1. The list in brief
2. Best phone overall
3. Best Samsung
4. Best Android value phone
5. Best iPhone value
6. Best value flagship
7. Best compact flagship
8. Best Samsung for most people
9. Best Android cameras
10. Best cheap big iPhone
11. Best Samsung value
12. Best foldable phone
13. Longest-lasting flagship
14. Battery life test results
15. How to choose
16. How we test
This article is in the process of updating. Please excuse any odd-looking entries!
Finding the best phone may seem like a daunting task, especially as phone makers are rolling out new models ahead of the holiday shopping season. However, we spend a lot of time in our lab and in the real world testing the top handsets so that we can compare the leading contenders side by side. And we have some expert recommendations on which models rise to the top.
The very best phones offer great cameras, enough performance to easily multitask or play intensive games and the kind of battery life to last the whole day. We test each one of those things for every smartphone we review — and we evaluate a few other things like built-in software, display quality and phone design, too. After all, those things can separate a great phone from the rest of the pack.
With strong options available at all price levels, you can either pick from among the top flagships or opt for a solid midrange phone with all the features you need at a fraction of the price. Our picks for the best phones offers something for everybody, with rankings that reflect both our testing and real-world use.
Philip Michaels is the managing editor for mobile at Tom's Guide. He's been covering technology for more than 20 years and writing about smartphones since Steve Jobs showed off the original iPhone back in 2007. He's worked at Tom's Guide since 2015, and visitors to his Northern California home are wowed by the stacks of phones he keeps handy for head-to-head testing.
The quick list
Let's cut right to the chase. Below, you'll find a brief overview of the phones that make up our top picks for easy reference, along with links that take you to the more in-depth evaluation of what we think about a particular phone.
The best phone overall
The iPhone 15 Pro Max vaults past the best other phone makers have to offer thanks to its superior A17 Pro silicon and a revamped camera setup that includes a much better telephoto lens than before. We also like the 14-hour battery life and extra storage that Apple now includes.
Best Samsung phone
With a powerful processor, a remarkably flexible 200MP main camera and the best zoom lens around, the Galaxy S23 Ultra can take on all comers and emerge as the best, even with a high price.
Best Android value
The best Android phone value
For less than $500, the Pixel 7a not only gives you the same Tensor G2 chipset as the Pixel 7 flagships, but premium features like a fast-refreshing display and wireless charging support. The phone's cameras get an upgrade, too.
Best iPhone value
The best iPhone value
At $799. Apple’s iPhone 15 offers the kind of value you don’t normally expect from phones at this prince,whether it’s the impressive A16 Bionic processor, the Dynamic Island feature or 48MP main camera. Whatever feature draws you to this phone, the low price helps seal the deal.
The best flagship value
With impressive cameras, a great processor and an even more inviting price, the OnePlus 11 can hold its own against any Android flagship. And it also sets the standard for fast charging, getting to 100% in 30 minutes.
The best compact flagship phone
Although it doesn't quite match up to its larger sibling, both in terms of battery life and camera tech, the iPhone 15 Pro still fits in everything you could want from a premium phone into a relatively small frame.
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The best Samsung phone for most people
It doesn't have all of the premium features of the Galaxy S23 Ultra, but the Galaxy S23 has most of them — including a telephoto lens. And its $799 starting price makes it an affordable flagship for most.
Best camera phone
The best Google Pixel phone
If mobile photography is your passion, turn to Google's Pixel 7 Pro, which offers a triple camera setup for less than $900. You'll also benefit from Google's superior computational photography features for processing the best image.
Big iPhone for less
The best big iPhone value
There's not a huge difference between the iPhone 15 Plus and the smaller iPhone 15. But its battery life blows the other recent iPhones away, plus it's a much cheaper way of getting a big-screen iPhone than going for a Pro Max model.
Best Samsung value
Best Samsung value
The Galaxy A54 is $50 cheaper than the Pixel 7a and offers even more premium features in some areas — it has a 120Hz display and lasts longer on a charge. You also get the same main camera Samsung uses on the Galaxy S23.
The best foldable phone
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 is the foldable phone to get, thanks to a dependable design and more powerful processor that delivers better battery life. Improved multitasking features also make this a great phone for productivity buffs.
The best phone overall
✅ You want Apple's best iPhone: The iPhone 15 Pro Max offers all of Apple's latest and greatest technology, including a mighty 3nm chipset and a 5x telephoto camera that the iPhone 15 Pro doesn't receive.
✅ You value good design: Quite a lot has changed from previous Pro iPhones. The side rails are now made of a titanium alloy, the display bezels have been thinned, and a customizable Action button has replaced the simple mute switch
✅ You value a long-lasting phone: This is one efficient phone, holding out for more than 14 hours on our battery test.
❌ You're on a budget: It may be Apple's best phone, but at $1,199, the iPhone 15 Pro Max also costs the most. Save $200 by getting the iPhone 15 Pro instead.
❌ You prefer compact devices: That 6.7-inch display requires a 6.29 x 3.02 x 0.32 frame to house it. The iPhone 15 Pro Max does not fit easily into a pocket.
❌ You want a phone that charges quickly: Apple's moved to USB-C charging, but the speed still caps out at a mere 27W. Android phones charge much more quickly.
📱 The iPhone 15 Pro Max is ahead of the pack when it comes to its design, photography and performance. There are small areas where it could be further refined, like its charging speed or digital zoom photography. And it's still very expensive of course. But it's still a remarkable device worthy of upgrading to. ★★★★
What you need to know
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is the best iPhone we’ve tested, and that’s because it has everything you could want in a flagship. The design has been made lighter and more premium with titanium sides, the chipset's more powerful than ever, and so's the camera array. Apple has roared back to capture the spor for best phone with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, a mobile device that delivers on all fronts.
Cameras: iPhones live and die by their cameras, and the telephoto lens on the iPhone 15 Pro Max is a big improvement thanks to its 5x zoom capabilities. Its low-light performance is pretty spectacular too. That said, it’s still no match for the Galaxy S23 Ultra when it comes to getting close to a subject.
Performance: Though Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip helped some Android phones narrow the performance gap with the iPhone 14 Pro, the A17 Pro chipset powering the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the fastest mobile chip we've tested. You'll notice the extra oomph when you're performing everyday tasks and switching between apps.
Battery life: The battery on the iPhone 15 Pro Max lasts more than 14 hours on our battery test, an outstanding improvement over the already long-lasting iPhone 14 Pro Max. If only the phone could charge quickly, as Apple continues to offer only 27W wired charging and 15W wireless charging.
Value for money: While this model costs $100 more than the starting price of the iPhone 14 Pro Max, Apple has increased the amount of base storage to 256GB. The iPhone 15 Pro offers almost all the same features, but in a smaller body and for a lower starting price. And if it's a big screen you're after, there's the iPhone 15 Plus to consider too.
Read the full review: iPhone 15 Pro Max
|Price||This iPhone costs a pretty penny||★★★☆☆|
|Cameras||A great main camera but so-so zooms||★★★★☆|
|Performance||You won't find a better performing phone||★★★★★|
|Battery life||Don't worry about running out power||★★★★★|
The best Samsung phone
✅ You want the best performing Android phone: The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy powers the Galaxy S23 Ultra and delivers outstanding performance. It even beat the A16 Bionic inside the iPhone 14 Pro models on graphics in our testing.
✅ You value mobile photography above all else: With a 200MP main camera and a pair of telephoto lenses supporting a 100x Space Zoom feature, the Galaxy S23 Ultra's cameras provide power and flexibility.
✅ You like to use a stylus: Not only does the Galaxy S23 Ultra come with an S Pen, but the phone includes a slot for storing Samsung's stylus. It's a great tool if you like scribbling notes or sketching on your phone.
❌ You're on a budget: With a starting price of $1,199 — $100 more than the most expensive iPhone — the Galaxy S23 Ultra does not come cheap. You'll pay even more for expanded storage.
❌ You dislike curved screens: The curved edges of the Galaxy S23 Ultra display can make it difficult to select items that are on the very edge of the screen. Look for a phone with a flat panel instead.
❌ You want the fastest charging phone: The 45W charging speed on the Galaxy S23 Ultra isn't slow, but other Android phone makers — particularly OnePlus — offer faster wired charging.
📱 The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is the ultimate smartphone, thanks to stellar cameras highlighted by the 200MP main sensor and other photography improvements. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 delivers outstanding performance and extended battery life. We're also impressed by Samsung's One UI 5.1 software. ★★★★
What you need to know
Samsung's premium phone turns out to be our pick for the best phone overall, given the overwhelming number of strengths the Galaxy S23 Ultra brings to the table. From superior cameras to a very powerful performance, there's plenty to like about the Galaxy S23 Ultra and few major issues to criticize.
Cameras: By far, the most significant addition to the the Galaxy S23 Ultra is its 200MP camera, which gives you greater flexibility in capturing shots, as you can shoot at full resolution and crop in for more detail or combine multiple pixels into one for brighter images. The powerful telephoto lens setup returns, putting the S23 Ultra ahead of other phones when it comes to zoom. Samsung has also improved low-light photo features, though other phones continue to beat the S23 Ultra in that area.
Performance: The iPhone remains the overall performance champ, but the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 powering the Galaxy S23 Ultra helps close the gap significantly. Samsung's phone even managed to best the iPhone on some graphics tests. This is the best performing Android phone we've tested.
Battery life: It's not just performance that benefits from the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. The chipset's improved power efficiency helps the Galaxy S23 Ultra last a long time on a charge — nearly 12.5 hours on our battery test. That's not as long as the iPhone 14 Pro Max, but it's still an outstanding time that translates to all-day battery life and then some.
Value for money: If there's one thing about the Galaxy S23 Ultra that should give you pause, it's the phone's price tag. At $1,199, this is one of the more expensive handsets out there. Certainly, the premium features Samsung packs into the phone justify the high cost, but you can find less expensive models — including other phones in the S23 family.
Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
|Price||One of the pricier phones available||★★★☆☆|
|Cameras||The best camera phone you can buy||★★★★★|
|Performance||A top-performing Android device||★★★★☆|
|Battery life||Lasts all day, charging could be faster||★★★★☆|
The best value Android phone
✅ You don't want to pay more than $500: Whether you're limited by your budget or you think flagship prices are too high, the Pixel 7a costs less than $500, even after a price hike from the Pixel 6a. But you get premium features in return.
✅ You want excellent cameras for the money: The Pixel 7a takes photos that beat more expensive phones with the help of Google's AI-assisted image processing. And upgraded camera hardware helps capture more detail in low light.
✅ You want the power of Tensor: TheTensor G2 chip powers even more AI-driven features than before. All of the Pixel 7's capabilities are here on this cheaper phone.
❌ You prefer premium phones: Google had to cut corners somewhere; as a result, the Pixel 7a isn't as durable as Google's flagships.
❌ You want expandable storage: The Pixel 7a offers 128GB of on-board capacity with no way to expand that. In contrast, the cheaper Galaxy A54 has a microSD slot of added storage.
❌ You want to keep this phone for a while: Google's three years of Android OS updates for the Pixel 7a is good. But Samsung offers four years, even for its midrange models.
📱 The Pixel 7a is like its predecessor — its main appeal lies in the excellent photos this affordable phone takes. But the addition of premium features like a fast-refreshing display make this phone more attractive than before. ★★★★
What you need to know
The Google Pixel 7a continues Google's tradition of producing very capable midrange phones that excel at mobile photography. This time, though, the Pixel 7a offers premium features like a fast-refreshing display, normally found in pricier handsets.
Cameras: Google has gone big with the Pixel 7a cameras, turning to a 64MP sensor that's physically larger than the 12.2MP shooter in the Pixel 6a. That means sharper images than before, though the colors in Pixel 7a photos continue to have dark, cooler tones. Still, the Pixel 7a excels at low-light photos, and it holds its own against any camera phone.
Performance: The Pixel 7a's Tensor G2 silicon matches what the Pixel 7 offers. And while raw power ins't the story with Google's Tensor chips, the Pixel 7a's Tensor G2 does outperform the Exynos 1380 inside the Galaxy A54 on all benchmarks. Instead, this Tensor chip focuses on AI-powered features, and you'll find those in abundance, including support for Google's Photo Unblur feature, call management tools and on-the-fly dictation.
Battery life: The Pixel 7a posts a much improved battery life from its predecessors, lasting 10 hours and 5 minutes on our battery test. That's just ahead of the average smartphone. One caveat: we got that time by turning off the display's fast-refresh rate.
Value for money: Though Google raised the Pixel 7a's price by $50 over the Pixel 6a, this phone still costs less than $500, and you can find some premium features not often supported by midrange phones. The Pixel 7a charges wirelessly, for instance, and its 6.1-inch display can refresh at 90Hz for smoother scrolling. Few phones pack in more value while keeping their price tag relatively affordable like the Pixel 7a does.
Read the full review: Google Pixel 7a