (especially for this price), snappy performance and a relatively tinker-free version of Android, and you’ve got yourself a veritable bargain.

Most unusual: Nextbit Robin

In an ocean of black aluminium slabs and rounded corners, the oddly named Nextbit Robin is an absolute delight - an alpine-scented hurricane of fresh air, if you will.

Its attractive pastel-blue colour and refreshingly angular shape - not to mention circular drilled speakers - are a sight for sore eyes. Those speakers, by the way, are excellent, which is a big plus point for headphone-less YouTube addicts.

It's not only its looks which are different but also its approach to storage: the Nextbit Robin focuses on automated cloud storage, backing up your photos and media, as well as app data for your less-used apps, without you needing to do anything.

Buggy software, a run-of-the-mill camera and a mediocre battery life let it down somewhat, but it should be applauded for breaking the smartphone mould.

Best really big phone: Huawei Mate 8

The M8 8 is gr8 m8. In all seriousness though, Huawei’s all-metal beast throws a 6in screen straight at your eyes, making it a great choice for web browsing and crushing candy without having to ruin your peepers.

Its large size means it’s got a massive battery too, which blesses it with incredible stamina, making it one of the hardiest smartphones around for power users. A strong camera and surprisingly good speakers round things off nicely, but the large screen and never-say-die stamina are what really set this beast apart.

Best bargain (ever): OnePlus 3

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room first - pricing. The OnePlus 3 launched at £309, but it’ll hit £329 from 11 July, thanks to that pesky little Brexit imp. Politics aside though, the OnePlus 3, even with its price hike, offers unbelievable bang-for-buck value.

Despite remaining around half the price of the Galaxy S7 Edge, it still packs some mighty flagship power in the form of Qualcomm’s beastly Snapdragon 820 processor and - get this - 6GB (!) of RAM.

Its camera is excellent too, offering OIS for clearer shots in dim conditions. Its 5.5in 1080p screen might not be a pixel-packing 2K beast, but your eyes won’t notice at regular distances, and it serves up a snappy fingerprint scanner and clever software tricks to top it all off.

It’s a shame, then, that its design lets it do- oh wait, there’s no compromise there either: it’s made from solid aluminium, and looks and feels like a proper flagship twice its price. Mad props OnePlus. Mad props indeed.