10 best Android phones 2016: The best Google-flavoured phones money can buy

Buying the right phone for yourself is never easy, that’s why these “bests” lists exist; designed to help you find the perfect phone, tablet, whatever for you. If you’ve already decided you can’t stand the idea of having an iPhone 7, the next logical choice is an Android phone – because you can’t have a BlackBerry anymore.

Here at Alphr, we’re fortunate enough to be sent the latest review samples of all the best Android phones on the market. We’re also lucky enough to have world-class testing facilities and a team of the best smartphone reviewers out there.

Combine the two and you get is the most comprehensive list of 2016’s best Android phones. So, sit back and take a look at our choice of the best Android phones you’re able to buy in 2016. 

If you want to learn a little more about how we test smartphones, jump to page 2, where you’ll find an in-depth guide to what we look for in a device.

It’s also worth taking a look at our best upcoming smartphones page to avoid buying a phone when the updated model is just around the corner. Best of luck.

13 best Android phones 2016

1. OnePlus 3T

Price when reviewed: 64GB, £399 inc VAT

Buy the OnePlus 3T now

The King is dead! Long live the King. In this case, the OnePlus 3 has been replaced by the OnePlus 3T: an incremental upgrade that adds a faster processor, a bigger battery a higher resolution front facing camera and a £70 price increase to the mix. Despite retailing for £100-£150 cheaper than its rivals, it is equal to most flagships and better than some.

If it were still available, we’d probably put the OnePlus 3 at the top of this list, because the extra £70 doesn’t add too much to what was already a spectacular smartphone. It’s not, and the fact that the OnePlus 3T is still the best value phone out there despite this is testament to just how much OnePlus is shaking up the world of tech.

2. Google Pixel/Pixel XL

Price when reviewed: £599 for Pixel; £719 for Pixel XL

Also dropping a cheaper smartphone in favour of an all-singing all-dancing flagship is Google. While the Nexus phones were decent specs for lowish prices, the Pixels plough a different furrow, starting at £599 for the regular handset and a whopping £719 for the XL version.

You do get a lot for your money though, including ridiculous specs, and the best cameras in the game – a nose ahead of the Samsung Galaxy S7. 

3. Samsung Galaxy S7

Price when reviewed: 32GB, from £569 inc VAT

Google’s high Pixel price makes the Samsung Galaxy S7 hugely appealing. It represents a big upgrade from the S6, too – its camera and performance are both better; in some respects battery life is superior; and the return of storage expansion and disaster-proofing is a huge bonus. On top of that, it’s a very fast phone in its own right – and looks stylish to boot.

4. Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

Price when reviewed: 32GB, from £639 inc VAT

Of course, if style is your primary concern, then the Samsung Galaxy S7 has a better looking sibling. For an extra £90 you can get the Galaxy S7 Edge, which is the same phone, but a bit larger and with an additional pair of screens down the edges of the device. Is that worth the extra money? Probably not, but that’s for you to decide. In every other respect, it’s the same brilliant smartphone, with a slightly bigger screen.

5. Sony Xperia Z5 Compact

Price when reviewed: 32GB, around £400 inc VAT

If it’s a smaller phone you’re craving, then the Xperia Z5 Compact may be your dream come true. The 4.6in screen means that it’s far more pocketable than the current generation of 5in-and-larger phones, and the overall quality is unbeatable. The screen has far fewer pixels than some, but it’s bright and crisp nonetheless. The camera is stunning and battery life excellent, too. Factor in hard-knock build and water resistance, and the Z5 Compact has a lot going for it.

It’s getting a little long in the tooth now, but still remains the superior phone to Sony’s latest addition to the compact range: the Xperia X Compact.

6. Motorola Moto G4

Price when reviewed: 16GB, £160 inc VAT

The original Moto G made us sit up and take notice, redefining what a budget smartphone could do. The G4 continues that fine form, even if the price tag and physical size have swollen since the original. If the 5.5in size doesn’t put you off, simply isn’t a better smartphone you can get for an RRP of under £200. As Jon wrote in his review, “it’s one hell of a smartphone, and delivers more bang per buck than any smartphone to date”.

7. HTC 10

Price when reviewed: 32GB SIM-free, £570 inc VAT

The HTC 10 doesn’t quite match the best when it come to battery life. It’s merely average when compared with the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. It’s also not water- or dust-resistant, and the price is quite high. But if you can’t stand Samsung’s TouchWiz software or simply prefer the look of the HTC 10, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a great all-rounder.

8. Moto Z and Moto Z Play

Price when reviewed: £369 for Moto Z Play; £499 for Moto Z

Moto Z release date and price

Proving that modular phones aren’t a dead concept is the Moto Z series. This clever pair of handsets lets you upgrade your phone for the day ahead with special magnetic backs that improve the phone’s core features. There are currently five mods to buy (including a longer battery, a powerful speaker, a Hasselblad camera and a projector) with at least 12 more to follow in 2017. Oh, and the Moto Z Play has the best battery we’ve ever seem in a smartphone, managing almost a day of looped 720p video!

9. LG G5

Price when reviewed: 32GB SIM-free, £500 inc VAT

LG took a similar route to Lenovo’s Moto Zs, by allowing modules. It’s a little less convincingly implemented, and there’s only two available, but it’s still a clever idea. Instead of sealing the internals inside the chassis and not giving its customers any leeway to upgrade, it’s reversed and opened everything up.

Not only does the LG G5 have a microSD slot, allowing you to upgrade its internal storage, but it also has a “modular expansion bay” system, which allows the battery to be replaced at the click of a button and special add-ons to be plugged in.

10. Huawei P9

Price when reviewed: 32GB, from around £370 inc VAT

Huawei builds the fantastic Nexus 6P, and its own-branded P9 is quite a brilliant handset in its own right too. A great all-rounder that routinely sells for well under RRP (it’s supposed to retail for £449 SIM-free), it has its niggles, but is a huge leap forward from the Chinese manufacturer. In day-to-day performance, it’s only a little behind the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6S. Its graphical performance lets it down a little, but for the price this is still a fine phone, and proves Huawei is one to watch.

Buying an Android phone: Everything you need to know

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Buying an Android phone: What size phone do I need?

Android smartphones are an incredibly diverse breed. Size, price and features vary massively from brand to brand and from phone to phone.

Android phones range from £30 to £600 – however much you’re looking to spend, there’s a handset that will fit the bill. Smartphones running Google’s mobile OS can also be credited for spearheading the move towards larger screens. There are some Google-powered leviathans out there.

Where small phones used to have two- or three-inch screens just a few years ago, even the cheapest Android phones tend to have 4in or larger displays these days. Mid-range Android phones routinely tip over the 5in mark, and a fairly new breed of tablet-phone hybrids (often referred to as phablets) push things even further with displays of six inches or more.

Bigger isn’t always better: once manufacturers include screens that are significantly bigger than 5in, the handsets can become difficult to use in one hand. For some people, that can spoil the experience entirely. If you’re thinking of supersizing your next purchase, we’d counsel you to try before you buy.

Higher-end phones tend to have larger screens, although there are a few examples of high-end Android that deliberately keep their displays smaller for greater ease of use. The best example is the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact, but manufacturers such as HTC and Samsung also tend to release ‘Mini’ versions of their flagship handsets. If you’ve got small hands, or aren’t a fan of big-screened smartphones, these are well worth checking out.

If you want an immaculately sharp screen, look for one with at least a 720p (1,280 x 720) resolution. While this used to be the exclusive preserve of high-end handsets, you can now get 720p phones for budget money. Most top-end phones go one better with pixel-packed 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) displays, but don’t get too hung up on the numbers – with so many pixels packed into just a few inches, you have to often have to look very closely to see the differences.

However, in the next 12 months we’ll see more and more phones with even higher-res WQHD (2,560 x 1440 pixel) screens released. Some phones pay a heavy price for these pin-sharp screens – battery life often lags way behind the Android front-runners in our tests. Now, however, Samsung’s Galaxy S7 has proven that a high pixel count doesn’t need to equate to rubbish battery life with its cutting-edge Super AMOLED panel.

Buying an Android phone: How important is a camera to you?

Best Smartphones of 2015 - Xperia Z3 Camera

Some people care more about cameras than screens, though. While no phone camera should be thought of as an alternative to a DSLR, there are some that can easily replace a compact camera.

Things to look out for include camera sensor resolution, the kind of flash a phone has, if it has stabilisation and – this one may require a bit of research – camera sensor size.

If you discount image processing, lens quality and sensor size are two of the best indicators of a camera’s image quality – even if it is a phone camera. Read Alphr’s full reviews and you’ll find explanations of all the camera’s specifications and what they mean for image quality.

Also look out for phones with optical image stabilisation and dual-LED flashes. These additions both help out immensely when you’re shooting photos in poor lighting. There really is a lot more to phone cameras than megapixels.

Buying an Android phone: What’s the best smartphone CPU?

You need to look beyond the face value of phone specs when looking at an Android smartphone’s CPU too. A great many Android phones are “quad-core” these days, even ones that cost well under £100. A closer look is needed to find out how powerful they really are.

The most common processor type in 2016’s phones are Qualcomm’s Snapdragon models, and they come in several families. There are the Snapdragon 800, 600, 400 and 200 models.

Generally speaking, the larger the number, the more powerful the chip in question – the Snapdragon 200 is the low-end chip, while the 400 and 600 series cover the budget to mid-range, and the 800 is reserved for the high-end devices.

For less-hardcore users, the only real sacrifices are seen in opting for a true low-end processor, as mid-range chipsets such as the Snapdragon 400 and 600 are capable of doing just about anything Android has to offer. You might lose out for gaming performance and overall slickness, but you’re still going to get a usable phone. 

There are other processor families too. MediaTek and Intel Atom are two of the most common, while Huawei phones often use Huawei’s own brand of processor.

Buying an Android phone: Things to consider – Android version number and RAM

Android N review: Nexus 6P with logo onscreen

What is actually more of a concern for the day-to-day use of an Android than CPU speed is RAM. This is the memory that keeps the Android system running smoothly, and a lack of it is the most common cause of lag.

We recommend phones with at least 1.5GB of RAM. Some phones still use 1GB, but it’s not generally enough to keep a phone running smoothly. In most cases, the more RAM the merrier you’ll be.

It’s also an idea to keep an eye on the version of Android a phone uses, as with third-party manufacturers there’s no guarantee it’ll be upgraded in the future. With the arrival of Google’s major OS update, Android N, it’ll pay to check if your chosen smartphone will be due an upgrade in the future.

Image: verkeorg – Flickr

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