Updated March 14: Our face-off between the Galaxy S9 and iPhone X is live.
In the battle between Apple and Samsung for best smartphone, Apple currently has the edge with the iPhone X. This 5.8-inch flagship demands a hefty premium at $999, but in return you get the best OLED display we’ve tested along with top-notch cameras and innovative features like Face ID. Plus, this flagship’s A11 Bionic processor (also inside the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus) blows away every Android phone.
If you prefer Android, the Galaxy S9+ is a great big-screen phone, offering a gorgeous 6.2-inch display, fast Snapdragon 845 processor and a much improved camera that produces better images in low light and records awesome slow-motion video. (The regular Galaxy S9 is also good, though it has less RAM and a smaller battery, and it doesn't have dual rear cameras like the S9+.
Android purists and photographers should get the 6-inch Pixel 2 XL, which delivers the best camera we've tested and a squeeze-to-activate Google Assistant. Prefer an even bigger screen? The Galaxy Note 8 is currently the phablet to beat, thanks to its 6.3-inch display and versatile S Pen.
If you’re on a budget, there are plenty of great options, including the OnePlus 5T. This handset offers an edge-to-edge 6-inch display, Snapdragon 835 processor, dual cameras and fast facial recognition for under $500. You’ll even find excellent values for less than $250, such as the Moto G5 Plus.
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.
Smartphone News and Rumors (March 2018)
Asus ZenFone 5: Coming this spring, the ZenFone 5 looks an awful lot like the iPhone X, complete with a (smaller) notch at the top of the screen. Except this LCD screen is larger at 6.2 inches (compared to 5.8 for the iPhone X). In addition, the ZenFone 5 offers facial recognition for unlocking the device, dual cameras with a wide-angle lens and AI features for recognizing different subjects and optimizing the settings according. This Snapdragon 636-powered phone will have mid-range pricing, but the exact price and release date are not yet available.
iPhone SE 2: Apple hasn't touched the iPhone SE since the 4-inch phone debuted in 2016, but that may change later this year. Rumors suggest a new iPhone SE will debut in May or June featuring a new glass back to allow for wireless charging. The phone's also likely to get the A10 Fusion processor found in the iPhone 7.However, a leading Apple analyst says the company may be devoting all its resources to the fall iPhone updates, making a spring release for a new iPhone SE unlikely.
Samsung Galaxy X: Samsung's DJ Koh has confirmed that Samsung is working on a folding phone, with the Galaxy X reportedly folding its screen out into a larger display. Not much is known about this device, but recently unearthed patents provide some clues about how it could work.
Buying options for the best phones of 2018:
The iPhone X isn’t just the best iPhone. It’s the best phone, period. That’s because it packs the most impressive OLED screen we’ve ever tested and fastest processor into a gorgeous edge-to-edge design that’s easy to use with one hand. The iPhone X also offers the top dual cameras you can get in a phone, plus a new TrueDepth front camera that enables everything from Face ID for unlocking the device to Portrait Mode selfies.
Another key selling point is the A11 Bionic chip inside, which delivers the fastest performance we’ve seen from a phone. This same CPU is also in the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, but the augmented reality apps, games and other experiences the processor enables just feel more immersive on the iPhone X’s Super Retina Display. At $999, the iPhone X is quite pricey, but it’s well worth the splurge.
MORE: iPhone X Full Review
Samsung’s new Galaxy S9 and S9+ aren’t radical departures from last year’s Galaxy S8, but we’re not complaining. The S9 duo takes the nearly bezel-free design and wraparound Infinity Display from the S8 and adds the latest generation Snapdragon 845 processor and an all-new camera fitted with super slow-motion recording and adjustable aperture. The larger S9+ goes even 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
Once again, OnePlus has found a way to upstage pricier flagships. For just $499, the OnePlus 5T features a rich 6-inch OLED display that nearly goes from edge to edge, along with a fast fingerprint scanner, speedy facial recognition and a powerful Snapdragon 835 processor. The dual cameras impress, too, outgunning the much pricier Galaxy Note 8 in some of our test shots. Add in more than 11 hours of battery life and the fastest charge time we’ve seen, and you have a fantastic value. (Our only issue is that the OnePlus 5T doesn't stream Netflix in HD right now, which should be addressed in an update.) If you don't mind paying $60 more, the $559 OnePlus 5T Sandstone White features 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage in a phone with a striking white case sporting a sandstone finish; it's a limited edition model.
Both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL offer snappy performance, a Google Assistant you can summon by squeezing the phone and an ingenious new Google Lens feature that can recognize everything from phone numbers and landmarks to restaurants in the photos you take. For our money, the Pixel 2 XL is the better choice among Google’s phones, because you get a bigger and sharper 6-inch display, longer battery life and, frankly, a much better looking design from the front with less bezels. The Pixel 2 XL lacks wireless charging, but its fast wired charging works well, and its single rear camera produces shots that give the iPhone X a run for its money.
The Galaxy Note 8 more than just redeems Samsung for the Note 7. It raises the bar for all big-screen phones. The 6.3-inch Infinity Display stretches from edge to edge and is simply gorgeous. More important, the Note 8’s dual cameras give you more flexibility than other phones, letting you adjust the Live Focus (bokeh) effect both before and after you take the shot. The S Pen is improved on this phone, too, letting you save more screen-off memos and create fun new Live Messages you can share with others. Last but not least is a battery that lasts a very good 11-plus hours. The Note 8 is pricey, but it’s worth it.
The Moto G5 Plus stands out in an increasingly competitive field for value-priced phones, thanks to a super-bright screen and epic battery life that keeps the phone going for more than 11 hours. The camera also impresses, producing sharp-looking photos even in low light. The unlocked Moto G5 Plus works on all cellular networks in the U.S. If you don't mind paying a little more, the newer Moto G5S Plus offers a bigger 5.5-inch display and dual rear cameras for $279. But we still think the G5 Plus is a better value for bargain hunters.
MORE: Moto G5 Plus Full 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. In addition to a 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.
Now that the iPhone SE starts at just $349 for 32GB, it’s a great starter phone for kids, especially since a lot tweens and teens use the iMessage app. The 4-inch display is definitely on the small side, but this handset provides easy access to all the apps your little ones want to use, whether it’s Instagram, Snapchat or Zello. The 12-MP camera also captures good-looking pics for the price, including Live Photos. The iPhone SE’s front camera could be better for selfies, but overall it’s a strong choice.
MORE: iPhone SE Review
Serious content creators should take a good look at the LG V30, which boasts the best wide-angle camera in a phone yet along with a very large f/1.6 aperture for letting in lots of light. The V30 also captures stunning 4K video complete with a wide array of compelling effects and filters you won’t find anywhere else. The 6-inch OLED display is another plus, which nearly goes edge to edge. The only thing holding this phablet back is relatively short battery life.
MORE: LG V30 Review
What Smartphones Cost
The best premium phones like the Galaxy S8, Pixel 2 XL and iPhone X cost anywhere from $750 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.