[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s just on five months into 2016, and already we’ve seen quite a lot of developments in Android. It’s also the time of year that many have expiring mobile contracts, because it’s also the time of year when most people have bought their phones in years gone by. Why? Because the first half of the year has historically — Apple aside — been when the major phone releases have happened.
Of course, there are those releases that happen later in the year too, and let’s not forget about those; Samsung’s Galaxy Note range usually shows up in August/September, and Sony have had a big showing at IFA in the last few years. Those who desire stock Android will know that Nexus releases are usually towards the end of the year as well, with the most recent instalments appearing in October last year.
The first quarter (sometimes lapsing into second) is when flagship releases come around though, and we’ve now seen almost all of them. The purpose, then, of today’s story is to take a look at what’s been announced and launched so far, the relative merits of each, to help you make a decision and to help you help others make decisions, as we all know you’re probably the go-to-guy (or girl) when it comes to new smartphone purchases.
First things first, the comparison table. This shows the latest specs we have on hand for each of the devices launched this year so far. We’ve spent a bit of time making sure this is perfect, and as more phones are launched throughout the year, we can add to this easily.
|HTC 10||Huawei P9||LG G5||Samsung Galaxy S7||Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge|
|Release date||April 2016||March 2016||April 2016||March 2016||March 2016|
|Screen technology||Super LCD||Super AMOLED||IPS LCD||Super AMOLED||Super AMOLED|
|Resolution||2,560 x 1,440||1,920 x 1,080||2,560 x 1,440||2,560 x 1,440||2,560 x 1,440|
|Rear camera||12MP (HTC UltraPixel 2 with 1.55um pixel)||12MP||16MP (8MP wide angle)||12MP||12MP|
|Rear aperture||f/1.8 and 26mm focal length||f/2.2||f/1.8 (f/2.4 wide)||f/1.7||f/1.7|
|Front camera||5MP (1.34um pixels)||8MP||8MP||5MP||5MP|
|Front aperture||f/1.8 and 23mm focal length||f/2.4||f/2.0||f/1.7||f/1.7|
|Chipset||Snapdragon 820||Kirin 955||Snapdragon 820||Exynos 8890||Exynos 8890|
|Core config||2.5 GHz x 4 + 1.8 GHz x 4||Unspecified||2.3 GHz x 4 + 1.6 GHz x 4||2.3 GHz x 4 + 1.6 GHz x 4|
|MicroSD||Yes, up to 2TB||Yes, up to 128GB||Yes, 200GB||200GB||200GB|
|Battery||3,000 mAh||3,000 mAh||2,800 mAh||3,000 mAh||3,600 mAh|
|Connector||USB C||USB C||USB C||MicroUSB||MicroUSB|
|WIFI standards||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz)||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac|
|Android OS||Android 6.0.1||Android 6.0||Android 6.0||Android 6.0||Android 6.0|
|Vendor skin||HTC Sense||EMUI 4.1||LG UX 5.0||Samsung UI||Samsung UI|
|Dimensions||145.9 x 71.9 x 3.0 - 9.0 mm||145 x 70.9 x 6.95 mm||149.4 x 73.9 x 7.7-8.6mm||142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9 mm||150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7 mm|
Dan has just finished his review of the HTC 10, and while he’s known to have a bit of a soft spot for HTC, his review is quite fair and balanced; most importantly it aligns with Jason’s first impressions story, and my brief impressions from HTC’s launch event in Sydney last month.
Truth be known, I’ve had a soft spot for HTC for some time as well; in fact, the first Android phone I had was an HTC (HTC Magic, anyone?), and one of my favourite Android phones to date was an HTC device as well (though it wasn’t widely publicised that they’d actually made it), in the form of the right honourable Nexus One.
While HTC found some success in recent years with the One M7 and One M8, the One M9 represented a bit of a sidewards step; it wasn’t a bad phone per se, but it was hardly the success the phones before were, and it wasn’t much competition for Samsung and LG’s phones in 2015 either.
With this, we had mixed expectations for the HTC 10. In fact, we didn’t expect HTC to make a flagship this year at all, until they started the #PowerOf10 campaign, because their focus had been elsewhere (in the mid to super mid range). It was a relief to see what HTC had been working on, though.
I must agree with Dan’s assessment here, the build quality on the HTC 10 is top notch, and the software experience closely matches; 2016 is the year of paring back a little, and HTC’s Android with Sense (if it’s still even called that) is so much closer to a stock Android experience, and user feedback to all the manufacturers has been loud and clear — this is a good thing. HTC 10 is agile and fast, and powered by one of the — if not the — most powerful chipsets on the market, Qualcomm’s stunning Snapdragon 820.
Battery life is strong, thoug HTC’s battery and power management has always been efficient. Rated at over 7 hours screen-on video playback and more, the HTC 10 is designed to last the day, and to save you from the eternal hunt for power points (I nearly tripped over iPhone power addicts this morning at the airport… it’s a bit sad really).
In fact, the only area where one can really be critical of HTC this time around is, sadly, the camera, and not because the optics are no good; quite the opposite, they’re great. However, there is a bit of a shutter lag when taking photos, and the nightime performance hasn’t been what we’ve come to expect. If you’re after a good low-light performer, you might be looking elsewhere, and equally, if you take a lot of photos of fast moving objects, then you might find LG or Samsung do a slightly better job.
Dan’s rating: 9/10
[wpd stub=htc-10 key=PlanSummaryWidgetHtml]
Huawei P9 — Preliminary
We’ve not yet had the opportunity to fully review Huawei’s P9, but it will undoubtedly form part of this comparison once it hits the market; in every way, it’s a contender in the flagship category, and we’ve been particularly impressed with the camera and speed of the phone in our hands-on impressions.
Huawei have come a long way in the Australian market, and they’ve followed a similar track as some other manufacturers, but they’ve done it a lot quicker; from making re-branded devices and low-cost handsets, Huawei has built a bit of a reputation for affordably quality, though Australian buyers have continued to be wary about the brand.
In 2016, we see that changing, and the past year results support this prediction; Huawei’s market share only continues to grow, and at the same time, their capability in building seriously good handsets at competitive pricing continues to improve. Their journey might not yet be complete — as good as the Huawei P8 was, it didn’t stand up to quite the same level of competition as the Galaxy S6, LG G4 and the remainder of the flagship cohort.
This year, I think that might just be different. I can’t wait to take a longer look at Huawei’s P9, and from my early impressions, it could easily give LG’s G5 a run for its money in terms of quality, value for money and camera performance.
Undoubtedly the underdog this year, LG haven’t had quite the issues in the last couple of years that HTC have, but they’ve certainly had their own challenges. 2015 was a good year for LG, with a stunning performer in the form of the LG G4 which won Ausdroid’s smartphone of the year award, narrowly edging out Samsung’s Galaxy S6 range.
Before this, LG G3 was good, and the Optimus G and Optimus G2 before weren’t bad either, but they suffered from the same thing as the G4; not especially good recognition in the market, and this translated to not especially good sales. There was no technical reason why G4 shouldn’t have performed well; though its processor wasn’t the fastest, it was hugely power efficient and allowed the phone to last for what felt like an eternity on one charge. No, the reason G4 didn’t do as well as it could’ve was probably the might of Samsung’s marketing budget, and that had to hurt LG’s success.
In fact, LG’s fortunes last year left carriers a little hesitant this year from what Ausdroid understands, and this means that while HTC’s 10 and Samsung’s Galaxy S7 can be found on all major carriers, LG’s G5 will only be found on Telstra and Optus at the time of writing (and there’s not any indication of this changing soon).
The G5 also faced a bit of criticism (unfairly, in my view) because of its allegedly poorly thought out accessories focus. I think perhaps LG did spend a little too long focusing on the modular aspect of the G5, and the LG Friends, instead of focusing on the quality of the handset itself, but putting that to one side. While the G5 is a modular phone, and you can replace the battery, attach different accessories to the bottom of the phone, or use others via Bluetooth, this is just one facet of the product; others have sought to critcise LG, and negatively review the G5, on the basis that this accessory range is a bit poorly thought out (and perhaps it is), but this detracts from what’s otherwise a great phone.
I spent a couple of weeks with the LG G5, and in my review, I couldn’t really find anything I didn’t like about it, outside the battery life being a little less than expected. Unlike last year, the G5 features a full-powered chipset (the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 as in HTC’s 10), and this is a little more power hungry than last year’s Snapdragon 605. Paired with a slightly smaller battery capacity, I don’t think anyone expected the G5 would be an all day handset, and indeed it isn’t quite, but it does come close, and may stretch for many users.
Battery issues aside (and they can be addressed with replaceable batteries which is awesome), the G5 has nary a flaw; the camera quality is fantastic, and the wide-angle dual lens setup has to be seen and used to truly behold. Photos are well lit, well exposed, and colour saturation is spot on the money too. I loved the G5’s camera, though it did (very occasionally) struggle with fast moving subjects in not especially well lit surrounds. In daylight, though, fast moving kids flying down slides were captured at the perfect moment.
Software performance is fast, and responsive, and LG has done a great job on the appearance front too; they’ve retained much of their visual design from last year, but it was never over the top to begin with. LG’s launcher copped a bit of flack for being perhaps a bit too simplistic, but recognising this, they’ve released options for power users to enable the more traditional desktop and app-drawer motif.
The only other thing hindering the LG G5, and perhaps the HTC 10 as well, is that they’re a touch too expensive; they should have been priced to be much more competitive against Samsung’s behemoth Galaxy S7 range, and without doing so, they risk being edged out by a rather powerful competitor.
Chris rating: 8.6/10
[wpd stub=lg-g5 key=PlanSummaryWidgetHtml]
Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge
Unlike HTC and LG, Samsung hasn’t really had any woes as such over the last couple of years (unless you count exploding washing machines as an issue…). Their Galaxy S range has been powerful and popular since it was announced some six years ago now, and this is the reason why if you don’t see an iPhone in someone’s hand in Australia, there’s a good chance it’s a Samsung instead.
With the Galaxy S6 range last year, Samsung changed its formula a little, and the move was mostly popular. Samsung did away with MicroSD cards, replaceable batteries, waterproofing and went for a metal and glass unibody design which still is quite distinctive. They’d done a lot of work on the camera too, coming close to (but not quite matching) the power of LG G4’s camera, and their Touchwiz (much derided in years gone by) had been pared back a little, to reveal a more agile, responsive operating system.
It wasn’t all roses, though. Samsung’s Galaxy S6 range didn’t have particularly good battery life, and (looking back) I think many would describe the S6 as what the unfinished, unrefined version of the Galaxy S7 range might look like. It was good, very good even, but it wasn’t great.
Samsung’s Galaxy S7 range fixed just about all of that.
The MicroSD card was back, and users can now increase the storage capacity of their phones significantly at minimal cost. Waterproofing was back, with the Galaxy S7 range now IP68 rated so it can take a dip if needed. Replaceable batteries didn’t come back, but with the Galaxy S7 Edge capable of lasting more than 24 hours with heavy usage, no one really cared.
Camera quality was back too, and while the Galaxy S7 takes a very good photograph, it can feel a little under saturated, lacklustre in some environments (though this can readily be adjusted and corrected afterwards by a competent photo editor). There wasn’t anything much that the Galaxy S7 camera wasn’t rather good at — it did well in low light, it did well up close, and it did well with moving subjects.
Jason and I both agreed in reviewing the Galaxy S7 range that it was definitely Samsung’s best phone release so far, and while we didn’t come up with a numeric rating at the time, we agree they’d easily be a 9, or slightly above.
[wpd stub=galaxy-s7 key=PlanSummaryWidgetHtml]
There are a few other flagship releases in the pipeline, but we don’t have the full details of what’s coming to Australia just yet. We know Sony’s Xperia X Performance isn’t too far away, and Huawei’s P9 is around the corner. Both promise to be quite good, and competitive against the likes of HTC, LG and Samsung this year.
We’ll take a closer look at those devices in coming weeks and months as their releases come about.’
What would we buy?
I’ve asked Daniel and Jason for their input here, as well as our writers (not all of whom have used all of these devices), and we’ve put together this little table of first and second preferences so that you can get a bit of an idea what’s popular with the Ausdroid team.
|Team Member||First Preference||Second Preference|
|Chris||LG G5||Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge|
|Daniel||LG G5||HTC 10|
|Duncan||LG G5||HTC 10|
|Phil||LG G5||Samsung Galaxy S7|
|Jason||Samsung Galaxy S7||Not Sure|
Please note, I’ve not included Huawei P9 in my preferences at this stage, because we’ve not completed a full review. We’ll come back to this and update once that review is done. With other reviewers rating LG G5’s camera as the best on the market at the moment, and Huawei’s P9 out-performing it in some situations, I suspect this table (and our rankings) could soon change.
So there you have it folks, that’s our 2016 flagship wrap up. Let us know your thoughts on which phone you think has done best so far, and which (if any) you’ve spent your own cash on getting hands on with.