I've gone hands-on with more than a dozen of this year's newest smartphones, so believe me when I say it's been a very strong year for everyone's favorite pocketable smart device. As a result it's hard to nominate an outright champion. But I know that my own personal pick for phone of the year is the OnePlus Open, a foldable that feels like the biggest step forward for the category since folding phones first appeared half a decade ago.
If you've looked at our best foldable phones guide, you'll see that the Open sits right at the top, as you would hope. It has a spot on our best phones overall too, although nowhere near the top. Foldables unfortunately are still not a good fit for the general smartphone buyer, although OnePlus is leading the way in changing that with the Open, and doing it in a number of ways.
Opening the way
First off, OnePlus has (with the help of sister company Oppo and its experience with its Find N series) near enough nailed the design of the Open.
For one, it's well-proportioned, with a short and wide front display that makes the phone feel familiar to use while still folded. Even if it's still thicker than a normal smartphone because of its doubled-up display, you can still type, swipe and tap around the interface with one hand.
It's handsome too, coming with a lovely green glass or black leather back, shiny highlights around the edge of the phone and a prominent circular camera block. It's a premium phone that looks and feels like it, which doesn't impact its functionality much but sure helps it feel special every time you pick it up.
When you start using the phone, you find that it covers two key foldable phone basics — camera quality and multitasking. The former is handled by a quintet of cameras inside and out, all tuned by OnePlus' long-term camera partner Hasselblad. The latter is taken care of by the ingenious Open Canvas system, which makes opening multiple windows and switching between them comfortable and simple.
The OnePlus Open manages to do all of this while costing a little less than rival foldables. It perhaps doesn't matter when you're spending north of a grand and a half on a phone, but it could still be a key difference, especially if you've got a phone to trade in with OnePlus' generous $200-guaranteed exchange offer.
Even beyond our original review, we kept finding more ways to appreciate what the Open could do. I left my laptop behind for a day's work solely on Open Canvas, while my colleague John marveled at how good its long-lasting battery was. Plus Tom's Guide's UK editor-in-chief Jeff Parsons happily put his iPhone down to try it out as his primary device, which is possibly the greatest endorsement any foldable could wish for.
A champion among champions
The OnePlus Open's victory is thoroughly earned since this was a great year for foldables elsewhere too. Earlier in the year we saw the Google Pixel Fold, Google's first foldable and a similarly well-designed device, only with a greater focus on AI features and app optimization. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Motorola Razr Plus raised the game for the compact foldable sub-segment, while phones like the Honor Magic Vs appeared in select markets to show the world that you don't have to charge the earth for a slim and light yet expansive folding phone. Even the Galaxy Z Fold 5, which doesn't change much from previous Z Fold generations, remained a contender thanks to its built-out foldable-specific interface, and stylus compatibility.
This gaggle of great foldables, with the OnePlus Open at their head, spells good things for the future of this style of phone. As foldable makers predict these devices will slowly become more mainstream, more affordable devices over the next few years, I hope that we get more folding phones in 2024, 2025 and beyond that raise the bar like the OnePlus Open has in 2023.
Asus Zenfone 10 — my favorite normal phone of the year
I can't bring this article to a close without a brief mention of my runner-up fave phone of 2023 - the Asus Zenfone 10.
This phone follows in its predecessors' footsteps by offering a near-identical experience to standard flagship phones but in a much smaller body. It's got the same chipset as this year's other top Android phones, and even better battery life than most of them, while also doing some fun things with its software like ZenTouch power button shortcuts and QuickShot photography mode.
Other phone companies need to take notice of what Asus is doing with its Zenfone series. In a world of colossal flagship phones, we need more manufacturers to remember that not everyone wants a big handset. Just as the OnePlus Open carries the flag for foldable phones this year, the Zenfone 10 does so for the small phone.
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Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.