Cream of the crop: the best flagship smartphones on the market

The debate rages on, as it has done for years now. It’s a debate even more intense than those of the days of PC versus Mac, or Nintendo versus Sega. And it’s no wonder why: it’s not just a simple question of brand loyalty. Your smartphone is as much a part of your everyday carry ensemble as your wallet and bag, so whatever you decide to drop a few hundred dollars on (or in the case of flagship phones, a thousand), you’d better like it. Your choice of smartphone can say an awful lot about you; typically Apple users prefer to sacrifice customisability for a rock-solid platform and flawlessly integrated ecosystem, while Android users have the luxury of choice, but face the threat of poor legacy support and compatibility issues.

Nonetheless, whichever camp you’re part of, when it comes time to upgrade, you’re still going to want the best for yourself. With the launch of the iPhone 7 looming, Apple fans may want to hunker down and wait it out -- see what the newest Apple flagship brings to the table. It may even convince diehard Android lovers to jump ship, depending on what amazing technology lies inside its sleek, futuristic form. But for those who can’t wait, or for diehard anti-Apple consumers, here are the best flagship smartphones available on the market today.

Apple iPhone 6S/iPhone 6S Plus

Image: Apple

The announcement for iPhone 7 may be just around the corner, but the old adage holds true: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Which is why many were left scratching their heads when Apple announced they would be doing away with the 3.5mm headphone jack. Rest assured, though: there is nothing broke about the iPhone 6S, Apple’s current reigning flagship. 

Specs-wise, the iPhone 6S may not look all that impressive on paper, but things couldn’t be more different in practice. Never mind that opening apps and navigating is lightning-fast (pun intended) thanks to its Apple A9 chip -- the iPhone 6S boasts a host of other improvements over the iPhone 6, including the ability to take Live Photos, and improved battery life. But the real game-changer is Apple’s 3D Touch technology, which lets native Apple apps respond to pressure-sensitive screen touches, eliminating the need for unnecessary clicks on hyperlinks. The iPhone 6S ain’t broke indeed.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7/Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

Pictured: the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. Image: Samsung

It may be a surprise to see the Note 7 on the list, given that Samsung recently announced a recall of all of these phones, due to fears of exploding batteries. Nonetheless, the Note 7 has proved to be an incredible phablet, easily unseating the iPhone 6S Plus from its position at the top of the heap. 

Honestly, the Samsung Galaxy flagships need almost no explanation, with their established legacy of leading the pack. Both the S7 Edge and the Note 7 use Samsung’s lightning-fast proprietary Exynos 8890 processors, and sport gorgeous pixel-packed Super AMOLED displays at an eye-popping 2560 x 1440 resolution -- by contrast, the iPhone 6S has a paltry 1334 x 750. Also, both the front and rear cameras set the new standard for photographic excellence. The primary difference between the two Samsung flagships lies in just 0.2 inches of screen size -- if the Note 7 is just a little too big for you, then the S7 Edge is the easy winner here.

OnePlus 3

Image: Pocket-Lint

Enough can’t be said about the marvel of modern engineering that is the OnePlus 3. Chinese startup OnePlus may not hold the same brand recognition as Samsung or Apple, but they can most assuredly hold their own against these giants. Known for making astoundingly affordable smartphones with an almost ludicrous amount of technology packed into their svelte figures, OnePlus once again knocks the competition out of the park with their latest flagship, the OnePlus 3. 

The OnePlus 3 has all the trappings of a winner: powerhouse Snapdragon 820 processor, 16-megapixel rear camera, 1920 x 1080 resolution, 3,000mAh battery with OnePlus’ proprietary Dash Charge capability, 64GB of onboard storage, and a whopping 6GB of RAM. There’s enough here to impress even the most condescending of fanboys. The best part? It retails for just $699 -- just over half the price of Apple’s and Samsung’s latest offerings.

Huawei Nexus 6P

Image: Android Central

The Nexus series has enjoyed immense success among Android users, primarily for one reason: it runs the stock, unmodified Android OS. Not only does this open up a wealth of options for those who like to modify their OS experience, but it also almost completely negates the app compatibility issues, since updates come directly from Google. The Nexus 5X, by LG, is a solid mid-range smartphone, easily beating out the competition with its rich feature set and promise of stock Android. But Huawei’s 6P is the Nexus phone for the more well-heeled of Android enthusiasts. 

The 6P’s smooth aluminium unibody is a marvel of engineering, and once you’ve used its fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone, anything else seems sluggish and archaic. It may be the oldest phone on this list, with only a Snapdragon 810 instead of an 820, but you’ll barely notice the difference, even when running graphically-intensive applications. Plus, with a 3,450mAh battery that puts most other offerings to shame, it’ll last you the day and then some. The Nexus 6P is, by far, the best way to experience pure, unadulterated Android.

Xiaomi Mi 5

Image: Android Beat

Xiaomi has been making waves as of late, most recently due to the release of their new Xiaomi Mi Notebook Air, which offered incredible specs and gorgeous design at a fraction of the price of competing ultrabooks, targeting Apple’s MacBook Air in particular. But if you think about it, the Mi Notebook Air shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone: Xiaomi has already made a name for itself by producing solid, affordable tech that places pressure on the competition to drop their prices.

And the Mi 5 is no exception. Sporting a 3,000mAh battery and 1920 x 1080 display, as well as the same cutting-edge Snapdragon 820 present in most flagships nowadays, the Mi 5 is putting some serious pressure on the OnePlus 3. Plus, while it may be overflowing with shiny new features, it weighs a svelte 129g, disappearing into your pocket the way a similarly-sized phablet (the Galaxy Note 7 is 168g by comparison) wouldn’t. The OnePlus 3 may win out on design and build quality, but the Mi 5 is just that slight bit cheaper.

Honorable mentions: HTC 10, LG G5, Huawei P9

Pictured: the HTC 10. Image: Forbes

Had this list been allowed to be longer, these other offerings would have made it. The LG G5’s unique modularity lets you tack on a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) or dedicated camera shutter. Plus, it’s the only option available for those who absolutely need a removable battery. The Huawei P9’s Leica-made camera takes some jaw-dropping monochrome shots, and has an extensive editing suite for your Instagram needs. And finally, the HTC 10 is the latest and greatest from the Taiwanese company: even after all these years, it still holds the crown for the best speakers in the smartphone department. All of these should be held in equal regard as the above selections, and are amazing choices in their own right.