We take a look at the best and the most popular phablets launched this year, namely the iPhone 7 Plus, Lenovo Moto Z, Huawei's Mate 9, Sony's Xperia XZ and the Google Pixel XL and see for ourselves how these could be the best alternative to the once-celebrated Galaxy Note 7.
Let's start with the Huawei Mate 9 which most believe will cover up for the absence of the LG V20 in the UK. Larger and more powerful than the Huawei P9, the Mate 9 retains Huawei's characteristic all-metal finish, squarish form and a plastic cover to soak in prints and scratches. The screen is wider than most phablets which does make it a bit too large for one-handed usage but perfect for viewing high definition content. It weighs at 190g but isn't much different to than the Mate 8 if form factor is considered.
The iPhone 7 Plus, which was initially slated to be THE handset which could devour the Galaxy Note 7, not enjoys a free run thanks to the demise of its staunch rival. Enter an new glossy Jet Black finish which was the result of a nine-step process of anodization and polishing and another classy matte Black one which looks absolutely premium to begin with, iPhone 7 Plus has the necessary looks to convince other phablet users to upgrade. The home button is no longer 'clickable' which may seem strange to iPhone users but won't take long to get used to, the headphone jack is gone, which has something to do with the iPhone being waterproof and which does make it look a lot more symmetrical than its predecessors.
Being Sony's first true flagship of the year, the Xperia XZ looks a lot like a follow-on version of the Z series. It features the same sharp edges and subtle curves over a glass and metal finish which makes it better than the S7 Edge in terms of looks. The headphone jack does protrude slightly and the metal back isn't smudge-proof, which does take away some of the shine but the Platinum White one is the variant that stands out thanks to its stunning looks. The Full HD Triluminos display adds to the phone's glamour and front-firing stereo speakers make it look like a capable multimedia device.
Coming to Google's flagship of the year, the Pixel XL, in our opinion, doesn't look as sleek as last year's Nexus 6P but features a half-n-half look with sandblasted metal with the top half of its back featuring mirror polished glass and the lower one a matte finish- quite a contrast if you ask me. At 5.5-inches, it just make it to the phablet category and its overall shape resembles the HTC 10 more than the wide-screen Nexus phones of last year.
Spectacularly modular, the Moto Z is one phone which can be moulded to look exactly the way you want your phone to look like. Lacking a headphone jack, it is just 5.19mm thick which is great but because of which the rear camera bulges out like a large coin, even if the weight is brought down to just 136g, making it incredibly light for a phablet. The Gorilla Glass back isn't smudge-proof but the phone comes with a free textured back cover which keeps the phone safe and covers up the rear camera bulge. You can also choose from a selection of 'Style Shells' in fabric, leather and wood in different colours and textures on the Lenovo website to give the phone a look that you think it deserves.
While Pixel XL and Moto Z feature the top-of-the-block Quad HD displays, the other three contenders still use Full HD which, other than gulping in less power, also confirms that the 1080p format isn't really obsolete. The Xperia XZ features a Full HD Triluminos display which works well under bright sunlight and Bravia enhancements ensure AMOLED-like colour saturations. Featuring a similar display, iPhone 7 Plus features a pixel density of 401 ppi which may not match up to the Galaxy Note 7's 518 ppi, but includes a wide colour gamut to let images and videos look more bright and vibrant.
The Mate 9's display has a density of 373ppi which isn't much despite the 2.5D curved glass screen but the phone won't cause much problems if you view HD content on it all day long. However, the Moto Z, which features a 5.5-inch Quad HD display, has a pixel per inch density of 535, which even surpasses that of the Galaxy Note 7. Images and videos on the display look accurate and bright, resulting in a fantastic media streaming experience. Sheathed by Gorilla Glass 4, the Pixel XL display is a Quad HD one with a pixel per inch density of 534- same as the one in Moto Z and the image and video quality in it is absolutely the best out there, no matter how refined other Full HD displays are.
Like the display, the war over offering the best smartphone cameras to consumers is far from over and is set to drag on with no clear winner as new technologies arrive and existing ones are disrupted. Having said that, it is now clear that no manufacturer is taking it lying down and looking at the cameras on offer, our choices are now much harder than ever before.
Resolution-wise the Sony Xperia XZ comes with the most powerful 23-MP rear cam which, apart from the LED flash, also comes armed with an RGBC-IR sensor and a laser autofocus- which let users capture lifelike, natural and vivid pictures and focus quickly no matter how dark it is. However, it's aperture is smaller than the Galaxy S7 and it's resulting images are also not ar par with the latter's Dual Pixel technology.
The iPhone 7 Plus, for the first time among iPhones, features dual rear cameras which come with optical image stabilisation, an ƒ/1.8 aperture and a six-element lens. There's also an image signal processor built into the A10 Fusion chip which lets users with white balance, local tone mapping and faster focus. During testing, we found that the low light photography wasn't at par with that of the Galaxy S7 Edge nor was the 10X digital zoom as clear as the 8X zoom of the Galaxy S7 Edge. However, the LED True Tone flash works really well and 4K video capturing is an added bonus, given that the Plus model comes with quite a lot of storage.
In the Pixel XL, you'll find a 12-MP rear cam with an f/2.0 aperture along with an 8-MP front one. The rear one comes with both optical and digital stabilisation and like the HTC 10, the phone's HDR mode works quite well. Pixel XL achieved an 89% score from DxOMark which says that Pixel XL comes with 'relatively low levels of noise for every tested lighting condition. It also provides accurate exposures with very good contrast and white balance, as well as fast autofocus, and racked up excellent results in Video testing, consistent with other top-scoring smartphones.'
While the flavour of the Moto Z is the Hasselblad camera module, the phone comes with its own native cameras which are hard to miss. The 13-MP rear camera comes with optical image stabilisation and laser autofocus, resulting in non-fuzzy images. Lenovo has further added 8x digital zoom, automatic video stabilisation, 4K video shooting and Slow Motion Video HDR to spice it up a lot more than we expected.
You may have heard a lot about the cameras in the Huawei P9, but the ones in the Mate 9 go a step further. Leica's next generation 20-MP and 12-MP rear camera sensors combine monochrome and RGB effects like no other camera and the results are truly incredible. The best part about the cameras is that you can either use them in standalone mode or as a tag team, depending on your preference. The small f/1.9 aperture ensures brilliant low light photography and the 8-MP front cam delivers the goods as well.
Huawei's Mate 9 comes with Kirin 960, a next-gen processor which arrives well ahead of Samsung's and Qualcomm's next chipsets. It works with 4GB of RAM to offer the best power efficiency and performance among Huawei's phones. The 64GB of storage is the same as in the Galaxy Note 7 and given that the specs are quite alike, the resulting performance and stability should be the same. However, the 4,000 mAh battery in the Mate 9 is more powerful than the, erm, 3,500 mAh battery in the Note 7 and should offer that extra bit of power to make it last longer than a day.
Powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip, the Moto Z also features a 4GB RAM which doesn't have to power up an oversized display like the Mate 9's chip. On GeekBench, the phone clocked 1477 for single-core and 3903 for multi-core which suggest that it is well-oiled to let you stream media and run heavy apps seamlessly. The battery is not-so-large 2,600 mAh one but still powered the phone for two days on a single charge under standard usage which is quite a feat. The on-board storage is half that of the Galaxy Note 7 but a 2TB MicroSD slot more than makes up for it.
Apple's iPhone 7 Plus is the only one among these phablets which lacks a MicroSD slot but comes in 32GB, 128GB and 256GB variants which more than makes up for the lack of additional storage space. Considering that the Galaxy Note 7 arrived in a single 64GB storage form, this is more than an upgrade fo Note 7 buyers. The A10 chip's combination of two high performance cores and two high efficiency ones makes it run twice as fast as the iPhone 6 Plus and saves a lot of battery life as well. While testing it, we didn't come across any lags or stutters, no matter how hard we pushed it, which shows how good the processor is. In terms of battery life, the iPhone 7 Plus is right up there with the best thanks to it's 2,900 mAh battery which comes armed with night mode and low-power mode. Despite streaming videos, running messages and supporting FaceTime calls, it lasted an entire weekend on a single charge which is quite unexpected of an iPhone.
True to being the king among Android flagships, the Pixel XL packs the processing power to merit it's reputation. The Snapdragon 821 chip promises a 10% bump in performance over its predecessor and allows for shorter boot times, faster app launch times, and smoother, more responsive user interactions. The LTE chip allows Category 12 download speeds of up to 600 Mbps, and LTE Category 13 uplink speeds of up to 150 Mbps. The processor's efficiency is twice that of the Snapdragon 810 which powered the Nexus 6P and with 32GB and 128GB of onboard storage, the phone offers twice the storage compared to the Note 7 along with better performance output.
Just like the Moto Z, Xperia XZ comes with a Snapdragon 820 SoC but features 3GB of RAM instead of 4GB in the latter. However, the lack of the extra bit of RAM didn't really show during real-time testing as the phone performed all the tasks effortlessly. Like the iPhone 7 Plus, Xperia XZ features a 2,900 mAh battery which is sufficient to make the phone last a day of medium/heavy usage. Two new Stamina and Ultra Stamina modes preserve a lot of battery life to make the phone last much longer but the phone's performance suffers visibly when they are turned on. Storage-wise, you'll get to choose between 32GB and 64GB but the presence of a 256GB MicroSD slot means that you can go for the former without worrying much about where to store your files.