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Unbox’s Best Smartphones of 2015

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Honoring the very best of smartphones released this year!

2015 was an amazing year for mobile in the Philippines. Devices and products from both local and international brands have managed to level up in terms of specs, features, innovation and more importantly, pricing. This year saw the rise of several bang-for-the-buck devices from all players, as well as the beginning of the mid-range battle that’s poised to rage harder next year. We’re honoring the very best of tech today, so strap in and enjoy the ride!

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Best Phablet

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Winner: Huawei Google Nexus 6P

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Runner up: Samsung Galaxy Note 5

When we reviewed Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5, we thought for sure it would win in this category. The Note 5 is one of Samsung’s best smartphones yet, though many longtime Note owners didn’t like the gentrification of the series, and decried Samsung’s move to remove microSD expansion and removable battery options for a better design that ultimately made the Note 5 palatable to a wider audience. As late as November we were sure that Samsung clinched the title of best international phablet, but that all changed this month.

That’s when we were finally able to get our hands on the Huawei-built Nexus 6P. The Nexus series of smartphones have been the showcase lineup for the latest and best of the Android OS and ecosystem but it’s always had a problem appealing to a wider audience outside of Android enthusiasts.

That’s changed with the Nexus 6P. Built in cooperation with Chinese firm Huawei, the 6P is big, bold, beautiful and showcases the purest Android experience anywhere. Huawei’s managed to address the biggest issue with Nexus phones – lackluster camera performance – and delivers a gorgoeous looking smartphone that even an Android noob would love.

You can read our full review of the Galaxy Note 5 here, and the Huawei Nexus 6P here.

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Best International Flagship:

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Winner: ASUS Zenfone 2

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Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

2015 was a big year for both ASUS and Samsung. For the former, it proved to be the breakout year for their smartphone business and for the latter, it proved to be the turning point for their flagship design language. Samsung’s missteps in creating their Galaxy line of flagships have been well documented in the past years, and they’ve managed to turn things around at least in the eyes of critics and accountants with the Galaxy S6 Edge.

But looks alone won’t win you fans – people need to be able to afford the things that you offer if there is to be widespread adoption of your products. That’s why we’re awarding the best intenational flagship award to ASUS’ Zenfone 2. Not only is it one of the first phones in the world to offer previously unheard of 4GB of RAM, it’s also one of the most affordable flagships offered by an international brand. While the company has started to inundate the market with different versions of the ZF2, the OG model is one of the best smartphones that you can buy from an intenational outfit if you want the best blend of performance, design and price.

You can read our review of the ASUS Zenfone 2 here, and our review of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge here. 

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Best Bang-for-the-buck Smartphone (International)

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Winner: Alcatel Flash 2

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Runner-up: Lenovo A7000 Plus

Bang-for-the-buck devices used to be the realm of local players almost exclusively. That changed this year, when several international outfits outed their own take on the bang-for-the-buck market, offering hard to resist phones that were almost the same price of the offerings of local players.

While Alcatel’s Flash Plus was the talk of the town for many months after its release, we still feel that their next bang-for-the-buck smartphone, the Flash 2, is the better phone. It’s nicer to look at and hold, easier to use one handed and slightly addressed the lingering issues of the shooter on the Flash 2. Of course fellow Chinese manufacturer Lenovo also deserves a mention here along with their A7000 Plus (also known internationally as the K3 Note) which manages to blend good performance and excellent aftersales service into one affordable package.

You can read our full review for the Alcatel Flash 2 here, and the Lenovo A7000 Plus (K3 Note) here.

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Best Bang-for-the-buck Smartphone (Local)

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Winner: Cherry Mobile Flare X

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Runner-up: Firefly Mobile Allure 64 LTE

With the arrival of international bang-for-the-buck devices, local players like Cherry Mobile were caught by surprise in the first half of the year. While international players enjoyed relative dominance in the budget market smartphone space for a few months, local players didn’t take long to come out with their own offerings. Surprisingly enough, the first challenger to come out of the local market is the relatively little known brand Firefly Mobile and their Allure 64 LTE. The phone managed to impress us with its blend of specs and features, and was one of the first phones from a local outfit to come with 3GB of RAM under 10K.

Of course, you can’t keep Cherry Mobile down for long, and the company answered back with their own smartphone – with a vengeance. The Flare X is easily one of the best smartphones you can buy under 7K, and is still a very popular device for the company. It’s actually so popular that they’ve needed to switch to a newer chipset to keep up with demand as MediaTek has moved on from the older MT6752 chip that powered the old one. Even with the shift, the company’s Flare X is still enjoying brisk sales, even with other options available in the market today.

You can read our full review of the Firefly Mobile Allure 64 LTE here, and Cherry Mobile’s Flare X here.

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Most Innovative Local Flagship

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Winner: Starmobile Knight Spectra

Starmobile’s recently announced Knight Spectra is the sole contender in this particular category, simply because other local brands have decided to not release flagship-level smartphones anymore. Starmobile has, for better or for worse, has refused to play the price game with its competitors and have chosen instead to offer better value in their devices as evidenced by their tie-ups with local telco Smart and their innovative flagship, the Knight Spectra.

The Knight Spectra tries to bring something to the local space that used to be the realm of high-end devices like HTC’s One M9 – dual cameras that allow for refocusing. It’s a sizable risk for the company to innovate, especially in a market that’s all too happy to keep doing the same thing over and over again.

You can read our full review of the Starmobile Knight Spectra here.

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

22 Comments

  1. Question regarding zenfone 2 deluxe. where can you buy the 2.5ghz variant? sa website ni asus the deluxe only runs at 2.3ghz. Thanks!

    1. Clock speed will not matter kasi magto-throttle down yan after a certain point, hindi mo mararamdaman ang difference ng dalawa

  2. walang kwenta bakit hindi number 1 ang Iphone? e puro pang masa naman yan mga phone. Mga di afford ang iphone kaya yan ang binili

  3. I disgaree! Samsung Note 5 is the best with the S-Pen!!!

    Asus Zenfone 2 Rules!

    Lenovo A7000 Plus is much more awesome !

    FireFly Mobile Allure 64 LTE is much better than CM Flare X

    Starmobile Knight Spectra is awesome, but carries a huge price tag!

  4. Note 5 vs Nexus 6P

    Camera – Note 5 is better (see dxomark), small lead in still photos but large lead in videos. No OIS in nexus 6p

    Display – they sport the same samsung amoled panels but the note 5 screen is brighter and better calibrated (see phonearena)

    Fingerprint scanner – from various reviews nexus 6p is more accurate and faster but not by much. I think what’s more important here is the scanner placement. If your phone is in a table, do you really have to turn over your phone to unlock it? It’s inconvenient.

    SOC – Exynos vs Snapdragon. Performance advantage goes to exynos and generates less heat which leads to…

    Battery endurance – Note 5 > Nexus 6p

    Build quality/ design – i would not dwell into this. Depends on your choice

    Price – Advantage nexus 6p but you can get carrier subsidized version of note 5 which is cheaper than the 6p

    Software – If you prefer stock android and quick software updates then nexus 6p is for you. But bear in mind that stock android is not more usable than skinned android especially 2015 touchwiz,

  5. The Note 5 is STILL the superior device compared to the Nexus 6P, even if Samsung made it basically an iPhone (sealed up, fragile, disposable.)

    Literally the ONLY thing going for the 6P is the stock Android, and even the advantage of sheer speed doesn’t make up for the absolute lack of functionality that doesn’t rely on rooting and flashing custom software just to make it even nearly as usable, feature rich, and complete as the Note 5.

    Also, the Note schools the Nexus in the camera department. And Exynos trumps the botched Snapdragon 810.

    And no love for LG V10?

    Other than that, I’m happy with your list. Thanks for this.

    1. now THIS is the real dark horse in the field. My wife owns one and i believe it’s much, MUCH better that Alcatel FP2 or Lenovo A7000 plus, with a price tag to beat (i spent 6.5K PHP plus 500 for extended warranty.

      Hi Carlo/John, Have you got your hands on this REAL bang-for-buck phone?

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