The Best Android Phones of 2016

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Big, small, stock, or skinned, if you're in the market for a new smartphone, chances are there's an Android option to fit your fancy. And unlike Apple's rigid release cycle, Google's hardware partners unleash a seemingly endless stream of new devices year-round. But therein lies the problem: With so many options out there, how do you settle on the right one? Lucky for you, we test and review nearly every smartphone available on all the major US carriers. 

Now that we're fully into spring, the major flagship phones have largely hit the market and appear on this list. If you still have time to wait, the next big Android releases in the US may be from Motorola and Google Nexus in early summer.

Also note that while the reviews above may not show your carrier of choice, most of the phones here are available for, or compatible with, multiple US carriers. Read on for what to look for when buying, as well as our top picks for Android phones.

Big or Small
Among Android's greatest strengths is the unbelievable diversity of hardware choices. Every manufacturer tries to set its smartphones apart with some whiz-bang feature or eye-popping specs. But do you really need a Quad HD display or a 4K camera? And what should you make of the ever-growing phablet? Most current high-end devices have screens of 5.5 inches or larger. If you're looking for a smaller phone there are plenty of midrange choices, like the Moto G series or the 4.7-inch variant of the Alcatel One Touch Idol 3. In terms of smaller, premium phones with top-notch processors, the Samsung Galaxy S7 pushes past the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact in terms of power. 

Whether you want a tablet-sized screen or a razor-thin slab of aluminum, there's an Android phone for nearly every taste. Regardless of your budget, you'll likely be able to find a phone with the exact screen size you want.

Software Versions
Not all Android is created equal. Device manufacturers like HTC and Samsung have been applying their own visions to Android for some time now. If you want a pure Google experience, then you want to go for either Nexus or Motorola devices, both of which deliver very clean, Google-centric versions of the software.

Android 6.0 Marshmallow is Google's latest flavor of mobile OS that you can actually download (although Android 7.0 N is currently in preview for developers), so you should look for a phone that either comes with Marshmallow, or has a stated path to getting there. Android device makers have mixed track records when it comes to upgrading their OSes, in large part because the updates tend to get delayed by US carriers. HTC, Motorola, and Nexus phones tend to be more transparent about their upgrade process than other devices. If you care about having the latest version of Android as promptly as possible, you need to buy an unlocked, carrier-free phone rather than one from your carrier's store.

Carrier-Approved or Unlocked
The US market is still dominated by carrier-sold phones, but a new breed of high-quality unlocked options is starting to flood the market. We've seen phones drop below the $100 mark, but you'll typically want to spend more for a higher quality device. The good news is that you don't have to break the bank to get a quality Android experience.

Some of our favorite Android phones are available completely unlocked for around $250, no strings attached. Fully half of this list is available unlocked: the Blu Life One X, Google Nexus 6P, HTC 10, Motorola Moto G, and Motorola Moto X Pure Edition can all be bought direct, with no carrier involvement. But most people still buy their phones through carriers, which offer a single point for service and support, as well as monthly payment plans that dramatically lower the upfront prices of phones.

Choosing Android as your mobile operating system is only half the battle. If you're still on the fence, check out our list of The 10 Best Smartphones, regardless of OS. To see our most recent reviews, take a look at our Cell Phones Product Guide. And for help choosing a carrier, see How to Save Money on Your Cell Phone Plan.

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