Australians have a wide variety of options available when it comes to great smartphones in 2015. Shape, size, style, performance and features are all factors that can be considered, and the diversity is endless. So with all this variety available, which model should you buy?
Unless you specifically want a phone with a very large screen, want to run a different operating system like Android or want a cheaper model, we think the Apple iPhone 6 is currently the best smartphone for most Australians, and the one most people should buy. In this article, we’ll outline why.
Note: We are also expecting Apple and Google to announce new smartphones shortly, so you may want to hold off on purchasing for a couple of months until we get a better picture on smartphone availability in Australia over the next six months. The iPhone 6 is our recommendation for today. We’ll continue to update this article over time as new models are released.
How do you define ‘best’?
Buying a piece of technology which you will use as frequently as a smartphone is a highly personalised experience. It’s obviously impossible to recommend one single model which will suit everyone. Not only is size a factor — different humans have different sized hands — but there are also many other factors which people take into account when making such a purchase.
The physical style of a smartphone matters more to some buyers, while others will focus more on features. Some will choose a device based primarily on how well it integrates with the rest of their digital life, or for certain pieces of software they want to run on it, while others shop primarily on price.
With this in mind, recommending one smartphone as the ‘best’ option for all Australians is an impossible exercise. This is not a situation where one size will fit all.
What we can do, however, is recommend one device that will be the best option for most Australians. If you don’t have too many specific requirements (you’re a mainstream consumer and can afford a 12 or 24 month contract plan), it is possible to recommend a place for most people to start.
With this in mind, ‘best’ in this article is defined by the best all-round smartphone for most Australians. If you’re considering buying a smartphone, we recommend you start with the model we recommend here (and perhaps the runner-up). We’ll also provide a few great divergent options for those who our choice won’t suit.
Why should you listen to me?
I’m one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists, and I’ve put hundreds of hours into writing about and reviewing smartphones in Australia over the past five years or so that I’ve been running Delimiter.
In that time, I’ve handled dozens of great smartphones. I’ve reviewed many different Apple, Android, Windows and even BlackBerry smartphones for Delimiter. I’m familiar with all of the major operating system platforms, and have spent a great amount of time with each. On a personal basis, I tend to switch between smartphone manufacturers on a regular basis, so I know how these models handle in practice over extended personal use.
I also know and follow the writing of other mobile phone reviewers, both in Australia and internationally, so I am able to draw their experiences into these kind of ‘best’ articles to generate a good synthesis of opinion.
I decided to write a series of ‘best of’ articles regarding Australian technology because I am regularly asked by friends, family, colleagues and others which technology they should buy. These articles are my solution to that problem ;)
What options are there available on the market?
When you examine Australia’s smartphone market, it quickly becomes clear that there are really two major classes of devices available: Apple iPhones, and devices from a range of other manufacturers running the Android platform. The most common Android models you will see come from the Asian manufacturers Samsung and HTC.
There are definitely other options available. Microsoft, through its 2013 purchase of the Finnish company Nokia, still sells a variety of devices under the ‘Lumia’ brand. These smartphones don’t run Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android platform, but instead a version of Microsoft Windows.
And Samsung and HTC also face competition from a range of less successful competitors. LG and Sony still make handsets running Android, and Chinese vendor Huawei is fast making inroads into the Australian market. Other brands include Motorola and even Oppo. In addition, you can also look at Google’s own Nexus brand of smartphones, which are popular because they feature a streamlined default version of Android without any additional software bundled on top that you may not want.
The BlackBerry is still kicking around, and it’s also possible to import devices from overseas. The OnePlus 2 smartphone is currently making waves in the US, for example.
Cutting down the options
When considering the field, the first thing that becomes apparent that we can remove a number of the options straight away when trying to make an overall recommendation for the ‘best’ smartphone for most Australians.
The Apple iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung’s Galaxy Note line and the Google Nexus 6, for example, are probably too large for most people at this stage of the smartphone buying cycle. They all feature large screens that mostly require both hands — or a stylus — to use. Samsung’s Edge devices — which feature a curved display on the sides — are funky but likewise probably too niche for most users.
BlackBerry still makes great smartphone hardware, but we don’t consider its devices a realistic purchase at this point due to the immaturity of their software platform and lack of third-party application support. It’s a similar case for Microsoft’s Lumia models — while the Windows Phone platform is solid, it doesn’t have many of the third-party apps that we would like.
By all lights, the just-launched OnePlus 2 looks like a great model, but it is likely to be limited by availability in Australia for a while yet.
This leaves us with Apple’s moderately sized iPhone 6 and a clutch of great models from Android manufacturers.
The top models from each manufacturer are as follows. We’ll examine each to cut down our list further:
Apple iPhone 6
Apple’s iOS is the most mature mobile platform available, with the biggest third-party software library. The iPhone 6 is the company’s mainstream phone and has a great camera, a beautiful display, and decent battery life. But we’re not huge fans of its new design with the lines on its back, and its camera lens protrudes from the case, meaning it does not sit perfectly flat on a desk. Plus, it’s Apple, so it tries to lock you into its way of doing everything, and iPhones aren’t cheap.
Samsung Galaxy S6:
Samsung’s reworked metallic design places the S6 ahead of the rest of the Android pack when it comes to device hardware, and alongside Apple. The camera is also very good and the screen is a higher resolution than the iPhone 6, meaning it’s a bit sharper. However, like the iPhone 6, the Galaxy S6 also has an annoying camera bump on the back. And Samsung is notorious for adding on its own custom software on top of Android — not unlike the way PC manufacturers used to bundle on unwanted software with Windows. You’ll also pay a decent chunk of change for a Samsung unit.
HTC One M9:
I don’t personally rate it that highly, but many reviewers really like the metallic design of HTC’s one line, giving it a high quality rating. Good speakers, good battery life and solid performance round out what is a very good smartphone, but there have been questions over the past few years regarding HTC’s camera choices. Then, too, this year’s HTC One is quite similar to last year’s, spurring questions about the level of innovation HTC is currently achieving with its smartphones.
Sony Xperia Z3
I really like the Z3’s stark, masculine design — it’s very Zen. You get features with the Z3 that you don’t get on some other models — such as support for a microSD card add-on and very good water and dust resistance, as well as the ability to link up with Sony’s PlayStation consoles for mobile gaming. In addition, Sony has resisted the urge to tinker too much with Android. However, the Z3 was released in October 2014, and is starting to look a little long in the tooth at this point.
The G4 is a recently a funky model with few compromises. It comes with a unique slightly curved display and back (which can be replaced in a variety of fashionable options), as well as the ability to remove its battery and microSD card functionality. Its camera and display are awesome, and it has very good performance. Perhaps the only downside is that the G4 doesn’t quite feel as classy as some models to some reviewers, due to its removable back casing, and it has a bunch of add-on software of questionable value which sits on top of Android.
A new entrant into the high-end smartphone wars, the P8 has top-end specifications and performs well, but lacks a bit of that deep polish and component integration which the big brands like Samsung and Apple display. It does, however, make up for what it lacks in quality with a cheaper than usual price, meaning you’ll be able to get a quality and high-end smartphone for a few hundred dollars cheaper than the top of the market, if you go with a Huawei model.
How to judge a winner
At this point, any of the models we’ve listed above would make a great smartphone for most Australians. They all support the 4G speeds we enjoy through Australian mobile networks, they all feature quite striking designs, they all perform well, they all have decent cameras and they all offer great system and third-party software that the average Australian would want.
But ultimately there are a couple of models which are a tiny distance out in front of the pack.
The iPhone’s camera — consistently great in every situation — and its best in class software support give it a leading place. And there are little quibbles that we have with the other Android models that keep them just behind the S6, which Samsung has polished continually over the years with successive Galaxy S releases until it is a worthy rival to the iPhone.
These two models are the two most popular smartphones in Australia for a reason. All of their major features perform excellently — from their camera to their screen to their software — and they don’t suffer major battery life problems such as early 4G smartphones did. And because they’re so popular already, they get a ‘halo’ effect — funky cases and cool third-party hardware accessories are also widely available.
We habitually recommend either one to our friends, family and colleagues, and we recommend them to you.
At the end of the day, the iPhone 6 comes out a tiny amount ahead because of our earlier definition of ‘best’. The iOS ecosystem is just a bit better established than Android, and Apple also wins points for its integration between its popular iMacs and MacBooks and iOS. While it’s true that the company’s platforms are often less flexible than competing systems such as Android or Windows, they are also incredibly stable and workable.
If you want the best smartphone in Australia for most Australians, the iPhone 6 is going to be it. You can be confident when buying it that it will do everything you want to do, without issues. This ‘safety’ factor gives the iPhone 6 an edge over the Galaxy S6. It’s not a large edge, however, and if you don’t like Apple’s control freak nature, then we recommend you look elsewhere. The iPhone 6 has only just pipped the Galaxy S6 at the post, and for many people it will come down to a matter of preference between the two.
A couple of final notes: We’re also currently watching a number of new smartphone releases into Australia. The OnePlus 2 is looking like an amazing phone for a cheap price, so we’ll be keeping an eye on Australian availability of that model. And Motorola is also launching new smartphones into Australia, so we’re keeping an eye on them.
Furthermore, we are also expecting both Apple and Google to announce new models shortly. So if you can wait, you may want to hold off for a couple of months until we get more clarity on those major launches.
This article will be updated regularly on Delimiter as these events occur, and we pick new winners.
Image credit: Various