Whenever we get asked whether to buy a current midrange smartphone or a similarly priced flagship from last year, we normally suggest the latter. After all, they were once the pride and joy of their respective brands, and buying them below the original retail price is a great deal.
For this list, we take a look back at the high-end phones we loved in 2015. Now that all of this year’s flagship devices are out, we can tell for certain which handsets of yesteryear matter the most.
Samsung Galaxy Note 5
Last year’s Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is, without a doubt, the best stylus-equipped smartphone you can buy right now, and that’s primarily because of the Galaxy Note 7’s unfortunate downfall. If you must have a digital pen attached to your phone at all times, there’s really no better option than finding Samsung’s fifth-generation flagship.
It’s easy to forget, but before the Galaxy Note 7 came into the picture, its predecessor was widely considered to be the best smartphone money could buy, even when 2016’s best began rolling out. To this day, you can’t argue against the Galaxy Note 5’s speedy in-house Exynos chipset, optically stabilized rear camera, and stunning 5.7-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display.
Sony Xperia Z5 Premium
This had to be the most polarizing flagship of 2015. It sought to answer the question: Do we really need a 4K display on a pocket-sized smartphone? The conclusion was mostly no, but the Xperia Z5 Premium was more than its overbearing screen resolution.
More importantly, it was the final torchbearer of Sony’s long-running Z series of water-resistant smartphones, and the last Xperia we could truly call premium. It had Qualcomm’s best processor in the Snapdragon 810, a high-resolution 23-megapixel rear camera, and fingerprint scanner conveniently placed on the side.
In a year that sorely lacked groundbreaking smartphone innovations, the LG V10 definitely stood out. As much as we liked the V20’s aggressive features in our recent review, it’s no V10; the pioneering V-series flagship made better use of its rugged image and secondary LCD display.
Another feather in the V10’s cap is the use of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 808 chipset. If you recall, the higher-end Snapdragon 810 processor that most flagship smartphones had last year was prone to overheating to the point of automatic shutdowns. LG evaded the issue by employing a more efficient hexa-core processor without compromising performance.
Apple iPhone 6s
Considering the minor cosmetic differences between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6s, last year’s model is still a fantastic deal. You don’t lose out on much; features like waterproofing and optical image stabilization for the camera aren’t must-haves unless you’re a travel photographer seeking a secondary pocket shooter.
Despite being a year old, the iPhone 6s’ A9 chipset is nothing to sneeze at; it can easily outpace every other phone on this list. You can also expect timely firmware updates for the next few years. And let’s not forget: You get to keep the 3.5mm audio jack!
Google Nexus 6P
With the release of Google’s new line of Pixel phones, the Nexus brand is effectively shelved, making the Nexus 6P a new-age collector’s item. What makes it so alluring is its continued support for the latest Android updates. You can enroll in Android’s beta program for version 7.1 of Nougat right now, and experience the best of the operating system before everyone else — except Pixel users, of course.
On top of that, the Nexus 6P has features other phones continue to envy, such as the front-facing stereo speakers, beautiful 5.7-inch Quad HD AMOLED display, and highly accurate fingerprint scanner. Its camera, despite having no image stabilization or fancy extra lens, can still hold its own against today’s best.