The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (June 2015)

There are a ton of Android phones available for purchase, and new ones are coming out all the time. You don’t want to get the wrong thing and regret it on a daily basis. What’s a phone nerd to do? Well, let’s try to figure that out.

This month is still a close call between the LG G4 and the Galaxy S6, but there are a few options beyond these two flagships for the discerning buyer.

The Galaxy S6 and LG G4

Both the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 are available on all four major US carriers, so I’m breaking these two out for a direct comparison. After laying all this out, we’ll figure out an alternative for each carrier, just in case neither of these is the right fit for you.

Samsung is using a new version of its Super AMOLED screen on the Galaxy S6 (and S6 Edge) and the company has reason to gloat a little. It’s a stunningly beautiful screen. It gets very bright, very dim, the colors are good, and it’s extremely crisp. It’s really impossible to find fault with. Perhaps down the line it will develop some burn-in as AMOLEDs sometimes do, but Samsung has been working on that. It does consume a lot of power, but that’s what you get with a 5-inch 1440p AMOLED.

LG has stuck with an LCD for the G4 as its AMOLED efforts are still lacking compared to Samsung. The only unique thing about this panel is the slight top to bottom curve it has. I don’t know that there’s any usability advantage here, but there you go. It’s 5.5-inches and 1440p in resolution. LG has bumped up the brightness and colors compared to the LCD on the G3, which is a good thing.

Comparing the screens, Samsung wins in overall quality. The colors, viewing angles, and brightness are noticeably better. The G4’s size is actually very nice, though. If you feel like a 5-inch phone is a little too small, the G4 might be just right at 5.5-inches.

Inside the LG G4 runs on a Snapdragon 808, which is probably quite embarrassing for Qualcomm. The Snapdragon 810 has been plagued by heat and throttling issues in the first few devices it has powered, but the 808 is a more modest chip. It’s hexa-core rather than octa-core, but it’s still a 64-bit chip. The two Cortex-A57 cores do all the heavy lifting, and the four A53s handle the small stuff. This chip doesn’t heat up as much, so the phone doesn’t have to throttle as quickly. It’s more than fast enough in daily use, but the Exynos in the Galaxy S6 is a beast.

Samsung’s octa-core Exynos has those two extra A57 cores, and it doesn’t overheat like the Snapdragon 810. It does get warm, but that’s an inevitability. The benchmark scores are off the chart and it might handle some high-end games and complex apps a little better. This isn’t a big consideration, though. Both phones are fast enough.

The rest of the G4’s specs include 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage (plus microSD card slot), and a 3000mAh removable battery. That compares to the GS6 with its 3GB of RAM, 32/64/128GB of storage, and 2550mAh non-removable battery. You might notice the G4 is a bit more modular and has a bigger battery. Sure enough, it gets great standby time and above average screen time. The GS6 is a little worse (still average), and the battery is non-removable.

On the camera front, this is a very close match. The Samsung Galaxy S6 has a fantastic 16MP shooter with optical image stabilization and an f/1.9 lens. The LG G4 also has a 16MP camera with optical image stabilization, but the aperture is a slightly better f/1.8. Both phones take excellent images in bright light, but the G4 does slightly better in dim settings. The G4 has a RAW shooting mode built-in, but Samsung is deploying camera2 RAW support in Android 5.1, which is already live on T-Mobile and Sprint.

The 5.0/5.1 Android build on Samsung’s flagship is still running the TouchWiz UI layer. The UI is certainly tolerable and the design is consistent. I haven’t seen any issues with performance over time on this phone, and there isn’t as much junk cluttering the UI and settings. As a nice bonus, there is now a slick material theme in the Samsung theme store.

The G4 ships with Android 5.1, which is a nice surprise. LG’s Android skin is less garish than it once was, but it’s rather lacking in polish now. It’s not offensive to look at, but I feel like the company could have done more with Lollipop than they have. One thing to note here is that LG has a more standard memory management scheme on the G4. Apps you leave open in the background will stay open. Samsung, for whatever reason, has opted to use very aggressive memory management that only keeps a few app processes running at a time. That means things will be closed in the background faster than you might be used to.

I still think the Galaxy S6 is a better overall device than the G4 because the screen is amazing and the form factor is more appealing.

One place Samsung absolutely killed it is with the build quality, The Galaxy S6 has an aluminum rim and Gorilla Glass front and rear panels. Everything is put together extremely precisely. There aren’t any weird gaps or spaces in the casing as there have been with some past Samsung phones. On the flip side, LG had to make some compromises to have a removable battery and card slot in the G4. The leather back panel is not my taste, but it’s not objectively bad. It simply feels like a cheaper phone than the Galaxy S6.

I still think the Galaxy S6 is a better overall device than the G4 because the screen is amazing and the form factor is more appealing. The Edge vs. Regular GS6 is up to you. The software tweaks for the Edge are minimal, and personally I think the Edge looks weird. The GS6 feels like a premium device while the G4 is too flexible and plastic. That said, The G4 is a great choice if you need a removable battery, and make no mistake, it’s a good phone. The GS6 is just slightly better.

AT&T and Verizon

Okay, so let’s say that neither the G4 or Galaxy S6 are appealing to you. Perhaps you’re not big on the Samsung software or the G4 is just too darn big. Well, there’s are some devices on AT&T and Verizon that address those concerns. There are two options here, both from Motorola — the Moto X and the Nexus 6.

The Moto X is getting toward the end of its life cycle, of course, but it’s still a good device and it has Android 5.1 on both carriers now. The price also makes this a compelling option. You can get it for $300-350 off contract and for basically nothing with a new contract.

These phones have a lot in common from a design perspective, except that one is enormous. The Nexus 6 has a huge 6-inch AMOLED screen that clocks in at 1440p. It’s a serious phablet, but the Moto X is a much more modest 5.2-inches. This is an AMOLED as well, but just 1080p. The panel technology is a few years old here, so they won’t be as good as the GS6. They do look very nige overall, but there’s going to be some slight burn-in down the line. The Moto X is a phone you can use one-handed, but the Nexus 6 definitely isn’t.

The Nexus 6 is the more powerful of the two devices with a Snapdragon 805, 3GB of RAM, and 32-64GB of storage. The Moto X has a Snapdragon 801, 2GB of RAM, and 16-32GB of storage. Neither of these phones has a removable battery or a microSD card slot. You’ll have to make do with the 3220mAh battery in the Nexus 6 or the 2300mAh one in the Moto X. The Moto X will last you about a day on a charge, and the Nexus 6 s little longer, but still not multiple days.

The main selling point of the Nexus 6 is that it has pure Android with a good 18 months of updates ahead of it. You’ll get Android M in a few months and a few more versions after that. There’s also no junk from carriers or OEMs to get in the way of the experience. The Moto X isn’t bad, though. It’s running Android 5.1 now and will probably get one more major OS update, but it won’t be as fast as the Nexus. Motorola’s added features like Moto Display and Actions are really cool, though.

The Moto X can be had more or less free on-contract, but the Nexus 6 will still cost you. It’ll be between $20 and $30 on a payment plan, or $250 on AT&T and $200 on Verizon. I think the N6 is a better option even with the higher price, but that’s only if you can deal with the size.

T-Mobile and Sprint

As we’ve gone the last few months, Sprint and T-Mobile are bundled together here as neither have the Moto X, so that’s out. If you don’t want a Galaxy S6 (which is on both carriers), there’s the Nexus 6. T-Mobile appears to have stopped selling the Z3 now, so that one’s out too. That about covers all your choices.

The Nexus 6 is a fine alternative to the Galaxy S6 when it comes to the software. If you just can’t handle TouchWiz, the stock Android experience of the Nexus 6 will make it all better. Google sends updates to this phone directly, and it’s sure to get Android M as soon as it’s ready.

There are no carrier logos of apps on the Nexus 6 from Sprint and T-Mobile. The phone will download a few apps from the Play Store when set up with a SIM card already inserted, but they are just regular apps that can be uninstalled. The Nexus 6 doesn’t have a ton of apps built-in to take advantage of its massive scale, it’s really just a big phone. Taking advantage of the extra space is all up to you.

Again, this phone has plenty of processing power with a Snapdragon 805, 3GB of RAM, and 32-64GB of storage. The 3220mAh battery should be good for a bit more than a day of moderate usage. The 6-inch 1440p AMOLED is very good, but not quite a match for the Galaxy S6 or the Note 4. Sprint recently dropped the price of its Nexus 6 to $200 on contract. T-Mobile is asking for $27 per month. Remember the Google Store deal mentioned above for the Nexus 6 too. $499 is a good price.

So, there’s the Galaxy S6 on both carriers, and the G4 if you don’t like TouchWiz. Then you have the Nexus 6. I think that’s probably the “order” I’d rank them in, even though I’m personally a fan of the Nexus. It’s a big phone and for most people the GS6 is better. The G4 is also similarly great. If none of those three work for you on Sprint and T-Mobile, I suppose you could consider the HTC One M9.

The M9 is only an option if you just don’t care about photos. The camera is 20MP, but the quality of images is on par with a much cheaper mid-range phone. The M9 does have solid specs with a Snapdragon 810 ARM chip, 3GB of RAM, and a 5-inch 1080p LCD. It’s easy to use one-handed, but the processor is a little inefficient. It heats up fast and throttles performance. It’s not terrible, but that’s why it’s not at the top of the list.

I will grant that HTC did great stuff with Sense on the M9. It’s by far the best OEM skin out there. The colors are well-distributed around the UI, and you can build custom themes. BlinkFeed is also a very cool news reader. Yes, it has ads, but you can disable them.

Wrapping up

The Galaxy S6 is still the best overall phone available on US carriers, and you can get it on any of them. Even if you’ve been turned off by TouchWiz in the past, give this phone a look. The software is fine, and even good in places. The G4 is a close second thanks to the improved screen, great camera, and removable battery. The software is a little dated-looking, but it’s a fast enough phone.

The Nexus 6 is a good alternative on all four carriers, and the Moto X is good for AT&T/Verizon customers. On Sprint and T-Mobile, the HTC One M9 is a possible option, but only if you find deal breakers with all the other choices.


About Science and Tech News

View all posts by Science and Tech News →