Flagship Android phones: which ones to consider? (Early 2015 edition)
March 9, 2015 2:43 PM   Subscribe

I want a new Android phone. I need to have it in my hands on June 5, 2015. I will be buying it out-of-pocket (no contract or subsidy) and using it on T-Mobile. My only requirements are 1) faster / more responsive than my Nexus 5 and 2) better battery life than my Nexus 5. I'm overwhelmed by the options. Which phones should I be looking at?

I’m a smartphone power user - I get a tremendous amount of use out of my Nexus 5. It’s been a little slow and the battery life has never been great, so I think it’s time to trade up. But there are a ton of possible Android phones out right now so I’m struggling to narrow my search to just a few. As it says above the fold, my only major criteria are 1) faster / more responsive than my Nexus 5 and 2) better battery life than my Nexus 5. After that, I’ll be considering price and other details like how close to stock Android the OS is. I don’t think I could use something with a screen bigger than 5.5”.

A small wrinkle is that I’ll be on a trip in the woods on June 7-8 and I’d like to use a phone set on airplane mode to track where I go via GPS. This isn’t much of a consideration except it means I have to have a phone in-hand before I leave on June 6 and it makes battery life more important.

(I’m an Android dev, I like Android, and I’m heavily into Google’s infrastructure so I’m only considering Android phones for the moment. I could consider the OnePlus One if that fits the criteria - I think it does.)
posted by Tehhund to Technology (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Galaxy S6, HTC One M9.
posted by holgate at 2:50 PM on March 9, 2015

Best answer: I have the OnePlus One after having a Galaxy S3 and S4. I think the battery life is good. It is still running 4.4.4, but supposedly in March it will get 5.1. I just rooted it and unlocked the bootloader. I am happy. YMMV. (I had a Note 4 for a week before I turned it in for a restocking fee and buying the OnePlus+. Too much crap ware on the Note 4 from AT&T)
posted by 724A at 2:52 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Of battery life is truly paramount, consider manufactures with separate batteries, like samsung or LG, so you can buy a beefier battery without doubling your phone size. Samsung when make extended batteries under their own brand that are quite good.
posted by smoke at 3:12 PM on March 9, 2015

NOT the nexus 6. It's too damn big. And the battery is literally like 3% better than the nexus 5. I hate mine so much it may actually drive me to win phone. I have heard all kinds of good about the one plus one. And the invites aren't too hard to come by.
posted by chasles at 3:17 PM on March 9, 2015

I have a Sony xperia z3 compact - very fast and excellent battery life. Don't know if it works on tmobile though.
posted by chrispy at 3:22 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thought about a OnePlus? Tuesdays are apparently 'no invite' days. I've got one, and the battery is really quite phenomenal. I realize that it's perhaps not considered 'flagship' any more, but it's still a very capable phone. The Snapdragon 801 is still current (ish).

The OS is very close to stock; Cyanogen has some extras, but no carrier cruft.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 3:27 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like my OnePlus One. I was also looking at the Nexus 6, but with the OnePlus option being half the cost, it was a no-brainer. The fact that it comes unlocked, running Cyanogen, and is free from carrier bloat were big pluses. It runs on TMobile just fine. Battery life is better than that of my previous Galaxy. No removable battery, though. I liked having that option on my Galaxy, though I never did a battery switch. Not sure if the new Galaxy will have the removable battery option, though. It is a big phone. Not sure if you'd consider something so big. I like the size. I don't have nearly as much eyestrain as I did with my Galaxy.
posted by quince at 3:29 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another satisfied OnePlus user here. I'd been using Nexus devices because of my preference for stock Android but hadn't tried any mods and I'm pretty happy with the CM improvements over stock Android in terms of additional customizations (I'm also running it unlocked/rooted).

I thought the 5.5" screen would be a challenge but I've grown accustomed to it quickly and it probably depends on how big your hands are (the only motion I can't easily to is thumb to far top corner when using one-handed).

Battery life has been working well for me. I'm not a super-heavy user but it's currently at 57% after nearly 10 hours.

One thing that took getting used to was the ordering of the capacitive buttons, which has "back" on the right and "recent" on the left. You can also opt for on-screen buttons if you prefer that, which start out with the more standard layout and are configurable.
posted by camcgee at 4:40 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Oneplus. I have had 6 other Android devices and it is by far the best. I am a heavy user and I am only rarely out of batteries at the end of the day. The only problem I've had is that GPS sometimes stops and won't go again until I reboot -- hoping an update fixes that.
posted by miyabo at 5:12 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

The 2014 Moto X is great. A bit sluggish switching apps for some odd reason, but really great otherwise. We'll see if 5.1 improves the app switching.
posted by GuyZero at 5:22 PM on March 9, 2015

I have been extremely satisfied with the battery life on my Moto Maxx that I got a few months back. I play a game called Ingress that is notorious for chugging down your battery about as fast as you phone can drain it -- to play Ingress, your screen is on 100% of the time, as is your data antenna, your GPS is in high precision mode, and your GPU is rendering screen-fulls of 3D particle effects. (There's a reason that two separate external battery manufacturers have Ingress-themed battery designs, either released, or coming soon.)

Under those worst case scenario situations, it takes about 4 straight hours of gameplay to run down from a full-charge to 15%. When I'm not playing I can usually go a day and a half to two days between charges.

Verizon sells this same model under the name Droid Turbo, which may be easier to search for if you want to read the reviews. The general consensus was that the Moto Maxx/Droid Turbo was developed to be a non-phablet form factor for the Nexus 6 (they both have identical chipsets), and when Google settled on just releasing the larger sized device as the N6, Motorola offered it up to Verizon to become the next Droid model.

I imported mine from Puerto Rico, because I wanted to be able to root my device, and the locked bootloater that Verizon forced to be loaded on the Droid Turbo version would have prevented that. Since then I've heard that there are some regional carriers in the 50 States that will sell you the Moto Maxx as well.

The Moto Maxx is very close to stock android, the only real customization is the same suite of Moto Apps (Moto Voice, Moto Alerts, Moto Display...) that is usually touted as the major selling point for the Moto X.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:56 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

If your chosen phone is available from T Mobile directly and you have good credit, you might want to consider getting it through them anyway. I recently got a new phone and am paying in installments, with 0% interest, and no ETF. If I choose to leave T Mobile before I'm done paying it off, I just have to pay the balance. I had no interest in getting locked in to a subsidized phone, but 0% interest was too good to pass up when it didn't keep me from staying on my month-to-month rate plan.
posted by katemonster at 6:06 PM on March 9, 2015

I'm very happy with my 2014 Moto X pure edition. Legally unlocked bootloader & rooted, running 5.0. Waaaaay better battery life than my old Galaxy S3. Just about zero bloatware, almost pure Android. I don't notice any sluggishness - but after the Samsung S3 international edition anything seems fast.
posted by Long Way To Go at 8:26 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Related to your use case: are you aware that on many phones, the GPS does not work well in airplane mode, since it relies on tower access to improve the GPS positon accuracy? here is some more detail on that
posted by jaymzjulian at 10:11 PM on March 9, 2015

You know, i don't think all but a few phones are going to make you that much happier than a nexus 5 besides on the battery life front. If you go look up benchmarks for newer devices on say anandtech the nexus 5 is ahead of even some snapdragon 801 phones despite just being an older sd800. Google and LG were very aggressive with the throttling, performance tweaks since launch, etc.

That said, i used to own one and i sold it because of the battery life.

I think the magic 8 ball says "answer unclear, try again later" on this one. I'd buy something cheap like the oneplus, which is well known for having great battery life, and resell it in a couple months when things have shaken out. The S6 is supposed to be really fast and great, but no one knows yet. It seems like the snapdragon 810 might be a lemon and that all the phones using it might have issues... but only the g flex 2 is out yet, and no one knows for sure.

If i was you, i'd either buy a oneplus, something like a used HTC M8, or just wait until the VERY end of may and see what else shows up and how things shake out.

Bear in mind that nothing is really all that much faster though. The S6 might have a big edge with faster NAND and a possibly way stronger CPU than what anyone else is hawking right now... but no one knows yet.

I have a Sony xperia z3 compact - very fast and excellent battery life. Don't know if it works on tmobile though.

These are great phones... but they don't support tmobile LTE. Sony only modified the Z3 for tmobiles bands, not the Z3c. While they do officially sell the compact in the US, they don't sell it through any carrier so it was never customized.
posted by emptythought at 10:28 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

These are great phones... but they don't support tmobile LTE.

I believe this is technically true, but my Sony Z3 Compact (device model D5803) routinely gets >10 Mbps speeds with the 3G and 4G icons displayed. I just went outside and ran Speedtest and got 15.21mbps up/1.23mbps down (This is in Chicago). Not sure why this is but I have no complaints about network speed with this phone, which is otherwise fantastic and by far the best Android phone I've ever had. Battery life is superb.
posted by ndg at 1:37 PM on March 10, 2015

My Nexus 6 will do about 7 hours of screen on time and will last two whole days if I'm not using it much, but that is with encryption disabled. I don't find it at all too big, but you might. If you can't find a demo at a nearby T-Mobile store try an at&t store.

Sadly, the Droid RAZR Maxx is Verizon exclusive. I mention it because it is the only one I know of that will last as long as an old Symbian phone. If battery life is your primary issue, consider getting a MicroUSB battery pack. A lot of them have a flashlight or some other useful tool integrated, which makes it a little easier to deal with having to carry another thing.

As far as GPS goes, any phone will work fine without network access, it just may take a while to get a lock if you haven't used the GPS function in the past day or so. The network is used to download the ephemeris data so that the GPS chip knows what satellites to look for, thus giving you a nearly instant lock. That data will eventually get stale, at which time it has to fall back to the satellites themselves, which broadcast the data continuously, repeating every 3 minutes or so. When it takes longer to get a lock it's because the signal was interrupted in the middle, which forces it to wait for the next repetition. Point being that if you don't have network access, you need a clear view of the sky and you need to maintain that view until you get a lock. After that, it will work exactly the same as if you had a data connection.
posted by wierdo at 1:52 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

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