The 10 best smartphones you can buy right now
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 sat at the top of my list for many months and is still one of my favorite phones. However, Samsung’s own new device knocked it from the top spot and is likely to be there for a while.
It’s easy to find a great phone today and to be honest today’s phones are so good you really don’t need to be replacing them on an annual basis, but carrier and manufacturer upgrade programs make this fairly painless. Then again, you can also find great phones at nearly half the price of the flagships, with one appearing in this 10 best list.
Must read: Galaxy S10 Plus: 4 reasons I’m smitten with Samsung’s latest phone
1. Samsung Galaxy S10/S10 Plus
While the Galaxy Note 9 is a stunning device, Samsung pulled out all the stops on the S10 Plus with a newer processor, more RAM, larger capacity battery, and two extra cameras when compared to the Galaxy Note 9. You will not find any other smartphone today that packs in as much technology and capability as the Galaxy S10 Plus and it clearly deserves the top spot.
Last year’s S9 Plus was a solid Android smartphone, but the S10 Plus improves upon that device with an ultra-wide camera, much longer battery life, greatly improved software with One UI (update is coming to the S9 Plus), and the ability to wirelessly charge up other devices.
Also: Apple Siri Shortcuts vs Samsung Bixby Quick Commands: Automation tools that can increase your productivity
When you look across the spectrum of flagships, it’s impressive to see that Samsung has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, 6.4 inch Super AMOLED Infinity-O display, 8GB RAM (with 12GB option), 128GB to 1TB storage options with a microSD for even more capacity, five cameras, IP68 rating, WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5, ANT+, 4100 mAh battery, and a stunning design with gorgeous Prism color options.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus continues to have all of the excellent Galaxy Foundation aspects such as a high level of water resistance, fast wireless charging, a stunning Super AMOLED screen, expandable microSD storage, a 3.5mm headset jack, and much more. In addition, extending it to an external monitor with Samsung DeX is quick and easy, while also providing a full functioning desktop experience. The additional capability to charge up other devices and gear, such as the new Galaxy Buds, via wireless technology on the back of the S10 Plus is convenient for road warriors.
The Galaxy S10 Plus launches in stores this week.The Galaxy S10 starts at $899.99 for 128GB and goes up to $1,149.99 for the 512GB model. The S10 Plus starts at $999.99 for the 8GB/128GB model and goes up to $1,599.99 for the 1TB ceramic model. You can also get the ceramic one with 512GB of internal storage for $1,249.99, which is still $200 less than the iPhone XS Max with the potential for much more storage thanks to the microSD card slot.
CNET: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review (9.0/10)
Check out our Galaxy S10 Plus review (9.5/10).
2. Samsung Galaxy Note 9
The Galaxy Note 9 is the best phone for business and continues to be my favorite phone of 2018. I’ve been using one now for several months and despite trying out some great new phones like the iPhone XS Max and Google Pixel 3 XL, none of these can replace the Note 9 and everything Samsung includes in this stunning device. This is especially true for use in the enterprise space.
The Galaxy Note 9 improves upon the Note 8 with a Bluetooth S Pen, more internal capacity and RAM, a massive 4,000 mAh battery, better dual rear cameras with some software intelligence, enhanced audio capability, and new placement of the rear fingerprint scanner.
Also: Samsung Galaxy Note 9: Everything you need to know
The new Bluetooth S Pen is an excellent innovation that is sure to please all Note fans with the additional remote control functionality. Later this year a SDK will be released so that third parties can add support for the Bluetooth S Pen.
Since it has been out now for a few months, you can find great deals on the Note 9. T-Mobile sells it for $900 ($100 less than launch price) while a SIM-unlocked one from Samsung will only be $800 during its Black Friday sale. With a large capacity microSD card you could actually have more than 1TB in the palm of your hand.
CNET: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review (9.0/10)
Check out our Galaxy Note 9 review.
3. Apple iPhone XS Max/XS
Apple pushed the entry-level price of a flagship up to $1,000 last year with the iPhone X and raised the bar again this year with the most expensive flagship available in the iPhone XS Max. ZDNet’s Jason Cipriani awarded the iPhone XS Max an impressive near-perfect score of 9.6/10 so I’m pretty sure Jason would give the top spot to this phone.
I ordered my own iPhone XS Max to replace my iPhone X, using the T-Mobile Jump On Demand program, but after two weeks I sent it back as I found the small size of the iPhone X was one of the primary reasons it still earned a place in my pocket. I then tried the iPhone XR and finally went full circle and am back to the iPhone X form factor with the iPhone XS.
The Apple iPhone XS Max has been shown to best all other phones in benchmarking testing and the Apple A12 Bionic chipset certainly blazes new trails. It has a fabulous OLED screen, good sized battery, and new camera software to make it a very compelling flagship.
The iPhone XS Max starts at $1,099 for a minimal storage 64GB model and runs up to $1,449 for the 512GB model.
CNET: iPhone XS Max review (8.9/10)
Check out our iPhone XS Max and iPhone XS reviews.
Also: Goodbye iPhone XR: Signal strength and size bring me back to the iPhone XS
4. Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Huawei recently announced the Mate 20 Pro and it brings together all of the greatness of Huawei into a single device that is tough to beat. The Mate 20 Pro includes the first Android 7nm process chipset with the Kirin 980 (Apple’s A12 Bionic also uses the 7nm process), two Neural Processing Units, a fourth-generation image signal processor, and a LTE Cat.21 modem.
The triple rear camera capability from the Huawei P20 Pro is brought to the Mate 20 Pro, but in a different central two-by-two arrangement with one change made to one of the three lenses. The three rear cameras have 40MP, 20MP, and 8MP resolution with a 24MP front-facing shooter and artificial intelligence to help you capture great shots. The monochrome lens has been replaced with a wide-angle lens so that you now have telephoto, wide-angle, and standard camera functionality.
Also: Huawei Mate 20 Pro is outrageously innovative CNET
A large 6.39 inch OLED is on the front with cool Midnight Blue, Emerald Green, Black, Pink Gold, and Twilight color options for the device. Android 9.0 Pie powers things while EMUI has been updated to version 9.0.
One interesting move from Huawei is the inclusion of an external storage card slot using its own new nano memory card rather than standard microSD cards. We also see one of the first fingerprint scanners embedded right into the display. Huawei is known for very long battery life and massive batteries so the 4,200 mAh battery is no real surprise, but much appreciated.
CNET: Huawei Mate 20 Pro review (9.0/10)
Check out our Mate 20 Pro review.
5. Google Pixel 3 XL and Pixel 3
While the Galaxy Note 9 offers just about everything you want, software updates are not its specialty. If you want an Android phone that will always have the latest firmware and security updates, while also offering a fairly stock experience, then nothing beats the new Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL. These two phones are the exact same except for the overall size and battery capacity.
The Google Pixel 3 XL has a large 6.3-inch 18:9 display, Snapdragon 845 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB and 128GB integrated storage, single rear 12.2 megapixel camera, dual front-facing cameras, IP68 dust and water resistance, a 3430 mAh battery, and dual front stereo speakers. The smaller Pixel 3 has a 5.5 inch display and smaller 2,915 mAh battery while the rest of the specs are the same as the XL model. Thankfully, wireless charging is included this year, along with a set of wired Pixel Buds in the retail package.
The larger Pixel 3 XL has a display with a notch while the smaller model forgoes this design approach so often seen today. They both help you shoot stunning photos so if photography means more to you than other functions and features you may want to consider the Pixel 3 or 3 XL over other smartphones in this list. You can check out my weekend with the Pixel 3 XL where I captured some great shots while on vacation.
In addition to software being a focus for Google, the camera is another reason to buy the Pixel 3 or 3 XL over other better smartphone hardware. Google just released its Night Sight mode for the camera and it is truly magic.
CNET: Google Pixel 3 XL review (8.9/10)
The smaller Pixel 3 starts at $799 while the Pixel 3 XL starts at $899 for the 64GB model. They are both powered by Android 9.0 Pie and will receive OS upgrades for three years. Google’s newest Assistant features are present along with some other Google software advances.
ZDNet’s Jason Cipriani awarded the Pixel 3 XL a 9.2/10 rating.
6. Samsung Galaxy S10e
The Samsung Galaxy S10e is the most affordable of the new Galaxy S10 line with a price of $750. This takes the iPhone XR head on while offering nearly all of the same great technology found in the S10 and S10 Plus.
Reviewers only saw these in the demo area at the Samsung Unpacked event, but the phone is starting to make its way into the hands of buyers so we will see reviews appearing soon. The S10e has a smaller 5.8 inch Super AMOLED that is flat instead of curved on the edges, which is something I think I would prefer.
The S10e has two rear cameras instead of three with the telephoto lens removed. It does have the ultrawide lens and if I had to make the decision to remove one camera then I would have done exactly what Samsung did. The ultrawide lens is useful for landscape and indoor photography while the 2x optical has limited usefulness. You can also add a Moment external lens to add functionality that is missing from the cameras.
The same Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor is used with RAM starting at 6GB instead of 8GB. That’s still 2GB more than what Google offers in the Pixel 3. The battery capacity is 3,100 mAh so it will be interesting to see what kind of battery life you get with the smaller display.
There is very little taken out of the S10e while the size is attractive, the price is one to two hundred less, the display is flat, and it is likely to be one of the best sellers for Samsung.
7. OnePlus 6T
OnePlus launched the new OnePlus 6T at the end of October and for the first time ever it launched on a US wireless carrier. I picked up my Mirror Black model at a local T-Mobile store, after visiting several stores that were sold out, and took advantage of the $300 launch trade-in option.
OnePlus earns a top five spot on my list because of the high end specifications, reasonable price that is hundreds less than other flagships, extremely responsive performance, and use of new technology.
If I had an affordable smartphone list, then the OnePlus 6T would be number one with prices ranging from $549 to $629. The lowest cost one still has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage while the $629 model has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage. You will not find another phone with these great specs for these prices.
CNET: OnePlus 6T review (8.9/10)
The OnePlus 6T is composed of two pieces of Gorilla Glass 6 with a metal frame. No other phone available today uses Gorilla Glass 6. The design is elegant and the build quality is excellent. It has a lovely AMOLED 6.41 inch display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, dual rear cameras (they are a bit underutilized compared to the high end flagships), ample RAM and internal storage options, some level of dust and water resistance, a large 3700 mAh battery and quick charge capability, with excellent radio support for GSM networks.
The display has a very small notch, similar to what we saw on the Essential Phone, and also runs the latest version of OxygenOS with an extremely responsive software experience. You can even enable an all touch interface, similar to the iPhone X. The in-screen fingerprint sensor works well while the face unlock option is handy for less secure daily unlocking of your phone.
Check out our full review of the OnePlus 6T where I awarded it a near perfect 9.7/10 rating. It is currently one of my favorite phones and I can’t believe it is nearly half of what I paid for my Note 9.
8. Huawei P20 Pro
While US consumers will have to resort to eBay to pick one up, the Huawei P20 Pro remains one of the most exciting phones, even with its new cousin just launching in the form of the Mate 20 Pro.
The unique triple camera design with 68 megapixels worth of shooting power should help you take some fantastic shots with a low light mode that beats out all the other smartphones available today.
Huawei has been including massive capacity batteries in its flagships and the P20 Pro is no exception with 4,000 mAh that is sure to get you through at least one full, busy day. It has a large 6.1 inch OLED with a notch you can show or hide, a powerful Kirin 970 processor with integrated AI, IP67 dust and water resistance, and more.
Also: 7 things to know about Leica and Huawei’s partnership | Huawei’s P20 Pro has a huge design flaw
Huawei’s EMUI has come a long way and the home screen now has a standard Google Feed on one panel with an interface that is close to stock. When Huawei does provide software and settings beyond stock Android, those serve to enhance the device rather than clutter it up and slow it down. The P20 Pro flies through every action and is a sheer joy to use.
Sandra Vogel awarded the Huawei P20 Pro an 8.9/10 rating in her full review and CNET gave it an 8.4 in its review. I wrote a post a few months ago after using it for a month and it still goes with me when I want to ensure I capture some great photos.
9. Apple iPhone XR
This year Apple announced three new phones with one releasing a month after the other two. I traded in the iPhone XS Max for an iPhone XR and overall I am quite happy with the device and saving $350 over the iPhone XS Max.
The Apple iPhone XR differs from the XS/XS Max with a LED screen instead of OLED, lower resolution, no 3D Touch support (does anyone even care about this?), a single rear camera, and a 6.1 inch display that fits in between these other two new phones. It has the same Apple A12 Bionic processor, same camera software and hardware as the 12MP prime camera, and other enhanced Apple features like face unlock. The iPhone XR has a larger capacity battery than the iPhone XS and a reported battery life greater than the XS and XS Max.
Also: Hidden iOS 12.1 iPhone shortcuts and tricks you need to know
You can purchase the iPhone XR in black, white, blue, yellow, coral, and Product Red. The iPhone XR starts at $749, which is $250 less than the 64GB iPhone XS. There is also a 128GB model for just $799, which is likely the best deal for the iPhone XR with the iPhone XS 256GB at a whopping $1,149.
The cellular reception of the iPhone XR is a bit worse in weak signal areas than the iPhone X models, but iPhones have never been able to match the cellular reception quality seen in Android phones. The battery life of the iPhone XR is awesome and the camera does a great job. For many people, it is likely one of the best iPhones you can buy today and is more reasonably priced than the new XS and XS Max.
Check out our full review of the iPhone XR with an 8.4/10 rating.
10. LG V40 ThinQ
LG continues to release great phones that appreciate over time and in a crowded flagship market, the LG V40 may have a tough time finding its place as well.
While Huawei was one of the first major brands to launch a phone with three rear cameras, LG bumped that up by announcing a phone with five total cameras. Three are found on the back and two are on the front.
LG has always stood apart from the others with its second rear camera having a true wide-angle lens for great landscape and large room photography. The new LG V40 keeps the wide-angle camera while also adding a telephoto lens to the standard lens option so you can do just about anything you want, including snapping once to take three photos, with this new flagship phone.
Like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, the LG V40 ThinQ has everything but the kitchen sink included. It has a 3.5mm headphone jack with Quad-DAC support, triple rear camera setup, dual front-facing camera, wireless charging, IP68 rating, MIL-STD 810G shock resistant rating, microSD expansion card for inexpensive unlimited storage expansion, a screen that extends nearly the full front with a notch, and incredible audio support with its Boombox speaker system. The 3,300 mAh battery will not get you as far as the top five phones in this list and is one area that keeps me from using it daily over the long term.
Last year, the LG V30 impressed me and earned an 8.7/10 rating. I’ll be using the LG V40 this week with a full review to come in early November.
CNET: LG V40 ThinQ review (8.8/10)
Check out our full review of the LG V40 with an 8.5/10 rating. It is a jack-of-all trades, but a master of none.