An old adage tells us not to judge a book by its cover, but when it's something like a smartphone that you look at and touch hundreds of times of day, it’s impossible not to take a phone's appearance into account. More than a few of the phones that hit our labls this year caught our eye.
Here are the phones that looked their best in 2016. Sorry, iPhone 7, you didn't make the cut.
Samsung got the whole curved-edged phone thing started with the Galaxy S6 Edge in 2015. A year later, Samsung is still the curved-phone leader with its S7 Edge. By rounding off some of the corners and softening the metal band that runs around the outside of the phone, the S7 Edge is even better-looking and more pleasing to hold than its predecessor. With IP-67 water resistance, it's pretty durable, too.
Huawei really should have make the Porsche Design edition of the Mate 9 the standard version. That's because by adding subtle rounded edges to its display and a menacing, all-black paint job, the Porsche Design Mate 9 has personality oozing out its seams — a quality the standard Mate 9 could really use. If I were in the market for a badass big-screen phone, this is the one I'd choose — that is, if it were actually available in the U.S.
The Mi Mix isn't the first phone we've seen with three bezelless edges (check out the Sharp Aquos Crystal for that), but it is the most beautiful. The back features a gorgeous mirror finish and the body is made from a superhard ceramic. When you hold the phone up to take a picture and its display blends into the surrounding background, it's one of the few times that a device actually looks and feels like the future.
The 5-inch Huawei nova is an exquisitely good-looking phone that saddens us for a number of reasons. It gets its classy looks because of its refined, more precise take on the design from last year's Huawei-built Nexus 6P; its smaller, almost delicate camera visor, which sits flush on the phone's back; its diamond-cut chamfered edges around the sides; and a subtle red highlight on its power button.
But the tragedy is not just that the Nova isn't available in the U.S., but if rumors are true, it's also that Google was originally working with Huawei, not HTC, to make the Pixel. This means that Google's first phone could have looked like this instead of the clunky, slapdash body we got with the Pixel.
We also want to give a quick shoutout to Huawei's Honor 8, which does an impressive job with glass construction for a phone that costs under $400. And in blue, it's really something else.
Google's Project Ara is dead. The LG G5 fell flat on its face. But Lenovo's Moto Z lineup — the standard Moto Z, along with the Moto Z Force and Moto Z Play — pack the flexibility of easy-to-use mods and stylish glass bodies that look good with or without the stylish wood-grain cover that comes in the box. At just 0.2 inches thick, the standard Moto Z is also one of the thinnest phones on the market, and in your hand, it feels even thinner. And with subtle pins positioned on its back, the Moto Z offers the flexibility of mods without becoming a hassle or ruining the look of its sleek glass-and-aluminum design.
Who says all smartphones look the same? Even though the Nextbit Robin is at heart just a rectangle with a screen, you'll never get it confused with another handset. Its flat-matte paint job (especially in mint) is a refreshing change from the overly shiny facade you get on a lot of other handsets. In addition, the phone comes with helpful design cues, like the little cloud icon on the back that has an embedded indicator light so you know when it’s transferring data back and forth from the cloud, which helps maximize onboard storage. The Robin may have been announced in 2015, but it didn’t arrive until 2016, qualifying it for this list.
Simply put, the $400 Axon 7 — and especially the $300 Axon 7 Mini — are the best-looking phones for the money. Despite their midrange price tags, they both deliver a very premium feel, thanks to smooth, brushed-aluminum bodies, smooth, rounded edges and slick polished highlights. Unlike a lot of other phones that don't care about delivering a subpar audio experience, the Axon 7 features dual front-facing speakers that sound as good as they look.