Update Dec. 14: A new report on Samsung's foldable smartphone floats a potential price for the Galaxy Fold.
In the battle between Apple and Samsung for best smartphone, Apple retains its edge over the competition with the new iPhone XS Max. With a 6.5-inch OLED screen crammed into a phone that's not much larger than the iPhone 8 Plus, the XS Max commands a staggering $1,099, but in return you get improved cameras and a processor that blows away its rivals.
However, if you want a big screen and don't want to pay a premium, the $749 iPhone XR is a great option for most people. You get a big 6.1-inch display, the same great camera and processor and lots of fun color options. And it lasts longer on a charge than the iPhone XS Max, but you don't get an OLED display or 2x optical zoom.
Android purists should turn to the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL. Based on our testing, the Pixel 3 is the best camera phone on the market. Other highlights include AI features like screening robocalls and Android 9 Pie.
The Galaxy S9+ is still a great option, offering a gorgeous 6.2-inch display, fast Snapdragon 845 processor and a much improved camera that records awesome slow-motion video. But at this point we think most people should wait for the Galaxy S10 unless you see the S9 on a big discount. Samsung's 6.4-inch Galaxy Note 9 is the big-screen phone to beat, adding new capabilities to the S Pen and improving the camera with AI-powered enhancements.
If you want to avoid paying top dollar for a phone while still enjoying premium features, the OnePlus 6T is a fantastic value. It offers a speedy in-screen fingerprint reader, an immersive 6.4-inch OLED screen and flagship specs for just $549. If you’re on a tighter budget, check out the Moto G6. For just $250, you get a colorful 5.7-inch display with minimal bezels, solid performance from its Snapdragon 450 processor and helpful software features.
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. Check out our top smartphone choices in multiple categories, along with new and notable phones we're planning on reviewing shortly and the latest rumors about upcoming handsets.
News and Updates (December 2018)
- A report published by Korean analysts claims that Samsung will call its foldable phone the Galaxy Fold. Previewed at Samsung's November developer conference, the Galaxy Fold could reportedly cost $1,800.
- A new Galaxy S10 leak reveals that the Galaxy S10 may be released on Feb. 20. It also lays out the pricing for the Galaxy S10, S10+ and S10 Lite.
- Galaxy S10: Samsung's main flagship is expected in the first few months of 2019 and may come with a fingerprint-reading display and as many as five cameras. Samsung may make a 5G version of the Galaxy S10 as well. The Galaxy S10+ could have a pill-shaped cutout on the display for its dual front cameras. The Galaxy S10 Lite, may have a flat display and relatively affordable price. Here are the latest Galaxy S10 rumors.
- Pixel 3 Lite: Google may be working on a phone called the Pixel 3 Lite, which will presumably be more affordable than the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. Rumored specs include a 5.5-inch display and mid-range Snapdragon 670 processor.
- Galaxy F: Samsung's long-promised foldable phone is on the way. Powered by the Infinity Flex display, the phone will be able fold out like a book into a 7.3-inch display; when it's folded up, you'll have a 4.58-inch screen. Google is working with Samsung on a version of Android that will run on this phone. Samsung says it will start mass production on the Infinity Flex display in the next few months. The final phone could be called the Galaxy F or Galaxy Fold with a price as high as $1,800.
- Galaxy Note 10: It's way early, but some rumors have started to appear for the Galaxy Note 10, including a possible screen size of 6.6 inches.
- iPhone 2019: It's never too early to start talking new iPhones, and iPhone rumors have already started circulating about what Apple has planned for its next models, even though those phones aren't expected to arrive until the fall of 2019.
- 5G Phones: Phones that take advantage of the soon-to-launch 5G networking standard are expected in the first half of 2019. OnePlus has already said it will have a 5G phone ready using Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 mobile processor, while Samsung is working on phones for AT&T and Verizon, and LG has a 5G phone in the works for Sprint. Apple may not have a 5G phone until 2020, according to some reports.
Buying options for the best phones of 2018:
The iPhone XS Max is the best smartphone money can buy. Granted, $1,099 is a lot of money, but for that price you’re getting a ginormous and gorgeous 6.5-inch OLED display, much improved cameras (especially in low light) and the fastest processor ever in a phone. The regular iPhone XS has all of the same upgrades, but we prefer the Max for its larger canvas for watching video, split-screen view within certain apps and longer battery life. If you’re going to splurge on a phone to own for the next 2 to 3 years, this is it.
The Pixel 3 is the best camera phone and best pure Android phone we have ever tested, and it’s not because of the hardware. Google has found amazing ways to leverage AI on this 5.5-inch handset, including a Top Shot feature for the camera that automatically picks the best photo and a screen calling feature that uses Google Assistant to transcribe calls as they come in on the fly. The photo quality here is just stunning; you can even get optical zoom results without a second lens. Add in the equally smart and helpful Android Pie OS and an improved OLED screen and you have one heck of a phone.
The Galaxy S9 and S9+ take the nearly bezel-free design and wraparound Infinity Display from the S8 and bolster it with the latest generation Snapdragon 845 processor and an all-new camera fitted with super slow-motion recording and adjustable aperture. The larger S9+ goes a step further, with a second rear camera that enables Live Photos, Samsung’s take on portrait mode where you can adjust the strength of the bokeh effect before and after the shot. Toss in stereo speakers, a repositioned fingerprint sensor and a headphone jack and you have a satisfying sequel.
MORE: Galaxy S9+ Full Review
The OnePlus 6T delivers a couple of key firsts at a great price. It’s the first phone sold in the U.S. with an in-screen fingerprint reader--and it works almost instantly. The 6T is also the first phone from OnePlus sold through a U.S. carrier in T-Mobile. Whether you go that route or buy it unlocked, you’ll be happy with the OnePlus 6T’s strong performance, stunning 6.4-inch OLED display and improved dual cameras. You get great specs for the money: a Snapdragon 845 processor, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for just $549 (£499, €549) or you can upgrade that to 8GB of RAM for just $20 more at $579 (£529, €579).
MORE: OnePlus 6T Full Review
The iPhone XR costs $250 less than the iPhone XS and Galaxy Note 9, and yet this phone delivers pretty much everything you’d want from a big-screen flagship. That includes a bright and colorful 6.1-inch LCD display, the fastest processor you can get in a phone (A12 Bionic) and great camera quality. No, you don’t get dual rear shooters for 2X optical zoom, but otherwise this phone is top-notch in every way. The best part is the battery life, as the iPhone XR lasted 11 hours and 28 minutes on our web surfing battery test. That beats most flagship phones.
MORE: iPhone XR Full Review
With the Galaxy Note 9, Samsung has joined the iPhone X in the pricey $1,000 phone club. But this handset is worth the premium if you want the best big-screen phone around. The 6.4-inch display is gorgeous, and you get a new AI-assisted cameras for automatically recognizing various scenes to get the best photo. Other highlights include a Bluetooth-enabled S Pen, which makes it easy to remotely control the phone for shooting selfies, changing music tracks and more. Add in more than 11 hours of battery life, and the Note 9 is worth the splurge for power users.
Moto's G Series has been the go-to phone for people who don't want to shell out a lot of money for their smartphone but still expect a solid performer. With its colorful 5.7-inch display, capable processor and inviting design, this year's Moto G6 continues to live up to that standard. You'll have to live with below-average battery life and a just-OK camera, but the G6 delivers on enough features to make it a great value. Best of all, the G6 works on both GSM and CDMA networks, so you're not restricted to using select carriers.
MORE: Moto G6 Review
If you’re not a fan of phablets, the iPhone 8 gives you the most power per inch of any device on the market, especially now that Apple's more recent phones all boast screens sizes of 5.8 inches or larger. In addition to a still mighty A11 Bionic chip that runs circles around Android phones, the iPhone 8 benefits from a bigger and faster camera sensor that takes fantastic-looking photos, including Live Photos with fun new effects in iOS 11. Add in above-average battery life and access to fun new augmented reality apps, and you have the best small phone.
MORE: iPhone 8 Full Review
For those serious about gaming, the Asus ROG Phone is tailor-made for you. This beast packs a gorgeous 6-inch OLED display, a Snapdragon 845 processor with four cores that run at overclocked speeds and 8GB or RAM. In addition to impressive performance, the ROG Phone sports a head-turning design with a logo that can glow 16.8 million colors. Other highlights include a vapor cooling system and even an included active cooling attachment with its own fans. Add in a bunch of accessory options and you have the best gaming phone yet.
With the iPhone SE disappearing from Apple's iPhone lineup, the iPhone 7 takes its place as the best smartphone you can hand over to your kids. At $449, it's now the cheapest iPhone Apple has to offer. And while you're getting 2016's A10 Fusion chip, only 32GB of storage and a 4.7-inch LCD screen, you're not making too many other trade-offs. The iPhone 7 has IP67 dust- and water-resistance, meaning a splash of water won't wreck your kid's phone. Access to Apple's App Store means your kids can download a great array of games and social networking apps, while the phone's support for iOS 12 puts you in control of just when they can use those apps.
MORE: iPhone 7 Full Review
What Smartphones Cost
The best premium phones like the Galaxy S9, Pixel 3 and iPhone X cost anywhere from $700 to as much as $1,000. However, there are great values with flagship-level specs under $500. On a budget? You can get a very good Android phone for less than $250.
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 do real-world speed tests (such as video editing) and take photos in different lighting conditions to 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 top-performing devices make our Best list.