The good news is that as smartphones have matured, they’ve become so good in terms of hardware and design that it’s getting harder to pick something you will truly regret… or if you’re the glass half empty kinda person, they’ve become so good that picking the one that’s right for you can be a challenging task.
You’ve read the reviews and have formed your own opinions on the devices you’ve owned and currently own, but with our vast access to devices, the best smartphones feature is meant to highlight the stuff that matters, what we’d buy for ourselves based in a number of factors (particularly price point) and thus make it easier for you to buy the best possible device.
Samsung Galaxy S8+
2017 has brought on one of the most interesting flagship smartphone battles in recent years. Both LG and HTC returned to better form with the G6 and U11, while Huawei, Xiaomi, OnePlus and others continue to deliver solid Android hardware. But the undisputed champion so far is the Samsung Galaxy S8+.
With a near bezel-free display, the Galaxy S8+ looks futuristic, and its design makes most other new phones look last generation in comparison. The S8+ is immaculately crafted, with premium materials throughout, while retaining popular features from previous handsets like water resistance, a microSD card slot, and the 3.5mm headphone jack. And the 6.2-inch curved AMOLED display is just about the best-looking screen on any smartphone.
Depending on your region, the Galaxy S8+ comes kitted with a Samsung Exynos 8895 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, either of which are blazing fast and help deliver fantastic battery life. The camera on the rear has remained largely unchanged from the Galaxy S7 Edge, though image quality is still fantastic and stacks up well against new solutions. Samsung’s software has improved over the last few generations to the point where it’s no longer a frustrating mess, aside from the underdeveloped and useless Bixby assistant.
Buyers should be warned, though, about the sheer fragility and slipperiness of the Galaxy S8 and S8+. Drop these phones once, even from a short distance and even onto relatively soft surfaces, and it’s possible the screen or glass back will shatter. The Galaxy S8+ is the best-looking phone this generation, but you’ll need a case to protect its fragile construction. Those that hate cases – or that awful fingerprint sensor location – should look elsewhere.
If you’re willing to look past the fragility of the Galaxy S8+, it’s the best phone on the market right now.
We prefer the larger 6.2-inch Galaxy S8+ over the 5.8-inch Galaxy S8 for the screen real estate and longer battery life, but both phones use the same internal hardware, so either is a great choice.
Also a Fantastic Option: Google Pixel XL
The Google Pixel XL was our best phone pick in late 2016 and remains an outstanding option, if you can find one in stock. The camera is still the best of any smartphone, plus you get the benefit of stock Android with ultra-fast updates. You can even try out Android betas and play around with Google’s Daydream VR platform. It costs roughly as much as the Galaxy S8 and offers a different set of strengths, so it’s worth exploring.
Best Flagship for Less
Xiaomi Mi 6
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first: the Xiaomi Mi 6 is mostly intended for Chinese markets, so you’ll need to import one through websites like Gearbest. Luckily, this process is remarkably easy, and unlike Xiaomi phones of old, there are no issues using the Mi 6 in Western markets with features like the Google Play Store. Xiaomi has polished their software to the point that now it’s just like any other Android skin.
The Mi 6 includes heaps of top-end hardware for its low price. You get a Snapdragon 835 SoC, a fantastic 5.2-inch display even though it’s only 1080p, a solid dual camera solution similar to the iPhone 7 Plus, and outstanding battery life for a relatively compact device. You won’t get microSD expansion, but 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage is great for most people, and even the 128GB model is far cheaper than most other top-tier Android phones.
Last year we recommended the OnePlus 3T to bring the most value on high-end specs, but this year the company released the OnePlus 5 at a higher $479 price point. For this reason we’re picking the Xiaomi over the OnePlus.
Of course, there are some trade-offs when you purchase an “affordable flagship” instead of paying the full ticket price for the Galaxy S8+. The design of the Mi 6 isn’t anything special, and you’re certainly not getting a bezel-free experience. There’s no 3.5mm headphone jack, as Xiaomi has followed in the footsteps of Apple here. There’s a bit of bloatware installed on this device, too, and the cameras aren’t quite as good as the best phones out there.
But if you want a great experience for a low price, it’s hard to go past the Xiaomi Mi 6.
A Mid-Priced Superstar
The LG G5 didn’t impress us last year as a flagship contender. The modular system added nothing to the package, and although there is a removable battery, battery life was far from amazing. The ‘metal’ body also lacked the polish we want on a premium handset, so it was an easy win for the likes of the Galaxy S7 and Huawei P9.
But let’s be real here. At $290, the hardware you’re getting in this phone is far too hard to pass up, even considering some of the aforementioned issues. The Snapdragon 820 inside still stacks up very well against modern flagships, but at less than half the price. The LG G5’s compact 1440p display is also bright, crisp, and clear.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the G5 at under $300 is the camera solution on offer. One standard camera, one wide angle camera, and both deliver fantastic image quality superior to some high-end phones today.
If you want the best camera and the best performance at a highly affordable price, the LG G5 is as good as it gets today, so we decided to add a category to this year’s collection of best smartphones to bridge the gap between the best flagship for less and the best budget device.
Best Budget Device
Motorola Moto G4 Play
Selecting the best budget handset was incredibly tough this year.
Motorola’s latest value oriented phones, the Moto G5 and G5 Plus, are solid options, but both cost more than $200 with the G5 Plus in particular beginning to encroach on the far superior LG G5. And there’s a ton of Chinese OEMs producing decent budget hardware, most notably Xiaomi with their Redmi 4 and Redmi Note 4.
Ultimately, though, in what may be a surprise move, we are continuing to recommend the Motorola Moto G4 Play from mid-2016 as the best budget handset in 2017. At just $150 (or $99 with Amazon lockscreen ads), the G4 Play is unbelievable value, and offers a similar experience to the Redmi 4 for less.
The Moto G4 Play’s spec sheet won’t blow you away. A 5.0-inch 720p LCD, a Snapdragon 410 SoC, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and a 2,800 mAh battery. You’ll get around 28 percent more performance from the Snapdragon 435 in the Redmi 4, but at a 30 percent higher price, so we feel the price difference here is justified. The battery may be smaller than Xiaomi’s offerings, too, though battery life was still great in our tests, and you get all the benefits of near-stock Android.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect to the G4 Play is its camera, which outperforms the $200 Moto G5 despite only packing an 8-megapixel sensor. The image processing in the G4 Play, particularly its HDR mode, is fantastic and will comfortably beat most budget devices that opt for stock processing.
A great camera in a budget package for this ultra-low price point is very hard to pass up, and Amazon’s lockscreen ads are a largely unobtrusive trade-off to hit the sub-$100 mark.
Best from Apple (for now)
Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Apple fans and current iPhone owners looking for a new phone will likely opt to remain on iOS. However, Apple will release the iPhone 8 in September or October, and this upcoming update is supposed to be huge, marking the 10th anniversary of the iPhone.
Those wanting to grab the best iPhone on the market right now should opt for the iPhone 7 Plus, but only do so knowing that in a matter of 3 to 4 months you won’t have Apple’s greatest anymore. Having that said, the iPhone 7 Plus is a blazing fast handset thanks to its A10 Fusion SoC, boasting a wide gamut display with a water-resistant design.
It’s unfortunate that the 7 Plus doesn’t include a headphone jack, but if you want the best iOS hardware currently available, using a dongle with your 3.5mm-wired headphones is a minor annoyance you’ll have to put up with.
One of the best aspects to the iPhone 7 Plus is its dual camera solution, providing a standard wide-angle lens in conjunction with a 2x zoom camera. Buyers won’t be disappointed with the camera, battery life or performance here.
All iPhones are guaranteed to receive fast software updates for several years, which is a strong advantage of Apple’s iOS ecosystem when compared to most Android handsets, and iOS arguably enjoys of a better selection of apps and games. We prefer the iPhone 7 Plus as it packs better hardware than its smaller equivalent, the iPhone 7, although both handsets are solid choices.