There are a lot of great smartphone options available at any given moment, so it can be a challenge to sort through them all if you’re trying to choose the absolute best one. The stakes here can’t be understated: your smartphone is the most important gadget in your life, and you’ll probably be living with the one you buy for at least a year, if not two or three.
Most of the time, there’s a phone that stands out from the pack in all the areas that matter: performance, value, camera, and support. And most of the time, that’s usually the most expensive phone on the market. But this fall, you don’t have to buy the priciest phone to get the best experience.
This article was updated on November 23rd, 2018.
Apple released three new phones this year, each with different characteristics and prices. The one that most people should buy is actually the least expensive of the three: the $749 and up iPhone XR.
The XR has the same overall design, the same processor, the same wireless charging, the same second-generation FaceID system, the same front camera, and the same main rear camera as the pricier XS and XS Max, but for hundreds of dollars less. On top of all that, it has the best battery life of the three and comes in five different colors.
The most controversial thing about the XR is its display. At 6.1 inches, it sits in between the smaller XS and the larger XS Max, but the main difference is that it’s an LCD instead of an OLED. That means the borders around the screen are slightly larger, the blacks aren’t as deep, and the colors aren’t as vibrant as the pricier displays. But unless you put the XR next to an XS or XS Max, you’re not likely to ever notice those things. The other thing you’ll never notice is the fact that the XR screen has a lower resolution than the others because it’s still sharp enough that you can’t see individual pixels with your naked eye. Overall, it’s a very good display that the vast majority of people will be thrilled with.
The XR also gives up the telephoto camera that’s available on the XS and XS Max, but that’s something most people won’t miss. The telephoto camera on those phones is inferior to the main camera and since the XR still has a portrait mode feature available, most people won’t miss it.
Since the XR has Apple’s latest A12 Bionic processor, it has extremely fast performance and fluid animations. Its large screen lets you see a lot of content at once and the faster Face ID system is better and more reliable than it was on last year’s iPhone X. But the thing that really sells the XR, aside from its price, is its stellar battery life. That lower-resolution display helps the XR power through a whole day much more confidently than either of the XS models. The two things that most people want from a new phone is better battery life and a bigger screen, and if you’re upgrading from an iPhone 6 / 7 / 8 device, the XR delivers on both fronts.
The base XR comes with 64GB of storage, but as usual with an iPhone, it’s not expandable, so we recommend buying the 128GB model for $50 more. This is another advantage the XR has over the XS models — if you want to get more storage with those phones, you have to jump up to a 256GB model that costs $100 more than the already steep base price.
In all, the iPhone XR is perhaps the most impressive iPhone in years: it offers top-level performance, design, and camera features, while providing stellar battery life for less money than other options on the market.
If the iPhone XR isn’t your style or you want to spend even less, then you should look at the OnePlus 6T. The OnePlus 6T is the best Android phone for most people because it has stellar performance, attractive design, a capable camera, great software, and great battery life and costs much less than other, comparable Android phones.
For $549, the 6T comes with 128GB of storage. A 128GB Pixel 3 XL, which has a similar size screen and the same amount of storage, costs a whopping $450 more.
OnePlus phones have never been our main recommendation because they’ve always had major compromises attached to that low price tag. But this year, the 6T is available to purchase from T-Mobile, so it has carrier support and financing options available. If you aren’t a T-Mobile customer, you can buy the 6T direct from OnePlus itself and use it on AT&T or, for the first time, Verizon. If you’re on Sprint, this won’t work for you, but if you’re still clinging to Sprint in 2018, you’re probably long overdue to make a move.
The best parts of the 6T are its performance and software. Even though the 6T has a much lower price tag, it has the same Snapdragon 845 processor as every other high-end Android phone and has as good or better performance than most. It has a large battery that easily lasts a full day, even for heavy users. It has the latest version of Android with minimal, thoughtful additions that don’t get in the way and actually add to your experience.
That isn’t to say you don’t give up anything with the 6T. If you are concerned about water resistance, the 6T doesn’t have any official rating, even though many other phones do. If you don’t want a big phone, sorry, the 6T only comes in one size and that size is big. The 6T also doesn’t have a traditional fingerprint scanner; instead it has an in-screen system that’s slower and more prone to misreads than the tried-and-true scanners you’re familiar with. And finally, though the 6T has a fine camera, it’s not the best camera you can buy.
Still, even with those shortcomings, the OnePlus 6T is so good everywhere else and offers so much value that we feel most people will be very happy with it.
While we feel that the OnePlus 6T is the best Android option for most people, we know that a lot of you really care about the camera in your phone, and if that’s the case, then you should buy the Google Pixel 3 or 3 XL.
The Pixel 3 phones build on Google’s performance with the Pixel 2 from last year and take incredible photos, whether that’s in good lighting, or thanks to the new Night Sight feature, almost no lighting at all. You simply won’t find a better phone camera — Android or otherwise — than the Pixel.
If you go the Pixel 3 route, you also get a smaller device that’s easier to hold in one hand. Both models also get software updates before any other Android phone because they are made by Google itself. If trying out the latest Android features before everyone else is very important to you, then the Pixel is basically the only phone you should consider.
That said, be prepared to pay for that privilege: the 128GB Pixel 3 and 3 XL models are $350 and $450 more expensive, respectively, than the 128GB OnePlus 6T. That’s a lot of money for what amounts to a better camera and slightly faster software updates. The Pixel phones have also been plagued with bug reports from users, everything ranging from memory issues to weird display bugs and show-stopping camera shutdowns. These bugs aren’t universal and Google is promising to address them with software updates, but it’s something to look into before you buy.
The smartphone market is littered with many other good devices, and depending on your particular wants or budget, there might be better options out there. We don’t consider any of them to be the best phone for most people, but they could be a better choice for you. Many of these phones have dropped in price since their launch, so depending on the deal, they may be more compelling than some of our main picks. But make sure you’re getting a good deal before pulling the trigger.
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