Smartphone Awards 2016

Introduction

The year of 2016 is about to end, we all know that many phones had been released this year. Well, why not, let’s just have the smartphone awards before we say goodbye to 2016? Here we will be having 11 smartphone awards, each award will have one or more winners, as well as some honorable mentions. Let’s begin!

Disclaimer: Only smartphones that are/were officially available in Malaysia this year will be included.

Best Buy (Below RM1k)

Winner: Xiaomi Redmi Note 3

Let’s kick off with the “Best Buy” award, by that we meant the smartphone that is most worthwhile to purchase. For smartphone below RM1k, it’s definitely the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3. Priced below RM1k, the Redmi Note 3 is a smartphone that can be competed against most smartphones that are priced above RM1k.

The device has a metal unibody design and there’s a fast fingerprint sensor on its back. It has a 5.5-inch Full HD display, which is pretty rare for a smartphone at this price range. Man! Some smartphones priced above RM1k don’t even have a Full HD display! Other unexpected specs are the Snapdragon 650 processor, 16MP PDAF rear camera, and a huge 4,050mAh battery. Seriously, why other manufacturers pricing their phones at even higher prices, but the specs aren’t as good as the Redmi Note 3?

Currently, it’s a bit harder to purchase the smartphone, but some online retailers are still selling it.

Honorable Mention: The Flash Plus 2 is also a good choice, which is even cheaper than the Redmi Note 3. However, it has a MediaTek Helio P10 processor, lower 13MP camera, and a smaller 3,000mAh battery. Flash isn’t as well known as Xiaomi, which means its after sales service is a question.

Best Buy (RM1k – RM2k)

Winner: OnePlus 3

Between RM1k to RM2k, the “Best Buy” award must go to the OnePlus 3. We mentioned it as “The Flagship Killer” in our review, and it still is. Well, even though the OnePlus 3T has been announced recently, we don’t think it’ll be available in Malaysia this year.

The OnePlus 3 is another phone that makes me think that spending more to get another phone at an even higher price is kind of a waste. The device has a thin metal unibody design carved from aluminum, and still has an audio jack as well! It has a good 5.5-inch Full HD Optic AMOLED display, which has really deep blacks because the LED will turn off when it’s black to save battery. Powering the device is a high-end Snapdragon 820 chipset with 6GB RAM and 64GB internal storage. Camera wise, there’s a 16MP Sony IMX298 rear camera with OIS, and it snaps photos quickly even if you enabled HDR or HQ mode. My favorite part of the device is its software — OxygenOS, which basically provides pure Android experience with a lot of customizations.

Unfortunately, the OnePlus 3 is currently out of stock and we don’t think it will ever available in Malaysia again. You can either wait for the OnePlus 3T or go for the imported set.

Honorable Mention: The ZTE Axon 7 is yet another device that offers high-end specs, but it priced slightly higher than the OnePlus 3. Its software isn’t the strongest part, but audio is. The device has two front-facing speakers with Dolby ATMOS and Dolby Digital Surround in it. Additionally, it features with dual Hi-Fi chips to provide you the best audio experience you ever have on a smartphone at this price range.

Best Buy (Above RM2k)

Winner: Huawei Mate 9

Moving to above RM2k, the “Best Buy” award goes to the Huawei Mate 9, which launched last month. The device is priced at RM2,699, which is quite reasonable when you look at its specs.

The Mate 9 is a big phone, sporting a 5.9-inch Full HD IPS display. Powering the device is the latest Kirin 960 processor with 4GB RAM and 64GB expandable storage. Like the P9, the Mate 9 is also co-engineered with Leica. It has the second-generation Leica camera with a dual-camera setup — a 20MP f/2.2 monochrome and 12MP f/2.2 RGB sensors. Those two shooters now are enhanced by OIS, and there’s a new 4-in-1 hybrid autofocus that includes laser, phase-detect, depth, and contrast detection. Huawei also offers pretty great after sales services for the Mate 9 as well, as shown below:

  1. One-to-one device exchange within the 12-month warranty period
  2. Free door-to-door pick-up and delivery service
  3. 3-months LCD screen warranty from Proof of Purchase Date – One Time only
  4. Two free cleaning service within the 12-month warranty period
  5. Dedicated VIP hotline Service

Honorable Mention: The Samsung Galaxy S7 (non-edge version) is a good phone and priced similar or lower than the Mate 9. It is IP68 certified for water and dust resistance, which is what the Mate 9 doesn’t offer, and there’s a pretty good 12MP f/1.7 rear camera with Dual Pixel technology. The phone is also easier to hold thanks to its smaller screen (5.1-inch QHD Super AMOLED display). However, the device has a MicroUSB port instead of USB Type-C, which will be outdated soon, and Samsung software is much improved, but still needs improvements.

Best Design

Winner: Honor 8

Now, we move to the “Best Design” award, a.k.a the “Most Beautiful Smartphone” award. To be honest, this is the hard one as phone makers released many beautiful phones in 2016. If we really want to pick one, it will be the Honor 8.

Like many other phones, the Honor 8 features dual-glass design a metal frame around the phone. What makes the phone beautiful and unique is the 15-layer craftsmanship on its back, combines with glass/metal back to create brilliant light reflections. Honor called it as aurora glass. You can read more about the phone in our review.

Honorable Mentions: For this award, we have two honorable mentions — ASUS ZenFone 3 and Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. Both devices are unique in its own way — the ZenFone 3 has a concentric circle pattern on its back and the Galaxy S7 edge has two curved sides, much improved from its predecessor.

Best Compact Smartphone

Winner: Apple iPhone SE

Next up is the “Best Compact Smartphone” award. This is an easy pick since most powerful smartphones are pretty big, which means no doubt the iPhone SE is the winner. If you are coming from the iPhone 5 or 5s, the iPhone SE has the same chassis, but in new Rose Gold finish and more powerful hardware inside the body.

The device sports a 4-inch Retina display at 326ppi pixel density. It is powered by a 64-bit A9 chip, which is similar to the iPhone 6s, and there’s also a 12MP f/2.2 rear camera (upgraded from 8MP). The iPhone SE basically is just a mini version of the 6s with the lack of 3D Touch and slower fingerprint sensor.

You might be wondering why the iPhone 7 isn’t the winner. It’s because the overall form factor of the iPhone 7 is pretty similar to most phones with 5-inch and above displays, despite having only a 4.7-inch display.

Honorable Mention: The Sony Xperia X Compact is yet another powerful compact smartphone released this year. It has a 4.6-inch HD display, Snapdragon 650 processor with 3GB RAM and 32GB expandable storage, 23MP camera with triple image sensing, and a brand new loop surface design. However, if you are buying an Android smartphone, a phone with Snapdragon 650 processor costs you nearly RM2k is overpriced.

Best Phablet

Winner: ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra

Phablet is a big screen smartphone, it is smaller than a tablet but bigger than a normal smartphone. So, why do some people prefer to get a phablet instead of a normal smartphone? Because they want a big screen smartphone to watch movies/videos or to do work. If you look at this aspect, the ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra wins the “Best Phablet” award.

The ZenFone 3 Ultra features a 6.8-inch Full HD IPS display covered by Gorilla Glass 4. It is the world’s first smartphone with a dedicated display processor like those found in the latest 4K UHD TVs. The device also comes with dual five-magnet speakers, which is able to output certified high-resolution audio to compatible devices at 24-bit/192kHz. Powering the device is a Snapdragon 652 processor with 4GB RAM, and there’s a 23MP rear camera with f/2.0 aperture, OIS, and TriTech AF.

The ZenFone 3 Ultra, however, isn’t affordable at all. Pricing at RM2,599, you can actually get a pretty decent high-end smartphone.

Honorable Mention: The Xiaomi Mi Max is a pretty affordable phablet pricing at just RM999. It has a 6.44-inch Full HD display, which doesn’t have a dedicated display processor like the ZenFone 3 Ultra, but it’ll get the job done. The device is powered by a slightly less powerful Snapdragon 650 processor, which has two cores less than the Snapdragon 652 processor.

Best Audio

Winner: HTC 10

Moving to the audio part, the “Best Audio” award goes to the HTC 10. A few years ago, the HTC One M7 was announced with BoomSound dual front-facing speakers, that’s where it all started. The HTC 10 BoomSound Hi-Fi edition speakers feature the same separated tweeter and woofer design you see in leading acoustic systems. It is also certified for Hi-Res Audio and the device also comes with Hi-Res Audio certified inbox earphones. Not to forget that the device is able to record 4K video with the stereo 24-bit Hi-Res audio recording, which captures 256 times more detail than standard recordings across twice the frequency range.

Honorable Mention: We already talked about the ZTE Axon 7 earlier, which no doubt is also a smartphone with good audio hardware. The device has two front-facing speakers with Dolby ATMOS and Dolby Digital Surround in it. It also features with dual Hi-Fi chips to provide you the best audio experience you ever have on a smartphone at this price range.

Best Camera(s)

Winners: Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 edge & Apple iPhone 7/7 Plus

  

Moving to the “Best Camera” or “Best Cameras” award, we have a few winners — Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 edge and Apple iPhone 7/7 Plus. Before we proceed, we have to say that most smartphones released in 2016 actually are capable of taking great photos.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge have the same camera sensor, while the iPhone 7 Plus has an additional 56mm telephoto lens and the primary camera is same as the iPhone 7. These four phones all feature OIS.

The Galaxy S7 and S7 edge have the fastest focusing speed on a phone camera, both devices take great photos with colors that are eye-pleasing. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus take more natural and sharp photo, the 56mm telephoto lens on the 7 Plus even allows you to take a photo in 2x zoom. Both iPhones also have the best apps support like Snapchat and Instagram Stories.

Most Improved

Winner: ASUS ZenFone 3

And here comes the “Most Improved” award, which goes to the ASUS ZenFone 3. We’re not saying that the ZenFone 2 is a bad phone, but ASUS really did a pretty good job on the ZenFone 3 this year.

The build of the ZenFone 3 feels more premium rather than last year’s plasticky feel. The device is powered by a Snapdragon processor (Snapdragon 625 to be clear) instead of last year’s disappointed Intel processor. The camera has also upgraded to 16MP with OIS and laser auto-focus. Lastly, the battery life is much better than its predecessor, check it out in our review.

Bust of the Year

Samsung Galaxy Note7

2016 is also a year for Samsung to forget as the Galaxy Note7 wins the “Bust of the Year” award. It’s kind of sad as the Galaxy Note7 could have won a few awards if there’s no issue about its battery. We all know the whole story about the phone — the phone caught fire and Samsung offered to replace all the units, but then the replaced units caught fire once again.

RIP Note7, you will be missed!

MVP

Winner: OnePlus 3

Finally, the “MVP” award — Most Valuable Phone, and it has to be the OnePlus 3. In terms of build and design, it has a thin metal unibody design carved from aluminum. In terms of performance, it is powered by a Snapdragon 820 processor with 6GB RAM, which is one of the top notch specs right now. In terms of software, it has a pure Android experience with a lot of customizations. In terms of camera, there’s a 16MP rear camera with Sony IMX298 sensor and OIS that snaps photos quickly even if you enabled HDR or HQ mode. In terms of battery life, I was able to get through a day with moderate usage and there’s the Dash Charge feature, which fully charged the device from zero in just an hour and slightly more. In terms of pricing, the OnePlus 3 is way cheaper than other flagships. Indeed, the OnePlus 3 is a flagship killer, it also deserves the “MVP” award.

Final Words

The year of 2016 has been great. We have seen many phones announced and released, and there are phones which are worth to buy, phones with small screens but powerful performance, phones with big screens, phones that have good audio, phones with good cameras, a phone that caught fire, etc. Here we would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year! Let’s hope we’ll see more good phones in 2017, as well as bringing you more quality contents.