The best thing about Android is that there are lots of choices. The worst thing about Android is that there are lots of choices. There are just too many damn phones to choose from!
You've got metal phones, plastic phones, cheap phones, phones with a higher resolution than your TV, and phones as big as your head. You don't need to know what every Android thing on the market does, you just need to know what the best ones are.
There were many worthy Android products this year, but a few stood out for their excellent design, fantastic value, incredible hardware, or superb software. These are the best Android-based products of the year.
Best all-around smartphone
I use my phone for everything: reading, writing, listening to music, chatting with co-workers, gabbing with friends, and taking pictures of my cat. The HTC One (M8) does all of these things really well. It has impressive build quality and materials not matched by other Android phones this year, a beautiful 5-inch 1080p display, speedy Snapdragon 801 processor, and great battery life. The front-facing stereo speakers provide unmatched sound quality. It's 5 megapixel front-facing camera takes great selfies, and the two rear cameras, while disappointingly low-resolution, work great in low light and can produce nifty depth-of-field effects.
The One (M8) isn’t bogged down by bloatware, either. The extra added apps and features that HTC bundles with its flagship phone are worth using, and its most recent software update introduces a revamped camera app with the “Eye experience,” which includes a few new fun shooting modes. It also helps that HTC has been both consistent and transparent about its timeline for Android software updates.
Sure, we have our list of wishes for the next HTC One: lighter weight, thinner bezels (especially at the bottom), and a better rear-facing camera. But as a whole package, the One (M8) remained unmatched since its debut this spring.
We weren’t too enthused by Samsung’s flagship reprise, the Galaxy S5, but the arrival of the Galaxy Note 4 several months later made us turn our heads. This is the kind of phone we expect from a flagship Samsung device, and demonstrates a move in the right direction for the future high-end phones from the company.
This 5.7-inch phablet is an absolutely beautiful piece of hardware. It finally ditches the cheap plastic for a premium metal casing, and the improved S-pen makes us rethink the utility of a stylus. Samsung also dialed down some of the bloatware in its TouchWiz UI, making the overall user experience much more pleasant (though it still should do more to make TouchWiz a less radical overhaul of the Android interface). Also, that 16-megapixel rear-facing camera is one of the best smartphone cameras anywhere.
Oh, and it's fast, has fantastic battery life, and the best display of any smartphone on the market.
Best budget phone
Some people just want a basic and affordable smartphone, while others need a backup phone of sorts—one that they can toss in their travel bag and use around the world, regardless of where they are, without fear of losing or damaging an $800 piece of pocket tech.
At only $180 off contract, the second-generation Moto G is perfect for both of those scenarios. It may not take gorgeous high-resolution photos like those $800 phones or feature a 1080p screen, but its got great battery life, stereo speakers, and pretty good performance. It’s also not bogged down by lots of bloatware nor heavy interface customizations, and it doesn’t really look like a cheap phone. And again, if you buy it unlocked (and why wouldn't you?), it works almost anywhere in the world.
Samsung did a fantastic job with its Galaxy Tab S series. Both the 8.4- and 10.5-inch tablets are comfortable, thin, and lightweight, not to mention exceptionally stylish. They also come bundled with software features—like a multi-tasking mode—that make us start to forgive Samsung’s blue-hued TouchWiz interface. There are lots of freebies thrown in, from apps to movies to free services, like 3 months of Google Play Music and Marvel Unlimited, or 6 months of the Wall Street Journal. The high-res AMOLED displays are a beauty to look at, too. We can see why Samsung is attempting to position this device as the “iPad killer.”
Our initial review of Moto 360 wasn’t favorable; the watch was bogged down by performance issues and a less-than-stellar battery life. Since then, the situation has changed dramatically. A firmware update nearly doubled battery life, fancy new bands were made available to expand fashion options, and new software from Motorola has added new watch face options and better fitness tracking.
With these updates taken into consideration, we can officially call the Moto 360 the best Android Wear watch of the year. If you prefer a really manly-looking watch, the LG G Watch R is also an excellent choice, but Motorola's classy design, customization options, and software improvements have given it the edge.