Best Phones of 2016

We’re now at the point where most smartphones are good, but it’s not necessarily easy to find a phone that’s good for your specific needs. Maybe you’re into photography and want your pictures to get the most likes. (Get the Galaxy S7 Edge or iPhone 6s Plus) Maybe you want a phone that you can take whatever punishment you dish out. (The Cat S60 is the phone for you.) Or maybe you just want an affordable phone you can feel confident giving to your child. (Alcatel's Onetouch Go Play is a good pick, as is the newer iPhone SE.)

With the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, Apple has the toughest competition yet. While the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus remain top performers, the dramatically improved cameras in Samsung’s latest phones are even better, especially for taking pictures in low light. Throw in a water-resistant design and particularly impressive battery life for both the S7 Edge and S7 Active, and Samsung seems to be setting the pace for smartphones — at least until the next round of iPhones come out. 

Tom’s Guide has handpicked the very best handsets for all types of shoppers based on our extensive testing. Check out our top picks in multiple categories, plus the latest rumors on what’s coming next.

How We Rate Phones

We rate smartphones using a combination of subjective criteria (including design and ease of use); our own benchmarks (e.g., our battery, audio and display tests); and synthetic benchmarks (Geekbench for speed, 3DMark for graphics). We also take photos in different lighting conditions and compare the results.

After we've conducted all of our testing, we rate each device based on its features, performance and overall value. Only the very best devices make our Best list.

Smartphone Rumors

Galaxy Note 7 (August 2016): Samsung isn't waiting until the fall to launch its next Note phablet. The company is planning an Aug. 2 press event to unveil a new phone, with all signs pointing to the phone maker jumping from the Note 5 to the Note 7 to bring the name in line with the other Galaxy flagships. The Note 7 is expected to adopt an iris scanner for unlocking the phone and verifying mobile payments. It may also feature the water resistance feature that Samsung brought to the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. The new Note could also get a larger, curved 5.8-inch screen to further distinguish it from the S7 Edge, which has a 5.7-inch display.

MORE: Galaxy Note 7 Rumor Roundup

iPhone 7 (Fall 2016): The iPhone 7 is further down the road and likely won't launch until September or October, so if you’re an iOS fan, the current iPhone 6s or bigger iPhone 6s Plus will serve you well. According to reports, Apple may ditch the 3.5 mm headphone jack in favor of the Lightning connector and Bluetooth. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus could also sport a new waterproof design, dual cameras and possibly integrate the Touch ID sensor into the display.

MORE: iPhone 7 Rumor Roundup

Nexus 2016 Phones (Fall 2016): Google is hard at work on the next version of its Nexus phones, which it makes to showcase the best features of the Android OS. HTC will reportedly make this year's models, which will be available in 5- and 5.5-inch versions. Google may also launch the phones with a support app that can put users in touch with customer service to help set-up the devices.

MORE: Nexus Rumor Roundup

The new dual-pixel camera in the Galaxy S7 Edge makes this phone a photographer’s delight, giving you both superfast autofocus and much better photos in low light. But while the camera may by the S7 Edge’s standout feature, you could pick any part of Samsung’s latest flagship phone, and you’ll likely find something that impresses. The dual curved screens on the phone’s sides now give you easier access to more apps, news and shortcuts. A curved back helps this 5.5-inch phone rest easy in your hand, while its water-resistant design means you won’t need to sweat over an unexpected bath. Throw in a Snapdragon 820 processor that outperforms most rival phones and more than 10 hours of battery life, and you’ve got a phone that can handle just about anything you can throw at it.

MORE: Galaxy S7 Edge Full Review

With more than 1.5 million apps available to download from the iOS App Store, the iPhone 6s is the clear choice for people looking to get more out of their phone than just what comes preinstalled. But it’s not just a matter of quantity: iPhone users can download apps like the Clear to-do list manager and Tweetbot Twitter client that simply aren’t available on Android, while a multitude of apps now take advantage of the iPhone 6s’s 3D Touch display, which enables shortcuts and previews. The A9 chip inside the iPhone 6s is also adept at juggling multiple open apps, while the phone’s  4.7-inch screen is bright and colorful without being too big to use with one hand.

MORE: Apple iPhone 6s Full Review

The best phone for the money is the Huawei Honor 5X, an unlocked Android phone that works with AT&T, T-Mobile and other GSM networks. At just $199, this device delivers everything practically everything you could want in a sleek metal design, including a sharp 5.5-inch 1080p display, handy fingerprint sensor and capable 13-MP and 5-MP rear and front cameras. The battery life is particularly impressive, as the 5X lasted a very long 9 hours and 22 minutes on our 4G web surfing test. Although Huawei’s software skin on top of Android isn’t for everyone, this is the budget phone to beat.

MORE: Huawei Honor 5X Full Review

OnePlus started out making phones for tech-savvy users, and the OnePlus 3 continues that tradition with flagship-level specs, including a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip, 6GB of RAM, 64GB of base storage and, most importantly, an unlocked boot loader. What's more, if you choose to root your phone or switch out OxygenOS for another version of Android, OnePlus will still honor your warranty. Combine all this, and a price tag of just $399, and you get a phone that's as user-friendly and significantly more powerful than Google's own Nexus 6P, but for $100 less.

MORE: OnePlus 3 Full Review

Get the iPhone 6s Plus if you want to have a blast playing games, especially as more apps take advantage of the phone’s 3D Touch display. Games like Badland 2, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Warhammer 40,000 Freeblade have incorporated deep presses into their controls for a more immersive experience. And  like the iPhone 6s, the 6s Plus benefits from the best selection of titles available from Apple’s App Store. That 5.5-inch screen gives you plenty of real estate for blasting bad guys, solving puzzles and tapping your way to a high score. The A9 processor powering the iPhone 6s Plus also helped Apple’s phone turn in one of the top scores in our gaming benchmark testing.

MORE: Apple iPhone 6s Plus Full Review

When your kid leaves the house with the Alcatel Onetouch Go Play in hand, you can be confident the phone will make it back in one piece. This Android phone can withstand 5-foot drops and a dunk in 3 feet of water for half-an-hour; you can even use the Go Play’s volume buttons to snap photos when you’re underwater. An included ViewMe app records what’s on screen along with your face and voice — helpful for sharing gaming exploits with pals. Parents can also install a cell-phone monitoring app on the Go Play to manage how their kids use the phone — something that’s harder to do on an iPhone.

MORE: Alcatel Onetouch Go Play Full Review

If you want a phone that you can use easily in one hand, the iPhone SE is for you. This 4-inch phone boasts Apple’s powerful A9 processor for speedy performance and a 12-megapixel rear camera for stunning photos (including Live Photos). The iPhone SE also lasts much longer on a charge than the previous iPhone 5s. You don't get a 3D Touch display, as you do on the iPhone 6s or 6s Plus, but once you add in Apple Pay support, a Touch ID fingerprint sensor and faster LTE speeds at just $399, you’ve got the best iPhone deal yet.

MORE: Apple iPhone SE Full Review: Big on Value

If you’re looking for a phone that can withstand any punishment life throws at it, it’s hard to top the Cat S60. This durable phone survived repeated 6-foot drops and still worked after we left it in 6 feet of water for 30 minutes. Unlike other similar phones that trade looks for durability, the Cat S60’s design is fairly striking, with a polished metal band and sturdy carbon-fiber panel in the back. You won’t need every feature on this heavy-duty phone — the thermal imaging camera is really aimed at contractors and other professionals — but at $599, you can enjoy an extremely will built phone for a fraction of the Galaxy S7 Active’s $795 price tag.

MORE: Cat S60 Full Review

Those looking to be more productive should snatch up the Galaxy Note 5. Its S Pen makes it easy to take notes or sketch, and you don’t even have to turn the phone on to start scribbling. The 5.7-inch 2560 x 1440-pixel display gives you plenty of room to scan your inbox and review documents, as well as binge-watch video on long flights. Add in fast performance and a high-quality 16-MP camera and you have a work partner you can count on. Just don’t expect expandable storage. Be aware that a new version of the Galaxy Note could arrive as soon as this summer.

MORE: Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Full Review


There’s a lot to like about HTC’s vastly improved flagship phone, but the audio features on the HTC 10 take center stage. The speaker at the top of the phone takes care of top notes, while the bottom speaker is all about the bass, resulting in crisp, clear sound that can fill a room. The real star of the show, though, is the HTC 10’s personalized audio profile feature, which tailors sound to your hearing and the headphones you’ve plugged into the phone. With music designed for your ears, this is a phone you’ll want to keep playing.

MORE: HTC 10 Full Review

Related Buying Guides:
Best Phone Cameras
Best iPhone 6 Plus Cases
Smartphone Buying Guide
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15 comments
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  • Good selection of phones. Im a bit intrigued as to why the Samsung S6 wasnt in your list
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  • Where are the Windows Phones?
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  • Done on the spot test with friends who have iphone 6s and they agree samsung galaxy s6 is faster, better screen, camera and video but would not swap due to prestige of Apple but all agreed mob factory phone was better except for snob factor
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  • In spite of those who say that Windows Phones are very good phones, they ARE very, very good phones.
    Noted by their absence.
    0
  • Why do you have the Apple 6S Plus priced at $299?
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  • Clearly whoever has compiled this LIST is on APPLE'S pay-rolls. How can you have Samsung Galaxy Note 5 as the best Phablet & iPhone 6s Plus as the Best Overall phone. In a feeble attempt to appear fair & impartial this Reviewer has shown his true colors.

    Also surprised to find no mention of Samsung Galaxy S6 in any of the categories. SO much for blind Apple worship.
    0
  • I can't speak for the reviewer's thoughts, but one of the main reasons to get a phablet is arguably a stylus. The 6S+ doesn't have a stylus so is questionably good as a phablet - but might still do well as a general phone.
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  • A very nice selection of phones, but I do indeed think you should check out the OnePlus phones, they haven't been around long, but they make some seriously high-quality devices. They currently have 3 phones in stock, the OnePlus X, OnePlus 1, and the OnePlus 2. They are all great phones and you should check out their specs at OnePlus.net
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  • iPhone 6S
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  • Samsung Galaxy S7 will be in the list very soon :)
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  • Excited to see the Galaxy S7 - Bringing back the expandable storage should make it number 1 on the list eventually! At least on my list.
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  • Lol. Best sound s6 edge? I own one and My HTC m8 beats the pants off Samsung audio software. I hope the 10 keeps the audio technology moving forward.
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  • I cant wait till I can upgrade and finally get rid of my iPhone
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  • Moto G4 Plus is the best smartphone in 2016 because of it's price and high configuration.
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