Last year was a pretty darn good year in the world of smartphones.
Consumers were blessed with a number of impressive devices to choose from if they were looking to upgrade.
The best part about upgrading in 2015 was that some of these top-tier devices didn’t break the bank. Costs came down while quality went up.
One reason costs were reduced was due to a new trend in demand for unlocked devices. Before, power users and international customers cared about these phones, but with US carriers doing away with two-year contracts, mainstream consumers started to take interest.
Below is a list of the Top 15 Phones for 2015. James and I went back and forth trying to figure out the finalized list. We wanted to make sure it was as fair as possible.
Now we didn’t get to review all of these devices for ourselves, but we really think that we did our best to order them appropriately based on research and others’ reviews. We promise that by the end of 2016 all the flagships will be reviewed so our list is more accurate.
So let’s do this. Let’s start with the number one smartphone. The cream of the crop. The head honcho.
The best phone of 2015 was the…
The LG G4 came with just about everything that a power user would want in a smartphone.
Removable battery that got you through the day? Check.
SD card support? Check.
A powerful processor? Check.
A gorgeous screen? Check.
Oh and how could we forget that fantastic camera? I know it wasn’t the “best” according to DxOMark or other sites, but it was the only one that put a genuine smile on my face every time I used it. I really wish I could have compared it to the Sony Z5 or Nexus 6P.
The LG G4 came with a removable back that you could swap out as well. You could choose from different colored leather and plastic covers, which was really nice. Its design was suave and continued to impress us with the back volume buttons.
It seriously did it all. The best part? It was available to all. Right out of the gate it was available on all major US wireless carriers and of course had an international version.
LG had several promotions for the G4 during 2015 too. You could get a free SD card, wireless charger, and extra battery when you purchased one. What’s not to like about that?
There is just something special about the LG G4. It represented 2015 as the most consumer-focused device.
I recommended it to several friends last year and they all couldn’t be happier with their purchase.
Congratulations, LG, you made one solid phone. You deserve it.
Read our LG G4 review here
#2) Samsung Galaxy Note 5
This thing was an absolute powerhouse. A true beast.
The specs of the Galaxy Note 5 were top-notch. It came with 4GB of RAM and a 8-core Exynos processor.
The Note 5 could get every task done with ease mainly due to the included S-Pen. This little stylus along with Samsung’s software made the Note 5 the King of Productivity. If your job was in management, business, or media, the Note 5 would have been your go-to phone.
Speaking of media, watching video on the phablet was very enjoyable. The screen was big and bright.
However it wasn’t too big. It felt great to hold in the hand and was incredibly premium.
Despite lacking expandable storage the Note 5 ranks high on our list for pretty much everything else.
Read our Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review here
#3) Sony Xperia Z5
Seriously folks, Sony had a number one device here. They’ve had one for a few years now since the Z2. For some reason though they make it incredibly difficult for Americans to buy their devices.
The Xperia Z5 had a fantastic battery that could last up to two days on mixed usage with STAMINA mode turned on.
Its 23 megapixel camera is the best-of-the-best according to benchmarks.
Like most Sony’s, it had dual front-facing speakers that sounded great and gave HTC a run for their money.
Top-tier specs? You betcha!
Octa-core processor, 3GB of RAM, Adreno 430 graphics, 32GB of storage, and an SD card slot for good measure.
Sony didn’t stop there.
They included a fingerprint scanner, a practically stock Android operating system, and all of this was encased in a IP65/68 waterproof/dust tight shell.
Oh Sony, why couldn’t you have marketed the Xperia Z5 better? It would have been number one. It should have been number one, but due to its scarcity it dropped to number three.
#4) Motorola Moto X Pure
This phone was all about you.
You got to customize the design of the Moto X Pure to your heart’s delight on Moto Maker. This feature is something you can only get with Motorola and a reason the Moto X Pure ranks at number four.
Can I get it in blue? Sure! Actually I meant red. No problem! Lime green with gold accents? Of course! But can I have one in bamboo? You’re in luck!
With the Moto X Pure you got an SD card, stereo speakers, a water-repellent coating, an all-day battery that could be turbo charged, 1440p screen, and an almost stock Android experience for only $399. That is a wicked good deal.
Build quality was solid and the Pure was available unlocked for use on all carriers.
Motorola is now a Lenovo company so it’ll be interesting if the updates continue and if a Moto X Pure was a good long-term investment.
#5) Apple iPhone 6s
Here’s the iPhone 6s. I feel like it couldn’t have dropped any further down the list. Honestly the only real reason for it being so “low” for an iPhone is due to its lack of storage and asking a premium price for only 48GB more.
This past year’s iPhone was a slight improvement from its predecessor, but there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that since it’s a wicked good device. The only notable updates were a newer processor, LTE Advanced radios for better reception, a better camera, 4k video recording, built from 7000 series aluminum, and 3D Touch.
3D Touch was an incredibly useful addition to iOS. With this new feature the iPhone could “feel” how hard you were pressing on the screen so that it could return different functionality than if you were long-pressing.
For example you could 3D Touch your camera app and quickly choose the “selfie” option so that you didn’t have to take time playing with settings. I found several great uses for it and completely revoked my initial opinion of it being a Snapchat gimmick.
Unlike most phones on this list, Apple kept the iPhone 6s always up-to-date which helps it rank this high. If you were a stickler for making sure your phone had the latest software, the iPhone 6s was where it was at.
Read our Apple iPhone 6s review here
#6) LG Nexus 5X
Ok I lied. There was another device that always had the latest and greatest software. These updates were for the users who preferred the Android ecosystem. The LG Nexus 5X. Updates came straight from the source and bypassed all carrier interaction. It was Google’s baby more so than LG’s.
The Nexus 5X came with huge improvements since its last iteration as the Nexus 5 two years ago, but seemed like some features were reduced from the previous year’s Nexus 6.
One reason for this was to get the price tag back to “typical” Nexus levels.
Another reason was due to Google releasing a bigger brother. Literally. The Nexus 6P.
Now that isn’t to say the LG Nexus 5X was a “worse” device. It was a perfect anti-iPhone option for the Android masses that came at an affordable price of $349 ($399 for double the storage) and could be activated on every major US carrier.
A much improved camera, USB-C charging port, and fingerprint scanner were the most noteworthy additions to the 2015 LG Nexus 5X.
With its better introduction price, I feel that it deserves to be ranked one step higher than the 6P because it was a great phone to convince more iPhone/Windows Phone users to adopt Android.
#7) Huawei Nexus 6P
The bigger brother. The Huawei Nexus 6P. It was
a THE smartphone that made Android enthusiasts swoon.
It had a giant 1440p screen that was great for watching media on. The front stereo speakers just added icing to the cake.
There was a great camera to capture your own media on as well.
Huawei’s 2015 Nexus was encased in solid aluminum that made it feel premium. There were however a few reports of its internal design being a bit…off… due to a video making rounds on YouTube proposing a new #bendgate.
There were also a few reports of the back camera glass spontaneously cracking. Being a mass-produced item there were bound to be problems like any other device, but being under the Android spotlight probably didn’t help its cause.
Like its little brother the Nexus 6P came with a fingerprint scanner on the back, a new USB-C charging port, and updates straight from Google.
It upped the ante though by having a bigger battery, beefier processor, brighter screen, more RAM, more storage, and optical image stabilization for a starting price of $499. A pretty solid offering from Huawei, but I think it could have been priced a bit lower to attract more followers.
#8) Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge
In 2015 Samsung released another truckload of devices, but one stands out to us the most and that is the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.
In terms of physical design it was probably the most innovative device on the market with its curved display. Oh and it looked absolutely gorgeous.
Like pretty much every Samsung phone it had a very good camera and came with an abundant choice of accessories due to it being available on every carrier. Having dedicated Samsung stations in department stores helped as well.
The Galaxy S6 Edge was also a nice sized phone. It didn’t get too big like the Galaxy Note 5 or the Galaxy S6 Edge+. I’m not even sure why the latter even existed in 2015 quite honestly.
Samsung’s S6 Edge was pretty much the go-to phone for consumers not considering an iPhone. Probably the best “all-arounder” that would have been most likely bought on a two-year contract at a more affordable price.
We rank it at number eight because it lost a few key features from the previous year’s S5 like the IP67 waterproof rating and SD card slot for extra storage.
#9) Motorola Turbo 2
I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for ranking the Turbo 2 so “low”, but with all the other offerings I just can’t seem to find a place for it anywhere above number nine.
If you wanted a phone that was pretty much top-tier all over the spectrum, this was it.
The processor was a champ, graphics were marvelous, the 1440p screen was stunning, and the battery was mind-blowing.
Let’s keep praising it.
On the back of the Turbo 2 was a great 21 megapixel camera and on the front a shatterproof display marketed as “ShatterShield” that was guaranteed to last up to five years. Wow.
You could customize the colors, casing, and storage on Moto Maker much like the Moto X Pure and pop in an SD card too if 32GB wasn’t enough.
So what’s the deal with ranking it here?
Design and availability.
The design does not jump out as a device I’d want to show off. The split speaker on the bottom of the Turbo 2 with a Verizon checkmark in between the openings looks kind impure. It disrupts the overall flow of the display. I also don’t think many women are going to want a phone that looks like the Turbo 2. It’s very masculine and seems like it would ignore a huge demographic.
Its availability is exclusive to Verizon Wireless stores, but can be used on other networks. We just didn’t see any incentive for an AT&T customer buying a Turbo 2 in 2015. Overall a dynamite phone on paper.
#10) HTC One (M9)
Here is proof that you are only as good as your recent device. It hasn’t even been three years since HTC was on top with the One M7. They couldn’t keep up with software updates or the improving tech times and have had quite the fall.
Now that isn’t saying the HTC One M9 was a horrible device. Overall it was a pretty darn good phone to own in 2015 if you preferred HTC. If it was your first android or HTC phone you made a very good buy.
The thing that hurt HTC the most were constant renderings of what people thought the One M9 would look like. When they released their flagship for 2015 a lot of people were disappointed simply for the design.
Specs were solid around the board and was a very welcoming device for every type of user. It was a joy to hold in the hand due to the contoured aluminum shell and the overall size. I think it was the best-sized Android device you could find besides an Xperia Z3 compact.
Like the previous One series phones, this one was rocking. Improved BoomSound stereo speakers paired with Dolby Audio sound made this the true audiophile’s phone. Music never sounded so good.
In 2015 it wasn’t the space shuttle soaring to the top of the stratosphere, but more of the improved commercial jet liner that was very comfortable for everyone.
Here’s to hoping HTC finds their rocket ship in 2016. I’d love me a new HTC daily driver.
Read our HTC One M9 review here
#11) BlackBerry Priv
BlackBerry almost in the top ten? What year is it?
Folks, BlackBerry went all-out with Android in 2015 and created the most anticipated device of the year. Tech junkies from all over the planet could not wait to see what the Canadian company had in store for us.
Their contribution to 2015 was a mashup of retro and modern technology which was called the Priv. The Priv naming convention was a way of shortening “privacy” which BlackBerry has been known for.
BlackBerry is also known for physical keyboards and the Priv came with a full slide out QWERTY keyboard. It’s been way too long since consumers have been graced with this opportunity.
The Priv ran on high-powered components and even had a curved 1440p display like the Galaxy S6 Edge. The camera was fine, the battery was big, and you could pop in an SD card.
Why did BlackBerry’s finest not rank higher?
Price and awareness.
A $699 off-contract price tag was tough to swallow when companies like Motorola and LG were offering quality devices hundreds of dollars cheaper.
Mainstream consumers also had no idea the thing even existed.
I talked with an AT&T sales associate a few weeks ago about the Priv. He said all the employees at the store loved the thing, but consumers were skeptical because they had never heard of it. He said sales for his particular store were meager compared to the Samsung Galaxies.
If BlackBerry can outdo the Priv in 2016 and market the heck out of the device, I’m expecting to rank them a bit higher next year.
#12) Microsoft Lumia 950 XL
Finally a Windows Phone! Well… a Windows 10 Device.
Really the only reason it ranks at 12 is due to it being released so late in 2015. It didn’t gain enough traction to really become a widespread phenomenon. A bit of a bummer because it had so much potential.
The Lumia 950 XL was only available on AT&T, which also hurt its public reception. I think Microsoft tried to pull the same move Apple did back in 2007 when the iPhone was only available on AT&T.
I also think this was probably not the best tactic on Microsoft’s part. Making it readily available on the four major US carriers would have been more valuable. As a Verizon customer I would have loved to grab one.
Like most of these top phones of 2015, Microsoft’s Lumia 950 XL came with pretty much everything you’d want in a flagship device under the hood. The processor, storage, camera, battery, and display were all top-notch.
What separated the 950 XL from earlier Windows Phones was that it ran Windows 10 Mobile. With the Display Dock you could turn your Lumia into an all-out Windows PC. Well sort of. Certain apps scaled from mobile to desktop mode when connected to a monitor and could be interacted with a mouse/keyboard. It was quite the feat really and I applaud Microsoft for how far they’ve brought Windows Phone.
Windows 10 Mobile also promised an easier way for developers to port their iOS and Android apps to Windows Phone. How many developers took advantage of this I do not know, but they really should be pushing it harder.
#13) Motorola Moto G
The price to performance king. Coming in at $179 off contract and available to all wireless consumers, Motorola had quite the little device here with the Moto G.
A great first smartphone for teenagers that parents didn’t have to worry about spending a fortune on. Moto G also could be a perfect replacement phone for those of us who had a mistake with our other device.
The internals were very attractive and had a water repellant coating.
Speaking of being attractive, the Moto G could also be customized in Moto Make just like the Moto X Pure and Turbo 2.
It only had a 720p screen and 8GB of storage, but you could use an SD card and the 5.0 inch display got the job done.
Not being a flagship dropped it to 13, but there is nothing wrong with that at all. It wasn’t what it was designed to be. No other phone could compare to it in its class.
#14) OnePlus 2
Number 14, the phone with the self-appointed title of, “Flagship Killer”.
It would be pretty hard to deny them that moniker when $389 got you the following:
- 64GB of storage
- 4GB of RAM
- Snapdragon 810 processor
- Adreno 430 graphics
- 3,300 mAh battery
- 13 megapixel camera
- Fingerprint scanner
However, it had several mixed reviews from reputable sites ranging from fantastic 9.5/10 to adequate 3 out of 5 stars.
The camera was tolerable, but not a number one shooter. Its back cover was removable, but the battery was internal. Marketing and distribution issues plagued the release of the OnePlus 2. As of now, the 16GB version is still sold out on their store. It also lacked wireless charging.
If you could get your hands on one it was an overall solid device. Also, you were most likely a tech enthusiast who kept up with all the latest and greatest gadgets of yesteryear.
This was a phone for hobbyists, not for the mainstream market. However it was a device that certainly could not be overlooked when ranking the best of 2015.
#15) Honorable mentions: Apple iPhone 6s Plus/ Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+/ LG V10/Xperia Z5 Premium/Asus Zenfone 2
Finally we’ve come to the honorable mentions. Those devices that deserved a shout out, but couldn’t quite crack the Top 15 of 2015.
So why did the premium versions of the iPhone, Galaxy S6, G4, and Xperia Z5 all get grouped down here together?
Certainly the hardware had nothing to do with it. All of these devices were the best versions that the companies offered.
For three of these devices it mostly had to do with price and release date.
The iPhone 6s Plus would have converted me from Android if it had not been for the price. I could simply not justify the base price with only 16GB of storage. If it came with 64-128GB, without an SD card, and was cheaper on a two-year contract I could manage, but sadly it didn’t.
Next was the Galaxy S6 Edge+ and LG V10. Both of these were, again, great overall performers, but what was their purpose? What problem did they solve that their predecessor’s did not? They basically were marginally upgraded devices that came out a few months after the release of their initial versions. Kind of a slap in the face to consumers.
The V10 also came with a more rugged build and little ticker tape display that seemed kind of gimmicky. Samsung tried it with the Continuum in 2010 and it still seems like an odd idea.
Sony made an absolute blockbuster with the Xperia Z5 Premium, but from mixed reviews it seemed to be only good on paper. The battery life wasn’t quite up to Sony standards due to the 4k display, it cost a small fortune, and again, was difficult to even purchase in North America.
Wrapping this list up is the Asus Zenfone 2. Another great price to performance contender with the Motorola Moto G, but a tad more expensive. I feel like it needed to be mentioned because it seemed popular to non-US markets.
So that’s it! That’s the finalized list of the Best Phone of 2015.
What do you think of it? Should a few be reorganized? Did we forget a particular device? Did we come pretty darn close?
Hopefully 2016 will be more accurate with an increase of reviews from mobileFreq.
Let us know in the comments below!
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