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By 18 December 2015 | Categories: feature articles

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Much like thoroughbred horses, these flagship smartphones are prized for their power, performance and looks. But which one crossed the finish line first? Here are the Top 5 that graced our review desk. 

5. LG G4

The LG G3 (review) was indeed one of the big hits of 2014, going the Samsung route and blowing away the competition with its specs. 2015's effort however went for refinement over enhancement, while still yielding a very enviable smartphone. With aluminium and glass the go-to materials for flagships this year, LG adopted a different tact for the G4. It instead opted to swathe the back cover in genuine leather, with LG wanting the device to create its own natural patina while being used by its owner. 

Whether or not this tactic worked is up for debate, but the G4's specifications are beyond reproach. The same QHD 5.5" display as found on its predecessor still remains on the G4. Some might accuse LG of settling, but the display is one of the sharpest and pixel rich around at 535 ppi. The one aspect that the South Korean manufacturer has not let slip is the camera, with its 16 MP shooter said to rival quality of DSLRs, well, at least according to LG. The images the G4 yields are indeed sharp and it can produce truly great images in the hands of a seasoned pro. While LG’s G4 did not blow us away in every department, there is still more than enough here to warrant a purchase.

4. HTC One M9

The HTC One (M8) (review) claimed our top spot for flagships in 2014. As such, expectations were high for the One M9 follow-up. Sadly though, it fell short with no real worthwhile improvements compared to the Samsung Galaxy S6, Huawei P8 or indeed its own One (M8). Don't get us wrong, the One M9 is a fantastic smartphone, but when you weigh up what HTC has done with this new iteration side by side with the likes of Samsung, there has not been enough improvements to see it retain top spot. 

Nevertheless for those who do not own a One (M8) and who are looking for an upgrade, the One M9 ticks all the right boxes. That beautiful unibody design is still there, complete with a new two tone finish. This is paired with a 5" (1920x1080) screen that's top notch. The one significant improvement HTC has made is to its camera, foregoing the ultrapixel setup in favour of a 20.7 MP shooter that performs far better than the previous version. The octa-core Snapdragon 810 chipset is equally impressive, beaten only in benchmark testing by the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge. If you're in need of a solid all rounder, the One M9 will stand you in good stead. 

Read our full review here.  

3. Huawei P8

Huawei has had a strong year as it leads the charge among Chinese manufacturers here in South Africa. Priming its phones for the high end of the market, the company upped both style and substance for the P8, offering everything you'd want from a flagship, as well as some things you never knew you needed. 

Up front, we get a 5.2" (1080x1920) full HD display that ups the inches compared to last year's P7 (review). Added to this is a smart unibody design that sees the company join the company of HTC and Apple. Powering things internally is an octa-core 3.5 GHz Hisilicon Kirin 930 chipset and 3 GB of RAM. Unfortunately, this promising mix yielded a middling performance during benchmarking, which is part of the reason it only sits third on our list. 

What did come a pleasant surprise was the 13 MP camera on offer and more specifically the light painting features. As such, for users aiming to take more than just the occasional selfie, the P8 comes highly commended. Overall this device is a significant step forward for Huawei and next year's model will no doubt follow in its footsteps. 

Read our full review here

2. Apple iPhone 6s

As has become the norm for every other year, 2015 saw Apple opt for an s model on its flagship device. While some are not enamoured with Apple's 's' editions, Cupertino often iron out all the kinks of its predecessor and add a few new elements the company wishes to test out. The Apple iPhone 6s is no different, refining and fine tuning certain elements, while adding a few more to the mix as Apple no doubt primes for a bigger and better device next year.   

At 4.7" ( 750x1334), the iPhone 6s is the smallest flagship on the list. While some might need more real estate, the size of the 6s or indeed its predecessor has never posed a problem for us. What did however, was the camera housing on the rear which jutted out to create quite the eyesore. While Apple has not filed that bulge down, it has upped the megapixels on its camera with a new 12 MP iSight lens taking care of business. Apple is using the newly updated camera highlight its "new" live photo feature. Also upgraded is the chipset, with the company's own A9 processor at its core. 

One other new feature is Force Touch, which offers a new way to interact with apps and smartphone functions. While this idea is intriguing, it's not fully realised just yet. As such, some should rather see what the iPhone 7 has on offer than opting for this latest 's' model. That said, the iPhone 6s is still one of the best money can buy. 

1. Samsung Galaxy S6

The Galaxy S6 was the first flagship on our list to make its debut in 2015 and Samsung came out swinging. The South Korean manufacturer was lambasted for using cheap plastic materials in the design of the Galaxy S5 (review) last year, and in good wisdom decided to up the ante for this year's iteration. Plastic was replaced by metal and glass, resulting in one of the best looking devices Samsung has manufactured to date. While the top and bottom portions of its frame lean heavily on Apple's design, the rest of the device feels purely Samsung.

The company not only stepped up in the design department, but also raised the bar as far as internal components go. The beating heart of this flagship is an octa-core Exynos 7420 chipset, which registers at a rapid 3.6 GHz. Samsung has also throw in 3 GB of RAM and a choice of 32 GB or 64 GB of onboard storage. Much to the chagrin of some (including us), gone is the microSD slot, so venturing into the cloud is a must for additional space. 

As we’ve come to expect from Samsung, the Galaxy S6 features a sumptuous 5.1" (1440x2560) display that chimes in with a smooth 577 ppi pixel density. The Galaxy S6's parts are indeed difficult to top, but the whole is equally impressive and gives our top spot for flagships in 2015. 

Read our full review here

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