This article was updated by Digital Trends senior writer Andy Boxall on 5/5/2020.
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.
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 compact phone with the latest chipset.
Why we picked the Apple iPhone SE (2020)
The Apple iPhone SE (2020) is the cheapest new iPhone you can purchase, and it’s a great introduction to the brand, and a brilliant buy for the budget-conscious. Yes, it re-uses the iPhone 8’s overall design, but with this comes a small, slim, and lightweight body, something that’s severely lacking in today’s smartphone world. To give it a visual overhaul, Apple has used black glass on the front to disguise big bezels.
You’ll want one because inside is the latest Apple A13 Bionic processor, the same chipset powering our top smartphone pick overall, the iPhone 11 Pro. Performance is very similar, and the iPhone SE is a joy to use on a daily basis. Apple’s App Store is packed with apps and all will operate on the phone, mainly because until the iPhone SE came out, the iPhone 8 was still a current Apple phone, so developers never changed their app design.
The camera has a single, 12-megapixel lens and takes great photos during the day. It’s hard to tell them apart from the iPhone 11 until it’s faced with lowlight conditions. It has a portrait mode with lighting effects, but no wide-angle or optical zoom. It runs the same iOS 13 operating system as the iPhone 11 Pro and will get updates for the foreseeable future too, plus it has all Apple’s usual features including Apple Pay and Siri.
If there’s a downside, it’s the battery life. It’s especially hard hit when playing video or gaming for extended periods of time, when it may struggle to last a full day. With moderate use it’ll serve you from morning to night, and there’s wireless charging onboard too.
Runner-up: Google Pixel 3a
The Google Pixel 3a is a very close runner-up here, and held the title for the best bargain phone on our list for some time. It has been usurped by the iPhone SE (2020), but this is not a reflection on its overall ability at all. It has a fantastic camera and a large screen, plus decent battery life too; but it’s now almost a year old and we are expecting a replacement soon. For this reason, the iPhone SE (2020) is a better buy right now.
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 SuperCharge 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 8 Pro:
OnePlus has been turning out affordable phones with near-flagship specs for years now and the OnePlus 8 Pro is its best release so far, but the price continues to creep up, making it more flagship than flagship killer. The OnePlus 8 Pro costs from $900, and while that’s still a lot of money, it continues to represent excellent value. Why? Because it equals or betters the tech found in phones like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus, which costs from $1,200.
There’s a truly stunning 6.78-inch AMOLED screen with a 3168 x 1440-pixel resolution, and a buttery smooth 120Hz refresh rate. It’s bright, with deep blacks, and accurate colors. It also supports HDR10+, and comes very close to matching the latest Apple or Samsung displays on quality. There’s a tiny hole-punch selfie camera in the top corner, plus cool features like a 240Hz touch sampling rate, and motion smoothing for video.
You’ll find plenty of power here with a Snapdragon 865 Plus processor and 12GB of RAM. 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, and also remains uncluttered, fast, and very easy to learn. It’s one of our favorite versions of Android.
OnePlus has also worked hard to improve the camera, which has been a weak link for it in the past. The OnePlus 8 Pro has a quad-lens setup comprising a new Sony IMX689 48-megapixel sensor, a 48-megapixel ultra-wide lens, and an 8-megapixel telephoto lens offering 3x optical zoom. The final sensor is an unusual Color Filter sensor to give your photos a very different look. Love it or hate it, you won’t be able to deny it’s something other phones can’t do.
The 4,510mAh battery is more than enough for a very busy day, and the Warp Charge 30T fast charging system can charge it from zero to full in an hour. OnePlus has also added fast wireless charging to the OnePlus 8 Pro, a first for the brand, along with an IP68 water resistance rating too. Compare all this to other top Android phones, and you’ll see why the OnePlus 8 Pro is such great value, even if it’s more expensive than any OnePlus phone before it. Why not the regular OnePlus 8? While the smaller 6.55-inch phone is still really good, it doesn’t have the same camera or screen, and fails to represent such good value without a compelling killer feature.
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:
In 2019, Samsung took some of the best elements of the more expensive Galaxy S10 and packed them into an even more compact and affordable body in the shape of the Galaxy S10e. It decided not to make a Galaxy S20e in 2020, and instead kept the S10e in its range, and it currently costs $600 direct from Samsung. Just because it’s a little older, doesn’t make it a bad phone though.
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 more modern 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 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 SE (2020)
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, the latest A13 Bionic chipset, 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 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?
- Which OS is best for you?
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 chunks.
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 beautiful, simple, and easy to use, 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 4 and 4 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 owners 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 on millions of Android devices. 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 performing 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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