The 10 best smartphones for the first half of 2015

Now that all the latest and greatest smartphones have been announced and in my hands, it's time to see which are the best available.

It looks like we've seen the last of the major smartphone announcements until the end of the summer so it's time to look back at the best smartphones for the first half of 2015.

If you read my 10 best smartphones to kick off 2015 article you will note just a couple of additions and subtractions in my top ten, but the order has changed around now that I have spent a lot more time using all of these phones. Remember, my litmus test for picking the top phone in these lists is figuring out which single phone I would own if I could only have one.

This time, that choice wasn't so clear and I honestly could go with either of the top two as my number one. This is my personal preference as well, as are all of the top smartphone lists except for those from Consumer Reports where ranking is best on standardized testing.

After my first two picks, the list becomes rather subjective and it's unlikely you will have the same exact order as me when it comes to the ranking. You may end up with the same top ten that I have, but in a different order. If you have another contender for the top ten I would love to hear which phone and why in the comments.

Let's take a look at my current top picks for the first half of 2015.

1. LG G4

T-Mobile handed me a LG G4 in the beginning of May as part of its promotional Exclusive Preview Tour campaign. After using the phone for over three weeks I'm still satisfied with my contributor rating of 9.6 and struggle to find any substantial cons.

The LG G4 stands out from the pack in 2015 with its removable battery and microSD card slot as most manufacturers move to sealed batteries and full internal memory. LG provides these two consumer-friendly options while encasing the back in leather, setting the bar for a smartphone camera, and impressing users with its 5.5 inch Quantum-HD IPS display.

You will find a Snapdragon 808 1.8 GHz 64-bit processor, 3GB RAM, 16 megapixel camera with f/1.8 aperture and OIS, front facing 8 megapixel camera, removable 3,000 mAh battery, Quick Charge 2.0 technology, and support for up to 2TB microSD cards.

While the LG G4 has a large 5.5 inch display, it's rather light at 155 grams and still fits fairly easily in my pocket. The rear power and volume buttons, also serving other functions, remain a unique design feature that give the device a clean look.

You will be able to pick up on of these in the next couple of weeks and you won't be disappointed.

2. Apple iPhone 6 & 6 Plus

The Apple iPhone 6 Plus was at the top of every one of my lists since I bought it last fall and maybe it should still be up there. However, I think LG deserves the top spot with some great innovations that set the bar for Android devices. One of main reasons I use the iPhone 6 Plus right now is the Apple Watch and not so much for the phone itself.

The iPhone 6 Plus is a big phone, but I went with it over the iPhone 6 because of the larger battery and OIS. As summer approaches, carrying the large iPhone 6 Plus gets tougher when I have shorts on and am not wearing a jacket. It is an awesome phone with all the apps you could want, quality photos, and a usable operating system.

Since I purchased it back in November, I've written a few articles about why I think it is the best, including my full iPhone 6 Plus review and one month with the iPhone 6 Plus article after further usage.

The Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus remain some the most expensive smartphones available today with full prices ranging from $649 to $949 and two-year contract subsidized prices ranging from $199 to $499.

Check out the CNET reviews of the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6.

3. Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge

Samsung revealed the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge at MWC and I was able to spend some time with both at the press event. I then purchased the Galaxy S6 Edge, see my full review, but ended up returning it to T-Mobile at the last possible minute due to battery life that did not meet my needs.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are powered by a Samsung Exynos octa-core processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB/64GB/128GB internal storage, 16 megapixel camera, 5.1 inch Super AMOLED 2560 x 1440 pixel display, integrated wireless charging, and more. Note that the removable battery, waterproof design, and microSD memory card expansion are all now gone from this successor to the Galaxy S5.

The camera is stunning and the design is excellent. The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are even a bit more expensive than the Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, ranging from $680 to $960 with no contract and $200 to $400 with a 2-year contract. For that price I expect long battery life and no lag.

Check out the CNET review of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.

4. Samsung Galaxy Note 4/Note Edge

Image: Samsung
While the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge take the metal frame design further with glass front and back panels, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge remain solid choices. They both retain the removable battery and microSD card slot while providing cool S Pen functionality. It's likely that the Note 5 will be announced in the fall and it will be interesting to see what Samsung brings to the Note line from the Galaxy S line.

The Note 4 and Note Edge are powered by a Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor, with a 5.7-inch 2560 x 1440 Super AMOLED screen, 3GB of RAM, 32GB internal storage with support for a microSD card, 16-megapixel camera, 3.7-megapixel front-facing camera, and large 3220 mAh replaceable battery. Now that the Galaxy S6 is known, the removable battery and microSD card slot set up the Note 4 as a device for the road warrior.

The Note 4 and Note Edge were the most expensive Android smartphones ($750 to $870), but the S6 devices with higher memory configurations top that. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge and found the edge display quite useful. See my full review where the device earned a 9.5 rating.

Check out the CNET reviews of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge.

5. Google Nexus 6

Google releases a Nexus device each year and the rise in my list for the Nexus 6, see my full review, is due in large part to the upcoming Google Fi service.

Consumers will soon be able to join a rather novel wireless service built on the backs of Sprint and T-Mobile. Project Fi service will launch with support only for the Google Nexus 6, made by Motorola.

Unlike previous Nexus devices where there was always one or two things missing, the Nexus 6 is not really lacking in any specification. It has a large 5.92-inch 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution display, Snapdragon 805 processor, 3GB RAM, 32/64 GB internal storage, large 3900 mAh battery, 20-megapixel camera, Qi wireless charging, and water resistance.

It turns out the display resolution may have gone too far as battery life could be better for such a large device. You can capture good photos with the camera, but the conditions have to be just right. LG and Samsung have pushed the Android camera market forward, making the Nexus 6 camera not as attractive of an option. However, you will get the latest and greatest version of Android on the Nexus 6 so there is value in that.

The Nexus 6 is priced at $649 for 32GB and $699 for 64GB, which is still less than the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6 models. I haven't yet received an invitation to Project Fi, but would consider the Nexus 6 once an invite shows up.

Check out the CNET review of the Google Nexus 6.

6. BlackBerry Passport

I actually sold my black BlackBerry Passport since my last list, but I replaced it with a red model. Nothing beats the BlackBerry Passport for centralized communications and I continue to use it for comms and the BlackBerry Blend utility.

The battery life is outstanding, the QWERTY keyboard is enjoyable and efficient, and I haven't noticed much of an app gap thanks to the Amazon Appstore and sideloading capability.

The BlackBerry Passport, see my full review, has specifications that match high end smartphones today and comes in a unique form factor that is optimized for productivity. There are very few phones with hardware QWERTY keyboards and BlackBerry has optimized it for utility with touch-sensitive support.

The BlackBerry Passport has a 4.5-inch 1440 x 1440 pixel resolution display, full hardware QWERTY keyboard, 13-megapixel camera, 3GB RAM, 32GB internal storage, microSD card slot, and large 3,450 mAh battery.

If unified communications is important to you, then it will be tough to beat the awesome BlackBerry Hub. The BlackBerry Passport is available in black, white, and red as an unlocked model and also with more curved edges on AT&T.

Check out the CNET review of the BlackBerry Passport.

7. HTC One M9

I've spent quite a bit of time with the HTC One M9, see my full review, and feel I gave it a higher rating than I should have. It is a great piece of hardware and it performs very well, but the camera is the worst of the new Android flagships and battery life could be better.

The UltraPixel camera was improved and moved to the front of the phone where it fits in best with expectations for front facing cameras. The rear camera was upgraded to a 20-megapixel shooter, but HTC seems to have issues optimizing the software for the camera module.

The design was improved with two-tone color metal and an in-hand feel that shouldn't slip as much as the One M8 did. HTC Sense has been improved to provide more personalization at a time when people are looking for ways to make their phone unique.

The internal specs have been updated to include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor, 3GB RAM, 32GB internal storage, microSD card slot, and 2800 mAh battery.

Check out the CNET review of the HTC One M9.

8. Sony Xperia Z3

The Sony Xperia Z3 is quite popular in Europe and I would have it ranked higher, but Sony doesn't seem to care much for the US market and the T-Mobile variant suffers from poor call quality, group testing issues, and camera overheating. There still is no Lollipop update in the US, months after European owners received it.

The Sony Xperia Z3, see my full review, sports a Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor, 3GB RAM, 32GB internal storage and microSD card slot, massive 3,100 mAh battery, 20.7 megapixel camera, and front-facing stereo speakers.

The water resistance, excellent audio quality, physical camera shutter button, slim design for a 5.2 inch display, and amazing battery life made it one of my favorite phones over the past year. Sony needs to improve the camera software and get better US support in place.

Check out the CNET review of the Sony Xperia Z3.

9. Nokia Lumia 830

I had to include this device in my top 10 list, even if it doesn't have the top specs of other Android devices I did not include. I recently purchased a Nokia Lumia 830, check out the ZDNet review, and am extremely impressed by the performance of this sub-$400 smartphone. It turns out I was wrong about Microsoft's affordable flagship strategy and you really can do quite a bit with a low-cost Windows Phone device.

The Lumia 830 comes installed with Windows Phone 8.1, a Snapdragon 400 processor with 1GB RAM, 16GB integrated storage, microSD card slot, 10 megapixel camera, 2200 mAh replaceable battery, and 5 inch 720p display. I have mine updated to Windows 10 Mobile and it continues to work very well.

The metal frame and curved Gorilla Glass feels and looks great, the bright orange or green back stand out from the crowd, the camera performs nearly as well as the top smartphones, and the price just cannot be beat.

Check out the CNET review of the Nokia Lumia 830.

10. Moto X 2014

One phone that I have had in my shopping cart a number of times over the past many months, but never pulled the trigger on is the 2014 Moto X. The ability to buy a customized phone with a leather or wood back is compelling and for those looking for a truly unique device then the Moto X is a great candidate. Motorola continues to drop the price on the Moto X with a likely successor coming later this summer or early in the fall.

The Moto X has a nearly pure Google experience with Android Lollipop, fantastic Motorola experience enhancements, and a solid form factor. The Moto X has been out for several months and Motorola has had special offers at various times the past few months.

The Moto X comes with a 5.2 inch 1080p display that fits well in your hand and pocket while the Snapdragon 801 and 2GB keep it running smoothly. The 2300 mAh battery doesn't meet my needs, but it does support the Quick Charge 2.0 technology to quickly top off the phone.

Check out the CNET review of the Moto X.

In my gear bag right now you will find the LG G4, Apple iPhone 6 Plus, and BlackBerry Passport. The LG G4 is an excellent overall smartphone and my favorite Android device, the 6 Plus is the best iOS device, and the Passport sticks around for the best in centralized communications.

Related ZDNet posts

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All