Many of last year’s high-end Android phones have stood the test of time.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are phenomenal phones — two of the best out there right now. But they’re also expensive phones, especially if you’re buying outright.
So if you’re looking to save some cash, you might look at some of the previous year’s flagships, many of which are speedy, well-built and have been upgraded to Android Nougat. Most importantly, some of these are now available for as little as half the price of Samsung’s latest duo.
Let’s take a look at four of the best.
Samsung Galaxy S7 + S7 edge
Samsung’s 2016 flagships are obvious choices if you want as close to a Galaxy S8 experience as possible without shelling out anywhere near as much dough. You’ll miss out on Samsung’s remarkable new Infinity Display, but the overall experience is surprisingly similar once you apply that Android 7.0 Nougat update.
With its Nougat update, the GS7’s software looks a lot like the GS8.
The latest update for the GS7 brings much of the UI in line with that of the Galaxy S8, with brilliant white backgrounds, condensed fonts and a minimalist to many of the built-in apps. Both Galaxy S7 models run Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 in the U.S.; internationally you’ll get Samsung’s own Exynos 8890, and the performance, while not quite Pixel fast, is speedy.
The core “Galaxy” experience is along for the ride too — quick charging (over Micro-USB, not the newer Type-C), wireless charging, water resistance, microSD expansion and a great camera. The hardware of the GS7’s rear shooter is almost identical to the GS8’s, save for the newer model’s fancy multi-frame processing tricks. Besides that, you’re looking at brilliant SuperAMOLED displays and solid battery life on both models.
Note: Because we live in a cruel and uncaring world, the U.S. unlocked Galaxy S7 still runs older Marshmallow-based firmware. Other models are up to date on Nougat.
The HTC 10 is one of the past year’s most underappreciated flagships, but this metal-clad beast is still worth buying if you can pick it up at a reasonable discount. (It still commands a premium price tag on HTC’s own online storefront.)
HTC’s last flagship isn’t as ostentatious as the competition, but it’s sturdy, dependable and fast.
Like most others on this list, there’s a Snapdragon 820 processor inside, along with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage — standard specs for the time. HTC also boasts a lightning-quick fingerprint scanner around the front, and while the Quad HD SuperLCD display is probably the least impressive of all the phones listed here, it gets the job done. (Just don’t count on it being particularly visible in bright sunlight.)
Around the back, if you can keep your eyes away from the 10’s oversized, stylized chamfer, you’ll find the 12-megapixel “Ultrapixel 2” camera, which still holds its own against current competitors. And for selfie enthusiasts, the phone also boasts the only optically stabilized front-facer, a 5-megapixel unit that’s among the best for low-light portraits.
HTC’s Sense software isn’t anywhere near as differentiated as it once was, with the UI now falling broadly in line with stock Android. There are a few neat additions though, such as the BlinkFeed home screen feed for news and social updates.
The OnePlus 3T, which unexpectedly replaced the OnePlus 3 last fall, is barely half a year old, yet with a highly competitive price and top-tier specs, it’s worthy of a place on our list. The 3T’s metal shell now comes in gunmetal grey, soft gold and midnight black color options, and your choice of 64 or 128GB of storage. Powering the whole assembly is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821, along with an ample 6GB of RAM — still the most we’ve seen in any mainstream phone to date.
OnePlus continues to go from strength to strength.
And that means the 3T is fast — particularly when upgraded to the latest Android 7.1-based OxygenOS software. Though OnePlus has had a mixed track record with software, the company has come a long way in recent months, being the first besides Google to roll out a 7.1.1 update. For those who appreciate a clean, stock Android-like aesthetic, this might be the best non-Pixel option out there.
Software updates have also allowed OnePlus to steadily improve image quality from its 16-megapixel rear camera, which has OIS and uses an f/2.0 lens. It’s not quite as dependable as the Galaxy S7 or Pixel in low light, but it holds its own surprisingly well, and the “HQ” mode allows you to eke more fine detail out of some scenes.
Last but not least, OnePlus has some of the fastest charging tech around, thanks to Dash Charge, which can get you out of the danger zone quicker than Qualcomm Quick Charge.
Google Pixel / Pixel XL
Google’s Pixel phones were the best Android handsets released in 2016 that didn’t also catch on fire explode, and that means that while they’re still expensive, they deserve a place on this list.
The Pixels are expensive, and now six months old, but still among the best out there.
Whether you choose the 5-inch Pixel or the 5.5-inch Pixel XL, you’re getting a fast Android experience with Google’s clean, light Pixel UI and speedy updates to new versions of Android as they roll out. (The Pixels are sure to beat everything on this list to Android O when the final version is available.)
The design, while not as eye-catching or sleek as others released in 2016, is comfortable and sturdy, with a brushed aluminum rear and a unique glass section around the back. Beyond the speed and software experience, the Pixel also boasts one of the best cameras on any smartphone, thanks to a capable Sony IMX378 sensor and Google’s legendary HDR+ technology.