The last nine months as we’ve gone from late 2014 and into mid 2015 have been really rather special for the mobile market. Apple reinvigorated the iPhone brand with a fresh new take on its existing design and aesthetics, but at the same time followed through on consumer demand for larger, yet still high quality touch displays. Meanwhile, in early 2015 Samsung’s answer in the form of the Galaxy S6 was designed not only to compete with Apple’s finest, but to wash away the bad memory of its predecessor. We’ve also seen bold bids for the contents of your wallet from HTC with the One M9, the quirky BlackBerry Passport and, most recently the LG G4 with its interesting camera features, gorgeous display, and leather back panel.
Worldwide sales of smartphones to end users had a record fourth quarter of 2014 with an increase of 29.9 percent from the fourth quarter of 2013 to reach 367.5 million units, according to Gartner. Samsung lost the No. 1 spot to Apple in the global smartphone market in the fourth quarter of 2014 (see Table 1). Samsung had been in the top spot since 2012.
In 2014, sales of smartphones to end users totaled 1.2 billion units, up 28.4 percent from 2013 (see Table 2) and represented two-thirds of global mobile phone sales.
“Samsung’s performance in the smartphone market deteriorated further in the fourth quarter of 2014, when it lost nearly 10 percentage points in market share,” said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner. “Samsung continues to struggle to control its falling smartphone share, which was at its highest in the third quarter of 2013. This downward trend shows that Samsung’s share of profitable premium smartphone users has come under significant pressure.”
“With Apple dominating the premium phone market and the Chinese vendors increasingly offering quality hardware at lower prices, it is through a solid ecosystem of apps, content and services unique to Samsung devices that Samsung can secure more loyalty and longer-term differentiation at the high end of the market,” said Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner.
The pace in 2015 thus far has been equally impressive, with new launches from Samsung (Galaxy S6/Galaxy S6 EDGE) and HTC (One M9) already done and dusted and big things to look forward to from LG and Sony right around the corner.
But that’s not all. In just a few months Google and Sony will debut their new flagships and we can expect a myriad of additional releases from smaller players like Huawei, ZTE, Nokia and Motorola between now and the end of the year. This makes choosing your next handset extremely difficult –– unless you’re an iPhone user.
As we progress through the year and review each new handset, the best of the best will be added to this list –– think of it as 2015’s A List. Not every handset will make the cut, however, as each must possess something special, something unique. It must have a USP not offered by anything else, like the iPhone 6 Plus’ awesome camera and insane battery performance, for instance.
Ahead of putting together this piece, KYM sat down and discussed the handsets that have impressed us the most this year. We decided to keep the list short and to the point so as to make your decision when choosing a new phone as easy as possible. We tested a myriad of handsets during the course of the past 12 months and this feature has been put together to reflect the standout releases, covering all major operating systems, styles and price points. Basically, there’s something for everybody here.
Click on the titles to go to the full reviews; the copy below each is a snippet from the verdict section of each handset review.
“I wasn’t too interested in this device prior to its launch, nor was I all that interested when it came through the mail to my flat. But now, after a couple of week’s worth of testing, I am completely besotted with this thing and love pretty much everything about it –– all that’s missing is a leather back panel, get me one of them and you’d have a zealot on your hands.
“So who is the LG G4 for? Simple: anybody and everybody. If you’re bored of Apple, get this phone. If you’re bored of Samsung and don’t want either the Note 4 or the Galaxy S6, get this phone. Long standing HTC user that’s now grossly depressed about the HTC One M9? GET THIS PHONE.
“It might not be the loudest and jazziest thing in the world but it is a solid handset that does everything you’d expect and a whole lot more. Pick one up and use it for a week or two and you’ll know what I’m talking about. This handset, like its predecessor, is one of the best Android phones money can buy right now.”
“This is the handset Samsung fans have been waiting for… an actual contender that surpasses Apple’s iPhone in almost every regard. Samsung might have made some erroneous mistakes in the past but all is forgiven now because the Galaxy S6 is easily one of the finest handsets I’ve ever tested. It’s great at imaging. It performs great. It looks great. Hell, it’s even got a decent battery life AND a QHD display. The only thing it’s missing is microSD and the ability to remove its battery –– that’s literally it. And if you’re bothered about that, well, just go and get the Galaxy S5 because I don’t think Samsung will miss your business. This –– along with the Galaxy S6 EDGE –– is going to sell by the truck load.”
Samsung looks to have two potential very big hits on its hands here. Gone is the plastic flimsiness found in the S5 line. The Galaxy S6 and S6 EDGE both feature sturdy metal frames with Gorilla Glass 4 on both the front and back. This gives both phones a feeling of stability I’ve not seen in a mobile handset since the iPhone 6 launched last year.
While both the Galaxy S6 and S6 EDGE are beautiful in their own right, after holding both in my hand its clear the fan favorite is going to be the S6 EDGE. Its dual sided curved display is breathtaking to behold. The way the glass wraps on either side just gives it a stunning look simply not encountered elsewhere, and one that makes you feel like the display itself melds seamlessly into the metal frame.
Apple usually gets all the praise for its focus on design and the painstaking attention it pays to every aspect of its hardware. But these new devices from Samsung really are stunningly beautiful, more so than both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Nothing else has looked this exciting since, well, probably the iPhone 4 or HTC’s first One handset. The Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 EDGE really are that good. Samsung should be very proud of its design team this time around.
“Initially I preferred the iPhone 6. I liked its size, weight and general overall design. But in recent weeks my allegiance has slowly but surely switched to the iPhone 6 Plus. The reason? Simple: battery life –– the iPhone 6 Plus just doesn’t let you down, offering up a solid two day’s worth of use before dying. Had Apple has the foresight to include some from of Project Volta-style battery extender then I’d probably still prefer the iPhone 6. But for now, because battery is by far and away the most important thing to me as a user, I am ALL ABOUT the iPhone 6 Plus.”
“Initial impressions were, as is to be expected, tense. The moment I pulled the Nexus 6 from its packaging I was staggered by the size. It makes the Nexus 5 seem tiny, and that’s coming from someone who can vividly recall thinking that the Nexus 5’s screen was just too big to be practical. However, just as I became used to LG’s phone, I slowly but surely warmed to the benefits of the Nexus 6’s formidable 5.95-inch AMOLED panel.”
Xiaomi’s almost overbearing desire to ape Apple might leave a bad taste in the mouths of some tech consumers, but if you’re an Android user who has long admired the talents of Jony Ive and his team at Cupertino, then this could provide the perfect solution. The Mi4 combines Apple’s design philosophy with the software flexibility of Android, making for what some will regard as the perfect mobile union.
There are drawbacks –– no Micro SD card slot being possibly the most obvious –– and the lack of 4G in this launch model is also an issue. Not including NFC seems very shortsighted, even if the tech hasn’t taken off in China over the past few years. All such concerns dissolve away when you take a look at the price. Nothing else comes close to the Mi4 in this regard. NOTHING. For instance, even if you order from the Far East and incur a price hike and custom charges (as we did), you’re still only looking at around £260 (UK-based resellers are offering units for over £300 on auction sites). That’s quite a price jump from the Chinese RRP, but still well below what you’d normally pay for a phone of this power and build quality.
The Moto G completely redefined the concept of the budget smartphone, providing an experience that most people would have happily paid twice or maybe three times as much for. The Moto E is even cheaper, but in order to shave some cash off the RRP, Motorola has had to cut corners when it comes to screen size, CPU power and camera capability.
Despite this, the Moto E remains an impressive phone that puts rival low-cost smartphones well and truly in the shade. If you’re in the market for a device and price is your primary concern, then it makes sense to save the additional pennies and pick this over the Moto G, but if you can stretch the cost then Motorola’s 2013 offering is a cannier purchase.
“I’m continually impressed by how Sony manages to keep the same amount of high-end specs in such a small form factor device with its Compact range.”
“The processor in the Xperia Z3 Compact is yet again impressive; no other miniature handset offers that much computing power and offers such good performance.”
“If you’re looking for a powerful Android smartphone without having to handle a large display the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact is likely going to suit you down to a T.”
“The OnePlus One is a great phone that sells at a frankly ridiculous price. We thought the Nexus 5 and LG G2 were good value – they still are – but the OnePlus One is on another level.”
“I didn’t want to like this handset. I had A LOT of preconceptions about the way it looked, switching back to a physical keyboard, and having to use BB10 for a week or more for the purpose of this review. Like a lot of people, I’d made my mind up about the Passport without even using it –– and this was wrong.
“The battery is excellent, ditto call quality, and there’s more than enough power inside to ensure everything operates in a silky smooth manner. I really enjoyed the improvements BlackBerry has made to the camera, and the screen, as we’ve already established, is just marvellous. The only real issue BlackBerry has on its hands is the BB10 ecosystem – it pales in comparison to Android and iOS. The ability to sideload Android applications is a HUGE USP for the platform, but I fear the benefit might be lost on some users, as it’s still a rather fiddly process and good results are not guaranteed.”
“Put simply, Samsung remains king of the phablet space, this is pretty much the best large form-factor phone experience available. That’s because it’s been built with purpose rather than just for the sake of having a larger phone – everything is designed to take advantage of the bigger display and stylus, and Samsung has deliberately avoided the trap of expanding the screen past the point of usefulness and practicality.”
“The LG G3 is a really quite impressive device and I’ve enjoyed using it. It has one or two odd little quirks which hamper the experience a bit – for me these have been relatively minor gripes which I’ve been able to cope with, but I can imagine them being more irritating for some users.
“Despite some initial concerns during my first hands-on, I think the software experience is great, as I mentioned, there are parallels to be drawn with HTC devices and it’s really just a pleasant UI to look at and operate. A spoonful of customisation options never hurts, and some added functionality, such as the Dual Screen mode and built-in File Manager are most welcome indeed.”
“The Xperia Z3 is a great device, no question about it, it makes noticeable improvements on its predecessors primarily from a build and design standpoint. Previous Xperia flagships, despite a decent design ethos, were a little too chunky and cumbersome for my liking, where the Xperia Z3 is truly a sleek and stylish machine that is effortless to operate and absurdly lightweight.
“It’s not without its flaws, but in the grand scheme of things these are minor gripes – things like the fingerprint-magnet glass back panel and flimsy port covers. The UI is a bit of an eyesore, but being Android you can tweak it however you wish. The camera is insanely powerful and if you’re after the best Android cameraphone on the market this is most definitely it – Sony has ironed out all the kinks from previous iterations and it’s now just as good as Nokia’s Lumia 930/1530 20MP PureView setup.”
“To sum up in one sentence: the Samsung Galaxy Alpha, despite my preconceptions, really does live up its name. The device looks better, feels better and in many respects appears to perform better than its larger, flagship brethren, the Galaxy S5.”
“A resin 32GB model costs £459, but wood or leather jumps it to £479. Given this sort of pricing structure I think the Moto X is pretty good value for money as even after some modification it’s shy of the £500+ many rival flagships sell for, and you still get a capable Snapdragon 801 chip, plenty of storage space, an excellent display, a decent camera, superb battery life, and best of all a finely tailored and optimised Android experience. The real prize feature is the customisation though; very few devices offer the ability to pick and choose the visual details of your handset to this extent, and the fact that this can be done for less than your average high-end model is even better.”