The Flagship Phones of 2016: iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S7, Google Pixel and More

By Kim Snaith on at

Buying a phone today can be a bit of a minefield. There are literally hundreds of handsets from dozens of manufacturers all vying for your attention. Often, your budget will dictate your choice for you; with the leading phones now generally asking for £600 or more to buy a handset outright, most of us have no choice but to choose a cheaper or older model (unless buying into a monthly contract, of course).

Apple's iPhone is perhaps the most well-known choice of smartphone handsets, with 2016's offering being the iPhone 7. Unlike iOS, Android devices come in all shapes and sizes, with Samsung and Sony being among the forerunners – but Google have jumped back into the market after discontinuing the Nexus with the release of the high-tech Google Pixel phone.

They're not the only ones though. With Motorola, OnePlus, LG and others all in the mix too, how on earth are you ever meant to decide which handset is for you? Here's our run-down of the best picks from 2016.

Apple iPhone 7, 7 Plus

Release date: 16th September 2016
Storage: 32gb, 128gb or 256gb (no SD slot)
Screen: 4.7in, 750p (5.5in, 1080p for 7 Plus)
Battery: 1,960 mAh (2,900 mAh for 7 Plus)
Camera: 12mp; 4k video recording

Price: iPhone 7: £599 for 32gb, £699 for 128gb or £799 for 256gb. iPhone 7 Plus: £719 for 32gb, £819 for 128gb or £919 for 256gb.

An iPhone – or more rather, the Apple brand in general – is a bit like Marmite: you either love it or you hate it. For those in the pro-Apple camp, there's no other choice but to buy an iPhone. While cheaper options are available – last season's 6S is still on sale, and the unapologetically small iPhone SE – the 7 or the 7 Plus is what you want if you're keeping up with the Joneses.

It's the first iPhone to drop the physical "home" button, opting for a potentially less satisfying 'sensor'. More importantly though, it's also the first iPhone to be waterproof, so perhaps for that reason alone it might just be worth the generation upgrade this time. Despite being an Android phone kinda girl for the last several years, I have always found iPhones to be superior in terms of camera, and the 7, in particular the 7 Plus, is certainly no different. The 7 Plus actually has optical zoom – only 2x, but still – which is basically unheard of in mobile phones.

If you're an audiophile however, it'll disappoint you to know that the headphone jack has gone, meaning you'll need to use proprietary headphones (or an adaptor) in order to utilise the Lightning port for headphones. The iPhone 7's battery life is also comparatively worse than pretty much any other phone available on the market – but Apple are quick to add it's at least more powerful than the iPhone 6.

With prices going up to nearly £1,000 though, you've got to be really keen to be willing to shell out that kind of money. Does the iPhone 7 do enough to justify the price tag? I don't know. It still just feels like a rip-off to be forced to pay up to £200 extra for more storage. Come on Apple, a 128gb SD card costs less than £30 these days.

[Read the full review]

Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 Edge

Release date: 11th March 2016
Storage: 32gb (expandable to 256gb)
Screen: 5.1in (5.5in for Edge)
Battery: 3,600 mAh
Camera: 12mp; 4k video recording

Price: S7: £569. S7 Edge: £639

Samsung phones aren't ranking high on people's favourite lists this year, what with all that exploding they've been doing. While it's largely the now-canned Note 7 that's the main culprit, the Samsung Galaxy S7 hasn't been without horror reports, but Samsung have stated their flagship smartphone range is safe to use and doesn't suffer from the same problems the Note faced.

Design-wise, the S7 is very similar to the S6, but that's no bad thing; with an already sleek design, why fix something that's not broken, right? Thankfully, Samsung have brought back expandable storage that was last on last year's S6 – there's an adequate 32gb built in, and you can expand with the addition of a microSD up to 256gb – much cheaper than having to shell out a potential extra £200+ for a phone with more space.

Photography buffs will be pleased to hear that the S7 has an excellent camera. It's impossibly fast, great in low-light situations and impressively sharp. Samsung's own version of Android (TouchWiz) has also been markedly improved from last year, being a whole lot more user-friendly and responsive. The biggest plus of the S7 though is probably its battery life – with 3,600 mAh it's almost twice that of the standard iPhone 7, and has quite a margin on most other flagship smartphones.

[Read the full review]

Google Pixel, Pixel XL

Release date: 20th October 2016
Storage: 32gb or 128gb
Screen: 5in (5.5in for XL)
Battery: 2,770 mAh (3,450 mAh for XL)
Camera: 12.3mp; 4k video recording

Price: Pixel: £599 for 32gb, £699 for 128gb. Pixel XL: £719 for 32gb, £819 for 128gb.

Google's relaunch into the hardware market after discontinuing the Nexus line earlier this year was set to be an exciting one – and while the Pixel has some great features, it doesn't do a great deal to set itself apart from the competition. First of all, it's on the more expensive side of the scale; £599 for the standard, smallest memory is reasonable, but jumping up to a whopping £819 for an XL with 128gb of memory is frankly eye-watering. It's not the sleekest or prettiest Android device, and it's not water resistant – which is rare in today's top-end market – so that's certainly a point worth noting if you often find yourself near bodies of water (or make a habit of dropping things down the loo).

Still, it's impressively fast and has a brilliant camera compared to most other Android handsets. It's packed with lots of features such as smart burst and HDR that actually work as you want them to for a change. The battery life is solid, lasting for a full day of use, and it's got its own version of Apple's 3D touch, missing from other Android devices.

[Read the full review]

LG G5

Release date: 21st February 2016
Storage: 32gb (expandable to 2TB)
Screen: 5.3in
Battery: 2,880 mAh (removable)
Camera: 16mp; 4k video recording

Price: £529

LG have been on the periphery of leading Android smartphones for several years, but their phones are actually worth taking note of. The latest, the G5, comes in at the bottom end of 'expensive' and has some impressive features over its classmates. For one, it has a removable battery, which is something barely unheard of the past few years. It's a well-known fact that lithium-ion batteries have a limited amount of charge-cycles, so being able to replace the battery can potentially stretch the life of your phone immeasurably. The downside, of course, means that the G5 isn't waterproof as the battery isn't tightly sealed.

The G5 is LG's first metal-cased phone, which, coupled with smooth, rounded edges, makes for a massive aesthetic improvement over the previous plastic, boxy entries. Camera-wise, the G5 is going the way of the iPhone 7 with dual cameras on the back - a standard and a wide-angle lens, offering some exciting flexibility for photography enthusiasts. The most stand-out and unique feature of the G5 however is its implementation of 'modular' technology. LG have a range of add-ons called "Friends" that can be easily snapped on and off the handset. Of note is a camera module, to make the phone more like a traditional digital cam, and a 360-degree camera for use with VR tech. Perhaps the idea is a little gimmicky, but it's rather nifty to see a company doing something a bit different from the crowd.

[Read the full review]

OnePlus 3T

Release date: 28th November 2016
Storage: 64gb or 128gb
Screen: 5.5in
Battery: 3,400 mAh
Camera: 16mp; 4k video recording

Price: £399 for 64gb, £439 for 128gb

A Chinese "budget" brand that made a splash in the West a couple of years back, it seems that OnePlus may now be here to stay as a serious contender for the likes of Apple and Samsung. The OnePlus One and 2 were only available via a crazy "invite" scheme, thus creating the illusion of exclusivity, but thankfully the 3T is now available to everyone – with a price tag much lower than its competition.

With a 5.5 inch 1080p screen, it's rivalling the biggest phones on the market – the iPhone 7 Plus and Google Pixel XL. The difference? The 3T is almost half the price. There's got to be a catch, right?

Apparently not. It ticks all the boxes in comparative spec: fingerprint sensor, Snapdragon processor, decent camera, fast charging – it's all in there. In some regards, it's even better than its competition – OnePlus's version of Android allows for a lot more customisation than most phones, and it packs in a hefty 6GB of RAM. The iPhone 7 Plus has 3GB. The RAM combined with its customised software means that it runs like lightning. It's far from the performance you'd expect from a budget handset, that's for sure.

[Read the full review]

Sony Xperia XZ

Release date: 30th September 2016
Storage: 32gb (expandable to 256gb)
Screen: 5.2in
Battery: 2,900 mAh
Camera: 23mp; 4k video recording

Price: £549

Sony have moved away from their flagship line of Xperia "Z" phones to the "X", and the XZ is the latest to be available. Truth be told though, there doesn't seem to be a great deal of difference between this and last year's Z5.

Sony have dropped the 4K screen of the Z5 Premium, which is for the best. Let's face it; nobody needs 4K on a screen the size of their pocket and surely serves no other purpose than a massive battery drain. The crystal-clear 1080p screen of the ZX is more than adequate. The main difference here from the Z range is that Sony have tweaked the design – the previous blocky corners have been smoothed over for a more ergonomic and sleeker, rounder appearance.

Camera-wise, Xperias always boast ridiculous amounts of megapixels – but that doesn't always mean better image quality. While the ZX has almost twice the amount of pixels that most other phones on this list do, it's almost the same specs as last year's Z5, which I personally found extremely underwhelming. The ZX differentiates itself with new 'laser focus', for quicker and more accurate autofocus, which could make all the difference. But if pixel count is what you're into, then it's worth noting that even the front camera here has 12mp.

[Read more]

HTC 10

Release date: May 2016
Storage: 32gb (expandable to 2TB)
Screen: 5.2in
Battery: 3,000 mAh
Camera: 12mp; 4k video recording

Price: £570 (currently on offer at £480)

HTC have been in the smartphone biz longer than most, and even though they've perhaps not always been a household name, they are synonymous with quality and cutting-edge tech. While their last couple of handsets have been a far cry from their heyday, the HTC 10 hopes to recapture everything that the brand stood for initially – and on the whole, it's pretty successful at doing it.

First off, it's pretty beautiful to look at. Sleek and smooth metal and curved edges make it a pleasure to hold. It isn't exactly trend-setting, but it's understated in a defining way – and it looks quality. The innards of the phone are understated too; HTC has done away with bloatware and unnecessary programs, opting to use apps like Google Photos rather than its own proprietary software. This, in turn with a powerful processor, lends itself to incredibly responsive activity and fast loading times.

Like most phones on this list, the HTC 10 also has an impressive camera. Rather than dual cams like the iPhone and LG, HTC have opted just for a wide-angle, but it makes for excellent landscape shots with incredible detail. It may not be the best of the best, but at a reasonable price, it's a bloody good handset – and an impressive return for HTC.

[Read full review]