After testing every flagship Android phone released in the past two years, we think the Samsung Galaxy S6 is the best new phone for most people. It looks and feels fantastic, its 16MP camera and 1440p Super AMOLED screen are the best on any Android phone, and it’s packed with useful features.
We’ve tested the LG G4. It’s a great 5.5-inch phone with a crisp screen and great camera. If you can’t live without a removable battery or a microSD card slot, but don’t want a giant phone with a stylus (like the Galaxy Note 4), it’s a great choice. The G4 lacks some of the build polish and fancy features (like a fingerprint reader) that make the Samsung Galaxy S6 so good, but if you don’t mind the tradeoffs, the G4 is worth it. See the Competition section for more detail.
The Galaxy S6’s fingerprint reader is the best you can get outside of Apple’s TouchID, the phone supports wireless charging, and it includes an IR blaster, NFC chip, and a new way of paying with your phone on normal credit card readers. It’s all metal and glass, and it’s the best phone Samsung’s ever made. The S6 is not perfect: the interface still has a few rough edges. But many of the extraneous features have been removed (or hidden). As long as you don’t need a removable battery or microSD slot, it’s the phone to get.
That said, when it comes to Android phones, there are many great options to choose from. If you want a big phablet for getting work done, you should get the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. It has a sharp 5.7-inch screen, good specs, fantastic battery life, great cameras that almost match those on the S6, cool multitasking features, and a stylus for sketching and note-taking.
This phone is big and you’ll be dealing with Samsung’s older interface, which has more bloat than the Galaxy S6, even after an update to Android 5.0 Lollipop. Still, it’s the best phablet for getting work done because the software takes advantage of the huge screen. (Most other phablets are just big phones—they lack software features that take advantage of the larger size.) The Note 4 also has a removable battery and microSD card slot, which you won’t find on the S6. If you just want a big phone with fast and clean Android updates and don’t need a stylus, consider the Nexus 6 instead.
Why should you listen to us?
In the last five years, I’ve written more than one million words professionally about Android on sites like ExtremeTech, Android Police, and Tested. I’ve also lived with many different Android phones as my “daily drivers” during that time. I know my way around Android.
This guide draws heavily on the reviews posted throughout the internet but also on what the Wirecutter editors and I have observed about these phones while testing them over the last several years. We collaborate to come up with the best recommendations (as well as alternatives for a variety of use cases).
Should I upgrade?
Our official policy is that you should spend money on the things that are important to you and that you use all the time, and you shouldn’t spend a lot of money on stuff you rarely use. (Read Wirecutter founder Brian Lam’s reasoning here.)
If you’re happy with your old phone, don’t get a new one yet. The phones that are out when you are ready will be better than what’s available today. Unless you’re a power user or a serial early adopter, you probably don’t need an upgrade if you bought a phone in 2014 or later. The LG G3, Moto X (2014), Samsung Galaxy S5, and HTC One M8 are all still great.
But if you use your phone constantly throughout the day and your old one isn’t serving you well anymore, you should get a new one. If you use your phone constantly, it’s worth the cost, even if your phone is only a year old.
You should also consider an upgrade if your current phone is a couple of years old (or older) and and isn’t receiving software updates anymore. (First try a factory reset, though.) Without updates, your phone will only get less secure and capable over time, as apps begin requiring features your OS doesn’t support. For example, if you plan to use Android Auto in the next year or two, you need to be on a phone with Android 5.0 or later. Most Android phones are stuck on 4.4 (KitKat) or earlier, never to see another official update.
Unless you feel comfortable rooting your phone and installing custom ROMs, your experience on that phone is going to go downhill. Custom ROMs can extend the life of an old phone if you can’t afford to upgrade, but even the best ROMs are missing the sort of deeply integrated features you can get only from the phone’s manufacturer—for example, proprietary camera-image processing and advanced power control. You also need to know what you’re doing when flashing ROMs, as it’s possible to render your phone inoperable. Still, something like CyanogenMod can make an old phone feel new again.
On the other hand, if your biggest complaint is that your phone’s battery life sucks, consider replacing the battery before replacing the phone. Most recent phones use sealed-in batteries, but you can usually get the battery replaced by the manufacturer or an authorized third party. It’s a hassle, but slightly less than replacing the phone, and it’s a lot cheaper.
If you can’t upgrade your battery and can’t recharge throughout the day, buying a new phone may be the best option. All of our recommended models should get you to the end of the day with some charge left over, and almost every flagship Android phone now has a quick-charge function that can give you hours of use from a 15-minute charge.
When it is time to get a new phone, we recommend getting the best, newest phone you can afford. You can get a top-of-the-line phone on contract for about $200, rather than the off-contract price of $500 to $700. You’re almost always still paying full price, but on a two-year contract you pay a down payment and the rest of the cost is spread out over the length of your contract.