Best Smartphones

Introduction & Updates

With our increasing mobility and addiction to information, smartphones—our powerful pocket computers that help us create, locate, communicate, and vegetate—have become an indispensable part of modern life. Our reliance on these wireless wonders will only increase as they become increasingly intelligent, filtering our data and predicting precisely when we’ll need it most, even performing actions on our behalf, eventually. This is why it is so important to pick the phone that best serves you—at least until the roles are reversed.

Updates

In the time since our last update, we've been busy evaluating new SoCs and CPU architectures. Our preview of Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 820 SoC discussed the company's focus on heterogeneous computing and how this influenced the design of its first custom 64-bit CPU, Kryo. Our performance tests showed an emphasis on floating-point performance and sequential memory bandwidth. The 820's new Adreno 530 GPU is also a beast, setting new records in nearly every graphics test.

Next, we plunged into the architecture of ARM's Cortex-A72 CPU, which replaces the Cortex-A57 as its flagship 64-bit processor. While an evolution of its previous design, ARM made a number of tweaks to improve performance and, more importantly, reduce power consumption. We got our first look at the A72 as well as ARM's Mali-T880 GPU in HiSilicon's Kirin 950 SoC that makes its debut in the Huawei Mate 8 smartphone. Our initial impression was positive, and it will help make 2016 an exciting year for mobile SoCs.

All of this testing and analysis (and CES) has kept us pretty busy lately, but we've been working on product reviews too. Our "long-term evaluation" of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus is complete, culminating in a new flagship phone recommendation. Apple has vastly improved the iPhone's user experience by increasing RAM to 2GB and adding its new 3D Touch feature.

Before choosing a smartphone, of course, you have to pick an ecosystem to play in, whether it's Apple's, Google's or Microsoft's. This choice is highly personal and depends on what you do with your phone and what criteria are important to you. Our picks focus on hardware and user experience and leave this bigger choice up to you.

Our Best Picks

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MORE: How We Test Smartphones
MORE: Apple iPhone 6 & 6 Plus Review
MORE: Google Nexus 6 Review

MORE: All Smartphone Content

There are many factors to consider when choosing a smartphone: size, performance, features, software, price. Our comprehensive reviews give you the knowledge and data to make informed decisions, but if you do not have the time to read our smartphone novellas, or feel overwhelmed by all the charts and numbers, we also give you a shortcut. Every month, we publish our top picks in several different categories and tell you what makes these particular phones stand out.

While we could categorize phones based on ecosystem (Apple, Google, Microsoft) or screen size, we decided to differentiate based on price, with one exception. Our recommendations cover three different price tiers: Low-End (less than $200), Mid-Range ($200 - $500), and Flagship (more than $500). We also include a separate Phablet category for phones that make the best use of their larger screens.

To gain a better understanding of how we evaluate display, audio, camera, system, gaming, and battery performance, please read How We Test Smartphones And Tablets.

About Our Recommendations

  • We only recommend smartphones we’ve actually tested.
  • We only review phones for sale in the North American market.
  • Our recommendations are based on data that we’ve collected and our own subjective experiences. We recognize that our readers are diverse, however, with different needs, preferences, and opinions, so our best picks may not be the best for you.
  • The list is based on full retail U.S. prices from online retailers. We do not list carrier subsidized prices, because it’s not fair to phones that are only offered unlocked at full price (Also, why should we have to sign a two-year contract just to buy a computer?).
  • The prices are for new phones only, not used or open-box.
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis, but the embedded green links provide real-time pricing.

Best Smartphones

Best Low-End Smartphone

Best Mid-Range Smartphone

Best Flagship Smartphone

Alternate Flagship Pick

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Best Phablet


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MORE: How We Test Smartphones
MORE: Apple iPhone 6 & 6 Plus Review
MORE: Google Nexus 6 Review

MORE: All Smartphone Content

Matt Humrick is a Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware, covering Smartphones and Tablets. Follow him on Twitter.

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16 comments
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  • FritzEiv
  • basroil
    Seriously? The S6 and iphonie over the Xperia Z5? It's available in "north america" (canada for Z5, and USA for Z5 premium), it has less preinstalled garbage than both, it has better preinstalled software than both (music software is second only to Zune's stuff), and specs that beat both (premium is a freaking 4K 5.5" phone with better camera and great (if a bit hot) processor)
  • Taintedskittles
    I have a Verizon Motorola Moto E (2nd gen). Wish I would of went with a phone with 2gbs ram instead. The 1gb ram just doesn't cut it anymore with android smartphones. Good for phone calls, basic apps, and web surfing(light gaming). Bad at multi-tasking, occasional browser crashes, and small storage 8gbs(32 SD card). But hey they're dirt cheap and reliable, got mine for $50,($30 now online).

    Hoping one day smartphones will have modular ram for upgrading, like SD cards.
  • giovanni86
    Samsung needs to take "notes.". We want a better version of the Note 4. Not the Note 5. Still rocking my Note 4, the horizon says i will be here for awhile.
  • wh3resmycar
    g4 > s6.. don't need that fragile "glass" body that'll eventually be wrapped in rubber.
  • Non-Euclidean
    I'll have to grab a Note4 soon, it appears to be the last of the Notes with a removable battery and SD card. My Note3 is starting to give weird color flashes (like when it overheated), so I will have to see how long it can still go.
  • jjb8675309
    How are the Nexus 5x and 6p not on this list? Pure Android.
  • ldogg1981
    Low end pick should be the ZTE Zmax 2. 1280x720 resolution, 2GB of RAM. 16GB of storage, microSD card slot and snapdragon 410. All for $130. Your Motorola pick means you haven't actually looked for anything else.
  • ldogg1981
    The low end pick should be the ZTE Zmax 2! For $130 you get the same processor, but higher pixel density, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, microSD card slot and a larger removal battery.
  • DotNetMaster777
    Asus ZenFone 2 and IPhone 6 have quire similar characteristics but the difference in the price is big.
  • kamhagh
    Every phone sucks these days :(
    and my note 4 is terrible...
  • dennphill
    Moto G doesn't rate a mention? Nexus 5X not worth buying either? Pretty poor info and reviews on phones like all past updates. I will go elsewhere.
  • akula2
    There are many factors to consider when choosing a smartphone: size, performance, features, software, price.

    Well, where is the most important one called Security? I'm one of those who always consider it as my numero uno factor.
  • mrmike16
    Call me an Apple-hater, but the iPhone is NOT that good. Maybe it has good hardware, horrible iOS. It's simple, yeah, because it can't do anything!!! I also found its Settings very difficult to use. I have an LG G4, and I love it, and although I do wish it had a better battery, I can easily switch it when it is dying with the spare LG gave me for free. On an iPhone and Galaxy S6, you can't even take off the back.

    And Nexus is nowhere to be found...

    Also, as someone else mentioned, security is extremely important. iOS and Windows Mobile 10 both have great security, except from the companies that made the OS themselves (Apple and Microsoft). Android has fair security, but much more vulnerable than the other two. I would say BlackBerry wins in security, even with the Priv.

    I am considering going back to a non-smartphone. The one I had, the Pantech Matrix, still works great. Battery lasts for 2 weeks at a time, no need to deal with annoying touch keyboards, no security risks except from the cell phone company spying on text messages, extreme durability without a case, no expensive data plans, and super simple OS. And fast! :) I'll just keep using my LG G4 as an MP3 player of sorts, but I'll usually use my Surface 3.
  • pick4call
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  • Rita Zac
    I would like to know are there any shop that sell smartphones overseas apart from amazon,com? mainly here in the USA?