Looking for a new smartphone? There are dozens upon dozens of great options on the market today, but finding the best of the best can be a bit difficult. We’ve seen some great launches through the year and more should be coming soon too, so let’s take a look at the best Android smartphones you can buy as of December 2016.
Google Pixel/Pixel XL
Since the holidays are upon us and many are likely looking for gifts, we decided to specifically highlight our top pick this month, and the decision was pretty easy ─ the Google Pixel.
When talking about the best Android phones, there’s no way to avoid talking about the Google Pixel and the Pixel XL. These two smartphones, designed by Google from the ground up, show off the best that the company has to offer, and it’s impressive. While not perfect, Google’s efforts with the Pixel show just how good Android can be, both in terms of stability, performance, and the overall experience.
The Pixel packs top-tier specs including the Snapdragon 821 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 32 or 128GB of storage, and the breathtaking 12.3MP camera on the back. Google’s services are pre-loaded out of the box, the latest version of Android is pushed immediately, and Google Assistant is showcased front and center. Other perks include the 24/7 support, unlimited full resolution photo and video backups, and support for Google’s all new Daydream VR experience.
Pricing for the Pixel starts at $649 for the 5-inch variant and $769 for the larger 5.5-inch Pixel XL. Add $100 to either for the 128GB storage tier. Monthly financing is available both through the Google Store and through Verizon Wireless.
NEW FOR DECEMBER:
Huawei Mate 9
One of the few new releases as we approach the end of 2016 is the Huawei Mate 9, and it’s a wonderful choice. Packed inside of its gorgeous aluminum design, the Mate 9 has Huawei’s in-house Kirin 960 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, a dual-camera system, a 5.9-inch 1080p display, and Android Nougat. Alongside Google’s latest OS, Huawei has also inclued the latest version of its EMUI software skin, and it’s finally pretty good.
The Mate 9 is currently only available overseas, but it is coming to the US “soon.” Pricing lands at about $700, but that will fluctuate between regions and outlets. You can also read our full review here.
FROM EARLIER THIS YEAR:
Announced just recently, the OnePlus 3T is the “successor” to the OnePlus 3, although it’s really just a slight refresh. Compared to the OnePlus 3 the 3T brings the updated Snapdragon 821 chipset, a larger 3,400 mAh battery, a new color variant, and an updated 16MP front facing camera sensor.
Aside from that, the OnePlus 3T is the same as the OnePlus 3, bringing Dash Charge fast charging, a 5.5-inch 1080p Optic AMOLED display, 6GB of RAM, and USB-C — all wrapped up in that aluminum chassis. Starting at $439, it’s slightly more expensive than the OnePlus 3 was, but not without reason. The phone is available now from OnePlus’ website.
If you want a big, feature-rich phone that doesn’t explode, the LG V20 might be your best bet. Packing a 5.7-inch Quad HD IPS display, Snapdragon 820 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a 3,200 mAh removable battery, the V20 is a power user’s phone without question. That’s only emphasized with the dual-camera system on the back which can take standard and wide-angle pictures as well as bringing enhanced stabilization in video. Entertainment only gets better with the built-in 32-bit HiFi DAC which makes listening to music a joy.
The LG V20 is one of the best smartphones we’ve used this year, but the most surprising thing about it is the price. While a compared option from Samsung, Apple, or Google could cost you well upwards of $800, the V20 averages out at about $770. Pricing varies by carrier, landing at $672 on Verizon at its lowest point and $830 on AT&T and its highest. Monthly pricing across all major carriers lands at around $28 a month and the phone is available via Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Sprint. You can also pick it up unlocked.
Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge
Samsung also launched a pair of impressive Android flagships earlier this year, and despite their age, they’re still some of the best options on the market today. The Samsung Galaxy S7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge offer Quad HD SuperAMOLED displays at 5.1-inches and 5.5-inches respectively. The larger Edge variant also brings dual-curved edges on either side.
Under the hood, both devices pack the Snapdragon 820 chipset in the US, and one from Samsung in international regions. The smaller Galaxy S7 packs a 3,000 mAh battery where the S7 Edge brings a 3,600 mAh battery. Both bring fast charging, wireless charging, and fast wireless charging along with the Snapdragon 820 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, IP68 water resistance, and fingerprint sensors. The 12MP camera on the rear is also nothing short of impressive and the glass/metal bodies scream premium.
Pricing varies depending on carrier and outlet, but you can get these phones from pretty much anywhere with prices floating between $500 and $700 depending on the model.
Moto Z/Moto Z Force
From Motorola/Lenovo, one, or rather two, of the best options you can pick up come in the form of the Moto Z and the Moto Z Force. Both devices pack 5.5-inch AMOLED displays, the Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and Motorola’s thin software layer on top of Android. The Moto Z brings a 2,600 mAh battery, 13MP camera, and comes in at just 5.2mm thin. The Moto Z Force, on the other hand, brings a 3,500 mAh battery, 21MP rear camera, and is 7mm thin. It also brings a “ShatterShield” display which won’t break. Unfortunately, that model is exclusive to Verizon Wireless.
Both devices run on top of Android Nougat, and lack headphone jacks. However, they do include USB-C adapters in the box. That port also includes Turbo Charging which promises up to 15 hours of power with a 15-minute charge. Both are also compatible with Google’s Daydream VR platform. The big story, though, is without a doubt the compatibility with Moto Mods, a method of expanding the phone’s capabilities with “modules” such as battery packs, speakers, and even a camera.
The Moto Z Force is available on Verizon Wireless as is the Moto Z, but the latter is also available unlocked through outlets like Amazon.
Sony Xperia XZ
One option we’ve been hesitant to recommend this year due to price is, well, basically anything Sony offers. While they are all fantastic devices, pricing was always extremely high. However, Sony has finally learned its lesson and adjusted prices to make its phones a much better value, and that includes the flagship Sony Xperia XZ.
Priced at $649 unlocked, the Xperia XZ offers a Snapdragon 820 chipset, 3GB of RAM, a 23MP camera, IP68 water/dust resistance, and a 5.2-inch 1080p display. It’s not the “top-of-the-line” compared to some other options, but with Android Nougat now available and a fantastic overall package, the Xperia XZ is easily the best Sony smartphone you can buy today. It’s available online through Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, and Fry’s.
Another great option from early this year comes from HTC. Despite the company not having great success over the past few years, the HTC 10 is a smartphone that just about anyone can love. Bringing an all-metal aluminum body, Snapdragon 820 chipset, 4GB of RAM, a fantastic 5.2-inch LCD display, 32GB of storage, and Android Marshmallow out of the box, it’s a smartphone that hits all the important notes. The 3,000 mAh battery will keep most users powered through a full day, the fingerprint sensor is quick and reliable, and the 24-bit DAC in the headphone jack is great for listening to music.
Pricing on the HTC 10 varies as well. Retail lands at $699, but we’ve seen it as low as about $500. Currently, HTC is offering the device for $499 brand new. Verizon also offers the phone in stores. You can learn more in our full review.
ZTE Axon 7
If you want a flagship experience, but at a slightly lower price point, the ZTE Axon 7 is an option worth considering. Starting at just $399, the Axon 7 packs a 5.5-inch AMOLED display, all-metal design, front facing speakers, and premium specifications including the top of the line Snapdragon 820 chipset. It also packs an insane 6GB of RAM and support for Google Daydream.
The ZTE Axon 7 is available for purchase from ZTE, Amazon, and many other retailers around the web for $399 unlocked for use on GSM carriers.
LeEco Le Pro3
Another solid option comes from Chinese manufacturer LeEco. Recently launched in the United States, the LeEco Le Pro3 is not a phone to overlook. Packing a 5.5-inch 1080p display, a Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, an all metal build, a massive 4,070 mAh battery, and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, the Pro 3 can compete with just about anything else on the market today. Priced at $399, it’s an even better choice. However, LeEco has a trick up its sleeve — flash sales.
On a semi-regular basis, LeEco will open up flash sales of its products with heavy discounts. That includes the Pro3, which gets a $100 price cut during these sales. This phone is available exclusively from LeEco’s website and works with all GSM carriers. You can read our full review here.
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