The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge is the best mobile phone you can buy in the UK today, but it’s far from your only choice. To help you form a purchasing decision we weigh up your best phone options and consider some of the best Android phones, best iPhones and best Windows phones available in the UK in 2016 - best smartphone reviews.
When we review smartphones we take into account their build quality and design, ease of use, features, performance and value, although the latter isn’t always such a big deal when it comes to a phone you are most likely to buy on a contract. Generally speaking a flagship phone will cost between £500- and £600, or between £40- and £50 per month on a contract. If you are buying SIM-free then you should also check out our best SIM-only deals.
Value becomes more important when you consider older-generation phones. For example, we still think the Samsung Galaxy S6 is better than many of the phones in this chart, especially when you consider that it’s now available under £400 SIM-free. However, we move all older-generation smartphones to our best old phones chart, and you’ll now find the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge sitting at the top of this best phones chart. We also have a best budget phones round-up if you're looking to minimise costs.
Best phone 2016: What are your options? Android vs iOS vs WindowsThere are multiple mobile phone operating systems, but really only three worth talking about: Android, iOS and Windows. You’ll note that right now there aren’t any Windows phones in our top 20, but that could all change over the next few months thanks to the release of Windows 10. If you do have your heart set on Windows, also see our list of the best Windows phones 2016. (Similarly, for purely Android choices see Best Android phones 2016.)
The great majority of phones available run the Android operating system, with Marshmallow the latest version (yet just 7.5 percent of Android devices were running Marshmallow at the beginning of May 2016). In 2015 Android held 82.1 percent of the global smartphone market share, and is expected to grow to 82.6 percent in 2016 (source).
While Apple’s iOS platform held a much lower market share of 15.8 percent in 2015 (expected to shrink to 15.2 percent in 2016), there are far fewer iPhone models in circulation, meaning that each individual iPhone holds a larger market share than each individual Android phone. That’s generally speaking, mind, since Samsung had a higher market share in Q4 of 2015 than did Apple, with 20.7 percent against its 17.7 percent (source).
Windows, meanwhile, held just 2.2 percent of the market in 2015, but with the release of Windows 10 for phones it is expected to grow to 5.6 percent by 2018. In common with iOS, there are far fewer phones running Windows than there are Android (source). See all smartphone reviews.
The figures aren’t what’s important here, though. More important is which mobile operating system is best for you, and to work that out there are several factors you need to take into account. (For a more in-depth look at each OS see our Android Marshmallow review, iOS 9 review and Windows 10 for mobile review.)
Apps and compatibility: Windows has always been criticised for the lack of apps available in the Windows Store, but the fact is all the biggest apps are present and, with the OS built on the same core as Windows 10 for laptops, the possibility of universal apps that work on phone and PC may mean we’ll soon see a lot more functionality on Windows phones.
Android and iOS are these days fairly level in terms of app support, with very few apps available on one platform and not the other. We say fairly, because there are still a few app developers who will prioritise getting their new features to iOS before Android.
Android tends to offer more free apps (although not all are high-quality), and makes it easy to sideload apps outside the Google Play Store (you will need to be careful not to download anything dodgy if you go down this path, however). By comparison, Apple prefers that you play only in the walled garden of its App Store.
Google has by far the best set of built-in apps - we’re talking about the likes of Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google Photos and so on. These are all synched online, allowing you to access the same data on any device to which you are signed into your Google account.
If you've used an Android phone or iPhone before, it is possible to fairly easy move your contacts and other data from one to the other (see How to move from Android to iPhone and How to move from iPhone to Android). What you can't move is paid-for apps, so keep this in mind if you're considering a change of platform.
User interface: While Apple places shortcuts to all your apps on multiple home screens, Android hides them away in an app drawer and leaves it up to you which you want quick access to from the home screen. Windows has a very colourful and pretty, yet arguably less user-friendly tiled interface, with an alphabetical list of all your apps just a swipe in from the home screen.
Whereas both Android and iOS will present notifications on the lock screen, Windows fills its tiles with live information that mean you don’t always need to open an app to get the info you need. Android achieves a similar task with the use of widgets, and Apple is getting there with its Extensions.
Both Android and Windows let you swipe down from the top of the screen to access quick controls for the likes of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, while iOS offers a similar deal Control Centre.
Only Android lets you apply custom skins and themes, which is something you’ll either love or never use. Android phone manufacturers can also apply their own skins, the best known of which is Samsung’s TouchWiz.
Voice assistants: iOS’ Siri is famous for its humour, and Windows’ Cortana can be quite the comedian. Both are intelligent assistants that will respond to your spoken requests and do anything from setting an alarm or calling a contact to searching the web for information or telling you a joke. Android’s Google Now is a little different, as you would expect from the search giant, and is primarily focused on search, be that online or browsing the information stored in your emails, calendar and other Google apps. It also serves up cards throughout the day, for example telling you how long it will take you to get home at around the time you would usually leave work. (If you are missing the personal touch of Siri and Cortana, note that Samsung builds in its own S Voice assistant - see funny things to ask S-Voice.)
Best phone 2016: What makes a great smartphone?A flagship phone specification will look something like this:
• Android 6.0 Marshmallow, iOS 9 or Windows 10
• Slim, lightweight metal frame
• 5-5.in high-resolution (full-HD or Quad-HD) IPS display with Gorilla Glass 4
• Apple A9/Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor or comparable octa-core chip
• 4GB of RAM (2GB for Apple devices)
• 32GB of storage (plus microSD support for Android devices)
• Fingerprint scanner
• 12Mp-plus primary camera with dual-tone flash, optical image stabilisation, laser autofocus and large apertures, plus support for 4K video recording
• 5Mp selfie camera
• 4G LTE Cat.9
• Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi
• Bluetooth 4.2
• NFC, GPS, GLONASS, OTG
• Circa-3000mAh battery (half this for Apple devices)
Every single phone in our top 20 is here because we think it is an excellent device, with which few consumers will be disappointed. All are plenty fast for general tasks and gaming (see our benchmark results above and visit What's the fastest phone 2016?), have nice screens and decent photography capabilities (also see our flagship phone camera comparison). However, subtle differences mark them out in a fiercely competitive market.
For example, the LG G5 has a cool new modular design that lets you bolt-on accessories to expand its functionality, and it’s one of few flagship phones to feature a removable battery. The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 has a large screen with stylus support for enhanced productivity, while the HTC 10 supports Hi-Res audio, and the Sony Xperia Z5 ties into PS4 Remote Play. For the ultimate in screen quality, the Premium variant of the Xperia Z5 (not in this chart) has a crazy-high-resolution 4K screen. The Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 edge and Sony Xperia Z5 are all waterproof, while the two S7s and the LG G5 feature new always-on displays.
Of course, with all the best phones on a similar level of awesomeness, your choice may come down purely to how it looks - and that’s something we can’t help you with, other than to point out the build quality information not visible from the PR shots and our own opinion on how they look. Click on any phone in our list of the best phones to read our full reviews.
Best phone 2016: Smartphone material pollWe’re still only mid-way through 2016, and later this year we are expecting to see new Google Nexus phones (running all new Android N), the Samsung Galaxy Note 6, the OnePlus 3, and Apple’s new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Also see: Best new phones coming in 2016.
20 best phones 2016 UK - best smartphone reviews
20. OnePlus X
- Reviewed on: 25 May 16
- Buy for £189 (Onyx)
Read our OnePlus X review.
- Reviewed on: 17 November 15
- Buy for £629 inc VAT
Read our Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ review.
18. Google Nexus 5X
- Reviewed on: 12 April 16
- RRP: £299 inc VAT
Read our Google Nexus 5X review.
17. Honor 7
- Reviewed on: 4 February 16
- RRP: £249 inc VAT
Read our Honor 7 review.
- Reviewed on: 23 October 15
- RRP: £359 inc VAT
Read our Motorola Moto X Style review.
15. OnePlus 2
- Reviewed on: 8 March 16
- Buy for £249 64GB
The lack of NFC, a microSD card slot, a removable battery, and quick- and wireless charging means the OnePlus 2 is not a flagship killer. It does have some killer new features though, including USB Type-C, 4G dual-SIM support and some powerful hardware. At the reduced price of £249 (we don't recommend the 16GB OP2), it's an unrivalled deal.
Read our OnePlus 2 review.
14. Elephone P9000
- Reviewed on: 11 March 16
- Buy for 193.98 (plus import duty from China)
Read our Elephone P9000 review.
- Reviewed on: 22 October 15
- RRP: £429 inc VAT
Read our Sony Xperia Z5 Compact review.
12. Xiaomi Mi 5
- Reviewed on: 31 May 16
- RRP: £263.75 (plus import duty)
Read our Xiaomi Mi 5 review.
11. Sony Xperia Z5
- Reviewed on: 29 April 16
- RRP: £549 inc VAT
Read our Sony Xperia Z5 review.
10. iPhone SE
- Reviewed on: 11 April 16
- Buy for £359 inc VAT (16GB); £439 inc VAT (64GB)
Read our iPhone SE review.
9. iPhone 6S
- Reviewed on: 2 December 15
- RRP: From £539
Read our iPhone 6S review.
- Reviewed on: 15 October 15
- Buy for £484.99
Read our Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review.
7. Huawei P9
- Reviewed on: 27 April 16
- RRP: £449
Read our Huawei P9 review.
6. HTC 10
- Reviewed on: 9 May 16
- RRP: £569 inc. VAT
Read our HTC 10 review.
- Reviewed on: 19 October 15
- RRP: From £619 inc VAT
Read our iPhone 6s Plus review.
- Reviewed on: 28 April 16
- RRP: From £449 inc VAT
Read our Google Nexus 6P review.
3. LG G5
- Reviewed on: 5 May 16
- RRP: £529 inc VAT
Read our LG G5 review.
- Reviewed on: 29 April 16
- RRP: £569 inc VAT
Read our Samsung Galaxy S7 review.
- Reviewed on: 20 April 16
- RRP: £639 inc VAT
Read our Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review.