The TechPP Buying Guide is a section where we try to provide you with the best product and service options in certain price bands, relying more on common sense and our own experience than on benchmarks and spec sheets. The guide will be updated every month.
Welcome to the premium phone segment. This is the heavyweight division of the smartphone world. The place where spec sheets get hefty and frames get slim and suddenly everyone starts looking at benchmark scores of all sorts and rivalries get serious and fights break out over comparisons (well, at least on social networks). So if budget is not (really) your problem and you are ready to spend over Rs 30,000 (USD 450), which smartphone (superphone?) should you go for? Nimish Dubey and Akriti Rana try to answer that… after many arguments.
Best looking phone: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, iPhone 7 Plus (Jet Black)…and a surprise
If you are looking for a high-end phone that is going to turn heads, then you are going to have to end up choosing between the two phones which are going to clash many times in this price segment – the iPhone 7 Plus (Rs 72,000) and the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (Rs 51,000). Both phones are high-end performers, with great hardware, and even though both come with designs that are largely repeats of their earlier editions, they remain drop dead gorgeous with their glass-encased frames and gloriously slim (7.3 mm for the iPhone 7 Plus and 7.7 mm for the Galaxy S7 Edge) – although in the case of the iPhone 7 Plus, we would like to stress that it is the Jet Black edition that is the real head turner.
A lot is going to depend upon how much you value compactness – the iPhone is much larger at 158.2 mm in length as compared to the super compact S7 Edge 150.9 mm long. It really is a matter of taste here. Mind you, if you are looking for a phone that will REALLY stand out from the routine crowd, then – drum roll – we think you might consider going back in tech time a bit and investing in the BlackBerry Priv (Rs 34,999), the first Android phone from BlackBerry, which comes with a relatively routine 5.4-inch display, but the real deal visually is underneath the display – a full physical QWERTY keyboard that slides out for a “real” typing experience. Ain’t nothing like it anywhere around these days and it has got a hefty price cut too, although some might be less than impressed by its Qualcomm 808 chip.
We think that the Honor 8’s brilliant Sapphire Blue edition also deserves a special mention. Some might not get too impressed by its spec sheet (Kirin 950 processor, 5.2-inch full HD display, 4 GB RAM), but it is a good performer, has excellent dual 12.0-megapixel cameras and most important for this category, is drop-dead gorgeous with its radiant dark blue back.
Best camera phone: iPhone 7 Plus, Galaxy S7 Edge…and something really “mod”!
And once again this turns out to be a battle between the best of Apple and Samsung, namely, the iPhone 7 Plus and the Galaxy S7 Edge. Both the devices come with cameras that are stunningly consistent in terms of detail – the iPhone 7 Plus will be preferred by those who prefer slightly more realistic colors, while those who want eye-popping colors will love the 12.0-megapixel shooter on the Galaxy S7 Edge. However, one area where we think the iPhone 7 Plus trumps the S7 Edge is in the fact that its dual 12.0-megapixel cameras allow it to offer the user 2X optical zoom, allowing them to get slightly closer to the subject without moving. We also think that although the S7 Edge is a very good low light performer, the iPhone 7 Plus has an edge over it (pun intended). It is simply the best camera phone out there.
There are some people who will be surprised that the Google Pixel XL (Rs 67,000) has not made the cut here. Well, to be honest, while we do love the camera on the device, we found it being plagued by lens flare issues far too often to be in the same league as the more consistent iPhone 7 Plus and Galaxy S7 Edge.
One device that we think is worth a special mention is the Moto Z (Rs 39,999), not because of its own 13.0-megapixel rear camera, which is steady rather than spectacular, but because you can slap on a Hasselblad Mod on it for an additional 10X optical zoom, a Xenon flash and a very good 12.0-megapixel sensor – the zoom is excellent and the camera with the mod is a terrific daytime performer, but fades out badly in the night. It will set you back by an additional Rs 19,999, but hey, this is the premium phone segment.
Best multimedia phone: LG V20, Asus Zenfone Ultra
There are some seriously good performers here, with the iPhone 7 Plus (Rs 72,000) itself coming to the party with its dual speakers. However, we think the real battle here is between the HTC 10 (Rs 39,999), the LG V20 (Rs 53,500) and surprise surprise the Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra (Rs 49,999). The HTC 10 is perhaps going to be the option of those who want a compact device with a great display and sound – it sports a 5.2-inch quad HD display, Snapdragon 820 processor, 4 GB RAM and 32 GB/ 64 GB storage options, and comes with a very good 12.0-megapixel camera and of course, dual Boomsound speakers.
However, the LG V20 brings with it the sort of sound recording you do not see in smartphones, packing in Hi-Fi quad DAC support and a number of sound editing options, that deliver arguably the best recording quality (24 bit/ 48 kHz) we have ever heard from a smartphone. And while the speaker on the phone is a single one, LG has sweetened the deal by bundling a pair of very good Bang and Olufsen headphones with it, making this an audiophile device. The rest of the specs are very good too – the V20 has a 5.7-inch quad HD display, Snapdragon 820 processor, 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage and a promising if inconsistent dual 16.0-megapixel camera setup.
However, if we had to pick a single device purely for multimedia delight, we would advise you to stretch your hands a lot and your wallet a little and go for the Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra, which sports a brilliant 6.8 inch full HD display, 4 GB RAM and very good dual stereo speakers, allowing you to get a brilliant viewing and audio experience – yes, some might feel a little underwhelmed by the Snapdragon 652 processor at this price point, but we really think that if you are basically into a lot of listening and watching, this is one heck of a phone to bet on. And rather remarkably, considering its size, it looks rather good too, and comes with a 4600 mAh battery that keeps it ticking for a while.
Of course, you could also simply pick the JBL Soundboost mod (Rs 5,999) and throw in a Moto Instashare Projector mod (Rs 15,999) for the Moto Z (Rs 39,999), which also comes with a 5.5-inch quad HD AMOLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4 GB RAM too, and get your own little movie projection party!
Best phone for gaming and multitasking: iPhone 7 Plus, Google Pixel XL
The iOS and Android flagships clash for the first time in this segment – the iPhone 7 Plus (Rs 72,000) and the Google Pixel XL (Rs 67,000). Both come with powerful hardware – the A10 Fusion chip for the iPhone 7 Plus and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor for the Pixel XL. And as both devices have been designed to showcase the OS that runs on them, multi-tasking is buttery smooth on both of them (the Pixel XL has 4 GB RAM and the 7 Plus an alleged 3 GB). Both have 5.5-inch displays but we can see the geeks loving the quad HD resolution and rich black-laden AMOLED one on the Pixel XL as compared to the bright but “only” full HD one on the iPhone 7 Plus.
But the iPhone 7 Plus scores in terms of having far better sound, courtesy those dual speakers on its base. Add to this the fact that the iPhone 7 Plus also benefits from the amazing game treasury on the iTunes App Store and well, it is a runaway winner in the gaming stakes.
For pure gaming fans, the Samsung Galaxy S 7 Edge (Rs 51,000) is also a terrific performer as is the slightly larger LG V20 (Rs 53,500), but we have noticed both pick up slight lags thanks to their cluttered UIs. Another super multi-tasker is the Moto Z (Rs 39,999) which comes with a Snapdragon 820 processor with 4 GB RAM and a quad HD super AMOLED display, but is not exactly a rock star in the sound department, if you keep the mods out of it. And well, there is the little matter of the OnePlus 3T’s 128 GB edition which comes for Rs 34,999, and features a 5.5-inch full HD AMOLED display, a Snapdragon 821 processor, 6 GB RAM and a colossal 128 GB storage – again, not a rock star in the sound department, but a brilliant multi-tasker and with two very good 16.0-megapixel cameras too.
Best Battery Life: Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro, Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra
Yes, we think the Galaxy S7 Edge (Rs 51,000) surprised us with the performance of its 3600 mAh battery, as did the Pixel XL (Rs 67,000) with its 3450 mAh one, both managing to get past a day of heavy use relatively easily, and we know that iPhone fans cannot get over the fact that the iPhone 7 Plus continues the legacy of the Plus series coming with great battery life (anything that gets through a day comfortably is great battery life for an iPhone – ha!), but if we are looking at really big battery bearing phones in this segment, then this turns out to be a battle between the Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro (Rs 32,500) which comes with a massive 5000 mAh battery, a 6.0-inch full HD Super AMOLED display, a Snapdragon 652 processor and 4 GB RAM; and the Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra (Rs 49,999) which packs a 4600 mAh battery as well as a 6.8-inch full HD display, Snapdragon 652 processor and 4 GB RAM.
Both phones can easily go past the two-day usage mark with a degree of comfort, but if we had to pick one of the two, we would go with the Zenfone 3 Ultra, which has a much better 23.0-megapixel camera and better sound as compared to the 16.0-megapixel shooter on the Galaxy A9 Pro. In terms of sheer battery usage, the A9 Pro is marginally better, though.
Best UI/Easy to use: iPhone 7, Google Pixel
And here we go again with another clash between pure Android blood and the walled garden of iOS. Only this time, the representative of the iPhone is its smaller version (Rs 60,000) rather than its Plus-laden big brother. The same is the case with the Pixel, whose smaller edition (Rs 57,000) is in contention here rather than its XL edition.
The reasons are simple: both devices are incredibly easy to use thanks to their compact form factors. Which you prefer is really going to boil down to your own preference – yes, some might point out that the Pixel has a full HD display which the iPhone 7 still does not have, but then when it comes to handling, both devices are those modern day rarities – phones that can be used with one hand relatively easily and which hardly ever lag. Honestly, we cannot pick between the two – they have very good hardware and the UI is really a matter of personal taste. Stock Android fans on a slightly tighter budget might think of the Moto Z too, which comes for a more affordable Rs 39,999 and is a very smooth performer as well.
Best phone on a relatively tight budget: OnePlus 3T
Want a premium level device but do not want to go into major bank busting mode? The winner here by a total cakewalk is the 128 GB edition of the phone that won the “Best Phone. Period” category in the sub-Rs 30,000 (USD 450), the OnePlus 3T.
Priced at Rs 34,999, it delivers a Snapdragon 821 processor, 6 GB RAM and a very good 16.0-megapixel rear camera and a good front facing one of the same megapixel count as well, and a much larger 3400 mAh battery with support for its Dash Charge technology. Yes, we know that there will be some who will be tempted by the older Nexus 6P and older iPhones, but we honestly do not think they come in the same league in terms of cutting edge technology and performance at this price. Only one winner here, folks.
Note: At the time of writing this guide, this model was not available in India.
Best Phone over Rs 30,000. Period: iPhone 7 Plus
And when it comes down to the final category, the battle is between three of the best phones in the world – the iPhone 7 Plus (Rs 72,000), the Galaxy S7 Edge (Rs 51,000) and the Google Pixel XL (Rs 67,000). All three phones are brilliant performers and come with great hardware (although some might not like Samsung’s TouchWiz that much) and superb cameras. So why did we pick the 7 Plus (after a lot of debate, we might add)? Well, simply because Apple has pretty much aced it in most departments here – iOS retains its app edge, the dual camera setup edges out the S7 Edge and the Pixel XL, the water resistance and stereo speakers are great add-ons and well, even the battery life is not as far behind the Android flagships as it once was.
Simply speaking, the iPhone 7 Plus is perhaps the most comprehensive single device out there. Yes, the S7 Edge will get fans for the presence of expandable memory, and we think there are many who will adore the AMOLED displays on it and the Pixel Xl, but when the dust settles and all is said and done, the 7 Plus does not really have any discernible disadvantage apart from its size (to which now people are getting used to) and its price. But then, hey, this is the premium phone segment, isn’t it? Big prices are the rule here. If your wallet is not as deep as you would like it to be, we think the S7 Edge is a fantastic device at its current price tag and better value for money than the Pixel XL certainly, even though the S8 is looming large on the horizon already. But if budget is not an issue, the larger Godphone it is!
(Note: the prices are reflections of those in different channels, online and offline. They might vary a little depending on location and time.)