Technology often moves at terrific pace, but owning the latest and greatest products will cost you a hefty premium. Smartphone innovation is slowing. The best phones from a year or two ago are still great phones. They may lack the latest style trends, but they’re plenty powerful enough for most people. If you want to stretch your budget further, starting with last year’s flagships is a great idea because some of them are now heavily discounted. Here are five of our favorite phones from 2016 that are easy to recommend.
Note: One problem with buying older smartphones is that they will not get software updates as long as the latest releases. Two years is standard for flagships, which means this crop of 2016 phones should keep getting updated for at least another year, but schedules vary by manufacturer.
Google Pixel ($550)
The perfect phone for the Android purist, the Pixel from Google offers the most slick, stylish, and elegant experience you can find on the Android platform. It’s fast and smooth in performance, it has a stylish design with a bright AMOLED display, and the camera is nothing short of superb. It also comes with free unlimited cloud storage for your snaps and videos through Google Photos. Add in the fact it already has Android 8.0 Oreo, the latest version of the operating system, and continues to get the latest security patches, and you can forgive the average battery life and lack of water resistance.
Read our full Google Pixel review to learn more.
ZTE Axon 7 ($400)
A stylish, solid metal slate with powerful front-facing speakers flanking a high-resolution AMOLED screen, the ZTE Axon 7 was one of the biggest bargains of 2016. It matched far more expensive Android smartphones on the spec sheet and managed to come in hundreds of dollars cheaper. The lack of water resistance and ZTE’s user interface are weak points for an otherwise strong all-rounder. It has also been relatively quick to receive Android updates, but there’s no word on whether it will get the latest Android 8.0 Oreo just yet.
Read our full ZTE Axon 7 review to find out more.
Apple iPhone 7 ($550)
We can’t blame you if the $1,000 price tag of the iPhone X has given you pause. Why spend that much when you can get a great iPhone for just over half that amount? The iPhone 7 offers lightning fast performance, an excellent camera, decent battery life, and water resistance in a well-designed package. There’s no headphone jack and it lacks the dual camera setup of the 7 Plus, but it’s still a solid smartphone that will serve you well. If you can scrape together an extra $120, the iPhone 7 Plus is also worth a look. Apple continues to update its devices for longer than its competitors, so you can expect to keep getting software updates for several years to come.
Read our full Apple iPhone 7 review for more.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge ($500)
Shop around and you should be able to find some hefty discounts on perhaps the most desirable smartphone of 2016 in terms of style. Curved glass front and back blends into a metal frame to produce a phone that’s comfortable to hold and packs a sizeable, stunning, 5.5-inch Super AMOLED screen into a relatively svelte body. It’s fast, water resistant, and boasts a camera that performs admirably in low light conditions. Samsung’s bloatware and the fragility of the S7 Edge may put you off, but the user interface has been much improved with post-release software updates and this is a phone that’s hard to put down.
Check out our Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge review to learn all about it.
HTC 10 ($370+)
It failed to attract the audience it deserved, but the HTC 10 is a stylish smartphone with plenty of power under the hood. It feels nice in hand and offers almost everything you’d expect from a flagship phone. You’ll find a sharp, 5.2-inch screen in an aluminum body, powerful stereo speakers, and a very capable camera here. The lack of water resistance and average battery life are the only real disappointments. Shop around and you should be able to find some aggressive discounts on this handset, which make it even more enticing.
Read our HTC 10 review for all the details.