We use smartphones to check email and Facebook, take pictures, surf the Web, play games and a whole lot more. But how do you choose the best smartphone for you? The iPhone continues to offer the most intuitive interface and tends to get the hottest apps first. Android smartphones, however, offer larger screens, more features and more customization options. Windows Phones are ideal great for both smartphone newbies and photographers (see Nokia's Lumia line).
At Laptop Mag, we review dozens and dozens of smartphones per year based on design, features, performance and value to help you make the right choice. Here are the best smartphones for every major carrier and platform available today.
The Galaxy S5 has its share of exciting new features, including a built-in fingerprint sensor and heart rate monitor that works with an improved S Health app. But that's not why it's our top pick. The S5 boasts a faster camera with real-time HDR for better pictures, a bigger and even more beautiful display and considerably longer battery life. All of this is wrapped in a design that can shrug off a splash or dunk in water. Although we're not fans of the charging port flap, overall the S5 is the best smartphone money can buy.
Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 combines useful note-taking software, a stylus that feels like pen on paper, long battery life and powerful multi window features to create the ultimate productivity handset. However, the king of phablets knows how to have fun as well with a Snapgradon 805 CPU that's fast enough for the most demanding games, a stunning 2560 x 1440 panel that makes media look really sharp and a 16-MP camera with optical image stabilization. If you have time for exercise between work and play, a new heart rate monitor measures your pulse, your stress and even your oxygen level.
The iPhone 6 Plus is Apple's biggest and best iPhone yet--and we're not just talking about straight-up size. This Apple phablet boasts a zippy A8 processor for multitasking and playing high-end games, and its 5.5-inch screen makes way for an exclusive landscape mode that lets you use your apps in new ways. Photogs take note: the sleek 6 Plus is the only iPhone with optical image stabilization.
At just $99, the Moto X costs less than most other flagship smartphones, yet has many of the same features--and then some. We really like the gorgeous 5.2-inch 1080p OLED display and fast 2.5-GHz Snapdragon 801 CPU, but we love Moto Voice, which lets you control your phone and apps without lifting a finger. You can even create your own voice prompt. Plus, the Moto X is the most customizable phone ever. Not only can you outfit the rear panel in a multitude of colors, leather and wood, you can also pick accent colors.
Here's the deal--literally. Although it's not even close to being a household name, the OnePlus One deserves to be on your smartphone shortlist. For just $299 unlocked, you get a big 5.5-inch full HD screen, a zippy Snapdragon 801 processor and absolutely fantastic battery life of more than 13 hours. There's even more goodness to entice, including Cyanogen Mod software running on top of Android 4.4, which gives you more customization and security options--not to mention nifty lock screen shortcuts.
Dunk it. Drop it. Kick sand in its face. The Galaxy S5 Active is the smartphone that's so durable that you won't need a case. This Android device can survive being submerged in 3 feet of water for 30 minutes, and you can even take pictures using its 16-MP camera while underwater. Plus, the durable handset can survive multiple drops from 4 feet and keep on ticking. Otherwise, you get all the best features of the S5, including a bright and vivid AMOLED display, long battery life and a built-in heart rate monitor. The only thing missing is the fingerprint reader.
If you haven't considered a Windows Phone yet, the One M8 may very well change your mind. This device sports the same sexy aluminum design and rockin' BoomSound speakers as its Android-powered but runs the more dynamic and personal Windows 8.1 software. Microsoft's powerful Cortana assistant is built in, which is smarter than Siri in some ways. HTC adds to this phone's appeal by including its TV remote functionality (Sense TV) and fully customizable news and social reader (Blink Feed).
There are long-lasting smartphones, and then there's Huawei's Ascend Mate 2. Packing a monster 3,900 mAh battery, this device lasted nearly 15 hours on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (web surfing over 4G LTE). The Android handset offers so much juice you can even charge other gadgets with it -- using an optional cable. Although the Ascend Mate 2 doesn't have the highest resolution (720p) or fastest CPU (Snapdragon 400), overall it's quite the long-lasting bargain at just $299 unlocked.