Which is the best phone to buy right now? Here are the best we’ve reviewed
2019 is only a few months old and we’ve already seen some huge releases kick-starting the 5G and folding phone trend. Huawei Mate X, started things in style, while the Sony Xperia 1 also impressed with its 4K OLED display.
We’ve also seen the latest slew of devices from Samsung. Not only were we treated to the basic Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10 Plus, but we also got a spiffy, semi-affordable Galaxy S10e variant, next-gen-ready Galaxy S10 5G and appropriately named Galaxy Fold foldable phone.
Related: Samsung Galaxy Fold review
If you can afford to wait for the new handsets, or the inevitable price drops that’ll hit their predecessors we’d suggest doing so as a result.
If not there are still plenty of great phones to choose from. Scroll down to see our picks of the best smartphones we’ve reviewed.
How we select the best smartphones
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.
1. Huawei P30 Pro
A photography master
- Great cameras
- Massive battery
- Slick design
- EMUI needs an overhaul
- Screen lacks the sharpness of the S10
The Huawei P30 Pro replaces our favourite phone of 2018 as the Chinese brand’s flagship and it’s a worthy follow-up.
The Leica-branded camera module on the back should give you a strong hint of the headline feature here: photography. The three main camera modules each handle something different – zooming up to 5x optically, for instance – and the set is held together by a main 40-megapixel f/1.6 camera with a pixel-arrangement designed to let more light into the sensor.
Low-light shots are superb and the zoom features are the best we’ve ever seen on a phone, pair that with a feature-packed camera app and you’ve got a stunning photography package.
The phone doesn’t skimp elsewhere either: Kirin 980 chipset, super-quick 40W charging and a hefty 4200 mAh battery.
It can’t match the quality of the S10’s display and the EMUI software layer remains a bit of a mess, but the P30 Pro is still a great phone that’ll likely be one of the best of the year.
- Read our Huawei P30 Pro review
2. Samsung Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10 Plus
The best phone screen we’ve ever seen
- So much versatility with the cameras
- The best screen around
- Lovely new design
- One UI is still a little bit ugly
- Battery life isn’t as good as expected on neither model
It’s becoming a little bit predictable now but once again Samsung has released what are likely to be two of the best phones of the year.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus and its smaller Samsung Galaxy S10 brother are both gorgeous pieces of design, with curved glass backs and screens that basically fill the entire front of the phone. The regular Galaxy S10 packs a 6.1-inch display with the larger model upping that to 6.4-inches. Both support HDR support, Quad-HD+ resolutions and impressive overall brightness.
Inside the both versions of the S10 there’s an Exynos 9820 (or a Snapdragon 855 if you’re in the USA), paired with 8GB RAM and 128GB of expandable storage. If you want more oomph there’s a version of the S10 Plus with 12GB RAM and storage options rising to 1TB.
Both phones have three cameras on the back: a regular 12-megapixel shooter, an ultra-wide version and a telephoto camera for lossless zooming. The versatility at play here is excellent and it lets you get really creative with your snaps. However, the actual quality of the images can’t compete with the likes of the Pixel 3, especially when the light isn’t great.
Neither phone impresses too much when it comes to endurance. They’ll just about get you through the day but little more than that.
Related: Best SIM only
3. 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 2018 for Huawei, the Mate 20 Pro is a stunning phone that packs an inordinate amount of features into its sleek body. Seriously, there isn’t another smartphone out there with as much going on as this (save for its new sibling, the P30 Pro).
The highlight is the triple camera system, which combines a wide angle, super-wide angle 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.
Related: Huawei P30
- Read our Huawei Mate 20 Pro review
4. iPhone XR
iPhone XS features for less
- Wide range of colours
- XS features at a lower price
- Great camera
- Top performance
- No fast charger included
For us, the iPhone XR was the best iPhone Apple released in 2018. It offers the same fantastic 12-megapixel f/1.8 wide-angle camera with Smart HDR and A12 Bionic processor 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 base SKU iPhone XS.
Other highlights 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 screen on 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 separate fast charger.
- Read our iPhone XR review
5. Google Pixel 3
Clean Android and an astounding camera
- 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 2018’s flagship phone contingent 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.
6. Samsung Galaxy Note 9
The best big phone around
- Fantastic screen
- Big battery
- The S Pen
- Bixby button is an annoyance
- The S10 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 stylus remains a handy tool for taking notes, and with the Note 9, it’s available in a variety of colours. The lovely Ocean Blue SKU, for example, comes with an eye-catching yellow S Pen. Bluetooth is now included on the stylus and this lets you use it as a remote for a camera or for skipping songs – new features beyond its typical role as a writing implement.
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 likes of the Pixel 3 or P30 Pro.
- Read our Galaxy Note 9 review
7. Honor View 20
Interesting features for the price
- New screen design looks great and deals with the notch issue
- Good battery life and very fast charging
- Very capable camera
- A headphone jack
- No wireless charging or IP rating
- Strange performance quirks
- Software still needs work
Honor has knocked it out of the park with its first flagship of 2019. The Honor View 20 is a well-equipped handset that pushes the envelope without pushing against your bank balance all that much. For a sub-£500 phone, the View 20 will impress with its ‘Aurora nanotexture’-backed design, it’s 7nm Kirin 980 chipset and its whopping 4000mAh battery, which comes complete with 22.5W SuperCharge fast charging.
The standout features don’t stop there, however. The company has also been quick to integrate a punch hole display design, meaning the View 20’s impressive 25-megapixel front-facing camera doesn’t sit within an iPhone X-style notch and instead simply floats in the top corner of its 6.4-inch display, surrounded by pixels on all sides.
As for the phone’s main camera, you’re treated to an impressive 48-megapixel sensor that takes excellent 12-megapixel stills (by way of ‘pixel-binning’). If you desire, though, you can also jump up to the sensor’s native resolution, and thanks to a little help from the phone’s AI vision capabilities, it can capture scenes with astounding detail.
- Read our Honor View 20 review
8. OnePlus 6T
Fantastic mix of value and performance
- In-display 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 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.
9. 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
- Scratches too easily
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 and 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.
10. Moto G7 Plus
Great quality and value
- Good cameras
- Solid value
- Classy design
- Deep notch
- Cameras dynamic range could be better
Lots of the phones in this list are pricey investments, however, you don’t need to spend big to get a fantastic phone in 2019.
One of our favourite affordable phones is the Moto G7 Plus and it offers a lot of high-end features for its £269 price. You’ve got a 6.2-inch Full HD+ display with a dewdrop-style notch cutting in. There’s a Snapdragon 636 under the glass body, 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. Performance here is very good and the cameras are decent too, just as long as you don’t come expecting low-light photos that’ll compete with pricier phones.
For the price there isn’t a phone out there we’d recommend over the Moto G7 Plus. It’s lovely to use thanks to the almost stock version of Android, fast charging and well-rounded design.
- Read our Moto G7 Plus review
11. Pocophone F1
Superb value for high-end specs
- 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 proved 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 quickly expanded to new markets further-a-field.
Confidently-nicknamed by the company as the ‘master of speed’ the Pocophone F1 promises 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 from 2018 tote, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845.
Even the camera, a usual shortcoming for 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, the Mi 8.
- Read our Pocophone F1 review
12. Xiaomi Mi 9
2019’s best value flagship?
- Versatile camera experience
- Superb value for money
- Fantastic performance
- Excellent screen
- Slightly temperamental fingerprint sensor
- No IP certification
Speaking of Xiaomi and the Mi 8, the company played a strong hand at Mobile World Congress 2019, showcasing the Mi 9, which expands on the principles of its predecessor with a refined design, yet more features and a superior triple-lens rear camera that can compete with the most capable snappers on the market.
It fixes some of the key pain points found on the company’s late 2018 flagship the Mi 8 Pro, with the addition of wireless charging (up to 20W fast wireless charging at that), as well as an improved in-screen fingerprint sensor. It’s also one of the first phones of the year rocking the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC, meaning it performs like a champ, not least because it’s backed up by 6GB of RAM.
The lead feature is the phone’s triple primary camera, which centres around a 48-megapixel sensor, just like the Honor View 20, that relies on pixel binning to create top-notch 12-megapixel stills. It’s also accompanied by a 12-megapixel telephoto camera with a 2x optical zoom and a 16-megapixel ultra-wide angle camera, granting you the same level of quality and versatility as the likes of the far pricier Samsung Galaxy S10.
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