The best Android phones that fit every budget

You can spend $700 for a flagship Android phone or $60 for a low-end model. Regardless, the 2016 Android smartphones offer strong performance for every type of user.

top android phones 1
Credit: Google, HTC, Motorola
Top Android phones from 2016

Today, it is nearly impossible for smartphone manufacturers to build a bad phone. Component makers and the supply chain that serve the manufacturers have amazing momentum. It is the same momentum that drove PCs to market share leadership in the 1990s. 

This is good news for consumers because now there are few tradeoffs when choosing a new phone. Consumers with $600 or $700 to spend do not have to make any real tradeoffs when buying a top branded phone. If that’s out of your budget, don’t fear. Unlike PCs, most apps perform well on lower-cost and lower-performance Android phones. Games need raw hardware performance, but apps such as Facebook, Google Search and WhatsApp perform almost indistinguishably. 

Cameras, display quality, Wi-Fi bands, virtual reality capability and style are what differentiate Android phones. All phones are unlocked, and unless noted otherwise, all have fingerprint readers.  

Google Pixel XL
Credit: Google
The Pixel XL—Made by Google for Android connoisseurs and VR enthusiasts

Google broke with its Nexus tradition by private-labeling phones built by top tier Android OEMs. Google engineers sat with HTC’s engineers to design this elegant, Daydream-capable VR flagship phone. 

The all-metal housing makes a powerful first impression. With a DxOMark score of 89, the Pixel boasts the best smartphone camera on the planet. Made with the best components—including a Snapdragon 821 mobile processor with Adreno 530 GPU, 4GB of RAM and a colorful 5.5-in., 534 ppi (pixels per inch) display—the Pixel delivers ultra-smooth performance, fast enough to run VR apps at a comfortable 60 Hz with less than 20 ms latency. Like Nexus predecessors, it will get early Android updates. A smaller 5-in. Pixel is also available.

Price: $769 with 32GB ROM 

Read more: Pixel XL and Google Daydream provide premium mobile VR

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
Credit: Samsung
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge—Samsung won first place in market share with a unique design, water resistance, microSD and wireless charging

The unique design of the S7 Edge metal frame with curved glass edges and front and back glass stands alone among Android and Apple phones. The rounded edge is a touch interface with quick access to apps and frequent contacts. The AMOLED 534 ppi screen presents vibrant colors, wide viewing angles and dark blacks with a luminosity that can be seen in all but the brightest sunlight. 

The hardware is nearly flawless. Powered by the Snapdragon 820 mobile processor and Adreno 530 GPU, the Galaxy S7 Edge’s performance is fast and smooth. The DxOMark score of 88 places its camera second to the Pixel LX. 

Price: $769 with 32GB ROM 

Read more: Un-Apple: The Samsung Galaxy S7 announcement in one word

HTC 10
Credit: HTC
HTC 10—HTC’s legendary smartphone design leadership continues

The HTC 10’s uni-body carved from solid metal with chamfered edges make such a positive impression that you will not want to put it down. HTC’s designs are so impressive that Apple copied them for the iPhone 6. 

The ultra-low latency 551 ppi screen produces excellent color saturation levels with luminosity near to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. A Snapdragon 820 mobile processor and Adreno 530 GPU delivers smooth performance enhanced by the low-latency screen. The authentic music reproduction impresses with good quality headphones. The 3000 mAh battery lasts more than a day. A DxOMark score of 88 places its camera second to the Pixel LX. 

Price: $600 with 32GB ROM 

Read more: The HTC 10 campaigns for the title best smartphone of 2016

Moto Z Play
Credit: Motorola
Moto Z Play—Motorola redefines mobile with the first truly modular phone

Magnets inside the back of the Moto Z Play let the user add modules such as a battery pack, an LCD projector, a mini-boom box or a Hasselblad optical 10:1 zoom camera. The magnets make attaching these modules intuitively consumer friendly. 

The unlocked Moto Z family is powered by the slower Snapdragon 625 mobile processor and has a lower-performing camera compared to the Verizon versions: the ultra-thin Moto Z Droid and the shatterproof Moto Z Force Droid. Compared to the Verizon versions, the Moto Z Play costs $200 less. The savings can be put towards the $300 Hasselblad camera module that outperforms all smartphones. 

Price: $410 with 32GB ROM 

Read more: Moto Z Play with Hasselblad True Zoom: Finally a smartphone and camera worth talking about

OnePlus 3T
Credit: OnePlus
OnePlus 3T—Flagship performance at a midrange price

With a Snapdragon 821 mobile processor, Adreno GPU, 6GB of ROM and 3400 mAh battery, the OnePlus 3T is a beast with great battery life—and it punches above its price class. 

The OnePlus 3T phone is carved out of a single slab of premium space-grade aluminum alloy, giving it a flagship feel. And it performs favorably compared to the iPhone 7 Plus that costs $320 more. The camera is not DxOMark rated, but it seems to perform like the Nexus 6P, scoring an 84. A couple of compromises: a slightly lower screen resolution compared to flagships and you’re buying from a relatively new Chinese company. 

Price: $439 with 64GB ROM

Moto G4 Plus
Credit: Motorola
Moto G4 Plus—Solid phone for under $300 with a durable plastic exterior

Price-conscious gamers stop here and return to the OnePlus 3T review. But non-gamers looking for a great phone under $300 keep reading. 

The Moto G4 Plus scored a DxOMark 84, the same as the iPhone 6s Plus. It runs the typical consumer workload of Facebook, Gmail, WhatsApp, etc. responsively. The difference in performance compared to the flagships is imperceptible. The large 5.5-in. responsive 400 ppi screen has very good color saturation. Display specs of the G4 Plus compare favorably to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. And it has a microSD storage slot. 

The only notable tradeoff is Motorola used an all-plastic, but very durable, exterior to meet this price point. Consumers not making a fashion statement with an iPhone or Galaxy S7 will love this phone. 

Price: $269 with 64GB ROM 

Read more: Moto G4 and G4 Plus: Phones continue to get better and cheaper

ZTE ZMAX Pro
Credit: ZTE
ZTE ZMAX Pro—A solid-performing budget phone for under $200

The ZMAX Pro looks and feels like a Motorola Nexus 6 introduced in October 2014 at $650 pictured together above. It’s a big phone with a 6-in. display. 

The ZMAX Pro was designed for price-conscious buyers who want a large screen. Serious gamers will not be satisfied with its performance. But like the Moto G4 Plus, it will run the typical consumer’s app portfolio smoothly and responsively. It performs comparatively to flagship phones from two years ago. The 13-megapixel camera performs well but falls short of the Samsung Galaxy S5, with a DxOMark score of 75. The Wi-Fi chip supports only the 2.4-GHz band. 

Price: $199 with 32GB ROM 

Read more: ZTE ZMAX Pro: Solid-performing budget smartphone

Samsung Galaxy S4
Credit: Samsung
Samsung Galaxy S4—The Smith & Wesson Schofield of smartphones

In the old west, the Schofield pistol was known as old reliable. Such is the case with the Samsung Galaxy S4, introduced three years ago as a flagship that Samsung has driven down to a budget-priced phone. (Instead of creating new budget models, Samsung—a vertically integrated electronics manufacturer—drives down the costs of successful older models.)

The Galaxy S4 scores a 75 on the DxOMark scale alongside the iPhone 5s. With its 441 ppi display and a brightness measure of 427 cd/m2, it is bright and clear but does not compare to another favorite: the Moto G4 Plus that costs $100 more. The S4 lacks a fingerprint reader. 

Price: $169 with 16GB ROM

Moto G4 Play
Credit: Motorola
Moto G4 Play—Non-gamer, budget-minded consumers willing to accept a few compromises cannot go wrong

Consumers who loved their Nokia bar phones that got sat on, dropped and stepped on and continued to perform will like the Moto G4 Play. Motorola included two retro features to this Nokia nostalgia: a removable battery and a microSD card. And it is water repellent. 

The Moto G4 Play has a durable plastic exterior, though it is not spec’d as shatterproof. While testing it, I threw it across a conference room—hitting a glass wall and evoking gasps from iPhone users—and it did not shatter. The compromises are lesser screen brightness and color saturation compared to the G4 Plus and no fingerprint reader. 

Price: $149 with 16GB ROM 

Read more: Moto G4 Play: Solid budget phone with a removable battery and microSD card

BLU R1 HD
Credit: Amazon
  • BLU R1 HD - 16 GB - Black - Prime Exclusive - with...

    $59.99 MSRP $109.99
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BLU R1 HD—An ultra-affordable phone for Amazon Prime customers

The BLU R1 HD is a responsive phone with a great build quality that feels good in the hand. The screen quality is very good with acceptable brightness and color saturation, but it is a step down at 294 ppi. It has a microSD slot to add ROM and dual-carrier SIM slots. The 8MB version costs Amazon Prime customers $50; the 16GB version costs $60. The 8-megapixel camera is just OK for snapping photos in good light, and the phone lacks a fingerprint reader. But at these prices, who is going to complain? 

There is a catch, though. Amazon will advertise on the lock screen. For the technically inclined, the ads can be removed, and Cyanogenmod is working on a ROM

Price: $60 with 16GB ROM