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December 11, 2015

Holiday Buying Guide 2015: The best Android phones

by John_A


We live in a mobility-focused world, and manufacturers from all over the world have risen up to meet this demand. You have Samsung with its new line of premium Galaxy devices, Google revolutionizing the off-contract market with the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, Motorola’s own off-contract efforts, and even up and comers like Alcatel OneTouch. There are so many different smartphones out there, all for different types of people. With that in mind, it can be difficult to find the perfect handset, especially with how expensive many of these devices are.

Here at Talk Android, we’ve put together a detailed shopping guide on the best smartphones in the market for the holidays. There’s something for everybody on this list, whether it be powerful performance packages that Samsung offers, something more luxury in the Sony Xperia handsets, or even the media production capabilities in many of LG’s new devices.

We’ve taken the liberty of digging through the mire in order to bring you the best Android smartphones for this holiday shopping season. One thing we can guarantee: there’s something for you on this list.

Stocking Stuffers ($99 – $199)

Moto G (2015)


Motorola can make some impressive devices, even with decidedly mid-range specifications. The company created the Moto G with low price points and high performance in mind. It goes without saying, the Moto G delivers.

Motorola equipped the Moto G with a 5-inch 1280 x 720 display, a quad-core Snapdragon 410, 8GB ROM/1GB RAM or 16GB ROM/2GB RAM configurations, a 13-megapixel rear camera, and a 2470mAh battery. The smartphone comes with Android 5.1 straight out of the box with planned upgrades to Android 6.0 down the road.

The specifications may be low, but the off-contract handset is just as slick as many high-end devices. Not only that, but it’s guaranteed to save some money on those outrageous carrier bills by helping you ditch contracts. That’s the big benefit with the Moto G (2015): ditching carrier contracts while not breaking the bank on an off-contract smartphone. As mentioned earlier, even at its low price point, it has great mid-range specifications. In some cases, if you were to put the Moto G and a Galaxy Note 5 side-by-side and navigate the software, you wouldn’t notice much of a difference in speed or smoothness. It’s most definitely a win for the person that wants to get rid of contracts while still having a great smartphone.

The Moto G also has a lot of different accessories available for it, particularly an arsenal of back plates in different colors. Motorola also offers tons of different cases, shells, battery packs, microSD cards, and earphones for the Moto G. And if you’re still on the fence, be sure to check out review of the device. Starting at $179, a mid-range handset truly doesn’t get any better than this.


[Motorola] [Amazon] [Newegg]

Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 (4.7)


Alcatel OneTouch first launched the Idol 3, arguably one of the most impressive off-contract smartphones on the market. But with the demand for smaller devices, Alcatel OneTouch launched a smaller version of the handset, the Idol 3 4.7. It’s notably different in performance, but still delivers.

The Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 (4.7) features a 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 display, a quad-core Snapdragon 410 processor, 1.5GB of RAM, 8/16GB ROM configurations, a 13-megapixel rear camera, and a 2,000mAh battery. As far as software goes, it’s running Android 5.0. Alcatel OneTouch hasn’t made their plans known to upgrade the device to Android 6.0 yet, which may be something to consider when thinking over your purchase.

The highlight of the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 (4.7) certainly isn’t specifications, but providing a truly elegant device in a size that most people prefer. 5.5-inch or 6-inch devices are quickly becoming the norm, but aren’t for everyone. With that in mind, the Idol 3 with the 4.7-inch display is quite literally the perfect fit for those who want something smaller. On the downside, there aren’t a whole lot of accessories beyond your standard third-party cases for this device. However, much like the Moto G (2015) a great plus is that you get a formidable off-contract smartphone on the cheap.

Alcatel OneTouch did an impressive job with the Idol 3 4.7, bringing both performance and elegance in a relatively cheap package. For $179, this handset will break you free of carrier contracts while giving you something to impress your friends with.


[Alcatel OneTouch] [Amazon] [Newegg]

Under the Christmas Tree ($199 – $399)

ZTE Axon Pro


ZTE isn’t very well known in the United States, but the Chinese manufacturer is trying to change that by offering high-end devices at a competitive price point. That said, some might be surprised to see this device under the Christmas tree this year, but won’t live to regret it.

The ZTE Axon Pro (review here) sports a 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 display, an octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor, 4GB of RAM, 32/64GB ROM configurations, a 13-megapixel rear camera, a 3,000mAh battery, and it’s running Android 5.1 with ZTE’s own skin over top.

ZTE’s Axon Pro is an off-contract smartphone, which might be surprising from the specifications. High-end smartphones are far and few between as far as off-contract devices go. What’s even more surprising is that the Axon Pro is a high-end/flagship smartphone at a cheap price. The specifications are close to that of the Galaxy Note 5, but there’s still a good $400 – $600 difference in price. That makes the Axon Pro a hard one to pass up for the person looking for a flagship device, but still wanting to break free of those sometimes nasty contracts.

ZTE has undoubtedly become one of the leading manufacturers when it comes to producing off-contract and high-end smartphones at a low price points. Not only that, but the company offers an array of decent accessories for the device. Whether you need cases, shells, flip covers, clear cases, Bluetooth speakers or earphones, ZTE has it all available for the Axon Pro through its online store.

Still not sure about the Axon Pro? Check out our review for more details. Starting at $400, what you get from ZTE in the Axon Pro is pure, unadulterated quality.


[ZTE] [Amazon] [Newegg]

Moto X Pure Edition


The Moto X Pure Edition is the best of Motorola all in one pretty package. Not only do you get relatively powerful specifications, but you also get to tailor this handset to your likes and dislikes inside the Moto Maker. That last feature is what truly makes the Moto X Pure Edition special–the Moto Maker. Just about anyone can make a great performing smartphone with high-end specifications, but not many give you the ability to customize the device in almost every way possible.

Whether you want a traditional plastic back plate, bamboo, wood, a textured back, the Moto Maker has it all. You can go crazy and make your Moto X Pure Edition pink, neon green or even settle for some more standard colors. Whatever you choose to do, the Moto X Pure Edition is truly tailored to your likes. The customization does have a small downside: the smartphones takes a little longer to get to you. But if you can wait an extra couple of days, the Moto X Pure Edition is well worth having.

Motorola’s Moto X Pure Edition sports a 5.2-inch 2560 x 1440 display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, 16/32/64GB internal storage configurations, 3GB of RAM, a 21-megapixel rear camera, and a 3,000mAh battery. It’s also running Android 5.1 with plans to upgrade to Android 6.0.

Just like with the Moto G (2015), Motorola offers tons of different accessories for the Moto X Pure Edition, whether it be cases, shells, earphones, and more. Motorola has everything you need available to you, and that kind of service truly makes the Moto X Pure Edition worth having.

For just $399, you not only get a great performance package and the ability to break away from carrier contracts, but you get a device tailored to you. 


[Motorola] [Amazon]

Nexus 5X


The Nexus 5X is not only the latest and greatest from Google, but also the successor of the famed Nexus 5. Like many devices on this list, the Nexus 5X will break you free from those nasty carrier contracts, and maybe even offer you something better with Project Fi, that is, if coverage is available in your area.

This handset features a 5.2-inch 1920 x 1080 display, a Snapragon 808 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16/32GB ROM configurations, a 12.3-megapixel rear camera, a 2,700mAh battery, and it’s running Android 6.0, the latest version of the mobile operating system.

The Nexus 5X is a hard one to pass up for the tech enthusiast in your life. Being a Nexus device, it’s one of the first devices on the market to get the latest versions of Google’s mobile operating system, which is every tech-savvy individual’s dream. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t offer a lot of accessories for the device, but you do have the option of getting the Nexus 5X Folio from the Google Store as well as a handful of other cases for the handset.

At $299, between the performance and continued support, it’s a difficult device to pass up. But if you have more money to spend, it might be worth passing this one by and looking at the Nexus 6P, which we’ve detailed below.


[Google Store] [Amazon] [Best Buy] [B&H Photo]

For someone special ($399 – $899)

Galaxy Note 5


The Galaxy Note 5 is the latest and greatest from Samsung. It’s not a huge upgrade from last year’s Note 4, but the Galaxy Note 5 takes everything from its predecessor and makes things even better. It has a slightly larger display, more beautiful body, and all-around better improvements. Almost anyone would love to see this behemoth under the tree Christmas morning.

Samsung, being the smartphone giant that it is, has tons of accessories for this device as well, and I mean that in the literal sense. You can get almost anything you need for this device from Samsung, and even things you may not need. There’s S-View flip covers, protective covers, battery charging packs, wireless charging pads, wireless headphones, car accessories, and much, much more.

The handset has a 5.7-inch 2560 x 1440 Super AMOLED display, an octa-core Exynos 7420 processor, 4GB of RAM, 32/64GB ROM configurations, a 16-megapixel rear camera, and a non-removable 3,000mAh battery. It also is running on Android 5.1 (planned upgrade for Android 6.0) with Samsung’s own TouchWiz UI atop.

There’s a couple aspects that make the Galaxy Note 5 the handset to buy this holiday season. Not only does it have high-end specs and a beautiful media package, but it also comes with some extra nifty features, thanks to the S-Pen. Using features like Air Command and Air View with the S-Pen makes this device that much easier to use. And with its massive 5.7-inch display, media doesn’t get any better on a smartphone. If you feel like splurging this holiday season, the Galaxy Note 5 is the device to do it with. Still not sure? Be sure to check out our detailed review–it’s truly the best of Samsung!

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 price varies from retailer to retailer, but you can generally get it for $699 outright, $199 on a new two-year contract, or as low as $20/mo on a device payment plan through a carrier.


[Samsung] [Amazon] [Verizon] [AT&T] [T-Mobile] [Sprint] [Newegg]

Galaxy S6 Edge+


With how much of a hit the Galaxy S6 Edge was, it only made sense for Samsung to introduce a successor: the Galaxy S6 Edge+, a cross between its predecessor and the Galaxy Note 4. It’s one of the most premium devices on the market, and is the perfect companion for those that aren’t sure about the S-Pen on the Galaxy Note 5. Not having the S-Pen, you don’t get any of the extra features that come with it, which is a huge benefit for those that don’t actively use styluses; it also frees up some storage space.

This is exactly the same device as the Galaxy Note 5, just without the S-Pen, although there is the inclusion of the “edge” display, which adds some additional functionality that can prove to be useful. Much like the Galaxy Note 5, there’re tons of accessories for this device, whether that be protective shells, S-View flip covers, wireless chargers, and so on. Specifically for the Galaxy S6 Edge+ is also the optional physical keyboard accessory. It makes typing easy and efficient, but the downside is that it takes up way too much screen real estate.

The Galaxy S6 Edge+ is sporting a 5.7-inch 2560 x 1440 Super AMOLED display, an octa-core Exynos 7420 CPU, 4GB of RAM, 32/64GB ROM configurations, a 16-megapixel rear camera, and a non-removable 3,000mAh battery. Similar to the Note 5, it’s running Android 5.1 with a planned upgrade to Android 6.0. With the Galaxy S6 Edge+ (and Galaxy Note 5) Samsung also added a neat feature, allowing users to stream video directly to YouTube. With that in mind, the S6 Edge+ might just be the perfect choice for content creators as well.

The Galaxy S6 Edge+ sits around the same price as the Note 5 at $799 outright, $399 on a new two-year contract, or around $25/mo on a device payment plan. Not sure about making the leap for the device? Talk Android’s very own Justin Herrick put together an all-around solid review on the Galaxy S6 Edge+.


[Samsung] [Amazon] [Verizon] [AT&T] [T-Mobile] [Sprint] [Newegg]

Nexus 6P


Google partnered with up and coming Chinese manufacturer Huawei to make the Nexus 6P. Despite some wild controversy, the handset is one of the best Android experiences we’ve seen from the search giant yet. Not only will it save you a chunk of change by breaking you free of carrier contracts, but it’s also the perfect companion for consuming media, taking pictures, playing games, and even work.

The handset is equipped with a 5.7-inch 2560 x 1440 display, an octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32/64/128GB ROM configurations, a 12.3-megapixel rear camera, and a non removable 3450mAh battery.

Much like the Nexus 5X, there aren’t many accessories for the Nexus 6P, but Google does have their own Folio cases and regular cases available for the device in the Google Store. Not only that, but Google is also advertising a handful of other third-party cases in the Google Store that work well with the handset.

The Nexus 6P is truly the best from Google, and it’ll be officially supported for quite some time. Google is promised monthly security updates for many of its Nexus devices in addition to providing all of the latest versions of Android in a timely manner. If you’re looking for a handset with a beautiful and large display, all while sticking with stock Android, the Nexus 6P might just be right up your alley.

Starting at $399, this is one of the most premium devices you’ll ever get from Google.


[Huawei] [Google Store] [Amazon]

If you’ve got any questions, concerns, have a suggestion for this Holiday Buyer’s Guide, or saw a deal on any of these awesome devices, be sure to let us know in the comments below!

Come comment on this article: Holiday Buying Guide 2015: The best Android phones

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