The smartphone industry is set to grow by 10 percent in 2016 with more than 1.5 billion phones sold (source), but only one of those sales is important to you. We help you choose your new smartphone, with our guide to the 20 best phones you can buy in the UK in 2016. Also see: Best new phones coming in 2016 and 2017.
When we review smartphones we take into account their build quality and design, ease of use, features, performance and value, although the latter isn’t always such a big deal when it comes to a phone you are most likely to buy on a contract. Generally speaking a flagship phone will cost between £500- and £600, or between £40- and £50 per month on a contract. If you are buying SIM-free then you should also check out our best SIM-only deals.
Value becomes more important when you consider older-generation phones. For example, we still think the Samsung Galaxy S6 is better than many of the phones in this chart, especially when you consider that it’s now available under £400 SIM-free. However, we move all older-generation smartphones to our best old phones chart, and you’ll now find the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge sitting at the top of this best phones chart. We also have a best budget phones round-up if you're looking to minimise costs.
Latest entry: Samsung Galaxy Note 7.
Best phone 2016: Android vs iOS vs Windows
There are multiple mobile phone operating systems, but really only two worth talking about: Android and iOS. Windows phones account for around 1 percent of all phones sold, so it makes more sense to go with Android or an iPhone. If you do have your heart set on Windows, also see our list of the best Windows phones 2016. (Similarly, for purely Android choices see Best Android phones.)
The vast majority of phones available run the Android operating system, with Marshmallow the latest version. While Apple’s iOS platform has a much lower market share, developers always release their apps on iOS so it has one of the best app stores you'll find. For more, see Android vs iPhone.
If you have an Android phone or and iPhone and want to move to the other type of phone, it's fair easy move your contacts and other data from one to the other. See How to move from Android to iPhone and How to move from iPhone to Android. What you can't move is paid-for apps, so keep this in mind if you're considering a change of platform.
Best phone 2016: why you should buy unlocked
An unlocked phone is one which is not tied to any particular mobile operator, such as Vodafone or EE. Buying unlocked usually means buying the phone outright without a SIM. The most important point is that an unlocked phone is almost always a better deal than buying a phone on contract. The only real exception to this are Apple's iPhones - because of their traditional popularity, operators do often subsidise the cost of buying an iPhone in order to lock you into a lucrative long-term deal. Generally speaking, however, if you can afford the upfront cost of the handset, you will pay less over the life of your phone by buying unlocked.
More importantly, you are not locked in. If you want a new handset at any time, you can buy one without having to up-purchase your way out of a contract, or commit to another two years.
SIM-free vs unlocked
One thing to be sure of when purchasing an unlocked or 'SIM-free' phone is that not all SIM-free handsets are unlocked. The excellent Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 is a classic example of this. It is SIM-free, but if you want to use it for any network other than Vodafone you have to first use it for a month with a Voda SIM, and then pay £20 to get it unlocked.
EE's own branded phones are similar. In both cases it may well still be better to buy network branded phones and go through the pain of getting them unlocked, than to buy on contract. But you should do your research before you take the plunge. We can help with that with our feature: 'How to unlock any phone'.
The right SIM
One other thing to consider is the size and shape of the SIM required for your phone. Make sure you get a nano-SIM if a nano-SIM is what your phone requires. If you get that wrong it is easily solvable - every network will gladly send over a different-sized SIM. SIM cards tend to come in all three sizes - you simply pop out the one you need. But that's assuming you are getting a new SIM, and if you're looking for a SIM-free phone or unlocked phone you probably already have one. You can buy adaptors that let you fit a Nano-SIM or Micro-SIM in a Micro-SIM or full-size SIM slot for a very small charge.
More important is to make sure that if you want 4G you get a 4G-enabled phone and SIM.
Best phone 2016: Smartphone material poll
20 best phones 2016 UK: Reviews
Every single phone in our top 20 is here because we think it is an excellent device, with which few people will be disappointed. All are plenty fast for general tasks and gaming (see our benchmark results in our What's the fastest phone? chart), have nice screens and decent photography capabilities. However, subtle differences mark them out in a fiercely competitive market. You can read the full, in-depth review of each of the 20 reviews below by clicking on the link.
- Reviewed on: 20 April 16
- RRP: £639 inc VAT
The Galaxy S7 edge is no longer the semi-gimmick it was before. Although some of the main features are things from the Galaxy S5 – Micro-SD and waterproofing – Samsung has given fans what they want. It's now a refined, sophisticated and highly desirable piece of technology. The battery isn't removable but the phone lasts longer than before and has seriously powerful specs under the hood. It has almost everything you could want from a phone even though the IR blaster is gone. We're also very impressed with the new camera and unless the screen is too big for you (despite some software features to help out) we think it's worth getting the S7 edge for the extra £70 with its gorgeous looks and extra functionality. Right now, this is the best smartphone money can buy.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S7 edge review.
- Reviewed on: 29 April 16
- RRP: £569 inc VAT
The Samsung Galaxy S6 was the best phone of 2015 and, although it’s still early days, the Galaxy S7 is a serious contender for best phone of 2016. Samsung has taken into account what its fans want, addressing the three main areas of concern: removable storage, waterproofing and battery life. It’s also upgraded the core hardware and photography gear, added an always-on display and some useful software. Right now the Galaxy S7 is simply unbeatable.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S7 review.
- Reviewed on: 2 September 16
- RRP: £749 inc VAT
The Note 7 is another very impressive smartphone from Samsung bringing the design and curved screen from the S7 edge and adding features such as waterproofing and improvements to the S Pen stylus. It's not all rosy though as the price is sky high, the iris scanner isn't very usable and the performance isn't quite as smooth as we'd hoped. Look to the S7 edge if you're not fussed about the S Pen.
Read our Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review.
4. LG G5
- Reviewed on: 5 May 16
- RRP: £529 inc VAT
The LG G5 is one of the most radical phones to come along in a while and we’re glad the firm has shaken things up with the modular design. The G5 is innovative and interesting with unique features but it’s a shame the design and build feels unfinished in areas. It’s a top-notch device which can hold its own with the best phones in performance and cameras, but it’s LG’s modular design which is the real selling point here. There is bags of potential but the future of this is unclear so it’s hard to be definite right now. The G5 is one of the best phones around but for completely different reasons to the Galaxy S7.
Read our LG G5 review.
- Reviewed on: 28 April 16
- RRP: From £449 inc VAT
Originally, Nexus phones stood out for being excellent value at a price that was low, but not the lowest. They weren't an alternative to flagship phones, but they had the advantage of running stock Android and getting the next version more quickly. The 6P, though, is not only a flagship, but is arguably the best Android phone to buy at the moment. It won't suit everyone due to its size, nor those looking for a phone with dual-SIM slots or a removable battery. There's no support for wireless charging either. But the excellent screen, front-firing speakers, quick charging, great cameras, speedy performance and Android Marshmallow add up to make this a phone that's a pleasure to use. And yes, it's also cheaper than its rivals, so unless you think it's worth shelling out extra on the Note 5, Galaxy S6 Edge+ or iPhone 6S Plus, the Nexus 6P is the one to buy.
Read our Google Nexus 6P review.
- Reviewed on: 9 September 16
- RRP: From £619 inc VAT
The iPhone 6S Plus is a remarkable phone, and it's still a fantastic phone 12 months on. The 16GB model has finally been banished and the new minimum storage of 32GB should be workable for a lot of people.
3D Touch can sound gimmicky, but it’s absolutely not. It requires effort to force yourself to use it to begin with, but it quickly becomes second nature and app developers have put it to use in apps and games.
Read our iPhone 6s Plus review.
7. OnePlus 3
- Reviewed on: 4 August 16
- RRP: £329 inc VAT
The OnePlus 3 is another amazing smartphone from the Chinese company as easily its best effort yet. It's a little bit more expensive than its predecessor but it's still a ridiculous price considering the design, build and hardware on offer which matches rivals but also beats them in some areas. There's very little to dislike here unless you really need things like expandable storage and waterproofing. You don't even need an invite any longer, either.
Read our OnePlus 3 review.
8. HTC 10
- Reviewed on: 9 May 16
- RRP: £569 inc. VAT
There's a lot to like with the new HTC 10 including a number of hardware upgrades across screen, camera and audio, plus a Nexus-like stock Android experience. However, we're not totally sold on the design and it's tough at the top these days. While the HTC 10 is a solidly good phone and a respectible upgrade for M9 owners, it doesn't blow the competition out of the water. The features which appeal the most are more niche than mass market.
Read our HTC 10 review.
9. Huawei P9
- Reviewed on: 27 April 16
- RRP: £449
When comparing the P9 to other flagships, it’s important to remember the £449 price which makes it considerably cheaper than many of its rivals (but not the identically priced Nexus 6P that's also made by Huawei). Overall, we're impressed with the phone: it's well built, feels good and looks good. The cameras aren't the absolute best out there, it doesn't top the charts in game tests and the screen isn't Quad HD, but these minor quibbles are outweighed not only by the price but also because, unlike the Nexus, the P9 lets you stick in a microSD card to expand the storage. If you can afford it, the Galaxy S7 is a better phone overall, but this is a great choice if you can't.
Read our Huawei P9 review.
- Reviewed on: 15 October 15
- RRP: £484.99
So, what do we think of the Galaxy Note 5? We’re very fond of just about every aspect of the Galaxy Note 5, from its curved and sleek design to its vibrant display and high-resolution camera. It can handle almost anything you can throw at it thanks to its CPU, GPU and 4GB of RAM and we experienced no lag during our testing. The only bad point is that the Note 5 would sometimes falsely detect the S Pen detaching – and to point out such a minor fault says a lot about the quality of the handset. With this being said, we’re both surprised and sad that the Galaxy Note 5 won’t be heading to UK shores any time soon.
Read our Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review.
11. iPhone 6S
- Reviewed on: 9 September 16
- RRP: From £539
We're really impressed by the iPhone 6s. It's fast, has a great screen and a good main camera. It misses out on some of the 6s Plus's features, including optical stabilisation, but most people won't really notice. In short, the iPhone 6s is a great phone, and it's even better now it's cheaper and the base model has 32GB of storage.
Read our iPhone 6S review.
12. iPhone SE
- Reviewed on: 11 April 16
- RRP: £379 inc VAT (16GB); £429 inc VAT (64GB)
The SE is what many iPhone fans have been asking for, and it's a great upgrade if you're still using an iPhone 5. For 5S owners, things aren't quite as clear cut. If you're not happy with the 5S's performance, the SE should solve that problem. However, unless you really want to shoot 4K videos, you're not going to notice a massive improvement in photo quality. There's a much bigger jump in quality if you're coming from an iPhone 5 (or earlier), however. Make sure 16GB is enough before you order: we'd recommend the 64GB version for most people.
Read our iPhone SE review.
13. Sony Xperia Z5
- Reviewed on: 29 April 16
- RRP: £549 inc VAT
There's no doubt that the Xperia Z5 is a solid flagship smartphone from Sony and an improvement on the Z3+. We certainly like the new frosted glass rear cover and the addition of a fingerprint scanner in that slim power button. The camera isn't great compared to the best phone cameras out there though, and you can get a better phone for similar money. The price has dropped, and it's now a decent-value waterproof flagship with a Micro-SD card slot. However, you can't use it underwater, and there are newer rivals which are better value, take better photos and have better performance.
Read our Sony Xperia Z5 review.
- Reviewed on: 13 July 16
- RRP: £169
Although the new Moto G4 is more expensive than the third-generation, Motorola is offering a Full HD screen, better processor, more storage and memory. Not everyone will enjoy the jump to 5.5in or the lack of full waterproofing but this is still a brilliant phone for under £200. Just bear in mind that the 3rd-gen Moto G is now a great buy at £149 and the Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 offers similar specs for just £125 (albeit SIM-locked).
Read our Motorola Moto G4 (2016) review.
15. Xiaomi Mi 5
- Reviewed on: 31 May 16
- RRP: £263.75 (plus import duty)
A fantastic Android flagship that comes in at an outrageously low price, the Xiaomi Mi 5 has the braun and the beauty to match the greats. Perhaps not a wise choice for first time Android users, but those comfortable in customising the setup will love the excellent-value, gorgeously designed Xiaomi Mi 5.
Read our Xiaomi Mi 5 review.
- Reviewed on: 22 October 15
- RRP: £429 inc VAT
The Xperia Z5 Compact is the best small phone around, but then there's not much competition in this area anymore and there are a number of phones offering decent specs for a lot less. Those looking for Z5 design and specs in a smaller frame will be pleased but it's a shame about the chunky design with the sharp edges. The fingerprint scanner is a great addition and the Snapdragon 810 with almost stock Android provides slick performance. However, the camera isn't as good as Sony makes it out to be.
Read our Sony Xperia Z5 Compact review.
17. Elephone P9000
- Reviewed on: 11 March 16
- RRP: 193.98 (plus import duty from China)
We’re very impressed with the Elephone P9000, which is a great all-round Android phone at an unbelievable sub-£200 price. It’s fast, battery life is good, it’s feature-packed and it even runs Marshmallow. Wireless- and quick-charging-, NFC-, USB-C-, dual-SIM- and microSD support are the icing on the cake. Recommended.
Read our Elephone P9000 review.
- Reviewed on: 23 October 15
- RRP: £359 inc VAT
If you're looking for a big screen phone, the Moto X Style is a great choice. It's got great specs across the board and it cheaper than rivals like the Nexus 6P and Galaxy S6 Edge+. We love the screen, stock Android and cameras. However, it really comes stands out when using the Moto Maker to customise it which costs more. With a screen only slightly smaller and a fingerprint scanner the OnePlus 2 is the spanner in the works here at £289 for the 64GB model.
Read our Motorola Moto X Style review.
19. Honor 7
- Reviewed on: 4 February 16
- RRP: £249 inc VAT
Honor has once again impressed us with a flagship smartphone at an outrageous price. For under £250 you get a lot of phone for your money. Performance is good with the main camera and fingerprint sensors being the highlights on the hardware side. Emotion UI isn't our favourite Android skin but it's perfectly usable and you can always change it if you like.
Read our Honor 7 review.
20. Google Nexus 5X
- Reviewed on: 12 April 16
- RRP: £299 inc VAT
Those looking to upgrade from a Nexus 5 will be happy and sad in almost equal measure. The 5X is a fantastic phone overall, with excellent cameras, a good turn of speed and an excellent screen. But it's noticeably bigger than its predecessor despite the small increase in screen size, it has limited storage compared to the Nexus 6P and it lacks a couple of camera features due to the slower processor. The absence of wireless charging is another blow for some, but additions such as the fingerprint scanner will make it a great upgrade for others.
Read our Google Nexus 5X review.