It's already been a great year for Android. The OnePlus 3 proved once again that you don't need to break the bank to buy a good phone and the Samsung Galaxy S7 showed us that, well, the premium-tier Android handsets can still be pretty incredible. But more interesting smartphones lie just around the corner; here are the new Android phones to get excited about in 2016.
Nexus Sailfish and Nexus Marlin
Two of the most hotly anticipated Android smartphones of the year are still to come. In September, it's expected that we will see the release of the Nexus Sailfish and the Nexus Marlin, the new Google flagships. Last year, Google partnered with LG on the Nexus 5X and Huawei for the Nexus 6P – this time, all signs indicate that HTC is in the driver's seat.
Unlike the aforementioned 5X and 6P, 2016's Nexus phones are expected to house mostly the same specs as each other, with the major difference being the display size and resolution. Rumors suggest the Nexus Marlin will house a 5.5-inch QHD display, with a metal frame, while the Nexus Sailfish would house a 5.2-inch Full-HD display, with a plastic frame. Battery capacities are also likely to differ between the two.
Beyond those, speculation suggests the other specs would be the same across both devices: a Snapdragon 820 or 821 processor, 4 GB of RAM, 13 MP rear camera, 8 MP front-facing camera and 32 GB of storage on the base models.
The major selling point of Nexus phones is, ostensibly, the early chance to take the latest version of stock Android for a ride. In this case, that would be Android 7.0 Nougat. These devices may be only weeks away and thanks to the (almost) 'same specs, different size', approach, they could both prove equally popular.
Approximate release date: September 2016
Xiaomi Redmi 4 and Mi Note 2
Xiaomi has made a name for itself by making solid Android products that undercut the price of competing phones with similar specs. The brand is wildly popular in China but is yet to make a splash in the US – not least because of copyright concerns.
Its Redmi series is known for its low-cost handsets and impressive specs. The Redmi 4 is expected to arrive rocking Android 6.0 Marshmallow, a 5-inch 1080p screen, 2 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of internal storage space. Speculation suggests this would cost the Chinese equivalent of about $105. Xiaomi's pricing is nothing if not aggressive.
The Redmi 4 is rumored to launch in August, with the Mi Note 2, the latest in its Mi phablet series, said to be coming in September. Said to start around $375, it's rumored that this would be a 5.7-inch device with a curved display, similar to the Galaxy Note 7 (which costs upwards of $800). If it can compete with that device, at half the price, it would be stunning.
Approximate release date: August-September 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 ($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, this was a great mid-range offering.
Now, just when we thought Asus couldn't get any more outlandish, it has revealed the Zenfone 3 series, which includes a model with 6 GB of RAM and a 6.8-inch phablet.
Three variants will be available at launch, the Zenfone 3, Zenfone 3 Deluxe, and Zenfone 3 Ultra, all of which house a Full-HD display, fingerprint scanner and metal unibody design.
The Deluxe version costs $499 and comes with a Snapdragon 820 processor, 23 MP Sony camera and the aforementioned 6 GB of RAM. By all accounts, it's going to be a powerful flagship.
The Zenfone 3 Ultra, on the other hand, costs $479 and includes 4 GB of RAM, in addition to a whopping 4,600 mAh battery and 6.8-inch screen.
When we first wrote about it, we said that if Asus included a 1080p display on one of the Zenfone 3 models, while keeping the price low, it could be a superb smartphone. At $249, it seems that the standard Zenfone 3 will be just that.
Approximate release date: Q3 2016
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: End of summer 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: Q3 2016 (pilot)
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.