Updated Oct 19: We've published our full review of the Google Pixel 3 XL and noted the date change for the OnePlus 6T release.
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.
If you prefer Android, the Galaxy S9+ is 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. 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. Android purists or anyone who wants the best available camera on a smartphone should turn to the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, both of which boast camera improvements, AI-powered features and Android 9 Pie.
The mid-range phone to buy is the OnePlus 6, which for $529 delivers a big 6.3-inch OLED display, a fast Snapdragon 845 processor and dual cameras for just $529. (Just be aware that OnePlus is coming out with a new version, the OnePlus 6T, on Oct. 30) 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 (October 2018)
- We've reviewed the Google Pixel 3 XL, which offers the same superior camera and handy AI features as the Pixel 3 but with a larger OLED display--and a notch. See if it's right for you.
- Huawei has launched the Mate 20 Pro, which one-ups the iPhone XS in several ways. It offers three rear cameras with impressive AI shooting features, a massive 4,200 mAh battery and a refined user interface.
- OnePlus 6T: OnePlus's annual T model was to be unveiled on Oct. 30 at an event in New York, but OnePlus is moving the event forward by a day to avoid a conflict with an Apple event on Oct. 30. The OnePlus 6T will feature an embedded fingerprint sensor but no headphone jack. We're also expecting a small teardrop-style notch on the display and Android Pie out of the box.
- Galaxy S10: Samsung's main flagship is expected to be unveiled next February and may come with a fingerprint-reading display and as many as five cameras. Samsung may be making a 5G version of the Galaxy S10 as well. One version may have a flat display. Here's the latest S10 rumors.
- Galaxy X/Galaxy F: Samsung says that it wants to be first to offer a foldable phone. Known as the Galaxy X and Galaxy F, rumors and reports point to a phone with a 6.9-inch display. Samsung says that the device could be revealed at is developer conference in early November. See all the latest Galaxy X rumors.
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 that now sits under the camera (where your fingers won’t smudge the lens) and last but not least, a headphone jack, and Samsung has reclaimed the top spot among high-end Android handsets.
MORE: Galaxy S9+ Full Review
OnePlus continues its habit of delivering flagship features in a phone that costs hundreds less than what you'd pay for top models from Apple and Samsung. The OnePlus 6 introduces a new glass design that holds an expansive, impressive OLED screen (and yes, there's a notch dipping down into the display). The Snapdragon 845 processor teamed up with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM (depending on which model you get) delivers superior performance, and the OnePlus 6 charges just as fast as before. Battery life isn't as good as on previous OnePlus phones, and the 6 will be a little too large for some people's tastes. But it's hard to argue with a phone that delivers so much while costing $470 less than the iPhone X. Just be aware that a successor, the OnePlus 6T, will debut at the end of this month.
MORE: OnePlus 6 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
We've never tested a phone that's lasted as long as the Asus ZenFone 3 Zoom did on our battery test. Surfing the web continuously over T-Mobile's LTE network, the ZenFone 3 Zoom lasted 16 hours, 49 minutes. That’s nearly 90 minutes longer than next longest-lasting phones. You get more than an all-day charge with Asus's $329 device. Dual rear cameras offer optical zoom in a phone that won't put too big of a dent in your wallet.
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
LG’s flagships put artificial intelligence at the forefront, but it’s the G7 ThinQ’s sound that really sets this phone apart. The G7 has two audio features we love: a boombox speaker and DTS-X 3D surround sound. The G7’s speaker is noticeably louder than rival flagships, because LG turned the phone’s interior into a resonance chamber. It’s effective, though the phone can’t compare to an external speaker. The surround sound feature is truly impressive, making it sound like music is playing from every direction when you plug in a pair of wired headphones. The results are rich, layered songs that sound like they’re playing through a pair of pricey headphones.
MORE: LG G7 ThinQ 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.