Everyone thought Samsung was totally nuts when it launched the first Galaxy Note, but now phablets have become so popular that Apple’s gone and made one. Love ’em or hate ’em, phablets are here to stay.
While the definition of the phablet is somewhat ethereal and hard to pin down, for our purposes, we’re going to say that smartphones with displays sized 5.5 inches and up are considered phablets and everything else is just normal. In truth, the standard flagship phone is now about 4.7-to-5.3-inches in size these days. Based on that criteria, we’ve rounded up our favorite king-sized phones into this convenient guide.
If this were any other year, the latest Galaxy Note would probably be at the top of our list. Unfortunately, Samsung was forced to issue a full recall after several Galaxy Note 7 phones started exploding. Now that the king of phablets is out of the picture, these are the best phablets you can buy.
Why should you buy this: It’s the biggest, most powerful iPhone ever, and it has a killer dual-lens camera.
Who’s it for: Apple fans who want the best phablet ever
How much will it cost: $770+
Why we picked the iPhone 7 Plus:
Apple’s phablet keeps getting better every year. The iPhone 7 Plus may look nearly identical to last year’s iPhone 6S Plus, but it packs some huge internal improvements inside its slim metal body. The 5.5-inch screen is still a 1080p LCD panel this year, but it looks as sharp and rich as before. in fact, this year’s iPhone has an even brighter screen.
Underneath the panel is Apple’s homegrown A10 Fusion processor, which is perfectly tuned to power the iPhone 7 Plus. In benchmark tests, the A10 Fusion blows away the competition, and real-world performance is equally impressive. Apple’s iOS 10 brings big improvements to the iPhone, including rich notifications, increased 3D Touch functionality, better widgets, and much more. It is also the most secure mobile operating system, thanks to instantaneous updates and security patches. Apple also focuses on user privacy and security more than most with its dedication to encryption and refusal to store and read user data.
However, the real star of the show is the impressive 12-megapixel dual cameras. One of the cameras is a telephoto lens that offers 2x optical hardware zoom and up to 10x software zoom. The quality of 2x zoom on the iPhone 7 Plus is just extraordinary. It beats out every other smartphone on the market. You don’t lose detail, and your zoomed picture turns out excellent. You can go up to 5x in good lighting conditions without too much noticeable loss in quality, which is still better than you can say of any other smartphone’s zoom.
The dual-camera lenses also enable the best bokeh effect (when the background blurs around the subject of the shot) we’ve ever seen on a smartphone. Other phones, including the Pixel, tend to mess up the blurring effect on the small details. Apple is also well known for reproducing colors accurately, while Android phones consistently oversaturate images. It comes down to personal preference, but we prefer the iPhone’s natural hues. It also produces strong images in low light, rivaled only by the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.
The iPhone 7 Plus is the phablet to buy (so long as you don’t mind losing the headphone jack).
The best Android phablet
Why should you buy this: It’s the best Android phablet with its slick software and Google branding.
Who’s it for: Pure Android fans who like phablets
How much will it cost: $770
Why we picked the Pixel XL:
If you love pure Android and big phones, you’re going to want Google’s Pixel XL. This 5.5-inch phone boasts a subtle metal design with a glass insert on the top back. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 chip, which is much speedier than any other chip you’ll find in an Android phone today. Along with 4GB of RAM, the the Snapdragon 821 delivers silky smooth performance on the Pixel XL.
Of course, part of the software’s smoothness is owed to the fact that this is the first-ever Google phone that was built from scratch by Google. Android has never run better and it’s never looked lovelier than it does on the Pixel XL. Some of the software features, including the distinctive Pixel Launcher and the artificially Intelligent bot Google Assistant are exclusive to Android 7.1 Nougat on the Pixel phones. If you want the purest form of Android on a phone that was made from start to finish by Google itself, then the Pixel XL is the best phablet you can get.
Since it’s a Google phone, you’ll also get software updates and security patches instantaneously. No other Android phone can say that. If security is important to you and you want an Android, this is the phablet to buy. Google also offers 24/7 customer support right in the Settings menu if you run into problems.
The 12.3-megapixel camera on the Pixel XL also takes some great photos. Unlike previous Nexus phones, which have struggled with photos, the Pixel XL takes stellar shots that are more or less on par with the iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge.
It’s a great all-around phablet with the purest form of Android you can find on any smartphone.
The best LG phablet
Why should you buy this: LG’s V20 has a slick second screen, zippy processor, and clean metal build.
Who’s it for: LG fans who like wide-angle cameras and giant phablets with a second screen
How much will it cost: $770+
Why we picked the LG V20:
LG’s V20 is bigger and badder than last year’s V10 with its 5.7-inch screen and wider second screen panel at the top of the phone, which offers quick access to apps and settings. The second screen is an interesting and innovative extra that makes LG’s V20 stand out from the crowd.
The V20 may not be waterproof, but its slim metal back pops off to reveal a removable battery that packs 3,200mAh. It should last you through a full day to a day and a half like most other phablets on this list. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM, which ensure zippy performance.
It also runs the new Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box. LG’s light interface runs on top, but it’s not too dramatic of a change. One of the V20’s marquee features is its Quad DAC for special hi-fi audio tuning. This is the phone for audiophiles who want their hi-res music files to sounds superb on their phones.
The V20’s other big selling point is its camera setup. On both the front and back of the phone, you’ve got cameras that can handle wide-angle shots. The back of the phone even has two cameras: a 16-megapixel f/1.8 aperture cam for regular pictures, and a slightly lower-res 8-megapixel for the wide-angle shots. It takes great pictures, and if you’re into wide-angle shots, you can’t do better than the V20.
The V20 is the second largest phablet on our list, and it’s also perhaps the most feature packed of them all.
The best Samsung phablet
Why should you buy this: It’s Samsung’s best phablet now that the Note 7 is officially dead.
Who’s it for: Sasmung fans who like sexy edge phones
How much will it cost: $600+
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge:
Since the Note 7 exploded and burned (it was recalled), Samsung is relying on the Galaxy S7 Edge to uphold its best phablet mantel. Although it launched way back in March, the S7 Edge is still a great option for Samsung fans.
The S7 Edge improves on its predecessor in every way, with a 5.5-inch Always On screen, which features useful edge panels and an IP68 waterproof rating, which means you can completely submerge it in a meter of water for 30 minutes. The brilliant 1440p display has 550-pixels-per-inch, and is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor, which means it’s very speedy. It has 4GB of RAM, and the S7 Edge comes with a minimum of 32GB internal storage.
While the battery isn’t removable like LG’s G5 or V20, you still get access to a MicroSD card slot, allowing for up to 200GB of extended storage. The battery should last you through a day to a day and a half, and Quick Charge 3.0 makes it easier than ever to juice up to a full charge in less than 30 minutes.
The S7 Edge also improves on the camera, which boasts 12 megapixels, super fast focusing, and a lightning-quick aperture of f/1.7. It even performs pretty well in low-light scenarios. If you can get past Samsung’s clunky user-interface, the Galaxy S7 will leave you more than satisfied.
If you want a Samsung phone, this is the one to get right now. However, it’s important to note that the Galaxy S8 will likely arrive in March, so if you’re not in a rush, you may want to wait or go with another phone from our list.
The best $400 phablet
Why should you buy this: It’s the best phablet you can get for $400.
Who’s it for: Phablet fans who are on a budget
How much will it cost: $400+
Why we picked the ZTE Axon 7:
ZTE has done it again with the Axon 7. This all-metal device boasts a 5.5-inch AMOLED screen (this means it has vivid colors and deep blacks) with a 2,560 x 1,440-pixel resolution and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor inside. ZTE also packed in 4GB RAM and a whopping 64GB internal storage, which is expandable via a MicroSD card up to 128GB more.
It’s a high-powered flagship for a fraction of the price. The performance is faultless, which is in part thanks to the nearly pure Android software onboard. ZTE added a few extras with MiFlavor UI, but the overall experience is similar to Android on a Nexus. ZTE says it’s committed to updating the Axon 7 from Android Marshmallow to Nougat in time for Google’s DayDream VR, because the Axon 7 is the first phone that was built with Google’s new standards in mind.
The Axon 7’s 3,140mAh battery should last you a day or more. ZTE’s camera tech is also much improved and the 21-megapixel rear camera takes great photos.
Perhaps the coolest feature ZTE packed into the Axon 7 is its audio capabilities. The phone has two front-facing stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos technology. It’s one of the best sounding phones you can buy with those speakers and hi-res audio support. It’s a great deal for audiophiles who don’t want to pay a premium for the LG V20.
The best phablet for less than $200
Why should you buy this: It’s a giant phablet that costs a mere $100 to $180 and offers solid mid-range specs.
Who’s it for: Phablet fans who are on a very tight budget and love 6-inch phones
How much will it cost: $100 – $180
Why we picked the ZTE Z Max Pro:
ZTE also offers the cheapest phablet we recommend. The Z Max Pro is a huge 6-inch phablet with a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution and fingerprint sensor. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 617 and houses 2GB of RAM, so it’s a mid-range device for a budget price.
You’ll also get 32GB of internal storage, which is expandable up to 128GB more with a MicroSD card. It also offers a respectable 13-megapixel rear camera, and a 5-megapixel front cam. Although they don’t take the best photos, the shots produced are solid for a phone this cheap.
A 3,400mAh battery powers the Z Max Pro, and it should last you a day to a day and a half, depending on your use. Overall, the Z Max Pro has very respectable specs, given its cheap price tag. At T-Mobile, you’ll pay $180, but at MetroPCS, it drops down to $100 with a rebate — That’s absolutely amazing for this phablet.
Is now a good time to buy?
Now is a good time to buy a phablet, unless you want a Samsung phone. The iPhone 7 Plus, Google Pixel XL, and LG V20 just launched, so you’ve got some great options on the table. However, if you want a Samsung phone, it’s best to wait for the Galaxy S8, which may launch in February or March 2017.
If your phone is two or more years old, and is starting to crap out, it’s time for a new one. You should definitely consider grabbing a new phone at this point. Since you’re about to start over fresh and carriers no longer offer two-year contracts or subsidized phone pricing, it’s best to buy your phone unlocked if possible. Unlocked phones can be used on any network, so you’ll be able to switch carriers and keep your phone if you want. Most unlocked phones will work on T-Mobile and AT&T, but you should double check to make sure they will work on your carrier if you have Sprint or Verizon.
Buying your phone unlocked also means you’ll avoid carrier bloatware like extra apps and services you don’t need. If you’re an Android user, that also means the carriers can’t hold back your software updates.
If your phone is just a year old or less, you really don’t need to get a new one (unless you have a Note 7 — If so, return it now!).
How we test
A phone is so much more than its spec sheet. Your entire life is stored on it, from your photos and contacts to your music and your favorite apps. There is no device more personal than your smartphone, so it’s with great care that we review phones to recommend that you buy only the best ones out there.
We use each phone we review as our daily driver for an extended period of time to test out all the features. We do benchmarks, play games, take photos, plunge them in water, and use them until their batteries expire. Then we charge ’em up and do it all over again. We test devices like real people use devices. We’re not in some stuffy lab during obscure tests. We’re running around the cities we live in using these phones just like you use your phones.
Then we think about each phone in comparison with its competitors to come to a decision: Should you buy this phone or something else? If the answer is “something else,” we tell you what to buy instead.
Smartphone innovation has peaked, and the number of radical new features that come out each year is shrinking. As such, when you’re buying a phone, you’re buying a device that will be with you 24/7 for several years. It’s a big choice, and things like apps, a product ecosystem, customer support, and security should become important factors in your buying decision.