Smartphones are often referred to as Swiss Army knives, for the simple reason that they incorporate a variety of different functions. Over the years, smartphones have successfully managed to replaced quite a few other gadgets – point-and-shoot cameras, portable music players, and GPS navigation devices for instance. Different individuals look for different things while choosing a daily driver, and this means that a device which looks awesome to one person may not appeal to another. The various aspects people usually consider involve the cost, brand, screen size, core specs, design, camera quality, battery life etc. We at 91mobiles track developments in smartphones and related sectors quite closely, and our annual smartphone awards attempt to recognise and acknowledge the best phones out there. Our readers have already voted in favour of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3, making it their choice for the Phone of the Year 2016. And now, it’s time for our jury awards, where we will be announcing the best smartphones in six different categories, as chosen by our expert panel. Let’s get right to it.

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Before we get to the list of winners, let us first get you acquainted with the jury. Our expert panel consists of four industry stalwarts who are well known and highly respected in the world of technology media. They’re joined in by Deepak Dhingra, who heads the editorial team at 91mobiles.

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Sexiest Phone of the Year

Design is a vital, yet often ignored, aspect of a smartphone. A phone is the most personal of gadgets, something you carry with you all the time. So it’s critical that your chosen daily driver looks and feels great too. However, design is also very subjective. Nominees for the sexiest looker of 2016 included the Honor 8, the Nextbit Robin, the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, the Moto Z and the nubia Z11.

The Honor 8 (review) was chosen as the runners up in this category by the jury. With its clean, metal-glass design, and compact, handy size, the Honor 8 looks scrumptious. Its beauty isn’t just skin deep, as it also boasts decent specs and rocks dual cameras, which are quite cable to boot.

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The Sexiest Phone of the Year 2016 title has been conferred upon the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge (review). The phone borrows its design from its predecessor, but that doesn’t take away anything from the fact that Samsung killed it with this dual-curved design. The S7 edge design can be perceived as understated and elegant, or downright sexy depending on how you look at it, but either way, it’s certainly a deserving winner.

Camera Phone of the Year

You know that line about the best camera being the one in your pocket right? Unsurprisingly, camera image quality is one of the most important aspects one considers when buying a smartphone, and we won’t be exaggerating when we say that year 2016 saw these snappers actually acquiring capabilities that match those of dedicated point and shoots. Just check out results from cameras on phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, the Apple iPhone 7 Plus and the Google Pixel duo to see what we mean. Apart from these phones, the dual camera-toting Huawei P9 and the LG V20 were also part of the nominee list for this category.

As far as the runners up is concerned, the title was jointly conferred on the Apple iPhone 7 Plus (review) and the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. Both offer solid, capable cameras, and consistent results across most lighting conditions. The 7 Plus rocks with its natural-looking images, and the 2x zoom and portrait mode capability enabled by its dual camera setup. The S7 edge on the other hand, is also a superb shooter, with low light shooting prowess being a very notable highlight.

Google-Pixel-XL-34.jpgThe winners of the Camera Phone of the Year 2016 title are, unsurprisingly, the Google Pixel and its sibling, the Pixel XL (review). Google surprised us by killing the Nexus line of phones in favour of the Pixel duo, and then came up with premium phones that come across as solid all-rounders. Talking specifically about the shooting capabilities, these phones are, arguably, the best shooters available currently, and therefore, can proudly wear the crown we’ve just awarded.

Most Innovative Phone of the Year

Innovation in smartphones reached new levels in 2016 – modularity, AI-based smart assistants, bezel-less displays, cloud storage being substituted for local storage – we saw it all in 2016. And innovation is something us geeks live for anyway – it’s what keeps us going day in and day out. The nominees for the Most Innovative Phone of the Year included the semi-modular Moto Z / Z Play and the LG G5, the Nextbit Robin, the bezel-less nubia Z11, and the shatterproof Moto X Force.

The runners up in this category was chosen as the LG G5 (review), the phone that pioneered the concept of modularity. While Google’s own Project Ara turned out to be a pipe dream, LG took the challenge and came up with a flagship that let you add features and functionality at will. True, the implementation left a little something to be desired, but the LG G5 will be remembered as the phone that brought us this functionality first.

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Modularity seemed to have won over our judges, since they chose the Moto Z and its sibling, the Z Play as the Most Innovative Phones of the Year. The LG G5 may have brought semi modularity to the mainstream, but the Moto Z (review) and Z Play (review) implemented the same idea extremely well. The Moto Mods accessories, which attach magnetically to the rear of the Z and the Z Play, require no configuration or setting up, and just work plug n’ play. It’s this ease of use that makes these phones winners of this title.

Budget Phone of the Year

In 2016, we saw some compelling smartphones that completely defied their sticker prices, and offered specs and capabilities that could match pricier phones with ease. As can be expected, these phones also turned out to be the darlings of the masses, and scored extremely high on popularity. The nominees include two phones from Xiaomi – the Redmi Note 3 and the 3S Prime, Lenovo’s ZUK Z1, the Moto G4 Plus, LeEco’s Le 2 and the Galaxy On8 from Samsung.

Sitting at second position in this category, as decided by the jury, is the Xiaomi Redmi 3S Prime (review), a phone that was pretty solid in almost all respects – from performance to battery life. For anyone with a budget of under Rs 10k, the 3S Prime was the idea choice, and therefore, it has been chosen as the runners up.

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However, Xiaomi’s real blockbuster in 2016 was the Redmi Note 3 (review) – a complete package as a daily driver. Solid battery life, smooth performance, ample storage, a decent pair of snappers – it had it all. This phone in fact, is the winner of the 91mobiles Phone of the Year Users’s Choice award, and the jury has chosen it as the winner of the Budget Phone of the Year as well. Well deserved!

VFM Phone of the Year

Value is something that’s really hard to define or describe. Crudely put, a value for money smartphone is one that offers a lot, for a price that’s easy to digest. Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 3 is on the nominee list again, along with the Lenovo Z2 Plus, the LeEco Le Max 2, and the OnePlus flagship siblings – the 3 and 3T.

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Surprisingly, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 has made it to the podium yet again, this time on second spot. The winner of the VFM Phone of the Year 2016 title however, was almost a given. The OnePlus 3 (review) and 3T (review) siblings wear the crown, thanks to their flagship-grade specs offered at prices which don’t break the bank. The spec sheet is quite loaded sure, but more importantly, these two deliver on most counts, and just for that, take home the coveted crown.

Phone of the Year 2016 (Jury Award)

The readers might have chosen the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 as the Phone of the Year 2016, but our experts have their own opinions regarding this particular category. So we have a jury award for the same category as well, where the experts have chosen phones that involve little or no compromises at all, and in their opinion, are the best all rounders available. The nominees for this include the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, the Google Pixel XL, the OnePlus 3 / 3T, and the LG V20.

As you can imagine, this turned out to be a close fight between the contenders. In the end, the OnePlus 3 / 3T siblings edged out both the iPhone 7 Plus and S7 edge to be chosen as the runners up for this special category.

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And now for the winner – the one phone that rules them all. You may have guessed the winner already, but allow us to let the cat out of the bag anyway. With its innovative AI-based smart assistant, superb snappers and super-smooth performance, the Google Pixel XL has taken away the crown. Notwithstanding the recent issues that have started appearing on the Pixel duo, the jury felt that the Pixel XL is still deserving of this title. Not only is this award an acknowledgement of what Google did with the first phones that carry its branding, but also represents the hope that the next models in the series will carry the legacy forward in an even more spectacular manner.

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