Android Phone Roundup December 2015


Since the release of Android phones is much less regulated than iPhone releases, every few months (okay, weeks) I like to take stock of what’s currently out there just in case I have a need to suddenly know the pros and cons of a bunch of phones.

Before I write up a list of pros and cons about the phones, there are a few things that it’s worth mentioning that are worth considering when you’re choosing a phone.

  • There are two types of screen technologies commonly used for Android phones AMOLED (Active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) and LCD. AMOLED screens power each pixel individually instead of a single backlight like LCD screens. This means that while AMOLED use more power when the image is bright or white, a true black is accomplished by the pixel just being unlit. This makes the contrast with AMOLED screens excellent, and apps which use significant portions of black can also save battery.
  • With the exception of the two Samsung phones, all the phones on this list use a SoC (system on a chip – basically the computer processor) made by Qualcomm. Without getting too boring, the newest top-of-the-line Snapdragon 810 has a pretty severe problem with overheating (which causes performance to drop) and efficiency (which causes power consumption to be too high). Some devices uses a slightly older version of the processor (the 808, 801, 800) which has slightly lower performance but doesn’t get quite as hot and so doesn’t have to throttle quite as much.
  • All the phones shown (except the OnePlus Two which is for AT&T/T-Mobile only) will work on all four major US carriers (T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint). However, if you’re on Verizon or Spring you’ll have to buy the Samsung phones or the Moto G through your cellular provider (and pay their inflated costs). The other phones are sold unlocked, and if you have GSM carrier (T-Mobile, AT&T) you can just buy the phone through Amazon and stick in your SIM card. The two Nexus phones will work with Google’s Project Fi cellular service (which uses T-Mobile and Sprint towers as well as Wi-fi).

Android Phone Roundup December, 2015

Nexus 6P


Every year Google partners with a hardware manufacturer to offer a phone with stock Android. This year, Google made two – the Nexus 6P is manufactured in China by Huawei, and while this will be the first phone most Americans see from this manufacturer, it does make a strong first impression. It’s the second phablet-sized Nexus phone (the first being last year’s Motorola-made Nexus 6), and while the screen shrunk a little bit (from last year’s 6-inch behemoth to a “reasonable” 5.7-inches), everything else got a big upgrade. Some of the newest features include a very good camera, a fast fingerprint sensor, USB Type-C, and a metal body.

Pros:

  • Stock Android – this means the fastest possible updates and the latest and greatest Google features
  • A sturdy feeling metal body, great (stereo) front-firing speakers, and a lightning-fast fingerprint sensor in the middle of the back of the phone
  • A big and high-quality AMOLED screen
  • The camera isn’t just “good for an Android” this year – it’s actually good!
  • Probably the best implementation yet of Qualcomm’s troubled Snapdragon 810
  • USB Type-C is pretty cool

Cons:

  • Despite being a bit smaller than last year’s Nexus 6, this is still a true phablet-sized device, and so may not be a good size for everyone
  • The battery life is, according to many reviews, average. This isn’t (entirely) an OS problem, as the Qualcomm 810 has caused just about every phone that uses it battery and performance troubles
  • Although the screen is as big as the Samsung Note, there’s no S-pen or other special features to improve productivity or to more easily manage the larger screen
  • Stock Android – sometimes the rapid update cycle can work against you, as some of the latest versions of Android have suffered from various performance problems and memory issues
  • You’ll (likely) need to get new charging cables, and/or chargers that are compatible with USB Type-C

Nexus 5X


This is a (highly anticipated) sequel to the great Nexus 5 – made by LG – that was released two years ago. The 5X is also LG-made, and comes with several upgrades (that are also found in the more expensive 6P) such as the same great camera, fingerprint sensor, and a newer Snapdragon processor (though not the 810). While it’s smaller than the 6P, with a 5.2 inch screen and relatively large top and bottom bezels, it’s not quite a compact as the old Nexus 5 was, nor does it have the same metal body as the 6P.

Pros:

  • Stock Android
  • A great (LCD) screen
  • A fingerprint sensor that is just as fast as the one in the higher-end 6P
  • Above-average battery life
  • The same (great) camera as the Nexus 6P
  • USB Type-C is, again, pretty cool

Cons:

  • The same downside to stock Android as on the 6P – while it’s often great, currently Lollipop and Marshmallow both suffer from some pretty unfortunate memory issues.
  • The better battery life is accomplished by a slightly slower (but more efficient) processor, although the GPU (useful for games) is quite good
  • If you wanted a metal body in a smaller size, you’ll be disappointed, since this features the same (sturdy) plastic found on the original Nexus 5
  • The same downside to USB Type-C – it’s the future, but right now you’ll need to stock up on newer cables.

OnePlus Two


The company is OnePlus, and the phone’s name is simply “Two”. This is the successor to OnePlus’s phone from last year, the OnePlus One. The OnePlus Two was advertised as a “flagship killer” with “no compromises”, and while the spec sheet is definitely high-end, the actual results are not always up to the same level as other phones.

Pros:

  • Great specs, include the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 810, a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, a fingerprint sensor, and a new camera all look good on paper
  • For the specs, the price is quite low – starting at $330
  • Quite good battery life
  • The camera is also quite good
  • It does have USB Type-C

Cons

  • The Snapdragon 810 – the problem for many 2015 Android phones – is at it again. OnePlus has seemed to restrict the high-power and faster cores from coming online in certain light-use scenarios, meaning that the phone doesn’t really behave like a phone with a cutting-edge processor should. This can be changed by an over-the-air update (or a modified kernel), but that will almost certainly negate the good battery life.
  • The screen suffers from color accuracy issues
  • Despite the “never settle” tag line, there’s no quick charging, no wireless charging, and no NFC chip (which means no Android Pay).

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (and S6 Edge +)


Both of these phones share a lot of the same internals and are only differentiated by slightly different form factors and software particular to each device’s focus. The Note 5, for example, includes the S-pen and apps and features designed to take advantage of it, while the S6 Edge + features the wrap-around screen and software to take advantage of it. In general, while the Note’s productivity features are generally useful, the Edge +’s aren’t.

Pros:

  • If you want (or need a stylus) the Note 5 is, by far, the best phone for you. The extra software features (like pulling out the stylus and jotting a quick note on the darkened screen) are pretty killer, and having the stylus stored in the phone means you’ll always know where it is.
  • The cameras on these two phones are the same, and both are excellent.
  • The fingerprint sensor (which is on the bottom front button) is fast and reliable.
  • The processor in these phones – a Samsung-built Exynos 7420 – is miles ahead of the Qualcomm 810s that are in almost every other top-of-the-line phone in both speed, endurance, and battery life.

Cons:

  • Despite a “lighter” version of Samsung’s Android OS (called Touchwiz) there are still quite a few extra apps that come preinstalled – some you may want, some you may not. While you can disable them (preventing them from running) there’s no easy way to uninstall them – so you still lose some storage space.
  • Software updates are going to be slower than Nexus phones, although Samsung has said that they will attempt to do better than they have done in previous years. Time will tell.
  • If you were a fan of the Note 4’s power-user features like a removable battery and an SD card slot, those are both gone in the service of a “premium design”
  • The “3D glass” of the S6 Edge + is a bit of a gimmick, since it’s not currently utilized in many (most) apps, it will be harder to find a case to fit, and it feels less comfortable in the hand.

Samsung Galaxy 6 (and S6 Edge)


The latest in the wildly-succesful Samsung Galaxy S line is the S6. This newest phone in the S-lineup focuses on improving both the internals of the phone (with all S6s using Samsung-made processors) and the externals (moving from plastic shells to a metal and glass body), after disappointing sales of the S5. This phone (and its Edge variant) feature a stylish glass back (and front, obviously) with an aluminum frame – gone, however, are both the removable back plate (and battery) and an SD card slot.

Pros:

  • This phone looks as good as the Note 5, and is a much more reasonable size with a “small” 5.1-inch screen.
  • Similar to the Note 5/S6 Edge + – the processor here is excellent in both its speed and power usage.
  • The camera is also the same as in the other Samsung phones mentioned – it is, quite simply, excellent.
  • Despite a smaller battery, a higher resolution display, and a faster processor, battery life is similar to the S5. Plus, fast charging (via Quick Charge 2.0) and wireless charging are included.
  • The fingerprint sensor is also much improved from the S5.

Cons:

  • The Edge display, like the one in the S6 Edge +, doesn’t really add much in the way of features, adds a premium to the cost, and makes the in-hand feel and usability worse.
  • The SD card and removable battery are both gone.
  • Touchwiz – it’s better than it has been in previous Samsung phones, but it’s still a bit goofy (although it’s now themeable) and it is somewhat resource-intensive. It will also slow down the update cycle and included apps can’t be easily removed (but they can be disabled).

Motorola Moto X Pure


The Moto X line has had quite an interesting evolution over the past three years. The first (2013) Moto X was the first phone that was easily customizable from the factory, it had always-on voice control, and was a compact phone with a small 4.7-inch screen. This phone placed user experience and fast updates over an impressive spec sheet and bloated software. The 2014 version featured a larger 5.2-inch screen but retained many of the other lightweight Motorola software tweaks as well as the customizable exterior. For 2015, the Moto X has added the “Pure” moniker, and now includes a large 5.7-inch phablet-sized display, a decent camera, and the extensive Moto Maker customization options.

Pros:

  • With the MotoMaker online store, you can make this phone look unique. Wood, leather, and a variety of colored plastic backs, as well different accent colors and front bezel colors make the options (almost) unlimited.
  • The software is still relatively lightweight compared to most other OEMs, but with the recent acquisition of Motorola by Lenovo (and Lenovo getting rid of the Motorola software team) it’s unclear what the future will actually be.
  • The camera is pretty good, although the Motorola camera app is still a little bit confusing.
  • For the price, this is a great customized option – provided you like big phones, that is.

Cons

  • The size – for some it’s a plus, but the size of the OG 2013 Moto X was one of it’s best (and least common) features.
  • Battery life is only average, but this phone does include fast charging (although no wireless charging).
  • No fingerprint sensor

Motorola Moto G (2015)


When it was released in 2013 the original Motorola G was one of the first (and best) budget phones. Giving decent performance and value-added features at an unlocked price of only about $200, this was a great backup phone or an inexpensive phone for a young family member. The 2015 version adds an upgraded processor, waterproofing (although you still can’t really use a phone underwater), a better camera, and two options for memory and storage (8 GB storage & 1 GB RAM, or 16 GB storage and 2 GB RAM).

Pros:

  • The design, although basic (and not customizable) is still solid for such an inexpensive phone.
  • The camera is a big upgrade from last years Moto G, and probably the best camera in a sub-$250 device.
  • The slower processor and bigger battery make battery life exceptional.

Cons:

  • This phone, obviously, isn’t going to perform as fast as many of the other devices (especially in gaming), but with the 2GB/16GB version, it’s actually okay for day-to-day usage.
  • The display isn’t that great.



About Colin Dorman

Colin is a freelance horn player and teacher, as well as a fan of tech of all sorts, aviation, and increasingly complex flight simulators. He also enjoys beer, bourbon and fitness - but not at the same time. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, as well as right here at ColinDorman.com!