How do you separate a great smartphone from the good ones? You test the heck out of them.
Each year Tom’s Guide reviews dozens of new smartphones, and we evaluate them in our lab and in the real world based on design, features, performance, camera quality and battery life. Our top overall pick is the Galaxy S7 Edge, which offers the best camera on the market in a sleek curved design. If your prefer a smaller screen, the regular Galaxy S7 costs less and offers the same photo quality.
The new iPhone 7 Plus is our top big-screen phone, because it sports an awesome dual 12-megapixel cameras that give you a true optical zoom. It also lasts more than 10 hours on a charge, which is well above the average, and boasts the fastest processor yet in a phone. If you prefer a pure Android experience, check out the new 5-inch Google Pixel and the 5.5-inch Pixel XL. They’re the first two phones to offer Google Assistant, which lets you do everything from make dinner reservations and set reminders to turn on the lights, and shots using the phones' HDR+ mode look spectacular.
Our top 10 list of phones also includes great values like the $399 OnePlus 3, which offers flagship performance for much less than Apple and Samsung. We also have picks for people who prefer a small screen, a super rugged handset, a smart choice for kids and more.
Check out our top smartphone choices in multiple categories.
Editorsꞌ Note: We no longer recommend the Galaxy Note 7, as Samsung has halted production following a worldwide recall and replacement phones catching on fire.
How We Rate Phones
We rate smartphones using a combination of subjective criteria (including design and ease of use); our own benchmarks (e.g., our battery, audio and display tests); and synthetic benchmarks (Geekbench 4 for speed, 3DMark for graphics). We also take photos in different lighting conditions and compare the results.
After we've conducted all of our testing, we rate each device based on its features, performance and overall value. Only the very best devices make our Best list.
iPhone 8 (Sept 2017)
The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are great phones, but Apple is expected to bring a radical redesign for the iPhone 8 that includes an all-glass front and back, OLED screen and possibly a fingerprint scanner underneath the display. So there might not be a Home button at all. Patents awarded to Apple also point to a smaller bezel above and beneath the display and multi-sensor cameras, while Apple CEO Tim Cook is promising that augmented reality will be a huge focus for the iPhone.
The new dual-pixel camera in the Galaxy S7 Edge makes this phone a photographer’s delight, giving you both superfast autofocus and much better photos in low light. But while the camera may by the S7 Edge’s standout feature, you could pick any part of Samsung’s latest flagship phone, and you’ll likely find something that impresses. The dual curved screens on the phone’s sides now give you easier access to more apps, news and shortcuts. A curved back helps this 5.5-inch phone rest easy in your hand, while its water-resistant design means you won’t need to sweat over an unexpected bath. Throw in a Snapdragon 820 processor that outperforms most rival phones and more than 10 hours of battery life, and you’ve got a phone that can handle just about anything you can throw at it.
MORE: Galaxy S7 Edge Full Review
The iPhone 7 Plus makes room for a lot more than a big and bright 5.5-inch display. It packs in two 12-megapixel cameras, one of which offers a telephoto lens that provides true 2x optical zoom. It’s like cropping without the work; you just press a button in the live view. The Plus also boasts a superfast A10 Fusion processor, and it lasts a very impressive 10.5 hours on a charge. Add in a water-resistant design in two new color options — black and jet black — and you have a winner.
If you want a fast, pure and long-lasting Android experience, Google's homegrown Pixel is the phone to get. It has Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 821 chip, a camera on par with the best from Samsung and Apple, and Google's new Assistant, which puts both Siri and Cortana to shame. Available in both 5 ($649) and 5.5-inch ($679) versions and available through Verizon or unlocked for use on any carrier, Google’s flagship belongs on your short list.
MORE: Google Pixel Full Review
OnePlus started out making phones for tech-savvy users, and the OnePlus 3 continues that tradition with flagship-level specs, including a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip, 6GB of RAM, 64GB of base storage and, most importantly, an unlocked boot loader. What's more, if you choose to root your phone or switch out OxygenOS for another version of Android, OnePlus will still honor your warranty. Combine all this, and a price tag of just $399, and you get a phone that's as user-friendly and significantly more powerful than Google's own Nexus 6P, but for $100 less.
MORE: OnePlus 3 Full Review
While the 4-inch iPhone SE is a great value at $399, the iPhone 7 gives you more for your money. In addition to a bigger and brighter 4.7-inch screen, you get a faster A10 Fusion processor, longer battery life and a water-resistant design. Plus, the iPhone 7’s 12-MP camera offers very good low-light performance.
MORE: iPhone 7 Full Review
Talk about endurance. The Moto Z Play lasted an epic 13 hours and 46 minutes on our battery test, which involved surfing the web over Verizon’s LTE network. That beats most other phones by a mile, as well as the category average (around 9 hours). The Moto Z also offers magnetic mods to add extra functionality, such as a JBL speaker and even a Hasselblad camera. But the 16-MP camera inside this phone is plenty good for its $449 price.
MORE: Moto Z Play Full Review
When your kid leaves the house with the Alcatel Onetouch Go Play in hand, you can be confident the phone will make it back in one piece. This Android phone can withstand 5-foot drops and a dunk in 3 feet of water for half-an-hour; you can even use the Go Play’s volume buttons to snap photos when you’re underwater. An included ViewMe app records what’s on screen along with your face and voice — helpful for sharing gaming exploits with pals. Parents can also install a cell-phone monitoring app on the Go Play to manage how their kids use the phone — something that’s harder to do on an iPhone.
The fourth generation of the Moto G may not be as compact as its predecessor — the new version is taller and wider, with a 5.5-inch display — but itꞌs now the budget phone to beat. A Snapdragon 617 processor delivers solid performance, outpacing other sub-$200 phones. Youꞌll also get a 13-megapixel camera, a vivid display and a battery that lasts throughout the day — pretty impressive features for a phone that will only set you back $199.
MORE: Moto G4 Full Review
If you’re looking for a phone that can withstand any punishment life throws at it, it’s hard to top the Cat S60. This durable phone survived repeated 6-foot drops and still worked after we left it in 6 feet of water for 30 minutes. Unlike other similar phones that trade looks for durability, the Cat S60’s design is fairly striking, with a polished metal band and sturdy carbon-fiber panel in the back. You won’t need every feature on this heavy-duty phone — the thermal imaging camera is really aimed at contractors and other professionals — but at $599, you can enjoy an extremely will built phone for a fraction of the Galaxy S7 Active’s $795 price tag.
MORE: Cat S60 Full Review
Modular phones let you add to your smartphoneꞌs features by swapping add-ons in and out, and no phone maker has a better approach to this than Motorola. The Moto Z uses firm magnets and a pogo pin connector to securely hold modules in place, and you don’t even need to power down the phone to make a switch. Module options include everything from speakers to battery packs to projectors. We prefer the Moto Z Force Droid over the Moto Z Droid for its more robust battery life, beefier 16-megapixel camera and greater durability, but both devices are an example of the right way to tackle modularity.
There’s a lot to like about HTC’s vastly improved flagship phone, but the audio features on the HTC 10 take center stage. The speaker at the top of the phone takes care of top notes, while the bottom speaker is all about the bass, resulting in crisp, clear sound that can fill a room. The real star of the show, though, is the HTC 10’s personalized audio profile feature, which tailors sound to your hearing and the headphones you’ve plugged into the phone. With music designed for your ears, this is a phone you’ll want to keep playing.
Designed from the ground up to embody Google's vision of the future, the 5-inch Pixel and 5.5-inch Pixel XL are the stars of the company's newly launched hardware division. Starting at $649, the Pixels are a direct answer to Apple's iPhone 7 and pack impressive tech such as a Snapdragon 821 processor, colorful AMOLED screens, and 12.3-megapixel rear cameras that the company says are the best on any smartphone ever. Also on board is Google Assistant, which lets you find things to do near you, play videos on YouTube, set reminders and more.