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2016 smartphone report card

A look at how some of this year's big-ticket phone launches fared

Apple iPhone 7 plus is the first iPhone with dual cameras.
Apple iPhone 7 plus is the first iPhone with dual cameras.

It was undeniably a pivotal year for the smartphone market, with aggressive posturing by most brands and numerous launches across all price points. Interestingly, more and more phone makers are now talking about features and user experience, rather than just specifications, and the competition for making smarter software for phones is positive news. The problem of plenty, though, is that you might well be confused by the sheer number of options for every price point. After a lot of soul-searching, and some rather heated arguments, we have identified the best and worst smartphones of 2016.

Five-star phones

The year’s ultimate smartphones, which pack in the best specifications and user experience

Apple iPhone 7 plus

Rs72,000* (32 GB); Rs82,000 (128 GB); Rs92,000 (256 GB)

Launched in October

This is the smartphone of the year. The black colour options look gorgeous, in a waterproof aluminium chassis. It’s the first iPhone with dual cameras—one a 12-megapixel standard wide-angle and one a telephoto with 2x optical zoom.

Lenovo Z2 plus


Launched in October

Lenovo got it spot on with the Z2 Plus—premium design, powerful hardware, and a good camera. The 5-inch screen size makes this the perfect option for those who don’t like big phones. At this price, it’s hard to pick faults with the Z2 Plus.

Google pixel XL

Rs67,000 (32 GB); Rs76,000 (128 GB)

Launched in October

This “phone by Google" is setting benchmarks for other Android phones. The artificial intelligence Google Assistant is an exclusive. The fantastic camera is an added bonus. It’s the definitive Android phone, and a very close second to the Apple iPhone 7 Plus.

Oneplus 3T

Rs29,999 (64 GB); Rs34,999 (128 GB)

Launched in December

Top-of-the-line specifications, a very capable camera, and fantastic design—this is the true “flagship killer", if ever there was one. An undoubtedly excellent option for anyone who wants a powerful Android smartphone but doesn’t have a luxurious budget.

Phones that couldn’t be ignored

If you don’t want the five-star phones, perhaps because the screen size is too big or they are too expensive, these options could be worth considering

Xiaomi MI 5


Launched in April

This is the first phone in India to run the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor. It remains one of the fastest. The beautiful design, good camera and rich display are noticeable elements of a phone that has arrived much before its time.

Apple iPhone 7

Rs60,000 (32 GB); Rs70,000 (128 GB); Rs80,000 (256 GB)

Launched in October

An improved display, more powerful speakers, water resistance, and a very good camera—this, in a nutshell, is the iPhone 7. Apple is also bundling the 3.5mm headphone jack that will let you use your existing headphones.

Leeco Le Max 2


Launched in June

The good build quality cannot be ignored. The 5.7-inch screen with its 2K resolution is a delight. One of the first phones to do away with the 3.5mm headphone jack, it has the Continual Digital Lossless Audio (CDLA) technology for high-quality music playback.

Huawei P9


Launched in August

Huawei’s truly expensive Android smartphone ticked off most of the checklist with its premium design and performance. The true party piece is the dual 12-megapixel camera set-up, and camera maker Leica has helped optimize the algorithms.

Phones that bombed at the box office

Through the year,some high-profile new phones that left us truly perplexed for a variety of reasons

Blackberry Priv


Launched in January

BlackBerry’s much awaited switch to Android arrived in the form of the Priv. The real benefit was the extra security that enveloped Android. But at a launch price of Rs62,990, it didn’t offer anything significant over the Android flagships of the time. Subsequent price corrections came too late for the Priv.

Sony Xperia X


Launched in June

It was launched with a price tag of Rs52,990 and ran a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor, as well as a 5-inch Full HD display. These are not specifications which can command that sort of a price tag. Later revisions in price haven’t helped revive the fortunes of the Xperia X.

Moto Z with moto mods


Launched in October

Modular phones aren’t fooling anyone. Along with the Moto Z, Motorola wishes to sell you the Hasselblad True Zoom Camera mod (Rs19,999) and a JBL SoundBoost mod (Rs6,999). Mods can be bolted on but you’d expect a flagship phone to have a top-notch camera and audio without needing more hardware.

Samsung galaxy note 7


Launched in August

A beautiful blend of metal and glass, and an improved S-Pen stylus, it was destined to be the perfect phone. But it started catching fire. Production has been shelved; new software updates hope to limit charging levels to reduce fire-risk.

*Prices may vary.

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