Why 2017 was the best year for smartphones ever

iphone x versus iphone 8

There are vintage years for everything, and hours can be spent debating what was the best year for movies, wines, music, fashion, cars, video games, and so much more. We’re here to end any conversations about the best year for smartphones, should such a geeky chat take place. It’s very simple — the answer is 2017.

Over the past 12 months we’ve seen more desirable, better equipped, better looking, and downright fabulous smartphones than ever before. Perhaps even better, is that for once it doesn’t matter how much money you want to spend.

2017 has been an astonishing year for phones.

Now we’ve made that statement, it’s time to back it up with some hard facts. Here are the phones that have got us all hot under the collar this year: LG G6, Samsung Galaxy S8, Huawei P10, LG V30, Samsung Galaxy Note 8, HTC U11, Apple iPhone X, Google Pixel 2, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, OnePlus 5T, and the Honor 7X. These are all fabulous smartphones, but the list doesn’t stop there.

Also out in 2017 were phones including the Galaxy S8 Active, the iPhone 8 Plus, the Moto X4, and the HTC U11 Life. All still brilliant, and when an iPhone makes an also-ran list, you know it has been a bumper year. We’re not done. Also consider phones not officially launched in the U.S., such as the Xiaomi Mi A1 and the Mi Mix 2, the Nokia 8, and the Honor 9. If you purchased any one of these devices this year, you’ve bought a winner.

Debate winning points

But wait. Anyone who has debated whether Star Wars made 1977 a good or bad year for movies, will know these things are rarely won with a simple list. If 2017 has been an astonishing year for phones, and some misguided soul actually needs convincing, you must be able to explain why. Luckily, evidence is on your side. Here are the three big reasons why 2017 phones have impressed us so much.

Best Essential Phone cases
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends
Essential Phone (Photo: Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends)

Perhaps the main reason why this year has been so special is it’s the first in a long while that phones have visually altered in design, due to the widespread introduction of the 18:9 aspect ratio screen and the minimal bezels that surround it. Not since the introduction of phablets have we seen such a radical change in the way phones look; but unlike phablets, the design trend makes big-screen devices easier to hold and more usable for everyone. After years of messing around with thinner, lighter, bigger, smaller, but still identically-shaped oblongs, we’ve got a new style of phone that actually makes the device better to use. Feel free to clap.

The phone in your hand now looks futuristic. How about the camera? If 2016 hinted at how cool dual-lens cameras could be, 2017 proved it in spades. The Huawei P10 with Leica’s help set a high bar early on, a challenge met and even beaten by Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, and even Huawei itself with the Mate 10 Pro. However, LG and Google proved amazing cameras didn’t need to all be the same. LG’s wide-angle cam is almost unique in the industry, and all the better for it, while Google shows what can be done with a single high-quality lens and some very special software.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is in 2017 you didn’t have to buy a very expensive phone from one or two manufacturers to get a brilliant, show-stopping phone. If you’ve got $800 or more, then the choice borders on the impossible, because all the phones we’ve mentioned at this price are fantastic. Spend around $500 and you’ll get the OnePlus 5T or the LG G6 — two wonderful phones. Spend less than $250 and you’ll get the Honor 7X, or the Xiaomi Mi A1. Again, superb choices. All the other phones we listed are spread somewhere in-between all these prices, which means that almost regardless of how much you’re prepared to spend, the device you choose will be great. Not just acceptable. Great.

Even the disappointing phones are really good

Two phones illustrate how tough the competition has been in smartphone world this year: The Razer Phone and the Essential PH-1. They both have unbelievable specs, unique selling points, and eye-catching designs, plus they’re made by companies with strong credentials and dedicated fans. Yet they both received reviews that came down hard on their respective negative points. Are they bad phones? No, not at all and perhaps in other years they may not have been treated so harshly. In 2017, even the slightest negative point saw a device defeated, because there are so many awesome alternatives.

Razer Phone review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Razer Phone (Photo: Andy Boxall/Digital Trends)

2017 was not the year to come out with a half-baked phone that depended on future software updates to come close to what else was on offer.

Android itself matured considerably with Android 7.0 Nougat at the end of 2016, and subtly enhanced again with Android 8.0 Oreo. On the Google Pixel 2, Android is a real joy. Clean, simple, and logical, with strong standard apps and absolutely no slow down. Apple delivered something similar with iOS 11, which is enjoyed by way more phone owners than Google’s latest software version. If there’s a failure in 2017, it’s the continued lack of Android software updates for anyone who didn’t buy a Pixel phone. Solution: Buy a Pixel 2.

Wait, what about (insert other year here)?

Sure, there are always going to be the wantonly contrarian who disagrees. In fact, some may be able to make a strong case, as there are a few other years to consider as phone history high points. However, it’s not 2016. Let’s get that out of the way first. Yes, it gave us the Pixel, iPhone 7 Plus, and Galaxy S7. But it also gave us the Galaxy Note 7, the LG G5’s sad failure, and other experimental go-nowhere phones like the Turing and Sirin Labs devices. If you bought one of the first three phones, you were safe. Anything else was a bit of a risk.

In 2017 you didn’t have to buy a very expensive phone.

How about 2010? This was a good year for smartphone tech. Before we even start with phones, 2010 was the year 4G LTE started to really come alive with dedicated phones like Samsung’s Epic 4G and the HTC Evo. The Apple iPhone 4 came along with its brand new design, the Google Nexus One went on sale, and you could buy a Palm Pre. A good year, but one that was also filled with complete dreck from an industry entirely lacking in imagination. BlackBerry still had a Bold and a Pearl on sale, Windows Phone still existed, and everyone from Motorola to Samsung made phones with ugly slide-out keyboards.

We could go on, right back to 2006, when we were spoiled for choice with the Sony Ericsson K800i, the Motorola Razr V3, BlackBerry’s early consumer push, and the LG Chocolate. Plus, the Nokia N95 was announced. We won’t bother though. No way will any year beat this one for pure, awesome, difficult-to-decide smartphone choice.

Where does that leave 2018?

Poor 2018. It’s like having The Rolling Stones play before you, or Jerry Seinfeld as the warm-up act. You’d better be damn good once you’re up on stage. It’s safe to assume all our favorite phones from this year will get sequels. The Samsung Galaxy S9, the Huawei P11, and the 2018 Apple iPhone range are already being discussed in rumors. Will the be better than the 2017 crop? Only time will tell, but we’re excited to see just how small bezels can get, how much artificial intelligence changes our devices, and if we actually get an on-screen fingerprint sensor or not.

While we’re always excited for new phone releases, this is one year where we are not looking ahead because the big-name new products that came before them were disappointing. It’s quite the opposite, and for once can truly say there’s no burning need to wait for 2018’s phones if you’re considering buying a new one now. Which one should you buy? We’ve got a list of the best ones; but here’s a secret: They’re all worth your money, and you’ll love whichever one you choose. Thank you 2017, for making it possible to say that.