The 12 best mobile devices for the 2015 holidays
Looking for a new mobile device for yourself or a loved one this holiday season? Let Gizmag make your decision a little easier, as we break down the best smartphones, tablets, laptops and 2-in-1s you can buy today.
Honorable mention: Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge
Samsung finally ditched the plastic in its 2015 flagships, switching to an ultra-light and -thin glass design surrounding an aluminum frame. The 5.1-inch Galaxy pair have incredibly sharp screens (577 pixels per inch, 77 percent higher than the iPhone 6s), crisp performance, solid battery life and some of the best cameras of the year.
Add Gear VR support (though we prefer the wider field of view that Samsung's larger 2015 phablets give you) along with the recent discounts we've seen on the aging phones, and you have two handsets that are still hard to beat.
The Galaxy S6 currently starts at around US$575 full retail, with its curved Edge sibling running around $100 extra.
Honorable mention: iPad Air 2
Wait, what's a 2014 tablet doing in this list of 2015 mobile devices? Well, we didn't see many new big-name tablets this year (by that we mean standalone tablets, as we saw plenty of cool 2-in-1s) and retailers have been offering some pretty sweet deals on the still-excellent iPad Air 2 of late, making it our top tablet pick for a second year.
For most people, we think the iPad Air 2 makes more sense than the new iPad Pro, which is too expensive for an oversized device that has so many shortcomings as a supposedly "Pro"-level productivity tablet. And if you already own a big-screened smartphone, then the great iPad mini 4 may not provide enough extra real estate to justify its purchase.
That leaves the iPad Air 2 as Apple's just right Goldilocks tablet. It officially starts at the same $499 it cost a year ago, but don't pay that. If you live in the US, places like Target, Walmart and Staples currently sell it for at least $50 less than that (and Apple Stores should price match them, as long as they have stores in the same area).
Honorable mention: Moto X Style (Moto X Pure Edition in the US)
Motorola's 2015 flagship hits lots of the right marks: high-end or nearly high-end specs in most categories with an experience to match, along with a price tag that starts at an impressive $400.
On the other hand, that entry-level version only gives you 16 GB of internal storage and has a plastic build. If you pay more for memory and a higher-end build (natural materials like wood or leather) the price gets a lot closer to its best competitors – making it something less than a no-brainer buy.
Honorable mention: MacBook Pro with Retina Display
Our favorite standard laptop of the year was the latest version of Apple's flagship, pro-level notebook. Unlike the MacBook Air, it has a Retina Display and Force Touch trackpad, and unlike the crazy-light 12-inch MacBook, it provides pro-level power and full series of ports.
Based on the new MacBook and iPad Pro that launched this year, it seems that Apple is hell-bent on making devices like the MacBook Pro go the way of the dodo, but fortunately the company hasn't stopped making this blueprint example of a classic notebook.
The 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro starts at $1,299 while the 15-inch model starts at $1,999 (though both models are often discounted by $150 or more at places like Best Buy, MacMall and B&H Photo).
Honorable mention: Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Our second favorite 2-in-1 of 2015, the Surface Pro 4 improves on its predecessor in all the right ways: slightly bigger (and noticeably sharper) display, new processors, longer battery life and better keyboard with a bigger trackpad.
It wasn't Microsoft's boldest new 2-in-1 this year (we'll get to that in a minute), but it is the more affordable and portable one, and, unlike its sibling, has full battery life in tablet mode.
Honorable mention: iPhone 6s and 6s Plus
There's no mistaking the fact that these were "S"-year iPhones (relatively minor upgrades, which we don't recommend to owners of the previous year's models), but the 6s and 6s Plus are still two of your best options on the smartphone front.
The new iPhones' pressure-sensitive display, 3D Touch, may not be a must-have feature, but it does add some time-saving shortcuts to the smartphone experience. When you throw in insane speed and some of the best phone cameras of the year, Apple's 2015 flagships make for significant upgrades for anyone lugging around an iPhone from 2013 or earlier.
The iPhone 6s starts at $649 (full retail) and the larger 6s Plus runs a minimum of $749.
Runner-up (tie): Nexus 6P
The best smartphone flagship value of the year (and a tie for our top smartphone of the year pick), the Nexus 6P is a premium smartphone that can match or beat much more expensive rivals in most categories.
A collaboration between Google and Huawei, the 6P runs stock Android Marshmallow with a high-end processor, and it has a big and beautiful display along with very good cameras that, if not for poorly-lit performance that's slightly inferior to Apple's and Samsung's, may have been the best of the year.
The Nexus 6P starts at $499.
Runner-up (tie): Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ and Galaxy Note 5
Samsung's late 2015 phablets are significantly more expensive than the Nexus 6P, but they're also lighter (especially the gorgeous Edge+), their cameras are slightly better on the whole (with better results in those poorly-lit settings) and they both unlock the full potential of Samsung's awesome Oculus-powered virtual reality headset.
The Galaxy Note 5 starts at around $700 full retail while the Galaxy S6 edge+ starts at roughly $770 (it varies a bit from carrier to carrier).
Mobile device of the year: Microsoft Surface Book
The Surface Book is a device that we didn't see coming. A full-blown laptop with a screen that you can remove to use as a huge – but pleasantly light and thin – tablet, it's the perfect 2-in-1 for those who want a completely uncompromised laptop that's also a pleasure to use as a short-term use slate.
The Surface Book makes sense in all the ways that Apple's iPad Pro and new MacBook don't. Things like an operating system that anyone can use for work or play (Windows 10, which was the most important software launch of the year), a terrific trackpad and typing experience, and standard set of ports.
It ain't cheap, starting at $1,499, but the Surface Book builds on the foundation of the Surface Pro series, and is the best evidence yet that Microsoft has recovered from its slow reaction to the mobile era, solidifying the company's status as a late-blooming innovative force in this space.
Though we hit quite a few categories in this roundup, you'll notice that we didn't include wearables. For that, you can hit up Gizmag's favorite wearables of 2015.