We are officially in upgrade season! I am well aware of the daunting task of sorting through all of the different options for smartphones. There are just so many players in the game it can get overwhelming quickly.
What follows is a simple breakdown of my TOP FIVE favorites phones. I’m including a few links to other reviews for each phone, to give you a well-rounded opinion of each device. To keep things simple here, I’m focusing on a few key features of each phone, which I’ve found to be important to the majority of consumers, from the tech-savvy to the casual user. So here we go!
Disclaimer #1: This list is not in order of preference. I’m not awarding medals here, just giving a shorter list than you’ll find with the carriers.
Disclaimer #2: I’m sticking strictly with the high-end smartphones. If you are upgrading, you can usually get a good deal regarding up-front cost, and the monthly cost will be consistent to what you’re used to. As a general rule, upgrading at least every two years is the best way to make sure you have a smooth experience with your phone. Things just change too quickly! If you want to stick with a Mid-Tier phone, definitely try to get your hands on the MOTO G, which is an amazing phone for $180!
On with the list:
Moto X (2nd or 3rd generation)
Motorola has been making great phones for the past three years, with the “Moto X” line. These phones are defined by high
quality build, simple operating system, and small physical size (when compared to the actual screen size). The 3rd Gen Moto X was just announced in August. This phone is HUGE. 5.7 inches makes it a “phablet” and those who want the smaller handset should steer clear. The 2nd generation is still a very good phone, and smaller, so you’ve got options. The 3rd Gen Moto X did vastly improve the camera though, so if that’s important, bear it in mind (though it still is not as good as Samsung and iPhone).
iPhone 6S/iPhone 6S Plus
I had the iPhone 6 for a while, and I thought it was a perfect phone. Great size (4.7 inch screen). Great camera. Decent battery life. If you like Apple, the iPhone 6 is a great choice. I am currently using an iPhone 6 Plus, but that 5.5 inch screen is just too big for me! Apple announced their new iPhones on September 9th. As with all “S” models, the form factor has not changed. This phone looks the same as the previous models. They have vastly improved the camera with 12MP, and optical image stabilization (helps shaky hands take clear pics). They’ve added a 5MP front camera, and are using the screen itself to make a “flash” for selfies. the screen itself has been improved with the use of “3D Touch” which makes it so you can do different things when you press the screen versus just tap the screen (this tech is based on the Apple Watch screen). Overall it’s a good “off-year” for the iPhone, but if you want major changes, wait another year for iPhone 7.
This has been my primary phone for the past six months. Samsung made a beautiful phone with the Galaxy S6. Metal and glass construction, it feels incredibly similar to the iPhone (almost too similar). With a 5.1 screen, it’s big but not too big. The operating system is intuitive, and camera is great. I particularly like the “wide-screen selfie” feature and that you can snap a photo by tapping the flash on the back of the phone (less cumbersome than finding the button on the screen. The Samsung Galaxy S6 also offers turbo charge (15min gets you 40% battery) and wireless charging, which is pretty cool. If you aren’t into Apple, the Galaxy S6 is definitely the way to go at the moment.
If you want something different, Samsung is also offering the Galaxy S6 Edge, which has curved edges. My experience with that device proved to me that the edges look cool but offer little in enhancement, and only make it harder to hold. If you want something really big, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge PLUS just release, with a 5.5 screen size. Again it looks really cool, but for me is a pain to use, especially with the huge size.
I hated the LG G3, so I wasn’t even going to include it, but a buddy let me play around with the G4 the other week, and my opinion suddenly changed. The LG G4 is a very different type of phone. It features a 5.5 inch screen, but the phone size is pretty small, all things considered. LG definitely took a card out of Motorola’s deck, in terms of making sure big screens doesn’t mean gigantic phones. The LG G4 features a leather back, in varying textures and colors. It feels great! The other odd thing about LG is that they moved the power and volume buttons to the back of the phone. It seems like an odd choice, but I am starting to see the logic of it, and it makes those edges super thin. All they need is a fingerprint scanner on the back, but that’s not here yet (maybe G5 next year!)
Finally we come to HTC. I used the HTC One (M8) for six months last year (that’s pretty much the longest I use a device). I loved the feel of the phone (all metal). The screen was brilliantly bright, and the device was lightning fast. But my big beef was related to the extra space used for the company logo on the front (my opinions can be seen here). You’d think they’d finally fix that with the M9, but that was not the case.
The HTC One (M9) is a minor improvement over the previous model. The camera was switched from 4 ultra pixels (which no one ever understood, including me), to 16 mega pixels. But lots of pixels doesn’t mean a better camera, and HTC has lost it’s way a bit here. Still, when compared to ANY mid-tier smartphone the HTC One (M9) and (M8) are heads are shoulders above in terms of picture quality. So as I knock on the camera, it still has a place among these top-tier phones. The HTC One (M9) also updated their operating system to adapt based on your current location. This functionality can be achieved through “launcher applications” like “Everything Me“, but HTC has it built it, which is actually a pretty cool thing. I imagine other smartphone makers will be looking at options like this in future models.
Oh those giant smartphones!! The line between phone and phablet is roughly 5.5 inches. You have a few options. We’ve already talked about the iPhone 6S Plus, Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, and LG G4. Another popular phablet worth considering, if you’re in the market for a big phone is the recently release Galaxy Note 5. They took the materials that built the Galaxy S6 line of phones (metal and glass) and blasted it to 5.7 inches. As always with the Note line, there is a stylus. This time around they have focused as much on the stylus as the phone, and my experience with it was great. In my opinion, any phone over 5.5 inches should have a stylus, so Samsung is leading the pack there.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, you’ve got tons of options. Hopefully this list is helpful in sorting through what makes these high-tier models different from each other. In the end, there’s no right answer for everyone. Some live and die for iPhone; while others believe Android is the only way to go. Some say 5.5 inch Phablets are ridiculously large, but at the same time, I know many people who wouldn’t want any other size. So head to your nearest carrier and get these phones in your hands before you drop the coin, and I’m sure you’ll find something that works great for you!
Happy Smartphone Shopping!
Same as the one from last year,
But still beautiful.
Stainless steel is slick,
Probably ought to buy a case
Or get insurance.
Last year’s five-inch screen
Same look, same feel, same smartphone?
Almost, but not quite.
With last year’s model
Was not a big hit.
So now it is gone.
Now twenty MegaPixel,
For amazing shots.
Camera on front
Uses those Ultra-Pixels
For those selfies (sigh).
Is much more intuitive,
When you are at work
The phone will respond to it.
Stop Candy Crush Now!
When you are at home
Candy Crush away!
Phone is still too big.
Wasted space due to logo
Makes one-hand use tough.
A decent upgrade,
Although Samsung got more press
It’s worth Checking Out.
It is a great time to be in the market for a new smartphone! Two of the Smartphone Titans are a week away from announcing new devices on March 1st. So patience is called for!
Here’s the the two things to make sure you keep in mind when you are getting a new phone right around a refresh.
- New devices will generally cost the same amount as the old line (or very close), but they will have many new features AND will address many of the problems on the previous model. So you can avoid some headaches by waiting for the new device, at no real extra cost. Why buy a year old device now, when you can get a brand new device in a month for the same price?
- Once the new devices are on the market their previous models gets a discount. Sometimes a major discount. So if the new smartphone isn’t that much different from the old one, you might want to save some coin and just pick up the previous year’s model.
So here are the two (possibly three) devices, set to be announced on March 1st.
Samsung Galaxy S6 and Samsung Galaxy Edge
It’s make or break time for Samsung. Not a lot has changed since the Galaxy S2 (in 2011!). Each year the company puts out another Galaxy phone that is a little bigger and a little faster. The Galaxy S5 made an attempt to incorporate a ton of features (heart rate monitor, fingerprint scanner, etc), but in the end it was just another “Galaxy S” that was a little faster and a little bigger.
The Galaxy S6 is expected to be different. Gone is the plastic build, replaced by some form of metal (aluminum most likely). The device should look much different than the phones that came before it. It needs to, because for the first time in a long time, Samsung is losing market share to Apple. People have been ditching Samsung for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in droves. The market seems to indicate that everyone was just waiting for Apple to build a big phone. Samsung used to be the big phone of choice, but now they must offer something more in terms of functionality and build quality to compete. All signs point to them delivering, but we won’t know till March 1st.
In addition to the Galaxy S6, Samsung is rumored to be introducing a smaller version of the Note Edge. This was a new device introduced just last year. The phablet device had a “third screen” of sorts, in the form of a touch screen located along the right hand edge of the device. This “edge screen” would show things typically found in the dock of your phone. It was definitely seen as more of a gimmick than a phone that tons of people would want. It seems Samsung is thinking if the phone was a bit smaller, perhaps it will be adopted by a larger audience. So we might be seeing the introduction of the Samsung Galaxy Edge.
HTC One (M9)
The other big player introducing a phone on March 1st is HTC. I owned the HTC One (M8) for six months last year. I liked the phone a lot in terms of build quality, and the operating system. I never bought into the camera approach, which used “ultrapixels” instead of “megapixels”. Also the phone just seemed too big for a 5 inch screen, and that was mainly due to the half inch of real estate taken up on the front of the phone for the “HTC” logo. Well the next iteration of the HTC One is coming, perhaps called the “M9”, and did HTC fix that real estate problem? No they did not.
The new phone looks really good. In a strange move, the rumors are that it will have the same size screen, at 5 inches, AND they are still wasting valuable screen space on the front of the device on an unnecessary logo (it says HTC on the back too). They’ve ditched the ultrapixel camera for a 20MP camera on the back (yeah!). Beyond that screen size and camera the new phone is ramping up all the specs. A faster processor will make mobile games easier, and web browsing like lightening. The build appears to continue the use of aluminum, which has a great look, but is pretty slick in the hand (so a case is a good investment – and they make clear ones to still show the metal off). All in all, the HTC One (M9) won’t be the radical change we will probably see in the Samsung line, but it’s definitely a decent upgrade.
Patience Pays Off
In terms of technology March is certainly going to come in like a lion. We are certainly going to see several new phones from some of the biggest companies in the industry. This will give consumers new options, but will also impact the existing phone market, so if you are patient you will have choices, and you’re certain to find something that will get you through a couple more years. And you might find that the old versions aren’t so bad after all (see below).
Stay tuned to Two Lumps of Tech on March 2nd, for a high-level review of the devices, once we get to see what they actually are, versus speculating on what we hope they are.