Smartphones are perhaps the most personal tech we own. That’s why it’s so important to pick the phone that’s best for your needs. There are many factors to consider, from the design and operating system to security and durability. We fully test every phone we can get our hands on here at Digital Trends, and after conducting hundreds of reviews, we’re confident in recommending whether a particular phone is a good buy for you, or if you’re better off with something else.
After much debate and soul searching, we landed on the Apple iPhone 11 Pro as our top pick for the best phone available right now, though, for Android fans, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 Plus is still a close second. Here’s why the iPhone 11 Pro ultimately triumphed, and our picks for other smartphone categories. If you’re partial to the Android mobile operating system, we’ve compiled a list of the best Android phones on the market as well as quite a few smartphone deals to help you save.
Best smartphones at a glance
- Best overall smartphone: (Review)
- Best Android phone: (Review)
- Best budget smartphone: (Review)
- Best camera phone:
- Best battery life: (Review)
- Best value: (Review)
- Best small smartphone: (Review)
Why you should buy this: You get a beautiful screen, a versatile camera, and all-day battery life in a premium package.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants the best all-around phone available.
Why we picked the iPhone 11 Pro:
Apple has built on the elegant, reassuringly expensive design of its flagship range with a raft of refinements, making the iPhone 11 Pro the complete package. With an awesome screen, versatile camera, and strong battery life, the 11 Pro is all about perfecting the core smartphone experience without the need for superfluous extras.
The iPhone 11 Pro is a touch heavier and thicker than its predecessor, but it’s a change you’ll be quick to accept in return for the improved battery life. It’s the same mix of stainless steel and glass, and the 5.8-inch screen size means that it fits perfectly in most palms. The back is now frosted to discourage unsightly fingerprints and smudges. Apple has dubbed the screen “Super Retina XDR,” but all you need to know is that it’s sharp and extremely bright. Colors are vivid and HDR content takes full advantage of this excellent display’s capabilities.
Apple’s A13 Bionic chip is lightning fast. It offers a 20% bump on last year’s processor and beats out every other phone we’ve tested so far in terms of raw power. The iPhone 11 Pro runs iOS 13, which offers a lot of new features and small improvements, including a long-awaited dark mode.
Most manufacturers have stepped up their photography game in recent years and Apple was falling behind, but it has reclaimed top spot with the 11 Pro. The main camera features three lenses, arranged in a controversial square module at the top left on the back. There’s a standard 12-megapixel wide-angle lens with an f/1.8 aperture, a 12-megapixel telephoto lens with an f/2.0 aperture, and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens with an f/2.4 aperture. This camera is equipped for every situation, whether you’re snapping friends in a nightclub, capturing a beautiful landscape, or zooming in on some action from afar. Apple’s portrait mode is wonderful, you can fit more in with the 120-degree field of view that the new ultra-wide-angle lens offers, and there’s a night mode that performs amazingly well in low light conditions. On the front, the 11 Pro sports a 12-megapixel lens for selfies.
Battery life is another strength, with the iPhone 11 Pro easily seeing you through an average day with something left in the tank. There’s also 18W wired charging with a proper fast charger in the box, and you always have the option of charging, albeit more slowly, via wireless charging pads. The iPhone 11 Pro also has an IP68 rating, so water is nothing to worry about.
The price may give you pause, at $999 and up, especially since the base model only has 64GB with no room for expansion — we recommend snagging the 256GB version at $1,099. It’s a lot of money, but for a constant companion with no obvious weaknesses, it’s an expense you can justify.
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 11
If the price tag of the iPhone 11 Pro is too high, then you may consider the iPhone 11 as a very good alternative that comes in $300 cheaper. You’ll enjoy the same excellent performance, all-day battery life, and a great dual-lens camera. It lacks the telephoto lens of the 11 Pro, and the design and screen are nowhere near as good, but you’ll only notice that if you put them side by side. For most people, the iPhone 11 is probably the right pick from Apple’s lineup.
Why you should buy this: You want the most powerful, feature-packed Android smartphone ever.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants the best Android experience.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus:
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus sports a stylish, refined design that comes in an eye-catching Aura Glow option that everyone is sure to love. It’s a big phone, but Samsung has shaved it down as far as is possible with a device that has an enormous 6.8-inch screen. If you like to have plenty of screen real estate, then Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED is very hard to beat. With a sharp 3,040 x 1,440 resolution and HDR10+ certification, you won’t tire of gazing at this screen.
Inside there’s plenty of power to run the most demanding apps and games thanks to a Snapdragon 855 processor that’s paired with a staggering 12GB of RAM to make this a multitasking monster. As befits a phone built for productivity, there’s 256GB of storage and room for expansion via MicroSD card. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus runs Android 9.0 Pie with One UI over the top and it’s slick and accessible.
You’ll find an impressive triple-lens camera in the Note 10 Plus, which combines a 12-megapixel main lens with a variable f/1.5 to f/2.4 aperture and optical image stabilization, a 12-megapixel f/2.1 telephoto lens (with OIS), and a 16-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens with an f/2.2 aperture; there’s even a time-of-flight sensor for better depth sensing. It’s a versatile setup that performs very well in most situations.
The S Pen is the secret weapon in Samsung’s Note line and it’s more useful than ever, with remote control functions thanks to the Bluetooth connectivity. You can also have the Note 10 Plus convert your handwriting into text, or use the S Pen to draw in 3D with AR Doodle. Samsung has also formed a closer partnership with Microsoft, so it’s easy to link up with a Windows PC or laptop.
Battery life to write home about rounds out a truly desirable smartphone. The 4,300mAh battery can get through even a busy day with change and Samsung has improved its top charging speed, offering a 25W charger in the box, but also the possibility of 45W charging if you’re willing to spring for the right kit. There’s also fast wireless charging support and you can even wirelessly charge other Qi-certified devices with the Note 10 Plus.
Naturally, a device like this does not come cheap and prices start from $1,100. You can snag the 5G version for $1,300. You could argue some of the features here are gimmicky and unlikely to be used often, but Samsung’s kitchen-sink approach doesn’t prevent it from turning out phones that do all the basics well and the Note 10 Plus is the best phone that the company has ever made.
Runner-up: Google Pixel 4 or Pixel 4 XL
The Pixel range continues to be the only Android option that can fully compete with Apple’s iPhone in several key areas, including security, timely software updates, and software design. But it goes further with meaningful artificial intelligence features anyone can appreciate. Google manages the Android operating system, and so with the Pixel series, it’s able to optimize the hardware and the software — similar to what Apple does with the iPhone. That approach, plus the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor and 6GB of RAM, makes the phone a joy to use. It has the best software experience on a phone, and it performs fluidly. The Pixel 4’s spotlight feature is its dual-lens camera, which is one of the best around. The Achilles’ heel is the battery life, which will mostly get you through a day with average use, but can cause some anxiety.
Why you should buy this: You’re on a strict budget, but you still want a powerful phone.
Who it’s for: Bargain buyers who want a stock Android phone.
Why we picked the Google Pixel 3a:
The Pixel 3a is a fantastically solid smartphone with no real weaknesses. Google’s affordable midrange phone looks a lot like its much more expensive flagship sibling, but is finished in plastic instead of glass. There’s a 5.6-inch OLED display with a 2,220 x 1,080-pixel resolution that’s sharp and legible, even in broad daylight.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor is backed by 4GB of RAM and performs admirably. Part of the silky smoothness comes from the fact it features Android as Google intended, which also ensures the very latest security patches and new Android versions as soon as they’re released.
While midrange and budget smartphones have been growing more and more attractive and powerful, certain elements always tend to be lacking, and the camera is the main one. Google’s Pixel 3a changes all that by making one of our favorite smartphone cameras affordable. Google’s A.I. squeezes amazing results from the same single 12.2-megapixel lens you’ll find in the Pixel 3; the Pixel 3a is just a tad slower at processing images. There’s also a capable 8-megapixel front-facing camera.
The Pixel 3a comes complete with clever software features like Now Playing, which displays songs playing in your vicinity on the lock screen, and Call Screen, which enables Google Assistant to screen your incoming calls.
You get a decent 64GB of storage inside. There’s no space for a MicroSD card, but you do get a 3.5mm audio jack and a USB-C port for fast wired charging. To round out an excellent phone, there’s a 3,000mAh battery that will easily see you through an average day with change.
If we had to dig out a flaw, the lack of wireless charging is a little disappointing and there’s no IP rating, though Google says the Pixel 3a is splash- and dust-resistant. If you’re sold, but you prefer a bigger screen, then the Pixel 3a XL gives you a bigger, 6-inch screen for an extra $80.
Runner-up: Moto G7
The Moto G series has long held the budget crown, so you may still want to check out the Moto G7 at $300. It boasts a dual-lens camera and fast charging. On the other hand, Motorola has allowed some bloatware to creep in and the price to creep up. If you’re outside the U.S., we recommend the Moto G7 Plus instead.
Why you should buy this: It has the best smartphone camera you can buy.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants the best smartphone camera.
We have already told you about the iPhone 11 Pro, and the 11 Pro Max has the same excellent triple-lens camera. The combination of a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens with an f/1.8 aperture, a 12-megapixel telephoto lens with an f/2.0 aperture, and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens with an f/2.4 aperture gives you everything you need to create amazing photographs wherever you happen to be.
Slight improvements to an already excellent portrait mode and a smart Super HDR function that combines multiple shots for best results are welcome, but the new ultra-wide-angle lens with its 120-degree field of view is the most fun new addition, enabling you to fit in more of the backdrop when snapping people, or to capture previously impossible views.
Apple has also taken time to develop a night mode and the results are predictably excellent — you can take photos with very limited light and, provided you hold still for longer exposures, the results are generally breathtaking. Most of us primarily love to take photos of people and few other phones can come close to the wonderful portrait shots that the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max offer. The 12-megapixel front-facing camera allows for selfie portraits that are every bit as good.
While the intuitive camera app may lack some in-depth access to features that photographers may want to tinker with, it serves fantastically well for people who just want to snap the best shot possible without having to think too much about it.
We also have to highlight the video recording chops of these devices. The stabilization surpasses the other top phones, so if you want smooth 4K footage at 60 frames-per-second, you should buy the iPhone 11 Pro or 11 Pro Max. You’ll get the same camera suite and capabilities whichever model you go for.
Runner-up: Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL
The Pixel 4 phones have a dual-lens camera that pairs a 12.2-megapixel main lens with a 16-megapixel telephoto lens, but it’s Google’s image processing that does all the hard work. There’s virtually zero shutter lag, and while the processing takes a second or two, the results are astonishing. The Pixel excels thanks to Google’s HDR+ technology, where the smartphone captures multiple photos at once, picks the best one, and layers the rest to produce an image with the least amount of noise. This also eliminates overexposed or underexposed parts of an image, resulting in excellent dynamic range. There’s also a great portrait mode that blurs backgrounds, an impressive zoom option, and an excellent night sight mode for low-light photography.
Why you should buy this: There are no real weaknesses here, but plenty of highlights, including long battery life.
Who it’s for: People who need a phone that can last beyond a day.
Why we picked the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max:
Everything that makes the iPhone 11 Pro our top pick applies to the 11 Pro Max. It’s fast, fluid, and has an excellent camera suite. The only real difference is that it packs in a 6.5-inch screen and it’s a lot bigger and heavier. The size does mean that it won’t suit everyone, but if you’re seeking a device that can last through a busy day and into the next without having to be plugged in, this is it.
Although the iPhone 11 Pro Max did well in our video streaming test, with a time of 10 hours 39 minutes, it was actually beaten by the Note 10 Plus and the smaller iPhone 11 Pro. However, we’ve found that it generally outlasts the other two in real-world performance. Most people use their phones for a mix of different activities and in that scenario, the 11 Pro Max has stellar battery life.
Even after the busiest of days, we were able to leave the iPhone 11 Pro Max unplugged overnight and wait until we got to the office the next day to charge it. Speaking of which, you get a reasonably fast 18W charger in the box with it, though it lags behind the faster charging offered by some Samsung and Huawei phones. There’s also support for wireless charging.
You can check out our roundup of other smartphones with the best battery life for alternatives.
Runner-up: Huawei P30 Pro
You will find an impressively large 4,200mAh battery in the Huawei P30 Pro, which is enough to see you through two days before you need to find an outlet. It’s not just the big battery that gives this phone such stamina — Huawei has also pulled off some clever software trickery to optimize power management. In addition to boasting a long-lasting battery, the P30 Pro also supports quick charging, with Huawei’s proprietary Super Charge technology offering a full charge from empty in 70 minutes. If it’s available where you are, then it’s worth considering.
Why you should buy this: You get the luxurious feel and look of a flagship, with power to match, for less.
Who it’s for: Anyone seeking a gorgeous, powerful, customizable, Android phone.
Why we picked the OnePlus 7T:
OnePlus has been turning out affordable phones with near-flagship specs for years now and the OnePlus 7T is its best release so far. The price crept up with its predecessor, the OnePlus 7 Pro, making it more flagship than flagship killer, but OnePlus seems to have taken the criticism to heart because the OnePlus 7T has a cheaper starting price of $600.
There’s a truly stunning 6.55-inch AMOLED screen with an unusual 20:9 aspect ratio, a 2,400 x 1,080-pixel resolution, and a buttery smooth 90Hz refresh rate. It’s bright, with deep blacks, and accurate colors. It also supports HDR10+, though it doesn’t match the latest Apple or Samsung displays on quality. There’s a tiny teardrop notch at the top and it’s a flat panel.
You’ll find plenty of power here with a Snapdragon 855 Plus processor and 8GB of RAM. It also offers 128GB of storage, and it’s lightning-fast UFS 3.0 storage. Overall, this is one of the fastest phones we’ve ever tested. It runs Android 10 with Oxygen OS on top, which is packed with handy customization options and tons of optimizations compared to the last version.
OnePlus has also worked hard to improve the camera, which has been a weak link for it in the past. The OnePlus 7T has a triple-lens setup comprising a 48-megapixel lens with optical image stabilization (OIS) and a large f/1.6 aperture, a 16-megapixel ultra-wide lens with a 117-degree field of view, and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens offering 2x optical zoom.
The 3,800mAh battery is enough for a busy day, but will likely need to be recharged at bedtime. Luckily, the Warp Charge fast charging system can take the OnePlus 7T from zero to 70% in just 30 minutes.
If you’re looking for cons, then the absence of wireless charging, average battery life, and lack of an IP rating will figure, though OnePlus says the phone is water-resistant. All in all, though, it represents fantastic value for money.
Runner-up: Asus Zenfone 6
At just $500, the Asus Zenfone 6 is a real bargain. It has a 6.4-inch LCD screen, a Snapdragon 855 processor with 8GB of RAM, and some serious stamina thanks to a 5,000mAh battery. There’s also an unusual motorized flip-around camera that can work as the main camera and flip up to serve as the selfie camera. It combines a 48-megapixel main lens with a 13-megapixel ultrawide lens. We also like the streamlined ZenUI software, which feels close to Google’s Pixels. The only real downsides here are a lack of water resistance and wireless charging, and some people may not like the unique design, but there’s no doubt this phone is a great value.
Why you should buy this: It’s the perfect size for easy, one-handed operation.
Who it’s for: Anyone seeking a smaller phone that still boasts great design and performance.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S10e:
Samsung has taken some of the best elements of the more expensive S10 and packed them into an even more compact and affordable body in the shape of the Galaxy S10e. You’ll find a top-class 5.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display with a 2,280 x 1,080-pixel resolution and HDR10+ certification. It lacks the curves of its bigger siblings, and it’s not quite as sharp, but it offers excellent color accuracy and you won’t get tired of staring it at it.
Inside, you get the same lightning fast Snapdragon 855 processor, which makes this phone capable of running all the latest games and apps. It comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage and there’s room for expansion via the MicroSD card slot.
Samsung has gone with a dual-lens main camera in the S10e, pairing a standard 12-megapixel lens with a variable f/1.5 to f/2.4 aperture and a 16-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens with an f/2.2 aperture. You’ll find a wide array of options and modes in the camera app, which also allows you to shoot 4K video in HDR. There’s a 10-megapixel lens with an f/1.9 aperture around front.
The 3,100mAh battery will get you through an average day, but it may need a top-up if you’re planning to be out at night. Sadly wired charging isn’t very fast, but you can wirelessly charge at the same speed. Ultimately, you get most of what makes Samsung’s Galaxy flagships special at a knockdown price with the S10e.
Runner-up: Apple iPhone 8
While the design is dated, this svelte smartphone will feel like a comfortable old pair of pajamas for long-time iPhone users. There’s a 4.7-inch screen, zippy performance to match the iPhone X, and a good 12-megapixel main camera. You’ll also find Touch ID and the latest version of iOS on board. The small battery is just enough to see you through a busy day and there’s support for fast wired charging and wireless charging, though you will need to buy an extra kit to take advantage. As phones keep getting bigger, this form factor has all but disappeared, so if you crave something small and you prefer an iPhone, this is the one to get.
Research and buying tips
- What is an unlocked smartphone?
- Can smartphones get viruses?
- What should I do with my old smartphone?
- How long should a smartphone last?
- Do phones cause cancer?
- How do prepaid phones work?
A locked smartphone is tied to a specific carrier’s network, so if your phone is locked to Verizon, for example, you can only use it with a Verizon SIM and service plan. An unlocked smartphone can be used on any network. If you’ve paid in full for your phone, then it should be free to unlock. We have a guide that will show you how to unlock a phone on every carrier. You can also buy some great unlocked phones that will work with any carrier straight out of the box.
While it is possible to get viruses on iPhones or Android phones, what most people mean when they say “virus” is malware. Technically, the term virus means software that infects a host, inserting itself into an existing program, and then spreads that infection by self-replicating. They are a very small percentage of malware and extremely rare on smartphones, but malware isn’t. You should definitely think about how to protect your smartphone from hackers because a little common sense can save you from having to work out how to remove malware from your phone.
The most obvious thing to do with your old smartphone is to pass it on to someone else. If you want to gift it, then make sure to wipe it first; we have guides on how to wipe your Android phone and how to factory reset an iPhone. You may also want to turn that old phone into cash, in which case you’ll want to read up on how to sell your smartphone. You may decide to keep it as a spare in case your new smartphone breaks, but you could also repurpose it with the right apps. It’s better to pass it on to someone who can use it or find another use for it than let it languish in a drawer. If you can’t think of a good way to reuse your smartphone then consider donating it or recycling it.
Realistically, you should expect to get two to three years out of your smartphone. You can extend the life of any smartphone by taking proper care of it and it’s always worth shopping for good protective cases. There are also loads of good waterproof phones to choose from nowadays. The problem with many Android phones is that the manufacturers and carriers are slow to push out software updates, so the software can become dated and even insecure over time. Buy a phone from Apple or Google and you won’t have that problem.
The question of whether cell phone radiation is dangerous is still hotly contested in some quarters. It is technically classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” but that puts it in the same category as coffee, gasoline, and nickel. There have been many studies, but we still lack any scientific evidence to provide a definite answer to the question one way or the other. Most official bodies, including the Federal Communications Commission, Center for Disease Control, and National Cancer Institute agree there’s no proven link right now, but also acknowledge that we need more research.
Prepaid cell phones work just like any other phone, but they come without a monthly contract or long-term commitment. You usually pay for service in advance. When you buy a prepaid phone they tend to come with a fixed number of minutes, text messages, and possibly a fixed amount of mobile data. This removes the chance of any overage charges. When you run out, you simply top up by buying more minutes, texts, and data in blocks.
Which OS is best for you?
This is where things get personal. Picking a smartphone operating system is a huge deal. You’re buying into an entire ecosystem of apps and compatible products when you choose between Android and iOS.
Apple’s iOS is a beautiful, simple operating system and the App Store offers the best app selection imaginable. Every aspect of iOS is curated by Apple, and it shows. Android is more open and it has fewer rules, which means more customization options, but it also means that manufacturers and app makers can willfully ignore Google’s Material design language and do whatever they want, sometimes rendering Android unrecognizable and cluttered. Android is gorgeous, as seen on Google’s Pixel 3 and 3 XL, but you don’t always see it like that.
Since Apple is the only company that makes iPhones, it also has complete control over software updates. As such, iPhone users always get the most recent and best iOS experience possible. Android users don’t have that luxury. Unless you own a Pixel device — and very few Android users do — you may have to wait months to get software updates.
Software updates contain security updates, which keep your phone safe from malware, viruses, and hackers. Android is the most heavily targeted mobile OS, so it is attacked by the worst bugs, like Stagefright and Heartbleed, both of which remain unpatched for millions of Android users. Google now issues a security patch every month, but many manufacturers don’t push them to users in a timely fashion, if ever.
In contrast, Apple can patch security flaws and send the updated software to all iPhone users immediately. Since most users update their software when prompted, most iOS users are protected from these very real threats. Apple’s iOS also offers full encryption with no compromises.
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. For that reason, we take great care when we review phones to recommend only the absolute best out there.
We use each phone we review as our daily driver for an extended period 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 be important factors in your buying decision.
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