Your smartphone is arguably the most important piece of technology that you own. Not only does it give you access to inordinate amounts of information, content, and entertainment, but it also helps shape your digital footprint. These days, that’s no small thing. So it’s critical that you pick one that’s right for you. But what makes your device the best phone for you depends on what you’re going to do with it.
Related: Which iPad is right for you?
Best phone overall — iPhone 8
The iPhone 8 is one of the best phones you can buy today. It is fast, smooth, and lasts forever. It’s one of the easiest and best smartphones to use — you don’t have to be a tech guru to learn this phone. Of course, if you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ll notice that there’s also an iPhone X out there. In our opinion, the X’s extra screen space is not worth the loss of Touch ID security, nor is it worth the extra money.
The iPhone 8 is still one of the best smartphones with a great screen and camera and worth every penny of its retail price. The iPhone and iOS are built with each other in mind, so what you end up with is a smooth experience catered to the iPhone user. Apps are typically better designed and more functional in iOS because of the consistent experience it delivers throughout its ecosystem. That being said, not everything is roses. iOS certainly has room for improvement, as you’ll see below. Still, if you’re just picking up your first smartphone, or you want something powerful, easy and robust, it’s hard to go wrong with the iPhone 8.
Great hardware: The design of the iPhone hasn’t changed much over the years. But that’s because the design just works. The iPhone 8 has a great screen with large (by today’s standards) bezels on the top and bottom. The Home button is central to the iPhone experience — you can use it to do just about anything from fingerprint unlock, to reachability, to multi-tasking. The iPhone 8 also comes packed with a great camera which is capable of some great stills and video.
Software/hardware symbiosis: The iPhone and its operating system, iOS, are both designed and built from the ground up by Apple. This allows for each aspect of the experience to work with the other. Most other smartphones run an operating system built by someone else, which doesn’t allow for the kind of smooth experience that iOS will give you.
Robust App ecosystem: Along with the software come the apps. Apple is the leading name in apps and app stores. Developers flock to iOS in an effort to bring the very best experience to iPhone users. Android apps are often considered inferior, or are more unpredictable due to the large number of devices for which apps need to be designed. While it’s true there are more iPhone screen sizes than in years past, there is still a certain consistency in the platform that developers love.
Great battery life: Recently, Apple admitted that it was using certain processor modifications on older iPhones to help save battery life. Those are optional now, but even so, the iPhone is one of the most battery-efficient devices on the market today. Batteries last a long time throughout the day, and throughout the life of the phone.
Closed garden: Of course, the iPhone is an experience designed from the ground up by Apple. What that means is, you’ll be getting the experience that Apple wants you to have, period. There isn’t a lot of room for customization in iOS — even app icons can be tough to arrange at times. If you’re buying an iPhone, you’re also buying into the Apple way of doing things.
Apple or bust: The iPhone also will sometimes not play well with other non-Apple devices. Specifically in the realm of smart watches. If you have an iPhone and you want a smartwatch, your options are Apple Watch, or basically nothing. Some smartwatches do have functionality with the iPhone, but for a truly great smartwatch experience (that you’re paying over $200 for), the Apple Watch is the only game in town.
Mostly awful notifications: The notification system on the iPhone is not the best. It took a long time for iOS to get a notification shade, and it has never really caught up to where Android is today. Interacting with notifications is something you do because you can, not because you want to.
Mostly awful keyboard: It’s 2018 and the stock iOS keyboard still doesn’t have a number row or swipe typing. In a world of usernames and passwords for everything, this is basically unforgivable. Some critics will argue that iOS’s ability to add different keyboards eliminates this problem, but that experience also feels half baked, and not up to Apple’s standards.
Best phone overall — honorable mentions
iPhone 8 Plus: If you’re in the market for a larger screen, the iPhone 8 Plus is another great option on our best phones list. It’s basically the iPhone 8, but with a larger screen and dual camera on the back. The dual camera especially adds a wide angle lens to your camera, allowing you to capture more of the subject from up close.
iPhone X: The iPhone X is the first major redesign of the iPhone in years and a must on our best phones list. Along with a nearly bezel-free screen, Apple also baked in facial tracking and recognition making “animojis” possible. These animojis mimic your voice and facial expressions, allowing you to send voice messages as a dog, unicorn, or any number of other characters. There is no fingerprint sensor. Instead, the iPhone X relies on “FaceID” which uses those same sensors to recognize your face to unlock the phone.
Best phone for gaming — Samsung Galaxy S9
While the Samsung Galaxy S9 could easily head up our “Best Phone Overall” category, the Galaxy S9 adds a lot to the world of gaming. The Samsung Galaxy S9 brings a gorgeous screen and great battery life to the table, which is key for a gamer. Add to that its compatibility with the Samsung Gear VR, and you have a handset that is ready for immersive game play.
Samsung Gear VR has been a focus for Samsung. From riding actual VR roller coasters at Six Flags, to its partnership with Oculus, Samsung is throwing a lot of weight behind VR. Add to that the Game Launcher experience Samsung has built into its phones, and there is a lot of attention put into the gaming experience.
Gorgeous Screen: Samsung brought us the 18:9 infinity display in the Galaxy S8 and it’s back in the Galaxy S9. To say the Galaxy S9 sports minimal bezels would be something of an understatement. The phone sports a screen-to-bezel ratio of around 83 percent. Plus the curve around the edge of the phone gives it the infinity look its name suggests. This phone will wow you.
Gear VR/Oculus: As mentioned, Samsung has done a great job of bringing premium titles to the Gear VR experience including titles from Star Wars, Blade Runner, Hitman, Minecraft, and more. Samsung is serious about bringing great titles to its VR experience.
Supporting Ecosystem: Samsung has built an entire ecosystem around its flagship smartphones. From VR headsets to wearables, Samsung checks a lot of boxes. But unlike other platforms that are out there, you don’t necessarily need to use Samsung gear (no pun intended). You can just as easily connect an LG smartwatch, or a Google Daydream headset. The versatility is what’s attractive in a gaming smartphone.
Great camera: In addition to a great gaming experience, Samsung also delivers one of the best cameras on the market today. Plus, the Galaxy S9 now has a mechanical aperture which adjusts to lighting conditions, making the camera experience that much better. And since gamers are the playful sort, you can use Samsung’s front-facing camera to animate emojis of yourself and send them to your friends using popular third-party apps like Facebook messenger or Whatsapp.
Samsung Experience: The artist formerly known as Touchwiz, Samsung Experience, is now the name of the skin Samsung runs on top of Android. Touchwiz got a really bad reputation early on, and while Samsung has done a lot to redeem itself, it still adds on a ton of stuff on top of Android which aren’t necessarily the most useful features one might find on a smartphone.
Edge or bust: Part of the aforementioned “Infinity Display” is the edge. In theory, it’s great that the edge of the phone just disappears off the side of the phone, but it can be prone to accidental touches because of how thin the edge is. The Galaxy S9 gave the edge a bit more girth because of this issue on the S8, but it remains to be seen whether or not this will be effective.
Expensive: The Galaxy S9 is Samsung’s flagship device, and because of that, it carries a flagship price tag. Starting at over $700, the phone gets really expensive really fast. While that might be expected for a gaming device, you won’t necessarily be getting the best bang for your buck.
Best phone for gaming — honorable mention
Razer Phone: Of course, it’s not right to talk about gaming phones and leave out the smartphone made by a gaming company. The Razer phone is on our best phones list with top-of-the-line specs across the board, including one of the best screen experiences — the 120Hz refresh rate. Still, this is Razer’s first-generation product, and the phone is not without its flaws. We feel the Galaxy S9, or the S9 Plus will give you a much more completely satisfying experience.
Best smartphones on a budget — Honor 7X
Sometimes, you don’t want to spend a whole lot of money on one of our best phones. We get that. Fortunately, so does Honor — a subsidiary of Huawei. Honor has been gaining steam in the budget phone market for some time now, but it really hit its stride with the Honor 7X. The all-aluminum frame looks and feels great, and the 18:9 aspect ratio usually reserved for flagship models is here as well.
The phone is smooth, handling any tasks you care to throw at it. The Kirin 659 Processor coupled with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage are capable of handling a ton of processing and data. On the back, you have dual camera sensors — also usually reserved for flagship devices — that take great photos and include a few neat low-light photo tricks like star tracking.
Great design: The Honor 7X looks and feels like a premium phone. The all-aluminum construction, rounded curves, and 77 percent screen-to-body ratio help this phone look like a flagship. You’d never guess that it starts at below $200.
Very fast: The place where most budget phones are going to falter is in the performance department. Not so for the Honor 7X. 4GB of RAM is becoming the standard — for midrange smartphones. At this price point, you usually see 2-3GB or RAM. That extra RAM makes a huge impact.
Good cameras: For the money you’re spending on this phone, the Honor 7X has a very good camera. When the lighting is right, this camera setup will stand toe-to-toe with most other sensors out there. You won’t want this to be your primary camera at a kid’s soccer game or school recital, but it’ll get you by in everyday situations.
No NFC: For some, this won’t be a big deal. For others, it’ll be an absolute deal breaker. The lack of NFC coils on this phone means that features like NFC pairing and Google Pay are out of reach. If you’re not a fan of those features, you probably should be, but nevertheless, this won’t be a big deal for you.
Carrier No-Go: Not only can you not buy this phone through a carrier, but the heads of several U.S. government agencies specifically advise against phones from Chinese manufacturers — among which, Honor counts itself. Carriers bring a lot of buying power to a brand, and Honor’s sales are currently limited to online shopping at Honor’s web site or at Amazon. That said, it will work with GSM carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T, or smaller carriers that run on their networks like StraightTalk.
MicroUSB: Like NFC, this may not seem like a big deal now, but with so many phones going the way of USB Type-C for its charging and data, MicroUSB seems, old. In some cases, this can actually be an advantage since a lot of wireless accessories are still using MicroUSB, so it’s less cables to keep track of. But it certainly seems outdated by today’s standards.
Best smartphones on a budget — honorable mentions
Moto G5 Plus: Motorola has rebuilt itself as the king of the best smartphones in the budget category, and the Moto G5 Plus is a great example of that. But the G5 Plus looks and feels like a budget phone, with a plastic shell, and 16:9 aspect ratio. You may be witnessing a changing of the guard in the budget phone space.
Alcatel: Alcatel released a few good options for best phones at MWC 2018. We’ve linked our full post on Android Authority so you can check those out. Any of them would be a pretty serviceable smartphone on a budget.
Most unusual phone — Moto Z2 Force
Sometimes, you don’t want to go with the crowd. You want something that’s more personal, more “you.” Look no further than the Moto Z2 Force on our best phones list. Motorola has been rebuilding its brand around the concept of Moto Mods which allow you to snap on a modular accessory and turn your phone into something different. It’s hands down the best modular concept we have seen, which is why it’s on our best smartphones list.
One of the reasons it is one of the best phones is that it is basically indestructible. Motorola built this phone using its ShatterShield technology which makes the screen basically shatterproof. You won’t have to worry about dropping this phone on the sidewalk. These two traits make this one of the most unique phones out there.
Moto Mods: If the best phones and accessories had a baby, you’d have Moto Mods. Moto Mods are modular pieces that snap on to the back of a Moto Z phone and add some kind of functionality. Sometimes it’s as simple as a case; sometimes it’s a projector. The possibilities are limited only by imagination.
Shattershield: Motorola developed its shattershield technology to combat the broken screen. Motorola sandwiches five layers together to form this shatterproof screen. Motorola even goes so far as to set up phone dropping demonstrations at press events so this tech can be fully vetted.
Mostly Stock Android: Motorola has long been one of the best Android experiences. For years, it has been seen as the leader in the mostly-stock android experience, with a few add-ons here and there that are truly useful. Double chop to turn on the flashlight and wrist-twist to launch the camera are the kinds of gestures you miss when you’re using non-Motorola devices.
Moto Mods: Moto Mods do have their downsides. Most specifically, they only work with Moto Z devices. These accessories have no function when detached from their host units. This presents two problems. First, if you ever switch phones, you have a whole ecosystem of accessories that are basically useless. Plus, if Motorola ever changes the design of the phone in future iterations, you may have to start over. Fortunately, Motorola has stuck with Moto Mods for two years now.
Large bezels: The Moto Z2 Force was one of the only flagships of 2017 to not adopt 18:9 aspect ratio and minimal bezels. The fingerprint sensor remains on the front of the device, meaning the bottom bezel is large. While this isn’t specifically a problem from a technical standpoint, aesthetically, it’s less than desirable
Not-great camera: Considering the price point of the Moto Z2 Force, and the dual-camera setup, the camera on this phone is good, but not great. The camera is passable, in that it’ll be ok for most tasks, but the camera bar has been dramatically raised of late, so this falls within the con category. This camera setup belongs on a midrange phone, not a flagship.
No Headphone jack: Since the lack of a headphone jack is becoming more and more common, it might be hard to ding a phone for this. The headphone jack is still alive and kicking and as long as it is, this counts as a downside.
Most unusual phone — honorable mention
If you want to talk about really weird, let’s talk about the ZTE Axon M. This bad boy earns a spot on the best phones list by bringing a pair of screens to the conversation — one in front and one on the back. Further, a hinge allows the dual screens to unfold into a large, side-by-side configuration, or you can set up tent mode which allows you to mirror your screens to share content. It’s this kind of concept that could turn the smartphone industry on its head.
Best smartphones for value — OnePlus 5T
Despite its many off-the-assembly-line quirks, the OnePlus 5T has been one of the best phones for a long time now. For our best smartphones list, we’re talking dollar-for dollar value. Yes, there are better phones out there. Yes, there are less expensive phones out there. But when it comes to the best smartphones value for your money, the OnePlus 5T is generally going to be your destination.
OnePlus has a lot going for it. It offers a premium look and feel for a price that isn’t too outrageous. Compared to its competitors, you’ll find OnePlus hovering at about ½ to ⅔ of the price of other flagships on the market, even though OnePlus offers nearly the same specifications.
Cameras: The cameras on the back on the OnePlus 5 are 16 and 20 megapixels respectively. The cameras skew to the warmer side of the spectrum, which results in punchy if slightly oversaturated colors. All the same, the camera is capable of some great shots, even in low light.
Best value for the price: This phone starts at under $500. Compared to similar offerings, that’s a crazy low price. Sure, it’s not down in Honor 7X territory, but it’s comfortably the best phone you can buy in that $300 – $500 price range.
Oxygen OS: OnePlus’s skin, OxygenOS is very close to stock Android, but you can customize it in a number of delightful ways. You can switch to different modes for nighttime or when you’re reading. You can customize several aspects of the notification bar and the navigation menu. It’s a little nerdy, but you can really make your phone yours.
Flagship specs: The specifications on this phone are awesome, considering the price point. You get Dual camera modules on the back, super fast charging, 64 or 128 GB of onboard storage, plus a snapdragon 835 processor. Along with 6 or 8GB or RAM your phone will fly through any task you throw at it.
No MicroSD: One thing that is missing from the OnePlus 5T is expansion with a MicroSD card. One can argue that with a base of 64GB of storage, additional storage isn’t really needed, but so many apps, games, and movies today are so massive, it would be nice to be able to bump up the storage should things start to fill up.
Short release cycle: OnePlus tends to release a new phone every six months or so, and the differences between the best phones are getting smaller and smaller. What that means is, by the time you get around to pickup up a OnePlus 5T, the OnePlus 6 is right around the corner. Most of the upgrades are incremental — they have to be with that fast a release cycle — but still, your brand new phone will only be shiny for so long before it’s overshadowed by something shinier.
1080p screen: OnePlus has long been on the 1080p train when it comes to screen. That’s really the one specification it simply will not upgrade. Most argue that 1080p is enough for a smartphone-sized screen. But with other OEMs launching 2K and even 4K screens, 1080p simply won’t cut it for long. Maybe today it’s okay, but tomorrow is anyone’s guess.
So those are our picks of the best phones you can buy today. Do you think we left anything out? Did you pick up up one of these best smartphones? Sound off in the comments below and let us know!