The 17 best smartphones of 2015 - what's the best phone?
Discover the best smartphone for your pocket, your budget and your apps with our buying guide and in-depth reviews
If you're looking for the best smartphone on the planet then you've come to the right place. Scroll down to see our pick of the ultimate smartphones available at the moment, or read on to find out a little more on the questions you should be asking before buying any new mobile phone.
Jump to: best smartphone of 2015 chart
Best phones of 2015: Android, iOS or Windows Phone
The number one question to tackle is which platform to buy into. Now that BlackBerry has all-but left the phone game, you have Apple’s iOS, Android and Windows Phone to choose from.
iOS means iPhones, and you probably already know whether you’d like to own an iPhone or not. They’re great devices with a fantastic wealth of apps and games on offer. However, they don’t come cheap. That said, if you’re looking at buying a high-end phone, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus deserve a place on anyone's shortlist.
Definitely don’t want an iPhone? Windows Phone handsets and Android phones come in all shapes, sizes and prices. The downside of Windows Phone is that its selection of apps and games isn’t anywhere near as healthy as that of Android or iOS. If you want to play a new game every week, and want the best entertainment and travel apps out there, it’s probably not for you.
However, Windows guarantees you a certain level of gloss right down to the super-budget models, and Nokia’s top-end Windows Phone mobiles are pretty impressive. Performance is pretty spritely even on the lower-end models, too, and this is thanks to the minimal demands of Microsoft's Windows Phone OS - these phones just don't need high-end processors and gigabytes of RAM to perform.
For many, though, Android is the right choice. Most phones use it, and nowadays it offers a good balance of apps, games and general performance. All the most high-profile phones aside from the iPhone use Android, including the Sony Xperia Z2, the HTC One M8 and the Samsung Galaxy S5, and with Google's Android L on its way, the Android smartphones and phablets out there are only going to become more attractive.
Best phones of 2015: what size of phone?
Once you’ve picked your side, you need to pick a size. This is partly determined by how much you want to spend, but as long as you’re willing to fork out £150 or more, you have quite a choice.
Most higher-end phones are very large these days, and if you’re not used to a bigger phone we recommend trying one out in a high street shop before buying. Most people can generally get accustomed to phones up to five inches in screen size, but anything larger than that becomes a bit of a struggle for people with smaller hands.
Have huge hands? Want a big screen? In the last couple of years the phone-tablet hybrid market has exploded, and there are several phones that offer 5.7-6.1in screens – truly massive displays for a phone.
For any phones of 5in or larger, we recommend looking for a mobile with a 1080p screen. This will get you nice, sharp images. Thanks to some recent phone bargains, you can even get mobiles with super-sharp screens at the £100 mark, such as the Motorola Moto G. We recommend opting for screen quality over whether it has wireless technology extras like NFC or an IR sensor.
Best phones of 2015: 4G or not 4G?
One wireless technology that does matter, though, is 4G. Once reserved for expensive phones, this super-fast mobile internet standard is now available in fairly low-cost devices too.
Although performance depends on where you live and the network you subscribe to, 4G can get you around ten times the speed of a normal 3G network. While a 3G network might provide 2Mbits/sec downloads, you’ll often get 16-20Mbits/sec from a 4G network in a big city. That may well be faster than your home broadband.
Most contracts are subject to quite limited data allowances, though, so make sure you look into that before getting too excited about 4G hardware.
Best phones of 2015: how important is a camera to you?
The one other bit of hardware that’s important to consider is the camera. If you’re looking at a phone costing £200 or more, you’re almost guaranteed a reasonably good camera, but if you’re a budget buyer you'll find most models make compromises.
Low-end phones often leave out the front camera and the flash. Some don’t even have autofocus. If a phone leaves out any of these, it cuts hugely into the photographic flexibility of a smartphone.
At the higher end of the scale, look out for optical image stabilisation. What this does is move the lens and/or sensor to compensate for the effect of shaky hands. It allows the phone use longer exposures, allowing more light onto the sensor, which leads to cleaner, less noisy photos when shooting in low light.
Best phones of 2015: how much you want to spend?
How much do you need to spend to get a good phone? Great mobiles start at around £80, with models such as the Motorola Moto E. It’s currently about as cheap a phone as you can get without having to give up too much in the way of looks or build quality.
High-end phones start at around £270, with slightly older mobiles like the LG G2 and Google Nexus 5 providing most of what you get from a much more expensive phone at a less scary price.
If nothing but the best will do, the very latest flagship phones from companies like Samsung, LG and Sony cost between £400-500. On a contract, that normally equates to at least £30 a month unless you’re a better haggler than we are.
Hopefully, you now have a good idea about the kind of phone you’re after. But which specific model should you buy? Here are the mobile phones we recommend.
Best phones of 2015
Price when reviewed: 32GB, £600 inc VAT
Samsung finally kicked out plastic for its latest smartphone design and, aside from a couple of reservations, the result is a stunning triumph. The S6 looks glorious with Gorilla Glass 4 at the front and rear and coloured metal beneath it to give it a glitzy, shimmering look. And Samsung has significantly beefed up the innards without impacting on battery life negatively.
The highlight, however, is the improved camera, which now boasts optical image stabilisation and a wide f/1.9 aperture for stunning image capture in all conditions.
The S6 Edge is just as good and arguably the more attractive device, but its unusual curved screen and the fact that there's no 32GB option bumps the price of an already expensive phone up to an eye-watering £760. Buy the S6: you won't regret it.
Price when reviewed: £348 inc VAT
Sony’s pint-sized smartphone packs in a host of premium features without the high-end price.
Price when reviewed: £199 inc VAT
Google has finally killed off the Nexus 5 but if you can get your hands on one it remains a superb smartphone. The price is significantly lower than most flagship devices and is set to drop yet further, which is why it's still one of our favourite smartphones. The design is impressive, it's as powerful as you need and the screen is great.
Price on 30/03/15: £330 inc VAT
There's an awful lot to like about the Samsung Galaxy S5, it's good looking, tough, big, feature rich and we love the user-replaceable battery and memory expansion. It's a great smartphone in every way, and now that the S6 is here, the price is more reasonable than ever. If you're not precious about the way your phone looks, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a great buy.
Price when reviewed: £539 inc VAT
It's a brave new world for Apple's larger iPhone, and it's much the better for it. Super-fast, beautiful to look at and lovely to use. It's the dictionary definition of a flagship handset.
Price when reviewed: £140 inc VAT
A high-quality budget Android handset with an excellent screen and decent battery life. There's now a 4G version as well, for those hankering after faster mobile data.
Price when reviewed: £580 inc VAT
HTC took the One M8's design and refined it for 2015, creating a truly stunning smartphone. The internals have been upgraded as well, with Qualcomm's octa-core Snapdragon 810 SoC, the camera has been improved, too, from the M8's 4-megapixel snapper to 20 megapixels this time around, and HTC has added a host of features to its Sense Android launcher software.
It's a beautiful crafted and highly competent smartphone, just like last year's HTC One M8, and still a cracking smartphone. But only a small improvement on the M8.
Price when reviewed: £459 inc VAT
LG rustles up a classy, top-rung smartphone, with a ridiculously high resolution screen and super fast camera; but that display takes its toll on battery life.
Price when reviewed: £599 inc VAT
Samsung has produced the finest phablet yet. In addition to a new Quad HD display and a smart new look, Samsung has bumped up the speed, battery life, camera quality and range of features - big-screened phones don't get any better.
Price when reviewed: £609 inc VAT
With most of the same features as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and a funky curved-edge display it’s hard to criticise the Edge. But that curved display, intriguing as it is, both adds to the cost and impacts upon both battery life and build quality - and that's enough to cement the Note 4 as our large-screen smartphone of choice.
Price when reviewed: £499 inc VAT
The Nexus 6 has taken us by surprise in the short time we’ve had it. Once you sidle past the unavoidable fact of its gargantuan size, there’s an awful lot it does right. Battery life is good, the camera is excellent, and the build and design quality are second to none. And although its rivals hold an edge over it in many areas, the differences aren’t huge.
Price when reviewed: £619 inc VAT
Apple’s 5.5in giant isn’t for everyone, but for some it may prove the perfect mid-point between an iPad and iPhone. And contrary to initial reports, our long-term review sample hasn't suffered from any undue bending - it's remained rock-solid in the face of all the abuse we've dished out.
Price when reviewed: £550 inc VAT
The Galaxy Alpha is Samsung's best looking smartphone to date, but it's short on features and the price is too high. Come the 10th April and the release of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, we suspect the Galaxy Alpha will be consigned to the scrapheap of history.
Price when reviewed: £419 inc VAT
Motorola’s second generation Moto X hits most of the right notes, coupling beautiful design with a hatful of innovative - and useful - features.
Price when reviewed: £419 inc VAT
The Lumia 930 is a knock-out from the first moment you pick it up. It's a Windows Phone device, so it can't compete on apps, but the design of Nokia's flagship is sumptuous and right up there with the best around.
Price when reviewed: £440 inc VAT
Sony proves that big really is beautiful - the Xperia Z2 provides a long-lasting alternative to the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the HTC One M8.
Price when reviewed: £477 inc VAT
The successor to the Z3 isn't that much different. It's a touch slimmer and lighter than the Z2, the screen is brighter, and the processor is clocked a fraction higher, but almost everything else is the same. It's a very good Android smartphone, but if you can still find a Z2 for sale it'll be much cheaper and almost as good.
Price when reviewed: £79 inc VAT
Makes plenty of compromises to keep costs down, but performs where it counts; the Moto E is another winner from Motorola at a highly tempting price. This is the best sub-£100 handset by a country mile.
Future phones - the most exciting forthcoming smartphones, specs and release dates 2015
Of course, the best things come to those who wait. While the list above covers the best smartphones available to buy in the UK right now, it’s also worth considering what devices are scheduled to launch in the coming months.
So, if you're deciding whether to buy a smartphone right away, or you're tempted to wait for a cutting-edge handset that is on the cusp of launching, we've compiled a list of the best mobile phones that are slated, or even just rumoured, for release.
Bear in mind, though, that is just a list to whet your smartphone appetite - not all the facts, figures and specifications will be 100% reliable until these future phones are officially released.
Date expected: Q1 2015
In recent times, Sony has been following a rapid-fire six-monthly release schedule for its flagship smartphones. It launched the Z2 at MWC in February 2014 and the Z3 (pictured) at IFA in September, so it could well release another at this year's MWC. There are rumours that Sony has abandoned this approach, so don't be suprised if we have to wait until later in the year.
Date expected: Q3 2015
Google's exciting smartphone concept may see the light of day this year, and we'll be first in line to request a review sample. Excitingly, we took some time to play with Yezz's mockups of the Ara concept in MWC. If you're interested, click here to read our first impressions of Google's modular smartphone concept.