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I've been using a Sony Xperia Z2 (6503) with CM12.1. Unlike all my previous phones with CM, outgoing audio quality during calls has been a constant issue, and kept being an issue on the replacement Z2 I got.

So I'm replacing it.

The Z2 and Galaxy S7 will probably give a good idea of the kind of smartphone I'm after, but there's a load of other phones out there beyond those two. Desired features:

  • Size/form factor/screen: standard high-ish end Android smartphone. Large smartphone or smaller phablet sized. Roughly, 5.2 - 5.99 inch screen (ideally 5.5 - 5.7 ish), and up to about 79 x 170 x 9 mm. I don't need ultra-high res on the screen though. 1080 HD like the Xperia or even a bit less would be fine.

  • SoC/RAM/ROM: The Z2 I'm used to has a Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974AB quad Krait 400 2.3 Adreno 330). I'd like to improve on the CPU side if possible as we're a few years on from this generation, but open minded what to go to. 6-8 cores? 64 bit? I'm open minded and this isn't essentsl, I can "make do" if needed. Ram - at least 3GB (2GB isn't enough). Rom - the usual 16 or 32 GB is fine. Graphics - I don't game so open minded.

  • Phone/data bands: primarily UK but able to handle some international. At minimum, GSM, and for data, GPRS/EDGE/HSDPA/LTE (UMTS 900 (8) / 2100 (1), and LTE 1800 (3) / 2600 (7) / 800 (20). Ideally good choices for EU and USA as well, and ideally a recent version/speed for LTE (Z2 has cat 4).

  • OS: can load custom roms + TWRP, with a stable build of some kind (official or otherwise) out there. Not bothered if it has official CM support as long as there's an AOSP/CM style community rom without major issues that's good to go.

  • Audio: Good clear audio and reception on calls, whether held to ear or on speakerphone, is a must.

  • Other features: most phones of this kind will have the usual WiFi/Bluetooth etc, so I'll skip those. A lot of other details aren't important to me so I've left them out as well.

    -- Needs SDcard of some kind, a micro or C USB slot,

    -- IP x5+ rating for use in wet conditions (ideally with a screen that isn't completely hopeless in rain - I've read somewhere that some phones have a screen that detects touch moderately well even in rain),

    -- decent resilience (gorilla glass or similar, robust build),

    -- headphone socket that doesn't share with USB (so both can be used together),

    -- good camera for difficult light conditions (fast focus/good sensitivity is a bonus) + front facing camera, that can do 720HD or better,

    -- as much GPS capability as it can have (all the networks!).

    -- Decent size battery/battery life, as I use it a lot for browsing/news feeds etc.

I'll be buying off EBay, as previously, so models that are readily found 2nd hand online are a good thing. My budget is probably around UK £ 100 - 200, but that's for a good bargain price and for a used phone in good condition up to a year or two old.

Ideally I'm after several models, to put together a shortlist of up to about 5 - 7. But if there's only 1 or 2 stand-out models, that's fine too. I'm open to reading the specs for more if there are any.

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I don't think you're going to get what you want for $250. You're describing something like the S7 ($680+), or maybe the Axon 7 ($400+ and no water resistance). Smartphones are getting cheaper and "flagship killers" like the Axon 7 and OnePlus are on the rise, but they're not down to the low-end prices yet.

As for older phones, I don't know if any will really fit what you want, either. You may get that £200 pricepoint, but some features, like water resistance, only became popular this year. The Galaxy S5 does have IP67 (with the back on), but it's a 1080p screen, and the same processor as your Z2 (there is the LTE-A version, which has QHD, but it doesn't have LTE B20). You might have to raise your budget a bit if you want to keep water resistance.

If you're fine with giving up the IP rating, these older phones might be what you want:

  • Note 4 - SD 805, 3GB RAM, QHD Screen 5.7" -- £260 eBay
  • LG G3 - SD 801, 3GB RAM, QHD Screen 5.5" -- £123 eBay
  • LG G4 - SD 808, 3GB RAM, QHD Screen 5.5" -- £250 eBay

If you need that water resistance and can give up a QHD screen:

  • S5 - SD 801, 3GB RAM, 1080p Screen 5.1" -- £215 eBay

I think you should go with a newer phone, though, since you say you want a CPU/modem upgrade. The phones above are all 1-2 years old and a little outdated. They do all have good development scenes though, and I know CyanogenMod 14.1 is out for the Note 4. With Cyanogen's recent disconinuation, development there has been halted, but will be picked up with Emotion AOSP some time next year.

Even in newer phones, it's really only the flagships getting water resistance, and some still aren't, like the V20. These are way above your pricepoint, so if you get a modern phone, you have to give up water resistance.

Your requirements somewhat contradict.

  • You want an older phone, because of the price, but it needs to have an upgraded modem from the Z2, which is hard since that's only 2.5 years old.
  • You want a high resolution screen on an older phone. I don't know if that means you're fine with 1080p, but I'm taking it to mean QHD. Not too many phones from 1/2 years ago have QHD.
  • You want water resistance. Like I said before, water resistance wasn't that popular until very recently. Even now, it's only on highly-priced options.
  • You want something between £100 and £200, which just isn't realistic, even looking at 2-year-old options. £400-£500 is better.

Ultimately, I'd recommend you get the Axon 7 (not the Mini). It's around £430 new on eBay for the 128GB version, so you can probably find it cheaper than that used with a lower capacity. I know it's above your budget, but like I said before, it's just not a realistic range. For the price, you get:

  • QHD 5.5" Screen -- High resolution and matches your size request
  • SD 820 -- Technically still the newest high-end Qualcomm (SD 821 isn't really a new generation)
  • SD Card Slot
  • 20MP Camera @ ƒ/1.8 -- I hear the camera software is a little iffy, but there are third party options, and that was months ago
  • 8MP Selfie Camera @ ƒ/2.2 -- Higher up in the resolution range
  • It has a UK/EU variant, so it's good with cellular technology.
  • Gorilla Glass 4
  • Separate 3.5mm Headphone Jack
  • Stereo Front-Facing Speakers -- audio won't be a problem
  • A Great Development Scene -- ZTE is encouraging user feedback and supporting custom development

It's only missing the water resistance, and that can just be fixed with a lifeproof case or some Super Glue if you're daring ;).

There are other options, but I think this is the phone that most closely matches your requirements, with the price in mind.

UPDATE: Amazon has an unlocked version for under £400. I don't know if it's actually a UK compatible version (details are sparse), but I reckon it is, and Amazon is pretty good with its return policies.

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  • Thanks, this is really helpful. I've updated Q to clarify display/cpu - its the physical diagonal size I'm after. I don't need ultra high res, the Z2 has 1080 HD and that is fine (or even a bit less). Updating the CPU is more of a "nice if possible" rather than essential. The water handling is important though. – Stilez Dec 27 '16 at 10:05
  • @Stilez if the water resistance is that important, your only option really is the S5 I think. It isn't much of an upgrade, but it's the only phone I know of that's ~£200 and water resistant. – TheWanderer Dec 27 '16 at 14:45
  • I think the S5 was high up on my "would like except for" list. It's only 2GB as far as I know. I looked at it when it came out. If there's a 3GB model since then, can you link me to it as it would indeed be close to ideal – Stilez Dec 27 '16 at 18:34
  • Oh, I guess it is only 2GB. I thought it was 3, like the Note 4. Honestly, water resistance might have to be your compromise. There are a few other 2014 brands with it, but most are Sony, and I think you want to avoid that. The others don't have very good specs, or are US-carrier exclusive. I don't want to be too insistent, but the Axon 7 really is a good phone. It matches everything except water resistance and price (which wasn't a very flexible range anyway), and you can always get a water-proof case. – TheWanderer Dec 27 '16 at 18:49
  • A pity. I was hoping, given the Z2's age, that what was high end then would be mid range and much easier to find now. Wonder why it isn't? – Stilez Dec 28 '16 at 0:40

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