If you're shopping for a smartphone, this is the best time of year to do it. Not only do many of the best handsets launch around this time, but if you keep your eyes open, you can also find some sweet deals. Let Gizmag help with your decision, as we compare some of the best smartphones of 2015.
Update: Please read our updated 2016 Smartphone Comparison Guide.
For this version of our guide, we included six phones – along with their variants:
- Google/Huawei Nexus 6P
- Apple iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus
- Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 edge+
- Google/LG Nexus 5X
- Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge
- Motorola Moto X Style (Pure)
For each category, you'll see two rows of images, ordered as they are in the list above. In some categories you'll see the secondary variants (6s Plus, GS6 edge+, GS6 edge) alongside their siblings. If you only see the one, then both are the same in that category.
We have five phablets and four "regular"-sized phones – though even they would have been considered phablets just a few years ago.
The two curved phones, the Galaxy S6 edge+ and Galaxy S6 edge, are both very light for their respective sizes. The Nexus 5X is also looking good here, but that's partially because it's made of plastic.
Speaking of which, all but the Nexus 5X at least give you the option of premium build materials.
That "option" part refers to the Moto X, which you can customize with a variety of backs (to go with its aluminum frame). That includes a cheaper silicone, along with natural materials like bamboo, walnut, cherry and leather.
Each phone gives you several color options to choose from, but the Moto X further establishes itself as the King of Customization, with its 216 possible color combinations from the Moto Maker website.
Three of the four phablets have 5.7-inch displays, while the iPhone 6s Plus has a larger chin and forehead surrounding a 5.5-inch screen.
The 4.7-inch iPhone 6s is the only sub 5-inch handset in this year's roundup, as it's rare to see any flagships in that size range these days.
Four of our phones have ultra-sharp Quad HD (1,440p) displays, including the smaller Galaxy S6 and GS6 edge – which take the pixel density crown.
The iPhone 6s' 326 PPI looks mid-ranged on paper, and it doesn't look quite as razor-sharp as the others, but Apple makes up for that with great marks in other screen quality details like white balance and brightness.
It's AMOLED and IPS for the display panels, with Motorola opting for a TFT this year.
Samsung's two Edge phones have dual-curved displays that slope off on either side. Samsung would like you to believe that these are innovations that change how you use your phone, but we find them to be largely cosmetic perks (though significant ones at that).
Apple's 3D Touch lets you interact with the new phones by pressing deeper on their screens. This lets you (in some places) peek at little pop-up previews before deciding whether to advance and (in other places) get pop-up menu options that wouldn't otherwise be there.
3D Touch is an impressive technology that adds a little convenience, but it doesn't let you do anything with your phone that you couldn't do before. It's a series of shortcuts for tasks that never took much time in the first place.
All but the Moto X have touch-based fingerprint sensors. The two Nexus phones have sensors on their backsides (where your index finger naturally rests) while the Apple and Samsung phones have them on their home buttons.
All are fast and let you unlock your phone and select third-party apps, along with (in some cases) authorizing purchases or mobile payments.
These are the capacities for each phone's battery, but you can hit up our individual reviews (see below) for our own battery benchmarks.
All but the iPhones have built-in quick charging tech, which can get your battery back to a respectable state (when it's nearly dead) faster than a non-quick charging phone would be able to.
All of Samsung's 2015 flagships support wireless charging, so you can just drop your phone on a pad and let it juice up. The two Galaxy phablets (Note 5 and S6 edge+) also support fast wireless charging, if you buy a special Samsung-made pad (wireless charging is typically pretty slow).
The Moto X has insane (for a smartphone) 21 MP resolution in its rear camera, though once you get past a certain threshold (a zone that all of these phones' rear cameras are safely in) megapixels matter much less than other details.
Camera aperture (rear)
One of those other details is aperture, where the Samsung phones have a slight advantage.
Both Nexus phones, the smaller iPhone 6s and Moto X all lack Optical Image Stabilization in their rear cameras, so you may have less leeway for shaky hands.
Physical camera launch shortcut
Samsung's 2015 flagships let you launch the camera app from anywhere by double-tapping the home button. The Nexuses have the same thing only with the power/sleep button.
The Moto X does things a little differently, using the same twist-to-launch shortcut that's been around since the original Moto X back in 2013.
The iPhones, Nexus 5X and Moto X leave you with a measly (by today's app usage and photo resolution standards) 16 GB internal storage in the entry-level model.
The Moto X Style/Pure is the only phone in this bunch that gives you the option of complementing its internal storage by popping in a microSD card (sold separately).
There are no slow phones in this group, though the Nexus 5X and Moto X Style have a chip that leans a bit more towards the mid-ranged than the cutting-edge high-end.
The Note 5 and GS6 edge+ win the RAM crown, while the iPhones and Nexus 5X stick with 2 GB (though Apple usually has terrific RAM management in iOS, so this means next to nothing for the iPhones).
There are tap-to-pay options on all the phones. All the Android phones support Android Pay and the iPhones support Apple Pay. Both services rely exclusively on NFC, so vendors will need to have special equipment installed for them to work.
The Galaxy phones support Samsung Pay, which (in addition to NFC) lets you pay using a fancy technology called MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) that simulates a credit card swipe – letting you pay at most retailers' standard readers. We've used it with a pretty good success rate, though transactions errored out at some smaller businesses (who were likely using older credit card machines).
If you want to transform your phone into the first worthwhile consumer virtual reality headset, all four of Samsung's 2015 flagships will work with the new Gear VR.
You can pop the other phones into a Google Cardboard (or similar) headset, but their content and hardware isn't yet on par with the Oculus-powered Gear.
We're looking at stock Android Marshmallow on the two Nexus phones, iOS 9 on the iPhones, Android Lollipop with Samsung's TouchWiz on the Galaxies and nearly stock Lollipop (soon to be Marshmallow) on the Moto X.
The two Galaxy S6 phones are the only ones in this group to have launched in the first half of this year; the rest arrived in the last three or four months.
Starting price (full retail)
Our pick for best overall value is the Nexus 6P – a flagship with less than flagship pricing. If you skim through the categories we just covered, you'll see that there aren't many (if any) where it trails its more expensive competitors. It's a Smartphone of the Year candidate that costs about $200-300 less than the other candidates.
We put those asterisks next to the Galaxy S6 pair because these are sales prices seen across most US carriers at the time of publication. If you keep your eyes on places like eBay, you may be able to find new, unlocked versions for even less – making them an effective good value as well.
The Moto X Style also gives you near high-end specs for even less than the Nexus 6P, but it does cut a few corners: like 16 GB storage in the entry-level tier, a less than high-end processor and no fingerprint sensor. If those details don't bother you, though, that's not a bad price at all.
For more, you can read Gizmag's individual reviews of our picks:
If you're looking for a wearable companion to go with your new phone, you can hit up our 2015 Smartwatch Comparison Guide. And if you want to cast your net wider to include tablets, laptops and 2-in-1s, you can check out Gizmag's favorite mobile devices of 2015.