Smartphones remain a popular Christmas gift, but choosing one is tougher than ever.
It’s not that there are fewer choices. The “problem” is that manufacturers have been upping their game in terms of design, performance and user experience while average prices have continued to drop.
The best smartphones overall remain with the flagship manufacturers like Apple Inc. (AAPL) whose latest — the iPhone 6S — continues to be priced from $649.
However, there is fierce competition in the Android camp. Chinese companies like Huawei — manufacturer of the Nexus 6P — are threatening Samsung’s (SSNLF) smartphone lead, not to mention its mobile profit margins.
The bottom line is, unlike previous years, you have to try pretty hard these days to buy a bad smartphone, even if you don’t shell out for a flagship model.
That being said, some are still better than others. We’ve put together a collection of five of the best smartphones to buy anyone on your holiday shopping list.
The 5 Best Smartphones to Buy: Apple iPhone 6S
It may not look any different from last year’s iPhone 6, but the new iPhone 6S is a significantly better device.
New additions to the feature list on the iPhone 6S include pressure-sensitive 3D Touch, a camera that has finally been upgraded from 8MP to 12MP and much faster and more accurate Touch ID (important to those who make use of Apple Pay).
Naturally, it’s much faster too, thanks to the A9 CPU, and the iPhone 6S gets its RAM doubled to 2GB. Bendgate? With the use of 7000 series aluminum, the latest crop of iPhones are much stronger.
It’s not perfect. The 4.7-inch Retina display doesn’t offer the resolution of competing devices, battery life isn’t great and Apple insists on keeping a miserly 16GB as the base level storage. Still, there is no question the iPhone 6S is one of the best smartphones of 2015 and would make a great gift.
The 5 Best Smartphones to Buy: LG G4
LG’s flagship has long been a favorite of Android fans.
2015’s edition — the LG G4 — is better than ever. Its 5.5-inch QHD display offers an impressive 534 ppi pixel density, but more importantly, it’s the first IPS Quantum Display, which means brighter colors, wider color range and better contrast.
Performance is snappy thanks to a Qualcomm (QCOM) Snapdragon 808 CPU and 3GB of RAM and the LG G4’s 16MP camera takes excellent photos. The optional leather back helps it to stand out from even the best smartphones as a customized and premium device.
Power users will appreciate the fact that unlike most flagship smartphones this year, the G4 retains a user-removable battery and a microSD card slot.
The 5 Best Smartphones to Buy: Motorola Moto G
The Moto G, from Lenovo’s (LNVGY) Motorola Mobility division, is proof that the best smartphones no longer have to cost a fortune.
The 2015 Moto G offers a 5-inch HD display, 13 MP camera with dual LED flash, all-day battery life, a microSD slot for cheap storage expansion and a Snapdragon 410 CPU — for $179.99, unlocked.
It’s also IPX7 water resistant.
It’s not going to keep up with flagship phones in top-end performance, but the Moto G offers good looks and has the features to support what most people want a smartphone to do, at less than a third of the price of those flagship phones.
With customizable shells and accent pieces, you can use Motorola’s Moto Maker to create the perfect smartphone gift for that special someone, while barely breaking the $200 barrier and without having to make monthly payments.
The 5 Best Smartphones to Buy: Samsung Galaxy Note 5
Samsung kicked off the whole phablet craze with the Galaxy Note, and this year’s Galaxy Note 5 is one of the best smartphones you can buy.
Despite the same 5.7-inch Quad HD AMOLED display (one of the best in the business) as last year’s version, Samsung has shrunk the bezels so much that the Galaxy Note 5 is smaller.
Samsung’s own 64-bit Exynos 7420 octa-core CPU provides power and has 4GB of RAM on tap.
The Galaxy Note 5 retains the integrated S Pen stylus that helps set it apart from other phablets. It offers wireless charging and super-fast wired charging, and its 16MP optically stabilized camera makes it one of the most impressive mobile shooters on the market.
Starting at around $700, the Galaxy Note 5 is an expensive smartphone, but from its upscale metal-and-glass design to the incredible display, included stylus, powerful CPU and excellent camera, it’s probably worth the premium.
The 5 Best Smartphones to Buy: Nexus 6P
Many people are convinced the Nexus 6P isn’t just one of the best smartphones of 2015, it’s the best smartphone. Period.
Alphabet’s Google (GOOG, GOOGL) Nexus devices are always popular because they run pure Android with no third-party skins and they get new Android updates quickly.
The Nexus 6P is one of the first smartphones to ship with Android Marshmallow.
However, it’s the design and build from China’s Huawei that’s turning so many heads this time around.
The Nexus 6P features an upscale anodized aluminum body with fit and finish that rivals the iPhone 6S. The 5.7-inch display is a WQHD resolution AMOLED version protected by Gorilla Glass 4, while a Snapdragon 810 CPU provides the power.
While mediocre cameras have plagued previous Nexus smartphones, the Nexus 6P’s 12MP shooter with large pixels is fast to launch and takes excellent photos.
Music lovers will appreciate the dual front-facing speakers that put out a surprising amount of sound for a smartphone.
Gift buyers will appreciate being able to buy the 32GB Nexus SP for $499 unlocked –$200 less than competing phablets like the Galaxy Note 5 or iPhone 6S Plus.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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