Buying a smartphone can be complicated and a little daunting, even for gadget fans.
The problem is choice anxiety: There’s simply so many options out there, and if you walk into a carrier store the representatives are likely to try to sell you a device you don’t actually need.
We can rank smartphones ad nauseam, but at some point it’s worth stepping back and asking the question What is the best choice an average consumer can make?
My mum is just that sort of average consumer. She’s smart, reads reviews, and tries to make the best choice before buying any expensive product. But she’s also not a regular tech reader, and doesn’t necessarily know what to look for in a new smartphone.
She does have one leg up on the average consumer though: Her son writes tech reviews, and has gotten his hands on every major smartphone released this year.
When she texted me Wednesday night asking me what new phone she should buy with a good camera, I admit I rolled my eyes, imagining stuffing all the random phone factoids bouncing around in my head into a single text. Mums, amirite? But the moment passed, and I realised the answer was actually pretty simple. Here’s what I sent my mum:
Best phone/camera in the world = Samsung Galaxy s7 Edge. Slightly cheaper option with the same camera = Galaxy s7. Extra benefit of both is they’re super durable and waterproof. Best midrange phone/camera in the world (if you don’t mind a small screen) = iPhone SE. Best midrange phone with a big screen = OnePlus 3 (that’s what I’m typing this text one). Best cheap phone in the world = Moto G4 Plus. Best very cheap phone in the world = Moto G4. If you want to spend less than $100 buy a Moto G3. Anything not on that list is a waste of money.
You’ll notice a few things here.
First of all, when you get right down to it, there are only really seven phones even worth mentioning from the last year. And they come from just four different manufacturers.
Second, only one of the phones is an iPhone. We are at the tail end of the iPhone model year, but it’s a reminder that Apple hasn’t done anything to make its flagship product stand out this year but pack its internals into a smaller, somewhat cheaper product.
There are plenty of reasonably good devices that don’t make this list, and I can already imagine their fans scowling. But the fact is the Galaxy lineup so thoroughly and overwhelmingly outcompetes every other premium brand in 2016 that you can’t make a serious argument for mentioning them. Unless they’re already a diehard fan of HTC design or the iPhone 6s Plus’ iOS software, you can’t look a normal buyer in the eye and tell them those devices are worth their money. (LG, please don’t @ me.)
Moving on down, the midrange phones are the only real bright spot of competition. The OnePlus 3 and iPhone SE are similarly priced excellent phones, and there are no serious all-around competitors in their weight class. Which one you buy just comes down to personal preference.
At the far cheap end, once again there’s essentially no competition. The Motorola G lineup is once again the only serious option for a normal consumer looking for a great phone for $250 or less.
The one other phone missing from this list is the brand-new device Business Insider’s Steve Kovach called the most beautiful smartphone he’d ever used: the Galaxy Note 7. It is a beautiful phone, but I’m too good a son to tell my mother she should spend $850 on a phone.
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