2015 in review: Samsung and LG success, BlackBerry struggles, Windows 10 Mobile early software issues

It was another amazing year in mobile technology with smartphones reaching near parity while prices drop. The wearable market is active, but consumers still aren't adopting them in large numbers.

While I listed my ten most viewed articles at the end of 2014, that data wasn't available this year. I do have some titles for this year, answers to last year's questions, and questions for 2016.

Best of 2015


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I have a few titles I would like to award to the devices, accessories, and software I checked out in 2015.

  • Best overall smartphone: I recently posted my 10 best smartphones for the 2015 holiday season with the Apple iPhone 6s Plus earning my top pick. However, I'm giving my top pick of the year to the fabulous Samsung Galaxy Note 5 thanks in large part to Samsung's innovative product ecosystem.
  • Best smartphone display: I'll leave this pick up to the experts who have a lot more education and training when it comes to evaluating displays. The scientists at DisplayMate wrote that the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 has the best performing smartphone display that they have ever tested.
  • Rodney Dangerfield award (Best device that lacks the respect it deserves): LG arguably had the best smartphone cameras this year and both the LG G4 and LG V10 deserve more attention and respect. They are both fantastic devices, reasonably priced, have removable batteries, have microSD expansion card slots, and continue to impress me.
  • Best Android smartphone: Samsung had a great year and the Galaxy Note 5 is my favorite Android device. Huawei did a great job with the Nexus 6P, but I still find Samsung's design and innovations more compelling.
  • Best iOS smartphone: This one is easy as Apple only launches a couple new phones each year. The Apple iPhone 6s Plus is clearly the best Apple smartphone of 2015.
  • Best Windows Phone device: Microsoft went about 18 months before releasing a new Windows Phone flagship device and while the Lumia 950 XL has flagship specs, the OS feels incomplete and software issues currently plague Windows 10 Mobile.
  • Best BlackBerry device: BlackBerry surprised many with its release of an Android smartphone, but I found the BlackBerry Priv to have disappointing hardware quality, a compromised BlackBerry experience, and an unimpressive camera. I actually purchased another BlackBerry Passport and still think it's the best BlackBerry device you can purchase.
  • Best tablet: Since I have a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, I don't have a need for a tablet. I did pick up an inexpensive used Sony Xperia Tablet 3 Compact, but think the Apple iPad Air 2 is the best tablet of 2015.
  • Best smartwatch: I spent most of the year enjoying my Apple Watch and gave it my top pick of all smartwatches in October. However, as I realize its the core apps that are most important, the Samsung Gear S2 3G gets my top pick thanks to an integrated cellular connection, GPS, and the ability to work with any Android smartphone.
  • Best daily activity tracker: Fitbit is the Kleenex of the wearable world, but after experiencing the vast amount of data and functionality of the Microsoft Band 2 I have to give it my top pick.
  • Best GPS sport watch: I like to run and have spent time this year testing GPS sport watches from Garmin, TomTom, and Polar. Despite the popularity and expanding functionality of Garmin devices, I was most impressed with the accuracy and extremely high quality of the Polar V800. The battery lasts forever and the data it captures is extremely useful in helping to improve your fitness.

Responses to questions from 2015

  • Will Windows 10 Mobile turn things around for Microsoft?: It turns out Microsoft didn't release the new OS or Lumia 950 until just a few weeks ago so it's too early to tell if anything has changed. Given the software issues I've seen so far, Microsoft has lots of work to do.
  • What's next for BlackBerry?: Android was an interesting move, but I'm not sure it's enough to save the smartphone business for BlackBerry. Deeper integration of the Hub, more competitive pricing, and higher quality hardware is needed.
  • Will Google mess up another Nexus launch?: Thankfully, Google's launch of the Nexus 5X and 6P was excellent and the devices lived up to the hype. They are reasonably priced and I have no hesitation in recommending them to buyers.
  • What does HTC have up its sleeve in 2015?: The HTC One M9 had the potential to be a great device, but the camera was lacking. HTC just recently released the HTC One A9, an iPhone clone, but it's priced too high with specs that don't match other flagships so is unlikely to show much success. HTC delayed the Vive VR headset and its wearable device, while its RE camera device showed continuous price cuts in 2015.
  • Will consumers widely adopt smartwatches and wearable tech?: It looks like things are still wide open for the wearable market as adoption continues to be quite slow. The Apple Watch showed some success and others have released good devices, but even a wearable fan like me cannot say that wearables are essential.

Here are a few questions I have for 2016:

  • Will Microsoft finally give up on smartphone hardware?
  • Will Android turn BlackBerry around?
  • Will HTC get out of the smartphone business?
  • What's next in wearable tech?
  • What's going to be changed in the next iPhone?

Looking ahead to 2016

There were major advances in Android camera technology this year so at the end of 2015 we see Android phones beating out the Apple iPhone 6s Plus. My current collection includes the Apple iPhone 6s Plus, Apple Watch Sport, Samsung Galaxy Note 5, Samsung Gear S2 3G, Microsoft Band 2, and BlackBerry Passport. The BlackBerry Passport is the only one I had last year, but this is actually my third as I went through the black, red, and silver models before settling on the white model. Google did a fantastic job with the Nexus 6P and 5X, offering devices that are affordable and powerful.

Given that I like to write about the latest and greatest here on ZDNet, it's likely that I will sell my existing devices and pick up the next big iPhone, next Samsung Galaxy Note, and maybe the next Nexus smartphone. I won't upgrade my tablet and am likely to skip the next Apple Watch.

I look forward to software updates for the Gear S2 3G that should bring iOS support and more apps. If Microsoft stays a bit longer in the smartphone game, I would like to see a Surface phone.

What was your favorite smartphone, tablet, or wearable of the year? How about your worst?