2016 Gift Guide: Smartphones That Will Rule the Holiday Season

By on October 28, 2016


Lost in the hype of exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7s (the curse of the phantom Note 6, I tell you!), the smartphone continues to grow—literally—and evolve into a powerful necessity of modern computing life. Smartphones are now the most popular tech category on Ben’s. And as unlocked phones have become the standard, the choices available to consumers have exploded (too soon?).

Still, as we do our annual rundown of the best smartphones to buy for the holiday season, we see many of the usual suspects…although no Windows phones this year (sniff).

Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus

One year short of its 10-year anniversary, the iPhone is still synonymous with smartphones, and iOS (now iOS 10) has become a very stable and far-reaching ecosystem (Siri, Apple Pay). It’s also become somewhat predictable and staid.

Released in September 2016, the iPhone 7 did stir up some controversy when Apple removed the headphone port, requiring an included dongle to be used with standard 3.5mm headphones. Apple fans accepted all this, of course.

Though you do get waterproofing now and some new color options, the iPhone 7 and the 7 Plus both suggest Apple is planning something better in the future (cue 10th year anniversary). Or so we hope.

If you’re in the Apple ecosystem, the iPhone is still pretty much a no-brainer.

iPhone 7

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Google Pixel and Pixel XL

The newly released Google Pixel (5”) and Pixel XL (5.5”) released in October 2016 are a significant step for Google, as it has developed the new Pixel series without a hardware partner for the first time. (Although HTC technically manufactures the phone, much like Foxconn for Apple’s iPhone).

The polish of the Pixel indicates that Google has been closely watching the leading smartphone makers and learned from its own previous smartphone ventures (Nexus).

On the hardware side, the phone may not be as aesthetically slick as the mature iPhone or Galaxy S series, and it’s also not waterproof like those phones. The Pixel does employ a powerful VR-enabling Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, 4K camera and long-lasting battery.

On the software side, the Pixel really shines. Google has an inside edge with the new Android 7.1 (“Nougat”) which features the impressive Google Assistant (a la Siri), plus free unlimited storage for all pictures and videos for Pixel users. Like the iPhone and iOS, the Google Pixel and Android go together because they’re built by the same company. In that sense, it’s the most powerful iPhone alternative to ever hit the market.

Google Pixel

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Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge

The Samsung Galaxy S series smartphone has been the iPhone’s most successful competitor to date. The 5.1-inch Galaxy S7 and 5.5-inch S7 Edge (March 2016) still boast features not on the iPhone, like a microSD slot and robust IP68 waterproofing (vs. lower-rated IP67 WP for iPhone 7)—remember Lil Wayne spilling champagne on his Galaxy S7? Both phones are also compatible with the Samsung Galaxy VR headset, a more forward-looking feature than Apple has offered to date.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so if you’re not into the iPhone, iOS or Apple, the Samsung S7 and S7 Edge offer aesthetically pleasing, but fragile, all-glass construction (like the beloved iPhone 4), standout displays and a mature OS (Android 6.0). And these phones don’t explode.

On Ben’s, we’ve been seeing more Android Pay deals recently, which is a great way to get people into the Android ecosystem.

Galaxy S7

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Huawei Honor 8

Huawei is not as well-known in the U.S. like Apple, Samsung or Google, but it’s a popular name among the tech savvy, like our very own Ben’s audience. (We even gave away the Honor 8 this past summer.)

The feature-rich, 5.2-inch Honor 8 (July 2016) runs Android 6.0, sports a speedy Kirin 950 chipset and has an all-glass design with metal frame that is visually appealing and available in 3 colors. It uses a dual lens 12MP camera, like the iPhone 7. It also has a fingerprint scanner and supports NFC, allowing you to use Android Pay.

The Honor 8 does not have 4K video or an AMOLED display like the ones found in the Pixel and Galaxy S7, but you’re also paying a few hundred dollars less and still getting a flagship-grade smartphone.

Huawei Honor 8

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Motorola Moto G4

A smartphone that will soften the blow to your wallet even more is the Motorola Moto G4 Android 6.0 smartphone (May 2016). Motorola, now owned by Lenovo, positions its 4th generation Moto G as the flagship smartphone bargain alternative. We’ve seen the Amazon ads model for as low as $120 on Ben’s—a price you’ll probably see again around Black Friday.

While it’s mostly plastic, there is a metal frame, and the G4 has an excellent full HD Gorilla Glass display and upgraded 2GB RAM (4GB on the Plus). Although it is a quality phone for the price, it’s inevitably missing features found on higher end phones. It’s not waterproof and doesn’t have NFC, so you can’t use Android Pay.

If you need a fingerprint sensor, get the Moto G4 Plus.

Moto G4

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About Joe Warner

I'm the senior editor of The CheckOut. I am an aficionado of shiny gadgets and classic Hollywood movies and can also tell you the names of the late '80s Swedish Davis Cup team members.

One Comment

  1. CarolP

    December 1, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Love the Samsung Galaxy. My next one will be a Note!

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