15 MAR 2018
For a smartphone with only a few incremental updates over its predecessor, the Galaxy S9 made quite the impression.
It’s a fantastic smartphone, and I’ve had to reshuffle the top five phones in this list as a result.
After some more time with the iPhone X, I’ve also reshuffled the order for the latest iPhones, as well.
Whether you’re in the market for a phone right now or can wait until after the big show, we’ve got you covered.
Check out our list of the top 20 smartphones you can buy – and our picks for the phones to look forward to:
- BlackBerry KeyOne
The KeyOne is BlackBerry’s successor to the Priv. Both run Android and feature physical keyboards. But while the Priv’s keyboard slid out from behind its screen, the KeyOne’s is permanently located just below its display.
The KeyOne is a great device for those who want both a physical keyboard and access to Google’s apps and services, which aren’t available on other BlackBerry devices.
- Motorola Moto G5 Plus and G5S Plus
The Moto G5 Plus continues to be our favourite budget-friendly Android smartphone. It demonstrates that “good-but-not-great hardware can become [a] strong value at the right price,” as Dunn said in his review.
With the G5 Plus, you get a 5.2-inch 1080p screen, a fingerprint scanner, great battery life, a 12-megapixel camera that beats those of other phones in its price range, a nearly pristine version of Android, and a sleek design. All for a mere $US200.
Still, the G5 Plus doesn’t have as many features as premium phones. For example, it doesn’t have an NFC antenna, so it can’t be used for mobile payments. And to charge the device, you’ll have to use a microUSB cable; it doesn’t support USB-C, the newer, faster phone-charging standard.
The Moto G5S Plus is an upgrade from the G5 Plus.
The newer phone features an all-metal design, whereas the older one has a half-metal, half-plastic case. The G5S Plus also has a bigger screen – a 5.5-inch display versus 5.2-inch one.
But one of the biggest improvements is in its camera. The G5S Plus has a 13-megapixel dual-lens camera system.
- Motorola Moto Z2 Force
(Motorola/Lenovo)The Moto Z2 Force comes with everything you’d expect from a premium smartphone. As Dunn noted in his review, it’s “very fast, its screen looks good, its cameras are capable of taking nice photos, and it has a razor-thin frame.” And its 5.5-inch AMOLED display is more resistant to cracking than most other smartphones’ screens.
However, the Z2 Force is a little too reliant on Motorola’s Mods. Those are the company’s line of snap-on accessories, including external speakers and bigger batteries, that are designed for its Z-series phones. Without such Mods, the Z2 Force doesn’t really measure up to the devices that rank higher on this list.
- Apple iPhone SE/6S/6S Plus
(Apple)I grouped all these together because they are all two years old, have similar specs, and are still available from Apple. They’re also still amazing smartphones.
Last fall, Apple released iOS 11, the latest version of its mobile operating system, and my iPhone 6S Plus still runs great with it.
The SE, 6S, and 6S Plus all feature great cameras and Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor, which allows you to quickly unlock your phone. Another bonus: These are the last iPhones that still have headphone jacks.
These phones are even better if you buy them refurbished from Apple; you’ll get a deep discount if you do.
iPhone SE price: $US350
iPhone 6S price: $US450
iPhone 6S Plus price: $US550
- HTC U11
The U11 has an excellent camera, an eye-catching reflective back, and speedy performance. And it has a fun feature that allows you to squeeze its edges to open any app you want, including Google Assistant.
In most respects, it’s a great Android smartphone. But it has two notable shortcomings – it lacks a headphone jack, and the borders around its display are relatively large, which makes it look old-fashioned.
- LG G6
The G6 is LG’s best smartphone. With it, LG is finally offering a phone with a premium design and water-resistance – features that put the G6 in the same league as Samsung’s and Apple’s flagship devices.
The G6 has a good dual-lens camera and a screen that’s taller than normal, which makes it great for viewing and using apps.
But the G6 has one notable downside: an older processor. Its Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chip was superseded by the Snapdragon 835 two months after the G6 launched. Unlike the G6, Samsung’s Galaxy S8, one of its chief rivals, has the newer chip.
While the Snapdragon 821 is still a great processor, its likely to become obsolete sooner than its successor, and the G6 is likely to start seeming slower sooner than the Galaxy S8.
- Essential Phone
The Essential Phone is a gorgeous device. It has a nearly edge-to-edge display and a case made of ultrapremium materials – ceramic on the back and titanium on the sides. It also runs a nearly stock version of Android, which I prefer over the heavily modified versions that Samsung and LG phones tend to use.
Overall, the Phone is a great first effort from Essential. It’s speedy and takes great photos. It also has two magnetic pins on its back that serve as a connection point for peripherals, including a 360-degree camera and a wireless-charging dock.
Essential recently dropped the price of the Phone to $US500 from $US700. That’s a great deal for a great phone.
- Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus
(Business Insider)The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are “old” phones now that the S9 is released, but Samsung is still selling them for a nice little discount. They’re great phones, but despite the discount, I’d still go for the Galaxy S9 or S9 Plus. The S9 has much better facial/iris recognition, and the fingerprint scanner under the camera is much easier to reach.
Galaxy S8 price: $US618
Galaxy S8 Plus price: $US685
- Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus
(Hollis Johnson / Business Insider)The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are now more than a year old, but for $US550 and $US670, respectively, they easily beat the Galaxy S8 phones.
Apple phones generally offer better apps and a better owner experience than their Android rivals, and the iPhone 7 is no different. The support you get from Apple if something goes wrong is superior to what you get from Android device makers. And unlike on most Android phones, with iPhones you can always get the latest software updates straight from Apple as soon as it releases them.
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus offer some compelling features, including water-resistant cases, great cameras that perform well in low light, and a powerful processor. The phones also work well with other Apple products, including the company’s wireless AirPods headphones.
The iPhone 7 Plus’ dual-lens camera system is its distinguishing feature. It allows you to take pictures with a professional-looking “bokeh” effect, which blurs the background behind your subject. Additionally, the system allows you to zoom in on your subjects; its second camera offers a 2x optical zoom.
Unlike the digital zoom feature found in other cameras, an optical zoom allows you to enlarge an image of your subject without sacrificing picture quality.
iPhone 7 price: $US550
iPhone 7 Plus price: $US670
- Razer Phone
The phone is marketed as a “gaming” phone, mostly because of its unique display. The phone can refresh its screen 120 times a second; most phones, by comparison only refresh their screens 60 times a second. The phone’s faster refresh rate allows it to offer super smooth gameplay.
But the phone doesn’t just use the feature to make games look good. The refresh rate also affects the way it displays apps and its Android interface. It works beautifully; everything you do on the phone is ultrasmooth in a way never seen before on a smartphone. In fact, Razer may have set the standard for how all phone displays should work – not just those on gaming devices.
But there’s more to the phone than just its screen. It’s also got an eye-catching industrial design that stands out when compared with the sleek and svelte designs of most other Android phones.
The large borders above and below the phone’s screen may look out of step with the borderless designs of other recent phones. But hiding beneath those borders are the loudest and best speakers we’ve heard on any smartphone.
- Huawei Mate 10 Pro
(Huawei)The Mate 10 Pro is the most enticing one to date that the Chinese company has offered in the US market. It features a nice, if somewhat generic, design; water resistance; a large, 4,000mAh battery; and a dual-lens camera system.
It also runs on a Kirin 970 processor that comes with something called a neural-network processing unit, or NPU. The NPU lets the phone adapt and respond to how you use it. It can adjust the device’s power consumption to offer both the best performance and efficiency.
Combined with the Mate 10 Pro’s jumbo-sized battery, the NPU allows the device to have insane battery life.
- Samsung Galaxy Note 8
With its gorgeous design, ultra-thin borders around its screen, a beautiful display, fast performance, a dual-lens camera system, and fancy stylus-based features, the Note 8 takes the best attributes of Samsung’s Galaxy S and Note smartphone lines and smashes them together into a phone that’s hard to beat.
- OnePlus 5T
(Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider)If you’re looking for a huge bargain, the OnePlus 5T is the Android phone to get. It’s a fantastic phone that’s only made better by its incredible $US500 starting price.
It comes with more memory than any other smartphone we’ve tried, guaranteeing top performance. On top of that, its great camera comes with a portrait mode that competes with those of the iPhone X and Google’s Pixel 2. And it has one of my favourite features in an Android phone: It runs a near-stock version of the operating system.
- Google Pixel 2
The Pixel 2 might not be the most beautiful Android phone you can buy, but it has a secret weapon that vaults it above most of the competition – it runs the latest and purest version of the Android operating system. Because it’s unadulterated, that version looks and runs better than any of the tweaked takes on Android that you’ll find on other phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S phones and LG’s G line.
Better yet, because the Pixel 2’s Android is unmodified, you’ll be able to install the latest updates as soon as Google rolls them out. That’s not something you can usually do with other Android phones. But it’s important and, hey, who doesn’t want to get the latest version of Android as soon as it’s available?
But the Pixel 2 has other features that help put it ahead of other Android devices, including an amazing camera, great performance, and outstanding battery life. And unlike its predecessor, the original Pixel, the Pixel 2 is water-resistant. All told, it’s like a smarter – if less attractive – Galaxy phone.
Still, there’s one way the Pixel 2 doesn’t match up to the original Pixel. We rated that device higher than the iPhone 7, which came out at about the same time. But we rate the iPhone 8 higher than the Pixel 2. That’s because the iPhone 8 supports wireless charging and ships with a set of headphones, and the Pixel 2 offers neither.
- Google Pixel 2 XL
(Google)The Pixel 2 XL has nearly the same components and features that make the Pixel 2 great, but it comes in a bigger package with a larger display and a fresher-looking design. The Pixel 2 XL isn’t the best-looking Android phone, but with the narrow borders around its screen, it looks sleeker and more refined than its smaller sibling or its predecessors from last year.
And the unadulterated Android experience it offers is unbeatable.
Users and reviewers initially reported encountering several problems with the Pixel 2 XL, mostly with its screen. Some reported the colours it displayed weren’t as vibrant as those on other top Android phones. Google later issued an update that made colours appear more vibrant.
- Apple iPhone 8
(Hollis Johnson / Business Insider)The iPhone 8 comes with a refined glass-and-metal case, a superb camera, and strong performance. With it, Apple is finally supporting both wireless and fast charging – features that Android phones have long offered but had been missing from previous iPhones.
- Apple iPhone X
The iPhone X is Apple’s biggest leap in design and features in years, but it’s held back by a massive $US1,000 price tag, questionnable Face ID performance for unlocking, and the lack of a backup fingerprint scanner.
Face ID might actually work perfectly well for some people, but a minimum of $US1,000 for this smartphone doesn’t work well for many others.
- Apple iPhone 8 Plus
(Hollis Johnson/Business Insider)Starting at $US800, the iPhone 8 Plus is essentially the same smartphone as the $US1,000 iPhone X. You get the same dual-lens camera and performance. You’re only missing out on Face ID, a new design, and the iPhone X’s beautiful OLED display. But that still doesn’t warrant the iPhone X’s price tag. Android devices have had OLED displays for years without going into quadruple digits for the price.
The iPhone 8 Plus has a fingerprint scanner instead of the iPhone X’s Face ID, and it’s a better phone for it. You don’t get the Animoji feature that only works with Face ID, but Animoji aren’t exactly an amazing reason to go for the iPhone X over the iPhone 8 Plus.
- Samsung Galaxy S9
(Samsung)The Galaxy S9 makes a better case for your hands and pockets than the iPhone 8 or iPhone X due to its sheer number of features, excellent versatile camera that’s unparalleled in low light, beautiful design, and rock-steady performance. Samsung’s new line of Galaxy S smartphones has become my top pick now that Samsung has fixed the facial/iris recognition and fingerprint sensor issues from the Galaxy S8.
- Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
The Galaxy S9 Plus is largely just a bigger version of the regular Galaxy S9, but it has a dual-lens camera system where the secondary lens serves as a 2x optical zoom lens. The Plus model also comes with more RAM than the regular S9, which helps with overall performance speed.
It’s my top smartphone pick because it’s a clear example that you don’t need to spend $US1,000 – the price of an iPhone X – to get a top, premium, full-fat smartphone experience. The Galaxy S9 Plus checks off all the boxes and I’d easily recommend it to anyone looking for a new smartphone.