There were a number of excellent smartphone releases in 2015, which we'll no doubt be discussing for a long time. But as we begin 2016, our attention is turning to the smartphones which lie just around the corner. Here are the new Android phones to get excited about in 2016, now featuring Project Tango.
Project Ara isn't the only new Google phone/prototype/thing that's set to arrive in 2016. There's also Project Tango, for which Google has teamed up with Lenovo to transform "your smartphone into a magic lens that lets you place digital information on your physical world". OK...
What this means is that the Project Tango smartphone is equipped with extra sensors that enable its camera to perceive depth, expanding the opportunities for what app and software developers can achieve with a smartphone.
Lenovo hasn't finalized the design yet – the image below shows a number of possibilities – but we do know that it will arrive in the summer and will cost less than US$500. Check out some of these Play Store apps to see the kinds of things the technology can be used for.
Approximate release date: Summer 2016
Motorola Moto G (4th gen)
Motorola's G series made its name by producing low-cost handsets with good specs, but this year's Moto G (3rd gen) failed to strike the same price/performance balance as its predecessors. Will Motorola's fourth-generation Moto G reclaim the budget Android crown?
If that is indeed its aim, the Moto G (2016) might need to include a Full HD display. Sony released the expensive Xperia Z5 Compact with a 720p display only a short time ago, so it may still be too soon to expect this technology on a budget device like a Moto G, but if Motorola did manage to include such a screen on a low-priced device, the Moto G (4th gen) could be an awfully compelling handset.
Approximate release date: July 2016
Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge
Samsung's Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge changed a number of important aspects of the Galaxy S series design. They lost the removable battery and expandable storage, and a lot of people fell out of love with the Korean manufacturer as a result. However, Samsung still produced two fantastically fast handsets, with delicious displays and compelling cameras, things that Samsung rarely gets wrong.
The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are likely to be only incremental upgrades to their predecessors, with a similar glass and metal designs. This time though, there are rumors that Samsung will implement its own 3D touch technology.
Approximate release date: April 2016
LG has made some seriously good phones in the past couple of years, along with some seriously weird ones. But its flagship G series has been consistently high quality.
While LG hasn't pursued the glass and metal design like most of its competitors, and many see this as a flaw, we called the LG G4 "impressive in all the right places" in our review. What the G4 lacked in premium materials, it makes up for with premium features.
We hope the LG G series stays on this path. If the LG G5 manages to deliver in the important areas once again, it should be one of the best phones to come out next year. You can read more about why I would be keen to buy a new LG flagship at the link.
Approximate release date: Q2, 2016
Sony Xperia Z6
Sony is now approaching the sixth device in its Xperia Z series and like the HTC One M10 (see below), it could be a make or break device.
The Xperia Z devices are based around Sony’s OmniBalance principle: a water-resistant, dust-proof, aluminum and glass body. The devices have changed very little between each generation, but as the sixth iteration approaches, we wonder if it's time for a refresher.
We noted in our Xperia Z5 review that, despite the presence of a MicroSD card slot, fingerprint scanner and water-resistant design, the Z5 isn't superior in enough ways to justify its steep asking price (£549 or around US$850). The Z series is becoming less and less relevant and Sony needs to act quickly to turn things around with the Xperia Z6.
Approximate release date: Q1, 2016
Project Ara won't produce a flagship phone, instead, it will allow you to create a flagship yourself, to your own specifications. The core components of the device – the display, camera, battery, etc – are all interchangeable and can be easily swapped out of the device and upgraded.
We've already had a glimpse at some of the capabilities of Project Ara – as well as unique components such as an X-Ray camera module – and the range of design opportunities that it presents are extremely exciting.
Consider this: typical smartphone manufacturers must include components that attract as wide a demographic as possible. It's not built for you, it's built for everyone. Project Ara asks: "What are you into? What do you want to see from a smartphone?" and will let you create your own answers.
Though the Project Ara team has now ditched its electromagnetic component design, you can get an idea of why Project Ara is so interesting in the video below.
Approximate release date: Q1, 2016 (pilot)
HTC One M10
HTC hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire recently. The HTC One A9 looks like an iPhone knock-off, and the company itself was valued as worthless by investors. Its profits have been in decline for years, and HTC badly needs to produce a big-selling phone. Will the HTC One M10 be it?
Little is known about the HTC One M10 yet, but we can only hope that HTC addresses some of the concerns of its predecessor. A device redesign may be in order, and we hope it drops the HTC bezel that has plagued the bottom of the display since the One M7.
HTC played it safe with the One M9 and it has been a relative failure. HTC's next handset may need to be something radical.
Approximate release date: April 2016
The Nextbit Robin could really shake things up in the world of Android. It's made by a company comprising Google, HTC, Amazon and Apple employees, and is a bold new device that's looking to do things a little differently.
The design is an interesting one, with its round buttons and eggshell color, but the real originality lies in the cloud functionality. The Nextbit Robin's cloud-integration means it’s always backing up your data to keep space available on your device for the files you need most, archiving those you use least. This means that file transfer could become completely automated.
The Nextbit Robin is already taking pre-orders – find out more over at its Kickstarter page.
Approximate release date: February 2016
Asus Zenfone 3
The Zenfone 2 was notable for a number of reasons. With 4 GB of RAM and a low price of admission (US$299), it was a cheap and powerful handset. The design was a tad boring, and the display could have been better, but with a 64-bit CPU and fast-charging, the Zenfone 2 was a great mid-range offering.
It was first introduced at CES 2015, so we hope to get a glimpse of the third generation of the device in January. If Asus can include a more impressive display on the Zenfone 3 while keeping the price low, it could be a superb smartphone.
Approximate release date: Q2 2016
Those are the devices that we're looking forward to right now, but we'll add to the list as we edge closer to the release dates of others. Let us know in the comments what phone you're most excited about in 2016.