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). Or maybe you just want an affordable phone you can feel confident giving to your child (Moto G is a good pick, or the newer iPhone SE).
With the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge now available, 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 noteworthy, especially for taking pictures in low light. Throw in a water-resistant design and particularly impressive battery life for the S7 Edge, 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.
Galaxy Note 6 (Summer 2016): Samsung has traditionally rolled out a new version of its Note phablet in the fall, but rumors are swirling that the phone maker may move up the launch of its latest version to get a jump on whatever iPhone Apple has in the works. When it does arrive, the Note 6 is expected to adopt the water resistance feature that Samsung brought to the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. The Note 6 could also get a larger 5.8-inch screen to further distinguish it from the S7 Edge, which has a 5.7-inch display.
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
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.
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.
If you're the type of person whose skin crawls when you see a software skin over Android like Samsung's TouchWiz, the Google Nexus 6P is for you. You get a lean and clean install of Android Marshmallow in an elegant metal design, plus a great 12.3-MP camera that did really well in our flagship shootout. The best part of this phone is its endurance, as it lasted nearly 12.5 hours on the Tom's Guide battery test. That's more than 3 hours longer than the smartphone average. The display is on the dim side, but if you're looking for an unlocked phone with nothing to hold you back, this is it.
MORE: Nexus 6P 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.
The Moto G is a good choice for kids because it’s very affordable at just $179, yet it has everything your child needs to stay connected and have fun. It offers a bright 5-inch HD display, solid performance for the price and long battery life. Plus, when you pair the Moto G with a good parental control app, you’ll be able to keep tabs on how Junior is using the phone and also set usage time limits. The iPhone doesn’t let you do that.
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.
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.
You’ll like the sound of the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, thanks to a bottom-mounted speaker that fills the room with music. But the real magic for music lovers happens when you plug in a pair of headphones to Samsung’s curvy phone. Built-in UHQ Upscaler technology restores the details that can lost in compression. The S6 Edge Plus can produce 24-bit, 192-kHz quality music from the likes of YouTube and Pandora for punchier MP3s and brighter-sounding songs. Throw in a gorgeous 5.7-inch screen for those times you want to take a break from music to watch a video or play a game, and you’ve got a phone that’s a multimedia marvel.
If you’re looking for a workout companion, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Active offers both the features and durability to keep up with your demanding routine. A dedicated button launches Activity Zone, which gives you at-a-glance access to the weather report, streaming radio stations tailored for particular workouts, a stopwatch and Samsung’s S activity-tracking Health App. And don’t worry that your workout will leave your phone any worse for wear: The Galaxy S6 Active has a shatter-resistant screen in a durable frame that can withstand drops. It’s also water-resistant for up to 30 minutes in 1.5 meters of water, in case your phone takes an unexpected dip.