Monday 26 September 2016

No holds barred: the top smartphone models

Published 05/12/2015 | 02:30

iPhone 6 plus
iPhone 6 plus
Sony xperia z5
Oneplus 2
Motorola
Huawei
Vodafone Smart Prime 6

Thinking of asking Santa for a new smartphone? What are the best options at different budgets? Is there a superior cameraphone? Is there life outside the iPhone? Our technology editor picks the six of the best you can bet for your money...

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1 iPhone 6S Plus

(from €870 unlocked or from free on contract)

It's hard to argue against the 6S Plus being the best overall phone out there right now. The new 5.5-inch model has upgraded cameras (12 megapixels and 5 megapixel 'selfie') with better low-light photography. It has added 4K video recording (twice the resolution of 'full HD'), too, and boosted its slow-motion mode to 1080p ('full HD').

A new feature, '3D Touch', lets you press harder on a screen to see a shortcut menu pop up for certain apps such as Camera or Mail. It's very handy once you get the hang of it. Battery life on the 6S Plus is, in my experience, slightly better than the 6 Plus.

In look and feel, the 6S is almost exactly the same as the former 6 model. It uses slightly stronger aluminium and glass, which may be Apple's way of nipping any potential 'bendgate' controversy in the bud. This is a high price handset (although not much dearer than Samsung's equivalent, the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus). But it's the best on the market. It comes in 16GB, 64GB and 128GB versions.

2 Sony Xperia Z5

(€660 unlocked or from free on contract)

Sony's Xperia Z5 is a beautifully made luxury Android phone with an incredible 23-megapixel camera and great battery performance. It costs less than its nearest competitor, Samsung's S6 Edge, and performs at least as well as the S6 Edge in the areas that count.

The phone's sensor (which defines shots in low light) is about the best you can get in a smartphone, while its autofocus and zoom make it a genuine snapper's companion.

It also shoots in 4K ('ultra high definition') and its screen is a retina-standard 428 pixels per inch. The Z5 is also ahead of most competitors on battery life. Like other Xperia phones, this one is also waterproof. The Z5 has a fairly generous 32GB of storage as standard, with a further memory card slot for up to 200GB of storage.

Mid-range: best for under €400

3 Motorola Moto X Play

(€350 unlocked or from free on contract)

You want battery life? Without question, this is the phone for you. I have not yet come close to using up a full charge on the 5.5-inch X Play within working hours, partly thanks to its huge 3,600mAh battery. For me, that's a minor miracle.

The Moto X Play is a great phone in other ways, too. It has a superb HD screen and is really nicely styled with an attractively tactile rear casing. Its 21-megapixel camera is good if a little below rival cameras from high-end Samsungs, Sonys and iPhones.

Motorola is becoming a bit of an expert at making phones that go right to the top of their pricing tier. This is another example of that: the X Play now vies for the title of best phone you can get in Ireland today between the price for under €500. It comes in 16GB and 32GB versions.

4 OnePlus 2

(€329 unlocked)

This 5.5-inch phone is one hell of a handset. The HD screen has 401 pixels per inch which, while not quite as sharp as top rivals, is more than enough to view videos and photos crisply.

Its 13-megapixel camera is a huge improvement on its predecessor's lens, with much better shooting in low light. It also captures 4K video and has a front-facing 5-megapixel selfie camera. Aesthetically, the handset is very nicely designed, with tactile rear casing that makes it easy to handle. There's a clever switch on the side of the phone that allows you to switch off, or limit, interruptions from notifications.

The OnePlus 2 uses a USB-C charging cable system, meaning that your old Android cables won't work with it. But it's faster than the existing system and, we are told, is to become the new standard for Android.

For bargain hunters: under €200

5 Huawei Ascend G7

(€190  unlocked or from free on contract)

This is the best phone you can get for under €200 and wouldn't look out of place in any company. It's a very decent-looking 5.5-inch Android model with 4G, a good (13-megapixel) camera, a fast processor and 16GB of storage.

Clever design tweaks include two built-in antennae which allow it to maximise the phone signal depending on which way you're holding it. This sounds minor but it's not in areas where the phone signal is patchy.

The killer feature here is its price: €190 is less than a third of the price of high-end rivals. This is a really decent alternative for those looking for high-end features on a budget.

6 Vodafone Smart Prime 6

(€99 prepaid or free on contract)

It used to be that sub-€100 smartphones were dinky pieces of tat that struggled to do half the things you asked of them.

Not any more. Vodafone has refashioned a very usable handset made by (Chinese manufacturer) TCL Mobile into its own-branded 'Smart Prime 6'. The phone has a decent five-inch screen, is 4G-compatible and is pretty comfortably designed with more than a passing resemblance to Samsung's last-but-one Galaxy S4. It has a serviceable 8 megapixel rear camera and a 2 megapixel selfie lens in front. It also has a memory card slot meaning you can back things up. You might need it as this only comes with 8GB storage. As the name would suggest, it's pretty much locked to Vodafone.

Still, this is more than a bit of a bargain.

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