Which is the best phone to buy this holiday season? Here’s some of our favourite picks
2018 has been a fantastic year for smartphone buyers. Over the last 12 months we’ve seen a wealth of top end flagships, including the Samsung Galaxy S9, Google Pixel 3, iPhone XS and Huawei P20 Pro set the phone world ablaze. There have also been great handsets arrive from upstart players, like the stellar Asus ROG Phone, Pocophone F1 and OnePlus 6T, which prove there’s still plenty of space to innovate and succeed in the smartphone market.
If you’re looking for something that’s a bit lighter on the wallet, or the perfect gift, then take a look at our best cheap phones round-up, or if you’ve got a bit more to spend have a look at these best mid-range smartphones.
If not scroll down to see our picks of the best smartphones we’ve reviewed this year.
How we select the best smartphones
best overall smartphone
The P20 Pro is a marvel of smartphone design with a game changing camera setup and a whopping 128GB storage space as standard.
Every handset we review is tested using the same combination of real-world use cases and repeatable benchmark tests. This means that we test everything from battery life and processor performance during the full range of everyday tasks, right up to call quality and screen calibration. Most of all, we take these phones out and use them as our own over an extended period, living with them to learn their quirks and discover any hidden treasures.
So now you know how we select the best smartphones, let’s take a look at our highlights.
Related: Best SIM only
iPhone XR: Best for iPhone XS features on a budget
- Wide range of colours
- XS features at a lower price
- Great camera
- Top performance
- No fast charger included
For us, the iPhone XR is the best iPhone Apple has released in 2018. It offers the same fantastic 12-megapixel f/1.8 wide-angle camera with Smart HDR and A12 Bionic as the XS but at a price that’s a bit easier to stomach. At £750/$750, the iPhone XR is £250/$250 cheaper than the entry-level iPhone XS.
Other highlights here include impressive battery life, wireless charging, a nice range of colours and classic Apple build quality. Before release lots was said about the 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display and while it’s not as good as the XS, it still has bright colours and looks good to our eyes.
Our one main criticism, as is usual with Apple’s phones, is the lack of an included fast charger. Instead you’ll have to spend about three hours charging the iPhone XR up from the 5w plug or pay more for a faster one.
- Read our iPhone XR review
Google Pixel 3: Best for Android
- Great haptics
- Google’s Android is the best Android
- Much-improved design
- Breathtaking camera both on the front and back
- Fast wireless charging and clever Pixel Stand (even if it’s not included)
- No form of facial unlocking
- Can scratch easily
Google’s newest Pixels improve upon their predecessors in a myriad of ways, although some of their best features are more down to the machine learning prowess of Google, more so than the hardware that’s inside these handsets.
The 5.5-inch Pixel 3 is our preferred option, not least because it forgoes what is arguably the largest notch on any smartphone, without losing out on any of the Google Pixel 3 XL‘s functionality. It’s powered by the same Snapdragon 845 found in most of the devices in this current ‘best of’ list and comes backed up by a comparatively conservative 4GB of RAM.
The new glass-backed design sets it apart from its predecessor and allows for wireless charging while the OLED display on the front is great for watching HDR content. Camera technology is the biggest talking point of any Pixel phone and it looks as though Google has done it again. The company has added an insanely capable low-light shooting mode call Night Sight, Super Res Zoom helps ease the lack of a secondary rear sensor and the additional super-wide front-facing camera means you can squeeze more of your friends in-shot when it’s selfie time.
Asus ROG Phone: The best phone for gamers
- Great screen
- Innovative peripherals system
- Solid performance
- Airtrigger controls are a gamer’s dream
- Battery life could be better
- Not enough games that take advantage of the hardware
If you’re a competitive mobile PUBG player on the hunt for the ultimate gaming phone then you’ll want to check out the Asus ROG Phone. The ROG Phone targets the same segment of the market as the competing Razer Phone 2 and shares several of its qualities. Highlights include a custom cooling system, RGB lighting and high-refresh rate screen.
But it beats its rival by featuring a number of nifty hardware refinements. The best of these include a great looking 6-inch AMOLED screen with a speedy 90Hz refresh rate, super-powerful binned Snapdragon 845 CPU and “Airtrigger” capacitive buttons that act as shoulder buttons in-game.
Add to this a nifty peripheral system, that lets you do everything from add a second 3DS-like screen to dock it to a TV and play with a full mouse and keyboard using plug and play optional add-ons and the ROG Phone easily earns a place in our guide.
- Read our Asus ROG Phone review
Huawei Mate 20 Pro: Best for sheer amount of features
- Great camera
- Impressive design
- Lovely screen
- Very fast charging
- Exceptional battery life
- Huawei’s software is still buggy and ugly
Capping off an impressive year for Huawei, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is a stunning phone that packs so many features into a sleek body. Seriously, there isn’t another smartphone out there with as much going on as this.
The highlight is the triple camera system, which combines a wide, super wide and telephoto into a great package. The excellent Night Mode lets you take shots in very dark situations and the Master AI boosts colours without going overboard.
The display is sharp, colourful and boasts support for HDR content. It’s also a slightly curved panel, which can make it quite hard to grip.
Wireless charging is here, as is exceptionally good battery life. This is one of the few phones that could go two days without running out of juice. Our only real gripe is Huawei’s software which is still buggy and ugly.
- Read our Huawei Mate 20 Pro review
OnePlus 6T: Best for value and performance
- New fingerprint sensor feels cutting-edge
- Up-to-date, versatile OS
- Fast Charge is still great
- Great battery life
- Camera’s Nightscape mode needs work
- Another headphone jack bites the dust
- Fingerprint sensor needs refinement
- Poor audio capabilities
Half the price of an iPhone XS but with just as much clout. Boasting an expansive 6.41-inch AMOLED screen with an in-display fingerprint sensor, a Snapdragon 845 processor backed up by up to 8GB of RAM and a whopping 3700mAh battery, the new OnePlus 6T is not to be sniffed at.
Starting at £499, it offers better value for money than its predecessor, the OnePlus 6 (as it starts with twice the base internal storage at 128GB) and OnePlus has worked to improve the already-excellent Android 9.0-powered OxygenOS software experience on top, along with the HDR and low light credentials of the phone’s dual 16/20-megapixel sensor.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9: Best for size
- Fantastic screen
- Big battery
- The S Pen
- Bixby button is an annoyance
- The S9 Plus feels better
Samsung’s Note series has long been the ‘Best Big Phone’ and that continues with the excellent Samsung Galaxy Note 9. There might only be a handful of tweaks over the Note 8, but they’re all important.
The biggest update is the battery. Gone is the 3400mAh cell, replaced by a larger 4000mAh version and it makes a real difference. The endurance here is much better, comfortably lasting a day even if you’re a heavy user.
There’s also more storage as standard (128GB rather than 64GB) plus a 512GB model too. The microSD card is still here, as is an IP68 rating, wireless charging and the S Pen.
The S Pen remains a handy tool for taking notes and with the Note 9, it’s available in a variety of colours. The lovely Ocean Blue device, for example, comes with a nice yellow pen. Bluetooth is now included on the stylus and this lets you use it as a remote for a camera or for skipping songs.
Inside the Note, there’s a very similar setup to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. The Exynos 9810 (Snapdragon 845 in the States) is paired with 6GB or 8GB RAM. There’s also a dual-aperture 12-megapixel camera on the back that’ll switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4 depending on the environment. The camera takes some very good shots, but it can’t quite match the quality produced by the Pixel 2 or HTC U12 Plus.
- Read our Galaxy Note 9 review
iPhone XS & iPhone XS Max: Best for performance
- Amazing displays
- Exceptional performance
- Face ID remains the best at facial recognition
- iOS doesn’t make the most of the Max’s bigger display
- Fast charger not included
Apple’s newest flagship phones, the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max bring a selection of high-end specs to the table. We’ve paired both handsets together as they’re more like each other than any previous generation of iPhone and whichever one you choose, you’re getting a great iPhone experience.
Both sport beautiful HDR10 and Dolby Vision-compliant OLED Super Retina displays, both rock Apple’s newest and most powerful chipset yet, the A12 Bionic, both offer 4GB RAM and up to 512GB of storage, both support dual SIM – a first for any iPhone, as well as IP68 dust and water resistance. There’s also the company’s signature TrueDepth sensor for both fast Face ID unlocking and Animoji, not to mention there’s a superb dual 12-megapixel camera with dual OIS onboard.
The iPhone XS is for those who want the latest and greatest iPhone hardware within the same form factor as last year’s iPhone X, while the larger iPhone XS Max swaps out a 5.8-inch display for a huge 6.5-inch panel that’s ideal for enjoying media and gaming on the go.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus: Safe options
- Fantastic screen
- Feels great
- Improved speakers
- Average battery life
- Dual-sensor only on Plus model
- Some lag with Samsung’s software
You can’t go wrong with either the Samsung Galaxy S9 or Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, though if we had to recommend one we’d go with the latter – and that’s because it comes with a dual-camera. The extra lens, in this instance, is used for zooming without losing quality, making the camera far more versatile.
Both the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus sport an identical build (size difference notwithstanding) and similar internals, with the main differences being that the Plus model is equipped with an additional 2GB of RAM, a slightly bigger battery and the aforementioned dual-camera configuration – luxuries most customers should be able to live without.
The biggest update Samsung treated the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus to is a new variable aperture setting within the camera, letting customers switch between an f/2.4 and f/1.5 aperture whenever they see fit, which should ensure images come out bright and full of detail in almost all low-light environments.
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Google Pixel 2 XL: Powerful Android, coming down in price
- Stunning camera
- The best version of Android
- Minimal bezel
- Feels great to hold
- Lifeless screen
- No wireless charging
The arrival of the Pixel 3 may have taken some of the wind out of the Google Pixel 2 XL‘s sails, but with the subsequent price drop, those looking for the most vanilla Android experience will still undoubtedly love the company’s older phone.
It’s one of the best smartphones we’ve put through its paces to date, earning a coveted nine-out-of-ten rating in our comprehensive review, with Max Parker, our resident Mobile and Tablets Editor, praising its build, camera and performance. If that’s not enough to tempt you, that new lower price tag might, which comes in at £599 direct from Google and even cheaper elsewhere.
Moto G6: Great quality and value
- Fantastic software experience
- Lovely screen
- Well built for the price
- Some performance frustrations, especially with the camera
Lots of the phones on this list are pricey flagship devices, but that’s not the case with the Moto G6. For a shade under £220 you get a lovely display, slick software and a surprisingly well-built phone.
Moto does a good job at ditching gimmicks here. The few apps it adds on top of Android are thoughtful, and there’s no fussy skin ruining the Android experience. There’s even basic facial unlocking, which is still a rarity at the budget end of the market.
Of course, there are some drawbacks at this price. The camera is fine, but the app is slow and you’ll often miss focus. If you can live with that then you’ll be very impressed.
- Read our Moto G6 review
LG G7: Beautiful display
- Beautiful screen
- Fantastic audio
- Handy Google Assistant button
- LG’s software is still ugly
- Camera can’t match the competition
The main reason you ought to be interested in the LG G7 is for its fantastic display, which is ridiculously bright and good looking. It’s an LCD, rather than an OLED, but it can hit 1000 nits for HDR playback. This high brightness isn’t constant, instead, it peaks in bright sunlight and if you use the SuperBright mode.
On the back, you’ve got two cameras, with the main being a 16-megapixel f/1.6 shooter and the secondary a wide-angle sensor. The wide sensor is great, but the regular camera is less impressive. It takes fine photos but lacks the clever auto-HDR modes of competing devices.
Huawei P20 Pro: Excellent camera
- Fantastic tri-camera
- 128GB of storage
- Huge battery
- Stunning design
- EMUI interface has come a long way
- No 3.5mm headphone jack
- Screen needs some fine-tuning
- No wireless charging
The Huawei P20 Pro is the first smartphone on the market to feature a tri-camera – a 40-megapixel f/1.8 RGB sensor, a 20-megapixel f/1.6 monochrome sensor for depth and texture, and an 8-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto sensor with OIS (optical image stabilisation). But that isn’t its only claim to fame: it’s also equipped with a great processor, 6GB of RAM and a huge 4000mAh battery.
That means that the P20 Pro is a smartphone that can tickle everyone’s fancy. Whether you’re an aspiring or seasoned photographer, a power-hungry specs maniac or quite simply someone who’s after a handset that can last for 48 hours on a single charge, Huawei’s flagship has you covered. It’s also very well priced when compared to the competition.
- Read our Huawei P20 Pro review • Buy Now: Huawei P20 Pro SIM free for £799 on Carphone Warehouse
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Pocophone F1: Superb value
- Excellent value for money
- Superb performance
- Fantastic battery life
- Decent cameras
- MIUI for Poco will take some getting used to
- Thick bezels
- Plastic build
- No NFC
2018 has proven to be a transformative year for affordable phones thanks to newcomers like the Honor Play and the Pocophone F1. Pocophone, a new phone maker supported by Chinese tech behemoth Xiaomi, launched its first handset, the F1, in India but its release is quickly expanding to new markets further-a-field all the time.
Confidently-nicknamed by the company as the ‘master of speed’ the Pocophone F1 aims to deliver flagship-class performance while also serving itself up as an insanely affordable handset, starting at just ₹20,999 (approximately £230/€260/$300). For such an aggressively low price tag, the phone boasts a decent 6.12-inch extended Full HD+ display, 6GB or 8GB of RAM and it’s powered by the same chipset that most of the other top dogs in this lineup tote, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor.
Even the camera, a usual shortcoming of most affordable phones, doesn’t skimp on quality; leveraging the same 12-megapixel primary sensor as the one found on Xiaomi’s own 2018 flagship handset.
- Read our Pocophone F1 review
Still not sure? Check out our guides to the following:
- Best cheap / budget phones
- Best Android phones
- Best Apple iPhone
- Best mid-range phone
- Best phablet / big phone
- Best camera phone
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