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Top 10 phones of 2016: our pick of the year's best smartphones

Stack of phones - smartphones

2016 was the year Apple made some very controversial changes to the iPhone.

It was the year Samsung released its best received Galaxy S phone so far, which offset at least some of the damage caused by exploding batteries in its sister smartphone, the Note 7.

And it was the year Google brought out the Pixel phone with the most intelligent and helpful voice assistant so far.

But behind those 'headline-grabbing' handsets, there were some lesser-known phones, such as the 'modular' LG G5 and the OnePlus Three, that brought something novel and innovative to smartphones.

As 2016 winds down, here's our selection of the ten smartphones that really blazed a trail over the last 12 months.

1. Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

iPhone 7 angled water

Apple’s decision to ditch the headphone slot from its iPhone and iPhone 7 Plus was not without controversy.

But while the design stuck to the tried-and-tested template of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s, there’s no denying that Apple has led from the front again this year.

The slick jet black model looks fantastic and the decision to remove the unslightly antenna bands from the rear was a welcome one. What's more, even though there are fewer megapixels than some rival phones, both the iPhone 7’s single lens camera and the iPhone 7 Plus’s market-leading dual lens snapper put others in the shade.

Add to all that the latest A10 processor and a massive 256GB of storage and it’s hard to argue that the first-ever water-proof iPhone wasn't the year's standout smartphone.

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2. Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge

Samsung Galaxy S7 angled

Samsung’s problems in 2016 with the ill-fated Note 7 have been well documented. But that’s no denying the brilliance of its Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge.

Launched in February, the latest Galaxy S phones refined the looks of last year’s S6 and S6 Edge.

The S7 Edge's curved screen won admiring glances for its eye-catching looks and both handsets were a dream to use.

With 4K video recording adding a sheen of professionalism to our mini movies, the excellent 12-megapixel camera scored highly with us too. And fast charging via USB–C marked them out as phones that won't let you down when you most need them.

For us, the Galaxy S7 is closest Samsung has come to rivalling Apple so far.

Compare Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge deals

3. Google Pixel

Google pixel hockey table portrait full

The first smartphone to feature the Google brand, the Pixel (which was actually manufactured on Google's behalf by HTC) won plaudits for its brilliant camera, which captures photos that run Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus extremely close.

Low light performance is astonishing and colour reproduction is excellent too.

A rear-mounted fingerprint scanner helps keep your data secure, while the inclusion of the latest Android 7.0 software means that it’s out ahead of other phones using last year's Marshmallow version of Google’s smartphone operating system.

Team all that with a sleek design and the Pixel stands head and shoulders above Google’s old Nexus handsets.

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4. HTC 10

HTC 10 colours

Rightly lauded as a return to form, the HTC 10 harked back to some of the Taiwanese mobile-maker’s best-ever phones.

The all-metal construction feels 'premium' and is satisfyingly weighty in the hand, but it’s what’s going on under the hood that really helped set this phone apart.

4GB of RAM and a top–end Qualcomm Snapdragon processor means it's excellent for playing the sort of 3D games that usually cause phones to slow down. And means it works with a real sense of 'zip', even when you're multi-tasking.

With quick charging and a battery that can last longer than day, the HTC 10 is a phone it’s very easy to love.

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5. Apple iPhone SE

iPhone SE 4

Apple’s first new 4–inch smartphone since 2013, the iPhone SE crammed almost all the features found in last year’s much larger iPhone 6s into a device which can be easily wielded one–handed.

The result is a phone which has a pleasingly old-school look and feel, but is in fact every inch a modern smartphone.

The 12-megapixel camera is superb. While the A9 chipset and 64GB of storage space, coupled with a more affordable price tag, make the iPhone SE a very good choice for anyone on a budget or who doesn't want a larger handset.

Compare iPhone SE deals

6. Motorola Moto X Force

motorola moto x force

Thanks to the keenly priced Moto G range, Motorola’s good reputation in the smartphone market has been well and truly reestablished in recent years.

Nowhere is that more evident than this addition to the higher-end Moto X line.

Yes, the high capacity battery is a worthy inclusion. And of course, the 21 megapixel camera takes first rate shots. But the real reason we love it is the shatter-proof screen.

Durable smartphones used to be on the ugly side. bBut the Moto X Force retains sharp looks while including a display that Motorola says cannot be broken.

And if you do manage to do so within four years of purchase, Motorola will replace the screen for free.

Compare Moto X Force deals

7. LG G5

lg g5 modular

LG’s approach to its 2016 flagship, the G5, was truly innovative.

The company behind the fondly remembered likes of the Cookie and Optimus tried something completely different in 2016, with the launch of a standard smartphone that you could take apart to slot in so-called 'modules' from its LG Friends range.

These include a module that boosts the phone’s camera capabilities and battery life, as well as a pair of B&O-manufactured speakers and a VR headset for immersive gaming.

Even without the modules, there was much to recommend the G5. Not least a wide–angle, feature–laden 16 megapixel camera, great software and an all-metal construction that rivals the best phones from Apple and HTC.

Compare LG G5 deals

8. Sony Z5 Premium

sony xperia z5 water

With a 4K screen and an astonishing 23-megapixel camera, Sony’s Z5 Premium provided proof that the Japanese tech giant is still capable of producing cutting-edge smartphones.

With microSD support for boosting the phone's internal 32GB storage by as much as 256GB, a near SLR-quality camera and a splash-proof outer, the Z5 Premium was the best Sony handset for a long time.

Compare Sony Xperia Z5 Premium

9. Moto G4

Motorola G4

The 2016 version of Motorola’s budget smartphone featured high-end specs and features without a high price tag to match.

Starting at just £169, the Moto G4 came with a solid design, a fast-charge mode that gives you six hours of battery life from 15 minutes of charge and a slot for a microSD card so you can boost storage.

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10. OnePlus 3

oneplus 3 in hand

A phone with a premium look and feel without the price tag to match, independent mobile-maker OnePlus’s 2016 flagship is a noble effort. And in a real departure for the smartphone market, means that you can buy British for once.

So what do we like about it? Well for starters, the metal build is great and feels like something you’d expect from major players, such as Samsung and Apple, rather than an upstart brand.

Then there’s Super AMOLED screen, 4K video recording option and above-average 16-megapixel camera.

At £329, you’ll struggle to find a phone as fully featured as this.

Compare OnePlus 3 deals

Category: Features
Tagged: smartphones

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