What a year it’s been. From time to time I look in the ‘review drawer’ (where retired review devices live a peaceful life) and reflect on just how many amazing phones we’ve seen launched this year. It isn’t just phones though; I predicted (though it was pretty obvious) that 2015 would be the year of the wearable, and I don’t think it’s too much a stretch to say that I was probably right.
In my view, 2015 started on a strong note — Sony’s Xperia Z3 had just been released a month or two prior, and was (and still is, if we’re honest) a great phone. CES didn’t deliver much that caught my attention, but Mobile World Congress quickly came around, and rumours of great things from HTC and Samsung came along with. We expected something from LG, too, but they went a bit later, holding an event in Singapore a month or two later when the LG G4 was unveiled.
Google I/O didn’t see any major new mobile tech revealed, though we did get the first glimpse of what would become Android Marshmallow. We saw some glimmers of phone releases overseas, including Sony’s Xperia Z4, which didn’t make it to Australia, before we started hearing more from the Samsung rumour mill. That mill worked overtime, producing both the Galaxy S6 Edge+ and Galaxy Note 5. With those phones announced, IFA 2015 contained few surprises, but Sony’s Xperia Z5 range was announced, and many were (justifiably) blown away. Jason remains quite happy with the Xperia Z5 range.
Motorola released their X Play and X Style, alongside a retail launch of their newly revamped Moto G which is an excellent mid-range handset. At the end of September, we saw two new entrants into 2015’s lineup, and boy were they rippers — the Huawei Nexus 6P and LG Nexus 5X. The Huawei Nexus wound up as your favourite handset this year, and probably ours too if we’re being honest. Sadly, it outshone the LG Nexus 5X a little, but for an underdog handset, it has truly shone in terms of popularity in its own right.
Of course, there have been other handsets launched this year, but these are the ones that I’ve been across, and equally, the phones that I’ve spent a fair bit of time with. On that note, then, and without further ado, I’ll announce my favourite phone of 2015.
LG’s G4 is my phone of the year
I say that because in the four months after it was released, I barely used anything else. I had access to the other handsets already released, but the G4 was an easy favourite; great camera, long battery life, software that didn’t get in my way, and — I know — the leather back is something that’s just really nice.
I went away from the LG G4 for a little bit. It would’ve been late August, when I got my hands on Motorola’s Moto X Play, and I used that handset for a good six weeks or so. Yes, I fell in love with Motorola’s stock Android feel combined with great hardware and a fairly great camera … but once Android Marshmallow was released, I expected Motorola would update quickly. Sadly, they didn’t.
After experimenting with Sony’s Xperia Z5 (which I liked) and the two Nexuses (which I also liked), I found myself returning to LG’s G4. Why?
LG released the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update which breathed new life into the phone; I had the hardware that I loved with the new software I had fallen in love with on the Nexus 5X. I had that great, fast, responsive camera, great battery life, and new things from Marshmallow — the new share picker, new Doze functionality, and better all-round control of what was happening on my phone.
Really, choosing LG’s G4 as my phone of the year is a no brainer. I’m still using it now, and I expect I probably will be for a few months to come.
Let’s talk smartwatches
It’s hard to talk about smartwatches without talking about Android Wear, because that’s what we’ve spent so much of our time looking at on Ausdroid. It makes sense, after all, because it is an Android platform. However, there are smartwatches out there that don’t run Android Wear, and that are quite nice.
I’ve used just about all the Android Wear watches, and I started 2015 with last year’s Moto 360. A great phone, hardy, with a traditional watch design. Once Sony’s Smartwatch 3 became available, I used it for quite some time. Improved screen technology, and two-day battery life won me over … plus it was virtually indestructible in any environment I found myself in.
It wasn’t until well into the year — in August, in fact — when I got my hands on LG’s Urbane, and boy wasn’t it a beautiful watch. In fact, it IS a beautiful watch, but there was an issue with it — it was too thick. Just like the G Watch R before it, LG’s Urbane was a beast of a watch, and while it looked at home on some wrists, it positively dwarfed others and looked just too big.
That said, I stuck with the Urbane until Google’s September Nexus event, where I came across Huawei’s simply-named Watch. I fell in love with Android Wear all over again. Here was a beautifully crafted watch, and I do mean beautiful. It looked entirely at home with a proper suit, and yet comfortable in casual clothes too. I loved Huawei’s Watch, but I had to share them around with the team, and so the Huawei Watch left my wrist.
It wasn’t long, though, until Samsung’s Gear S2 arrived. I loved it. I know that this isn’t a popular opinion at Ausdroid, because it isn’t Android Wear, and others think it’s ugly. The Gear S2 came in two variants; the standard Gear S2, which we had first, and the Gear S2 Classic which has just arrived, which looks a lot more like … well … a watch. The Gear S2 looked very much like a fitness watch, which was good, but it looked out of place with a suit, or even a collar. It looked like the weekend iron man trying to squeeze into a suit, and doing it badly.
Its redeeming feature though was its user interface; Android Wear is great, but Samsung has clearly put some time, effort and cash into developing the Gear S2 interface, and I have to say it works really really well. The rotating bezel makes accessing different features really easy, the on-screen keyboard adds an option for replying to messages on your wrist (in addition to voice typing and drawing emoji) … it’s just a nice package.
Though this was good, the Gear S2 Classic is an order of magnitude better. It doesn’t look like a fitness watch. It has a nice leather band (and it’s a good quality band, too) and a dark metallic bezel and body. It’s beautiful.
I’m actually really hard pressed to pick just one smartwatch of 2015, and so I won’t. From my standpoint it’s a tie.
Huawei’s Watch is the best Android Wear watch, and the best smartwatch overall for utter class.
Samsung’s Gear S2 Classic is the best smartwatch for user interface and usability. I know, it isn’t Android Wear, but get over it — it’s a damned good watch, it’s compatible with virtually all of the phones that Android Wear is, and it just works bloody well.
Some other favourites
I’ve seen some cool parts of the world this year, some for Ausdroid and some for pure recreation, but these would be top of the list favourites:
- Singapore, where we went for the LG G4 launch. A beautiful city-state, with some amazing sights and sounds. I definitely need to spend a little more time there.
- San Francisco is a beautiful place to visit, but just a bit too busy. I don’t think it’s my speed, but …
- San Diego is much more my speed 😉
I’ve seen and used a lot of cool tech this year, but these items would have to be among my favourite gear:
- Bose SoundTouch 10 — Love this speaker. Provides tunes every day.
- Sony’s Android TV 4K range — these TVs are just awesome. Didn’t get a review unit, but I did buy one.
- DJI Phantom 3 — I don’t get to fly it much, but DJI sure do make an exciting drone.
What are your favourite tech toys this year? Let us know! The other Ausdroid team members will be sharing their favourites as we get closer to the end of the year.