The Best Smartphones for Back to School

It’s August, which means that kids are filling their backpacks with pens, paper, textbooks and – oh, who are we kidding, no one uses those things anymore.

Students want tech, and that’s why our Back To School Guide features the best smartphones, tablets, wearables and accessories available right now. Ready? Let’s do this.


iPhone 6

After selling nearly 100 million units, the iPhone 6 is by far Apple’s most successful product to date. A larger 4.7-inch display and super-fast A8 processor are gateways to the most comprehensive app ecosystem on the market.

While the devices are on the brink of being replaced with newer, faster models, the iPhone 6 is arguably the best smartphone right now for most people. Poised to receive iOS 9 in mid-September, which adds a dynamic, anticipatory element to the previously-static mobile operating system, Apple continues to improve the core user experience with consistent, predictable updates.

Apple’s customer service, with its excellent replacement service and in-store consultations, are industry-leading, which reinforces the product’s near-100% satisfaction rating.

Battery life continues to be a point of contention with the iPhone 6, but the device features, despite its 8MP sensor, one of the consistently best cameras in the business.

Best: App ecosystem, ease of use, customer service, build quality
Battery life, price
$349 – $599 on-contract, $840 – $1100 outright
Rogers, Bell, Telus, Virgin Mobile, Videotron, SaskTel, MTS, Koodo, Fido

Samsung Galaxy Line

Samsung Galaxy S6 / Galaxy S6 edge

We were tempted to separate these two models into two recommendations, but here’s the thing: other than the curved screen, and the added price, the Galaxy S6 edge is nearly identical to its flatter counterpart.

But both phones get you what is likely to be the most well-rounded Android experience you can currently buy, with a few important caveats.

Unbelievably quick and stable, with a gorgeous 5.1-inch screen and one of the fastest processors in the mobile space, the thing truly separating the two S6’s from the rest of the Android world is its camera. A 16MP Sony sensor and an ultra-fast, sharp F1.9 lens, the Galaxy S6 is nearly unmatched in both speed and quality in the Android space.

Its metal body is a huge improvement over the cheap-feeling plastic of its forebears, and the software experience, cleaned up from earlier versions, is more than tolerable.

Wireless charging and ultra-fast charging may not fully make up for less-than-stellar battery life, but if it is within your budget, the Galaxy S6 or S6 edge is the best high-end Android device on the block.

Best: Camera, performance, build quality
Worst: Battery life
Price: $99 – $569 on-contract, $729 – $1049 outright
Availability: Rogers, Bell, Telus, Virgin Mobile, Wind Mobile, Videotron, SaskTel, MTS, Koodo, Fido


iPhone 5s

The 2013-era iPhone, smaller and cheaper than the iPhone 6, is still a great deal for most people. Featuring Apple’s first 64-bit processor, the device is poised to receive updates for many years to come, and still offers the best app ecosystem on the planet.

Though the 4-inch screen may be too small for some, and the battery life underwhelming, the iPhone 5s has a camera nearly as good as its successor, the iPhone 6, and comes at a price most people would consider more palatable.

Best: App ecosystem, ease of use, customer service
Battery life, screen size
Price: $230 on-contract, $720 outright
Rogers, Bell, Telus, Koodo, Virgin Mobile, Fido, MTS, SaskTel, Videotron



A surprising edition to the list, the LG G4 wowed us with its well-rounded feature set earlier this year. It doesn’t quite match the Galaxy S6 in performance and camera quality, but it has no equal in terms of versatility. Its replaceable covers, battery and microSD slot make it a power user’s dream, and its 5.5-inch QHD display is one of the largest on our list, making it perfect for watching video or reading.

While its rear button placement won’t be to everyone’s tastes, it takes only a short time to grow used to, and is well worth the effort. With improved ergonomics over the G3, the G4’s beautiful screen and excellent battery life, along with its fantastic 16MP camera, make it well worth considering if you’re in the market for a high-end Android smartphone.

That it comes with both a leather and plastic back out of the box makes it particularly interesting.

Best: Versatility, camera
Design, update longevity
Price: $200 on-contract, $700 outright
Rogers, Bell, Telus, Videotron, SaskTel, Wind Mobile


Moto G (2015)

One of the newest phones on our list, the Moto G 2015 is our pick for entry-level smartphone. Its $200 price tag belies its high quality minimalist approach to design and performance; there are few, if any, true showstoppers.

An improved 5-inch 720p screen compared to the last generation model, the Moto G 2015 features an upgraded 13MP camera, waterproofing, and universal LTE support. It also retains many of the qualities that made the previous two generations so enticing: excellent battery life, replaceable backs, expandable storage, and a near-stock version of Android.

If the budget is tight, this is the phone to buy. But even if you can go higher, the Moto G 2015 is still worth looking at.

Best: Stock Android, camera, waterproofing, stereo speakers, price
Worst: Only 1GB RAM, low out-of-box storage
Price: $0 on-contract, $200 to $230 outright
Telus, Bell, Videotron, Wind Mobile


Moto X Play

Another brand new phone, the Moto X Play is Motorola’s “mid-range flagship,” a device that looks and feels like it is much more expensive than it actually is.

With a beautiful 5.5-inch 1080p display, a high-performance Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 chip, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, its specs should meet the expectations of most hardcore Android fanatics.

But it is the camera, with its 21MP sensor and F2.0 lens, and ample 3,630mAh battery, that really set the Moto X Play apart. And with a nearly-pure version of Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, and promises of fast updates for years to come, the Moto X Play is our pick for mid-range device from a carrier.

Best: Stock Android, build quality, price, performance
Worst: No 32GB option, no unlocked option
Price: “Around $399 outright”
Bell, Koodo, TELUS, Videotron, Wind Mobile


Asus ZenFone 2

Another surprise entry on the list, Asus really hit most of the right marks with the ZenFone 2, especially at its low $329 entry price.

Like the Moto G, the ZenFone 2 checks many boxes, but has more processing power and memory than the Motorola. Coming in two models, a $249 version featuring a 1.8Ghz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, as well as a $379 version with a 2.3Ghz quad-core processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, both are worth considering.

Asus has toned down the garish nature of its software with the ZenFone 2, though the phone comes with more bloatware than we’re used to seeing on an unlocked phone. Much of it can be disabled or deleted, and many of the apps are useful, but it’s a pockmark on an otherwise admirable scorecard.

Sold exclusively unlocked through online retailers like Newegg and Canada Computers, the ZenFone 2 nonetheless works on all Canadian carriers, including Wind Mobile and Videotron.

Best: Price, performance
Software design, bloatware
Price: $249 (2GB / 16GB) to $379 (4GB / 64GB)


OnePlus 2

Another online-only smartphone, the OnePlus 2 needs no introduction. Not currently available, the OnePlus 2 is nonetheless an intriguing device that builds on the success of its predecessor, the OnePlus One.

The OnePlus 2 hits all the fundamentals of a good smartphone, with a large, high-quality HD screen, a modern processor, plenty of memory and storage, and a clean, unfettered Android build with relatively quick updates.

OnePlus has been accused of showboating, but its in-your-face marketing tactics only highlight the phone’s extensive feature set, including a USB-C port, fingerprint scanner, and replaceable back cover.

Of course, the price of the OnePlus 2 is what gets people interested, and at $409 CAD it is one of the more powerful unlocked Android phones in its price range. You may just need to wait a while to get one.

Best: Price, performance
No fast charging or NFC, may be difficult to get for a while
Price: $409 (3GB / 16GB)  to $479 (4GB / 64GB)


Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3

Another winner in the price to performance crowd, Alcatel OneTouch is far from a household name (well, as much as OnePlus or Asus) in the mobile space, but it’s earned its place in this list. The Idol 3 is, for its price, one of the best deals in mobile, with an excellent screen, intrepid performance, and a camera worthy of devices nearly twice its cost.

Best: Price, performance
Software design, bloatware
Price: $0 on-contract, $300-$320 outright
Bell, Telus, Videotron