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 ‘aluminium unibody’ make you feel all fuzzy inside? Then this is the corner of the internet for you.

Here's 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 the lovely solid metal and glass build.

It’s not just a pretty face though - it’s packing some serious, serious power beneath the hood. Its Samsung-made Exynos processor and 4GB RAM provide 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 audiophiles: Le Eco Le Max2

The portable media player market has shrunk a bit since the advent of smartphones and music streaming services, but until recently, audiophiles were right to think that a good smartphone could never replace their precious DACs for listening purposes.

But Chinese company Le Eco is on track to change such minds with the Le Max2, one of the first smartphones in the world to feature the Continual Digital Lossless Audio (CDLA) standard.

But why should an audiophile consider the Le Max2? Well, the CDLA standard allows the Digital-to-Analog (DAC) conversion to occur in the headphone connector itself instead of inside the smartphone, where it is more prone to noise and interference from the radio circuitry built in.

The earphones that come with the Le Max2 chuck the 3.5mm audio jack for a USB-C type connector, which allows the smartphone to channel more power into the earphones, potentially leading to louder, clearer and a more robust listening experience, especially when streaming music.

And that's not all. The Le Max2 sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4 gigs of RAM, a decent 21MP rear camera and a 1440p 5.7in display. For just about ₹23K, this phone definitely deserves its place on this 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) ₹39,000.

Best sub-₹10K phone: Xiaomi RedMi Note 3

Think ‘Best Smartphones’ and there’s always that one guy who’ll inquire about the best one in the ‘Budget’ category. That’s all right; we’ve got this covered too. Sitting comfortably in the Sub/Almost-₹10K range is Chinese brand (don’t you go rolling your eyes!) Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 3.

At just a rupee short of the 10K mark, this sleek smartphone packs wallops in all the right places. The 5.5in Full HD display might seem big for most, but the slim form factor and rounded edges make for impressive sleekness. Its metal body speaks of a sturdy character while a snazzy Snapdragon 650 chipset, paired with a 2GB RAM and 16GB memory, makes for nippy performance. Images follow the brand’s pedigree of excellence, though low-light ones might be the only sore point on the Redmi Note 3. But a 4000mAH battery (with a quick-charging option), a trusty fingerprint scanner and a thoroughly enjoyable user experience will clear all doubts regarding this Champion of the (Budget) Masses.

Best all-rounder: HTC 10

The HTC 10 is a beautiful 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, a 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’ ₹13,499 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 let it down somewhat, but it should be applauded for breaking the smartphone mould.

Best phone for selfies: OPPO F1

If you know of Oppo at all, it’s probably for the weird phone tech tricks it has pulled in the past. Like rotating cameras. But now it’s all grown up and has come out with the eminently sensible Oppo F1 Plus.

There’s still a couple of tricks, though. This is a ₹27,000 phone that looks and feels a little like a ₹50,000 one with its ultra-slim build and gold-coloured metal rear. But the best part has to be its front camera, which has a higher resolution than the rear camera. No, not joking.

The F1 Plus' front camera puts most budget phone front cameras to shame and easily earns itself the ‘Selfie Expert’ title Oppo likes quoting so much. The 16MP sensor makes for the highest-resolution selfie-cam we’ve seen on a phone. In good light it’ll bring out every little follicle with unforgiving clarity and make you look more tired than you’ve ever looked on your way to work. Its fast f/2 lens may help here too.

The F1 Plus may not have the best selfie camera on the planet, but we'll eat our socks if you can find us anything better for that price.

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Best bargain (ever): OnePlus 3

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room first - pricing. The OnePlus 3 offers unbelievable bang-for-buck value.

Despite being 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.


Additonal words by Shanth Swaroop and Ram Iyer