In our series of best product guides, here’s the latest update to our recommended Android Smartphone list. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing (May 28th).
We’ve nearly completed the spring release cycle of devices, and this means that most vendors have now released their flagship devices for 2020, introducing brand new phones with the newest technologies to the market.
The new device generation significantly mix up the competitive landscape, and it looks like 2020’s flagship phones are all about high refresh-rate screens as well as new complex camera setups.
Samsung was amongst the first to release their products in 2020, with the Galaxy S20’s showcasing the company’s new camera generation, and trying to one-up the ecosystem with the super high-end Galaxy S20 Ultra. Over weeks following that we saw outstandingly good devices from Xiaomi, Huawei, LG, and in particular OnePlus. The new OnePlus 8 Pro really changed things up for the company as the new device can no longer be called a “flagship-killer”, but rather an outright flagship – with no compromises in features, but also with a higher price tag.
Let’s review which devices make most sense at this point in time in the year, across different price segments:
At the top-end, it looks like OnePlus’ choice of actually delivering a flagship this year has paid off, as it’s our top choice in terms of the best no-compromise Android phone out there. Samsung’s S20 series are still respectable, and the smaller S20 is still the only viable option in its form-factor.
On the mid-range, ever since the new 2020 upgraded A-series, Samsung competitiveness in this range has drastically improved over past iterations, and the new A71 and A51 seem extremely well-balanced phones sporting a ton of features for reasonable prices..
In terms of this month’s update, we’ve replaced the low-end choice with Xiaomi’s brand-new Redmi Note 9 Pro which was only released a few weeks ago.
Best Flagship Devices: OnePlus 8 Pro & Galaxy S20/S20+
The high-end flagship market is where things have changed the most over the last few months. There had been some really big expectations with this generation of phones, but the one vendor that personally surprised me the most in terms of seemingly being able to deliver the best all-round package was OnePlus, in the form of the new 8 Pro.
The OnePlus 8 Pro essentially checks every single feature box in a phone today, ranging from a new generation 1440p 120Hz to a new Snapdragon 865 that offers the best performance and power efficiency amongst Android devices today.
The phone’s new design – although some would call it maybe boring or uninspiring, is in my view an excellent evolution over last year’s 7 Pro as it’s now more lightweight and thinner.
Particularly on the camera side we saw OnePlus surprise us with a camera setup that not only keeps up with the competition, but arguable is amongst the best implementations this year so far.
The biggest argument for the OnePlus 8 Pro is that even at a higher price point than usual, starting at $/€899, it’s a much better value phone than anything else out there as essentially it has no obvious weakness. Particularly European and other markets where Samsung offers the Exynos 990 S20’s, the OnePlus 8 Pro with its Snapdragon chip seems a much better choice.
Samsung this year made a big kerfuffle with its new S20 series, particularly the ultra-high-end Galaxy S20 Ultra and its camera capabilities. Unfortunately, I don’t really think the Ultra was able to carve itself any place in the market, especially at its $1399 price point.
The S20+ and S20 on the other hand seem quite reasonable devices. From a hardware perspective, these are excellent phones, but Samsung’s camera software processing this year really held their potential back. Especially the Exynos 990 based variants of the S20 series are worse devices, incurring performance and efficiency compromises compared to the Snapdragon 865 models in markets such as the US.
Still, they’re good phones, even if outshone by the OnePlus 8 Pro. The smaller Galaxy S20 particularly remains quite a rare device in the market as there’s not many vendors left putting out flagship phones in such form-factors, and prices have already started dropping as the S20 can be had for 777€ if you opt for the 4G version.
Best Mid Range Smartphones: Galaxy A71 – Keep eye out for 5G variant
In the mid-range, usually it’s always been one of the Chinese vendors who held the top position here in terms of offering the best value proposition smartphones. Samsung’s latest 2020 iterations of the A-series seemingly changes this situation, and the new Galaxy A71 is uncharacteristically a quite competitive phone for the company.
Sporting a Snapdragon 730 SoC in the 4G variant, the phone still offers plenty of performance for every-day tasks as well as light gaming. What’s really convincing about the A71 is the rest of the features of the phone. The 6.7” OLED screens with a 2400 x 1080 resolution delivers on what you’d expect, and there’s a correspondingly large 4500mAh battery for a phone this size.
The camera setup is powered by a 64MP main sensor that seemingly is of the same large 1/1.72” size and capabilities as the secondary wide-angle of the Galaxy S20, able to capture excellent daylight pictures as well as low-light, augmented by computational photography Night Mode. A 12MP ultra-wide is the secondary proper camera unit, and we see two additional 5MP sensors for limited use-cases such as macro photography and depth sensing.
The biggest draw-back of the A71 right now is that seemingly it’s not currently officially available in the US, and that means you’re relegated to buying the international models (with no support for Verizon networks) – at around $399. In Europe, it’s currently available for 369€.
The recently announced 5G variants of the A71 and A51 upgrade the SoC from the Snapdragon 730 to a newer Exynos 980 which should bring a very big performance boost as well as obviously 5G connectivity. We’ll have to wait a few more months for availability of these models, but they seemingly will offer the same kind of value than the 4G variants.
Best Budget Smartphone: Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro
This category of devices is very hard for me to write about due to the sheer size of the market and particular regional segmentation. In particular the US market is absolutely barren of viable options due to the fact that many OEMs don’t officially release their products in this region. This is incredibly frustrating as it’s in this budget segment where we see the vast majority of competition from Asian vendors, providing some of the more incredible value propositions.
Users who are on CDMA carriers (Verizon, Sprint) are just pure out of luck. It’s a tough situation and unfortunately due to the geopolitical as well as bad US carrier situation I think the best sub-$200 phones are probably refurbished previous generation flagship devices.
In the month of May, we’re replacing our low-end recommendation from the Redmi Note 8 Pro to the newly released Redmi Note 9 Pro. Like its predecessor, it brings to the table some incredible value at a price point of currently only 249€. The new phone upgrades the SoC to a Snapdragon 720 which houses two Cortex-A76 cores as its performance cores, paired with 6GB of LPDDR4X. The only real thing really betraying the phone as a low-end unit is the fact that it still houses an LCD IPS display in a time where most have transitioned to OLED screens.
The camera system is dominated by a new 64MP main camera sensor that punches far above its weight in this price segment. There’s also an 8MP ultra-wide-angle lens as well as a 5MP macro lens; these latter two aren’t of the best quality but hey, at this price we won’t complain. Finally, the 5020mAh battery rounds this phone off as a quite outstanding value proposition and Xiaomi really steals the spotlight yet again also in this segment. The best thing about the Note 9 Pro is the fact that’s it’s readily available in the US and Europe on Amazon which makes it a straightforward purchase.