The smartphone is well on its way to making the transition from a luxury to an essential item. No wonder then that the smartphone market is saturated, with many models being launched every week. It has become essential for smartphone manufacturers to produce amazing products at great prices. All segments within the smartphone sector are becoming crowded, with many players trying to show off this or that unique feature.
There were some great innovations in smartphones in 2016. Dual cameras and modular phones were on the rise and the fingerprint sensor became the norm. The year also saw its fair share of controversies, such as the missing headphone jack and exploding batteries. Let's take a look at the top smartphones of 2016 in no particular order of ranking.
1. OnePlus 3 & OnePlus 3T
OnePlus was known as a gimmicky company when it came to marketing that also produced good phones. While OnePlus One was a hit, OnePlus 2 went a little amiss in many respects. This year, the company went back to the drawing board, losing its personal marketing invites and concentrating more on the product. Launched in July with a good 5.5 inch HD screen, Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, and a marvelous 6 GB RAM, the phone is a powerhouse. The dash charging is so good that it can spoil your habits. The camera was a big improvement but not in the top league. Yet the price point of ₹27,999 was received well in India.
Come December, the company dropped a surprise upgrade called OnePlus 3T. The upgraded processor in Snapdragon 821, 16 MP front camera and nice software tweaks have put the phone right in the top bracket. If OnePlus keeps up the pace, it will surely break into greater sales numbers and graduate from the flagship-killer tag to an actual flagship.
2. Google Pixel
"Oh that's overpriced!" "You're not Apple!" -- these are some of the things being said about the newly launched Google Pixel. While surely its pricing is debatable, this phone will guarantee you something of a different experience than the stock Android. And, while it doesn't have the most impressive industrial design in terms of looks, Google Pixel stole the show with its software.
The Google Assistant, still in its early avatar, has shown a lot of potential. And, for the first time, a phone made by Google has a great camera. It is actually amazing to see a camera so ridiculously fast. The question remains, will the Google Pixel age well as many Android phones tend to lose their charm after a while. You can read the full review here. Google Pixel starts in India from ₹57,000.
3. Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge
After a fantastic start to 2016, Samsung had a rough second half. The Note7 fiasco blew them apart somewhat. Yet, the world's No.1 smartphone manufacturer produced solid smartphones in Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge. Remember, Samsung was a company criticised for its design a couple of years earlier. In 2016, they produced one of the year's most beautiful smartphones.
The company has made TouchWiz much smoother and leaner, and the camera is fantastic even in low-light situations. The QHD screen is one of the best in business. Although the company used a MicroUSB and the phone's battery life isn't really top notch, the price point is really a draw because it was much lower than the iPhones and HTCs.
4. iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus
You can't leave these out from a list of best phones, can you? Apple released the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in September, and they hit the Indian shores a month later, starting at ₹60,000. There was a lot of controversy behind the phone's missing headphone jack, a step taken by Apple that it described as 'courage'. The upgrade in the processor works well and the wider colour gamut used in the screen seems vibrant.
The dual camera used in iPhone 7 Plus is great and Apple has updated the front camera in both the phones. The software can be a bit clunky at times. Apple has replaced the home button with a static button with haptic feedback, a move which can take getting used to. The phone is certainly not revolutionary but it sets the stage for the next year's 10th-anniversary edition.
5. Moto Z and Moto Z Play
LG tried modularity with LG G5 and failed big time. A couple of months later, Motorola showed the world how it is done. The modules sticking at the back of the phone easily without having to remove anything is a great idea. The phone retains its legacy of great software experience while providing great battery life and fast charging.
Motorola too has removed the headphone jack which seems to be a trend that many companies will follow in the coming year. Despite using the Snapdragon 820 processor, Moto Z is not as powerful as a Pixel or a OnePlus 3, but it does provide reliable performance.
While they didn't sell many units, Mi Mix and NextBit Robin were two phones that were a breeze of fresh air in terms of design. Even though the Robin is shaped like a block, the colour choices and buttons were spot on. The phone was great to hold and was a head turner in many areas.
Mi Mix was an engineering marvel with a screen to body ratio of over 90 percent. The phone used advanced audio technology to remove the speaker and generate sound during a call by using the frame of the phone's body. It also shifted the front camera to the bottom bezel to achieve more screen size.
There is a lot to look forward to in 2017, including more bezel-less phones, dual cameras, and advanced audio among other things.