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What is the best Android phone of 2015 for me?

The LG G4, Samsung Galaxy S6HTC One M9 and Sony Xperia Z3+ are four of the hottest phones of 2015, packing plenty of premium features and some really smart tech. But which is best for you? Here’s our full comparison review.

At a glance

  LG G4 Samsung Galaxy S6 HTC One M9 Sony Xperia Z3+
Display 5.5-inch (QHD) 5.1-inch (QHD) 5-inch (Full HD) 5.2-inch (Full HD)
Processor 1.8GHz/1.44GHz hexa-core Snapdragon 808 2.1GHz/1.5GHz octa-core Exynos 2GHz/1.5GHz octa-core Snapdragon 810 2GHz/1.5GHz octa-core Snapdragon 810
Memory 3GB 3GB 3GB 3GB
Storage 32GB, microSD 32-128GB, no microSD 32GB, microSD 32GB, microSD
Battery 3000mAh (removable) 2550mAh/2600mAh (S6 Edge) 2840mAh 2930mAh
OS Android 5.1 Lollipop Android 5.0.2 Lollipop Android 5.0.2 Lollipop Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
Camera 16-meg/8-meg 16-meg/5-meg 20.7-meg/4-meg 20.7-meg/5-meg

Design

Premium design goes hand-in-hand with a flagship-class smartphone and all four phones here are attractive beasts.

Samsung’s Galaxy S6 is easily the biggest surprise. Gone is the flexible plastic of yesteryear and in its place, stunning glass and metal in a single, sealed design. It’s a vast improvement over its predecessors, but also the least flexible in that it lacks a removable battery or microSD card slot.

Design

Sony’s Xperia Z3+ also rocks a glass finish, just like many Sony flagships before it. It’s less of a fingerprint magnet than the Samsung Galaxy S6, although more people are likely to be attracted by the rounded finish on Samsung’s phone. However, the Xperia Z3+’s major boast is its water resistance, a feature not found on the other phones here. You can dunk the handset in water for up to half an hour with no ill effects, yet the charging port is still exposed for easy access. Nice.

HTC’s One M9 continues the excellent work Scott Croyle and HTC’s design team put into last year’s One (M8). The M9’s aesthetics are a subtle update that blends curves and hard edges – necessary, as that all-metal body can prove a little slippery. The new colourways include a tasteful blend of gold on silver and overall this thing feels like the most solidly built handset here. You also get microSD expandability.

The G4 is easily the oddball of the bunch. LG hasn’t followed suit by ditching the plastic of its predecessors entirely, but instead can be had with a ceramic or stitched leather back (available in a range of colours). The back panel is also removable so you can swap out the storage and the battery, not to mention LG’s unorthodox button placement is present and correct under the phone’s rear camera.

You get more flexibility from LG’s design, albeit with some middling aesthetic choices. Samsung’s offering the sexiest of the bunch, followed closely by the Xperia Z3+, whilst the M9’s all-metal ensemble will appeal to the biggest demographic for its beauty, strength and fingerprint-resistant qualities. Of course, if you often lose phones by dropping them in the bogs or your pint, the Xperia Z3+ is the obvious choice.

Screen and media

If it’s a top-notch display you’re after, all four of these handsets will happily do the job – although some are more gorgeous than others.

HTC and Sony bring up the rear with their 5-inch and 5.2-inch Full HD panels respectively. Don’t get us wrong, these are sharp, bright and detail-rich screens, but colour and contrast levels can’t quite match the other phones here and the G4 and S6 pack higher resolution displays.

The big ‘but’ to this statement is that both the One M9 and the Xperia Z3+ boast special audio features.

Sony’s baby not only supports High-Res Audio files, for super-clear music playback, but also can actively isolate noise to reduce background chatter when you plug in Sony’s special earphones. Great news for music connoisseurs/snobs who travel around a lot.

Meanwhile, HTC’s BoomSound stereo speakers are phenomenal for a phone, pumping out loud, distortion-free stereo sound directly at your face. If great audio without ‘phones is at the top of your priority list, then the One M9 takes home the trophy. The G4, Z3+ and S6 are closely tied, although LG’s speaker module sounds fractionally louder and clearer.

The Xperia Z3+ (top) alongside the Galaxy S6 (bottom). The S6 boasts richer colours and more detail.

The G4’s fancy new Quantum IPS display sounds great on paper and you can see the improvements to brightness and colour reproduction over last year’s G3. If image accuracy is what you’re after, the G4 is a great bet. At 5.5-inches it’s also the biggest panel here, although all four screens are comfortable enough to watch movies on for extended periods.

All things said however, Samsung takes the cake in this round. That’s thanks to one of the most vibrant and pixel-rich screens on the market. The Galaxy S6’s 5.1-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED screen is a sight to behold, with the AMOLED technology making for great contrast and deep blacks as well as beautifully rich, stand-out colour reproduction. Movies and photos look absolutely stunning and the screen’s bright enough to counter any kind of glare.

OS and user-friendly features

2015 has brought with it fresh Android blood and these four smartphones all boast various flavours of Android 5.X Lollipop. The LG G4 is the newest to the table and as a result packs the newest version of Lollipop – 5.1, whilst the S6, Z3+ and the One M9 are on version 5.0.2. That said the differences are almost imperceptible, as each manufacturer has dressed the OS in its own distinct skin.

OS

Samsung’s TouchWiz experience arguably needed the biggest overhaul and the S6 experience is a marked improvement, while HTC’s Sense 7.0 skin had the least amount of growing up to do. Both phones feature news stream widgets built into the homescreen layout (Flipboard Briefing and Blinkfeed respectively), whilst LG has opted for an offering called Smart Bulletin; collating information from your phone like health data, music playback functionality and calendar entries instead of external news like the One M9 and S6.

The Xperia Z3+ adds a few Sony own-brand apps such as Socialife, which can track your day’s activities in case you suddenly get all nostalgic about how much time you’ve wasted on Facebook. Its best addition is Remote Play support, which allows you to stream your PS4 games to the phone and control them with your standard PS controller. Great news if you fancy playing in bed or on the can.

We’re awarding Samsung the prize for the most helpful UI, with personal preference leaving you to decide between the other three.

Performance and battery

For top chipmaker Qualcomm it’s been a year to forget, but it’s stil provided the smarts for three of the four phones here.

It’s assumed that reports of overheating from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 – used by the HTC One M9 and the Sony Xperia Z3+ – pushed LG to choose the Snapdragon 808 hexa-core chip for the G4 and Samsung to use its own Exynos chip for the S6. Certainly those phones don’t heat up like the Sony and HTC phones do.

Samsung’s Galaxy S6 is the best performer here, with no overheating issues…

In general use, there’s little to separate the fluidity these phones offer. Benchmarking reveals that the S6 is the most pwoerful and will therefore be the last here to show slowdown as time progresses. The S6 is closely followed by the 810 chip in the One M9 and Xperia Z3+ and bringing up the rear the LG G4. However, prolonged use will see better power efficiency from the G4 over HTC’s and Sony’s flagship.

As for overheating, the Xperia Z3+ is definitely a victim, often getting toasty just with general use. However, the situation’s so bad that the camera app actually shuts down occasionally when temperatures soar.

As for battery life, the LG G4’s removable 3000mAh battery grants you the ability to swap it out at a moment’s notice, but if you choose not to, general use will still leave you with just under a third of the juice in the tank by the end of a normal work day. The One M9 features a smaller 2840mAh cell, that in tests lasts closer to a day and a half per charge, while the Sony Xperia Z3+ just about makes it through the day.

Samsung’s Galaxy S6 falls short of the mark, dying before a full day, although it does support Quick Charging as well as Wireless Charging. That means you can power it back up to full charge in about an hour and a quarter, or else charge it by sticking it on a charging pad if you can’t be bothered messing around with cables.

Cameras

Many people choose their mobile these days based on how good the rear camera is, and three of the four phones here boast excellent snappers.

The 20-megapixel sensor on the back of the One M9 sounds great, but in practice lags behind its rivals with lacklustre image quality and poor post-processing as it struggles to deal with high contrast environments or dress images with any sense of dynamism.

Camera

The S6 takes fantastic shots in all manner of conditions and it offers the fastest camera of the remaining three phones here, so you’re less likely to miss a spontaneous shot. The G4 is almost as quick with a laser-guided autofocus and boasts a clean, simple interface in its natural state, while the Xperia Z3+ is another great point-n-shoot effort thanks to its excellent Superior Auto mode.

Basically, you can aim any of these phones in the general direction of your subject and the auto modes will do a great job. However, if you do want flexible and easy-to-use manual controls, the G4 is the friendliest here.

And if you’d rather have a ridiculous number of modes, the Xperia Z3+ is the most feature-packed snapper here. It’s certainly bound to keep younger users happier with its range of AR modes, which can turn you into all manner of animals or add real-time effects like war paint to your photos.

As for the final results, the G4 and Z3+ cameras produce more natural imagery whilst the Galaxy S6 goes for heavier processing, creating more dramatic, albeit inaccurate shots.

As for video modes, slow motion and 4K video are all on offer from the S6, One M9 and Z3+, as is Optical Image Stabilisation to keep blurry hand motions to a minimum. However, the Xperia Z3+ does get toasty when shooting video, which tops off clips at around 15 minutes usually.

Verdict

As ever, the standard in the battle for best flagship is so high that the decision ultimately falls to a personal preference, but there are a few absolutes in this equation worth considering.

The HTC One M9 is a beautifully designed smartphone with premium aesthetic touches, great audio and an intelligent user experience at its heart. However, it falls short with a lacklustre screen, not to mention that disappointing camera. Whilst the price has dropped considerably since launch; it’s not without a valid reason – an unmistakable case of try before you buy.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia Z3+ is a solid all-round handset but the screen is defeated by LG and Samsung in this group test and the overheating issues are hard to ignore.

LG’s G4 offers an improved, refined user experience, complete with a replaceable battery, a beautiful screen and killer camera technology. It’s also more affordable than its biggest competitor, which might sway a lot of people when it comes to forking out cash.

But Samsung’s Galaxy S6 plays the role of the quintessential flagship in this bout. The S6 has a particular flare for design, visuals and camera technology, although of course, like the One M9, its key sticking point is price. Provided you can fork out the £600-odd needed, you won’t find a better all-round experience right now.

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