The new year has just begun, and with CES 2019 on the horizon, we’ve assembled our list of picks vying for the top spot as best phone in the US. Apple released the iPhone XS, XS Max and the more affordable iPhone XR. The new OnePlus 6T hit the market with a price well below its competition while its specs and design are highly competitive. Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and Note 9 continue to stand out. And, Google’s new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL have been contenders for the best camera phone.
It can be hard to keep track of all the great phones on the market, but we’ve thoroughly tested all of the best and determined which stand above the rest. We’ve got all the specs and details for you to compare and detailed accounts of how each phone performs. Whenever a new phone comes out, we’ll see how it stacks up against the current roster of top smartphones. So, whether you’re excited about a new iPhone or Android coming out or heard that a new phone has the best specs around, you can see where it ranks among the best smartphones right here.
With all the phones ready to compare, we’ll make one thing clear. The best phone isn’t simply the new iPhone, although our list is made up of familiar names: Apple, Samsung, Google and LG, all in the top 10.
The good news is that our team of smartphone experts has tested the best phones released in the United States, and advocating the right one to buy is more than just a hunch for us. We’ll tell you which phone is best and explain why on this page.
We test out the latest and (sometimes) greatest phones in comprehensive mobile phone reviews. That’s our job. We’re here to separate the best from the mediocre. To drill down to a list of our favorites in the US for January 2019, we based our newly updated rankings system on a lot of geeked-out factors: design, performance, battery life, camera quality, and consistency software updates. The truth is they’re all so close, but you want to walk away with the greatest phone for you.
Why we have more than just a No. 1 pick: Your personal preference among iOS 12 and Android Pie could sway you to another device besides our top-ranked phone. No one in the US wants to get rid of iMessages, and we understand that. Likewise, Android is better for a lot of people who like to tinker with their settings – that’s Google’s speciality with its mobile OS.
Likewise, your contract with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile is a preference. The best phone for AT&T may not be available on-contract on Verizon, and vice-versa. We have to take that into account when recommending phones.
If you didn’t catch it the first time, spoiler alert, our top pick isn’t just Apple’s iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max. We’re not that predictable. Before you lock into a binding contract or spring for an expensive unlocked phone, consult our best phone guide, updated regularly.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the best phone you can buy today if you’re not one to shy away from its $1,000 starting price for the 128GB version. The 512GB model is an eye-popping $1,250. But that version, when combined with a 512GB microSD card, gives you the first 1TB phone – bigger than many laptops sold in the US.
Screen: Samsung’s 6.4-inch Infinity Display is slightly bigger (taller, but actually more narrow than the Note 8) and wraps around the sides for a nice curved look and feel. Samsung is anti-bezel and anti-notch. What you may not see at first is the extreme brightness of this display and the color reproduction. It’s impressive when you see it in person.
Battery life: The Note 9 has a 4,000mAh battery and is the key reason we like it over the S9 Plus, the second best phone in the US. The capacity is 14.2% bigger than the S9 Plus and 33.3% bigger than the S9. It lasts all day with heavy use and deep into a day two with normal use. You can also charge over wireless easily, and fast charging boots in 17% battery in 15 mins.
Camera: The Note 9 camera is impressive, just like the S9 Plus six month before it, and it has the added benefit of remotely capturing photos from up to 30 ft away via the Bluetooth S Pen. Samsung also added AI smarts to the camera that automatically adjusts the white balance and color based on the scene it detects. The camera does as well as the Google Pixel 2 in low-light (sometimes better, sometimes worse, but not by much in either direction), and the default camera app is robust (more so than Google’s), yet remains streamlined and initiative. It does lack HDR video recording, seen on other Android phones from Sony and LG.
Mini verdict: The Note 9 is bigger in all ways, including the price. It’s one of the most expensive phones in the US, right up there with the iPhone X. But you’re getting a better camera and more storage (and a microSD card slot) for your money. The battery is bigger, too. Samsung packs a lot into its all-day smartphone with a stylus.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review
The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is the second best phone you can buy today, and meant for anyone who won’t use the stylus. It’s slightly cheaper and marginally smaller than the Note 9. It’s still a big phone with an expansive screen, top-of-the-line camera and all-day battery life. This is one of the best Samsung phones you can buy in the US if you’re willing to pay the price and have large enough hands for its massive size.
Screen: Its 6.2-inch Super AMOLED display that really sells this phone, and not because it has more pixels than before (it doesn’t) than last year’s S8. It’s the futuristic-looking curved edges, vibrant colors, and high contrast ratio that make the screen pop. It’s hard to go back to any other size once you hold this large, beautiful light beam in your hand.
Battery life: Samsung’s 3,500mAh battery is large enough to last all day and a little bit more. It’s better than the normal-sized S9, though other phones out of China are maxing out at 5,000mAh these days. It’s the one area this handsets seems adequate and not Plus-sized. Luckily, it support Samsung’s very quick fast charging standard.
Camera: Low-light scenarios are no match the the Galaxy S9 Plus dual-lens, dual-aperture. It does a fine job at amping up dark environments without adding noise that you’ll see from other camera phone. It does smooth out textures in the process, but it’s on par with, and at times better, than the Google Pixel 2.
Mini verdict: The Galaxy S9 Plus is Samsung’s answer to the iPhone X, but better in several ways. It too has stereo speakers, face unlock, AR Emoji and vertically stacked 12MP dual cameras. What’s better? Its better low-light photos, 3.5mm headphone jack and larger 6.2-inch curved all-screen display – without a notch. No one else has this combination right now.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus review
The iPhone XS Max is Apple’s new big iPhone with an expansive 6.5-inch display that can’t be missed if you’re looking for the best phone running iOS 12. It’s fast, has a brilliant all-screen display, and gives you great photos out of its noticeably upgraded 12MP dual-lens rear camera.
Screen: The 6.5-inch OLED screen is the reason to choose the iPhone XS Max over its smaller 5.8-inch iPhone XS counterpart. The phone is still about the size of an iPhone Plus, but thanks to the all-screen display (minus the notch cut out at the top), you get a lot more real-estate. It looks more color-rich vs the old iPhone LCD displays, too.
Battery life: You’ll get the best battery life out of the iPhone XS Max simply because it has room for a bigger battery. The 3,174mAh capacity is by no means the biggest (Samsung’s Note 9 is 4,000mAh), but Apple’s ownership of both software and hardware means it’s smartly optimized. You’ll get all-day battery life even with heavy use.
Camera: This is the best iPhone camera ever made, even if the 12MP dual-lens rear camera number hasn’t changed in several years. It’s all about the software inside and how the A12 chipset interprets scenes with Smart HDR. It’s up there with the Google Pixel 2 and Samsung Galaxy Note 9, even if Apple’s photos tend to be less vivid in our tests and more true-to-life.
Mini verdict: This is the iPhone for anyone who wants what’s new and doesn’t care what it costs. The iPhone XS Max is expensive, but it’s the best upgrade if you’re into big screens and Apple’s ecosystem, like the App Store and iMessages. The iPhone XS is a good choice if you have smaller hands, and the iPhone XR may be better if you have a smaller wallet.
Read more: iPhone XS Max review
The Galaxy S9 is the standard-sized Samsung flagship for 2018, giving you a way to experience a curved screen smartphone. It’s minor specs bump from last year’s very similar looking handset, but it’s a better value than the iPhone XS.
Screen: The 5.8-inch Quad HD curved screen is the standout feature, and you can hold this version in one hand without too much trouble. It’s bright, with punchy colors thanks to Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology, and even at the default 1080p resolution looks fantastic.
Battery life: Battery life is a little disappointing for a top-end smartphone, meaning you’ll need to think about a top-up during the day if you’re a harder user. Wireless and fast charging capabilities help with this though.
Camera: The Samsung Galaxy S9 takes stunning photos, and especially amps up low-light photos without increasing the usual noise we see from other cameras. It has a single rear sensor compared to the Galaxy S9 Plus, but it’s nearly as good. You’ll still be wowed by the camera.
Mini verdict: The Galaxy S9 is the top Android smartphone for people with smaller hands who don’t want a giant phablet or pay top price. It’s still expensive compared to the Galaxy S8 when there aren’t that many advancements, but if you want a better camera and stereo speakers, this is the phone for you.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S9 review
Apple’s iPhone XR was a little bit late to launch after the iPhone XS and XS Max that launched a bit earlier. But thanks to its lower price point, it makes for a more affordable option than the XS models. For some, the powerful internals paired with the large screen and lower price will make for a compelling buy, especially thanks to the surprisingly good battery.
Screen: The iPhone XR screen isn’t its strongest selling point, as it’s a notable downgrade. It’s resolution falls short of Full HD, and it’s not a battery-friendly OLED. Still, the Liquid Retina LCD display used still has good sharpness and brilliant colors.That said, the 6.1-inch display offers plenty of real estate.
Battery life: Though this is the more affordable iPhone to come out in Apple’s latest batch, its battery life stands out. Thanks to the A12 Bionic and chipset and lower resolution, the battery performance is great, making it the first iPhone that could comfortably get through a whole day of use in our testing without us worrying about.
Camera: While the other iPhones have dual rear cameras, the iPhone XR has just one sensor. For normal photo shooting, it does a great job though. The lack of a second camera also reduces the quality of Portrait Mode photos. But, the detractors came largely in comparison to other top cameras.
Mini verdict: The iPhone XR has all the performance of its more expensive siblings on the inside. It’s camera and screen may not be as impressive, but where it truly dazzles is in the battery life. If you want an iPhone with a battery you won’t always worry about, the iPhone XR is it.
Read more: iPhone XR review
The Google Pixel 3 came out in October, offering some internal upgrades, improved camera performance, a second front-facing camera, and a better screen than its predecessor. And, as with past Pixels, when it comes to smartphone cameras, this is a top contender.
Screen: The Pixel 3 stretches the previous model’s screen to 5.5-inches for an 18:9 aspect ratio. There are no notches taking up any of the screen space either. Colors are rich on the OLED display, and thanks to the dual front-facing speakers, it makes for a handy streaming device.
Battery life: A 2,915mAh battery is nothing to get excited about in a modern smartphone. That said, with conservative us, it’s not hard to get all-day battery life. If you’re not taking a lot of photos, it may be easier to get a full day of battery, but with such a good camera, it may be tough to avoid.
Camera: The Pixel 2’s cameras are its best selling point. On back, the 12.2MP sensor paired with Google’s brilliant software optimization make for stunning photos in most situations. Optical Image Stabilization certainly helps, too. Selfie lovers get a bonus with dual front-facing cameras that can snap photos with different viewing angles.
Mini verdict: The Pixel 3 is powerful on the inside, and even though its design isn’t the most exciting from 2018, nor is its battery, it’s all about the camera in the end. And, with Google’s knack for photo optimization, this phone can almost sell itself with the camera alone.
Read more: Google Pixel 3 review
Following its trend in recent years, OnePlus has released its iterative update in the OnePlus 6T. The new phone doesn’t substantially change the internals of the phone, but the design is tweaked with some exciting improvements that can challenge the best of them.
Screen: The new OnePlus 6T screen is the most exciting part off the device. It’s a huge 6.41-inch AMOLED display, and though the resolution is just 1080×2340 (not as sharp as more expensive competitors), OnePlus has made the screen dominate the space on the front of the phone. It’s even shrunk down the notch to a negligible side, and the coup de grace is an under-screen fingerprint scanner.
Battery life: The OnePlus 6T packs in a nice 3,700mAh battery. In our testing, it was easy to get through a full day. With fast charging, it’s not too hard to add in a extra battery life if you’re using the phone a lot on any given day.
Camera: The back of the OnePlus 6T packs two good cameras, both with wide aperture. There’s a 16MP wide-angle camera and 20MP secondary sensor. They take great photos that may not beat the top competitors, but they come satisfactorily close. For sharp selfies, the front camera has a 16MP sensor.
Mini verdict: For all that the OnePlus 6T offers, it’s all the more impressive that it’s priced as low as it is. The value proposition of the OnePlus 6T is so good, anyone looking for flagship quality without the high price has a good option here.
Read more: OnePlus 6T review
The Google Pixel 3 XL brings higher end internals and a notched screen to the latest iteration of Google’s larger phone. It’s got the same great cameras as its smaller sibling, but more screen and more battery. Unfortunately that also means a higher price.
Screen: The Pixel 3 XL has a sizable 6.3-inch OLED screen with an 18.5:9 aspect ratio. There’s HDR support and a sharp 1440 x 2960 resolution. The viewing experience is good, though this screen does have a rather chunky notch that may not be to everyone’s liking.
Battery life: In our testing, we found the 3,430mAh battery to be plenty. Power users can get a full day, and average users are likely to find themselves getting a day and a half. Some of that battery performance is likely coming from good battery optimization within Android Pie. Fast charging and fast wireless charging just round out the offering.
Camera: The Pixel 3 XL has the cameras to beat. Google knows how to make a good camera that far exceeds what the specs sheet says. It uses a 12.2MP rear sensor, but software optimization helps it outperform other smartphone cameras in just about all cases. The dual front-facing cameras also give selfie-lovers some extra versatility.
Mini verdict: The Pixel 3 XL improves on the previous generations design, fitting more screen into roughly the same size. It also manages a battery life that should satisfy most. Best of all, the camera is better than anything else you’ll find (except the Pixel 3, which is just as good).
Read more: Google Pixel 3 XL review
iPhone XS is a minor, but important upgrade over last year’s completely redesign iPhone. It’s noticeably faster and has an improved dual-lens camera to make it a better choice, if you’re willing to pay the same launch price. No the look of the 5.8-inch new iPhone hasn’t changed on the outside, but if you want a more one-hand-friendly size for a cutting-edge iPhone, this is the one to buy.
Screen: The 5.8-inch OLED on this iPhone is big, but not a turn off for some people who literally can’t handle the 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max (which we like a bit more in our big mitts). This phone size isn’t too much bigger than your old 4.7-inch iPhone 7 or iPhone 6 thanks to its reduced bezel – though you’ll miss the Touch ID home button. You’ll forget about that when staring into the color-rich OLED that’s dreamier than the old iPhone LCD.
Battery life: The iPhone XS has about the same battery life as the iPhone X, so you’ll get all-day battery life with normal use. Power users may struggle a bit without one of the best power banks, and although Apple says it has 30 minutes more battery life than the iPhone X, the smaller capacity and our tests show it’s shy of that claim.
Camera: This is where you’ll see differences in the otherwise familiar-looking iPhone XS. Its dual-lens camera offers Smart HDR and optical image stabilization (OIS). It’s not as vivid as the cameras on a Google Pixel 2 or Samsung Galaxy S9, but you’ll get true-to-life photos that make the 2018 iPhone’s a worthy upgrade.
Mini verdict: Although still expensive, the iPhone XS is our best phone for someone who wants to use iOS 12 and doesn’t want to spend even more money on the bigger iPhone XS Max. You have your limits, and that may be 5.8 inches and $1,000.
Read more: iPhone XS review
Google Pixel 2 is the best phone if you’re looking for a pure Android experience with a big screen, incredible camera and stereo speakers. It’s not cheap like an old Nexus phone, but it’s a big improvement in terms and quality and specs.
Screen: The Pixel XL 2 has an expansive 6-inch display that’s decent for gaming and video playback (although a few issues have surfaced around its viewing angles), and it boasts an improved design over the smaller Pixel 2, with slimmer bezels housing its dual front-facing speakers.
Battery life: The XL has good battery life – you won’t have a problem with it. It will comfortably last you a full day under normal conditions and with normal use, and its ability to save power when it’s not doing anything means it’ll last a few days in standby.
Camera: Like the smaller Pixel 2, the camera on the XL is stunningly good. Photos look fantastic, and they’ll please both casual and more serious snappers alike. Low light conditions in particular are where this phone shines – perhaps not as competent as the Galaxy S9 pair though – and you’ll struggle to take a poor snap with this phone.
Mini verdict: This phone is for you if you want to go for a pure Android experience with the best camera on the market, and with a large screen. It’s a pricey phone but worth it if the above appeals.
Read more: Google Pixel 2 XL review
The OnePlus 6 represents excellent value compared to its competitors, with a strong package put together for far less money than you might expect given the spec and performance of this thing.
Screen: The negative thing here is that we’re looking at a Full HD display, but it’s a long 19:9 ratio with a notch at the top. Yes, it lacks HDR, but it does have decent OLED contrast ratio – it’s far from shabby to look at.
Battery life: The battery life of the OnePlus 6, despite using the thirsty Snapdragon 845 chipset, is more than decent, with it mostly landing on around 15% left at the end of the day through medium usage.
Camera: A dual 16MP sensor on the back, combined with a 16MP option for the front, means that you’ll get some decent snaps out of this phone. There’s no ‘AI smarts’ to play with here, but ultimately you’re getting some good bokeh modes and impressive low-light work.
Mini verdict: Sure, there’s nothing here that really wows… except the price. The design, screen, battery life and camera are all more than serviceable, and the operating system is pretty close to stock Android, which will attract many. There’s a lot of power and storage on offer here too, making it an easy recommendation.
- Read more: OnePlus 6 review
The LG G7 ThinQ is an impressive little phone from the brand (irritating name aside), bringing with it a strong package and a decent price in many regions. There’s an attempt to right the wrongs of the LG G6 – and it’s resulted in a good alternative to the traditional big hitters.
Screen: LG’s Super Bright screen might not be OLED – LCD is preferred here – but it’s capable of delivering good peak brightness, can handle HDR10 and Dolby Vision playback and has a large, expansive look with a smaller notch. It’s a little large to hold, but it’s one of the most capable screens around.
Battery life: At 3,000 mAh, the LG G7 ThinQ isn’t the largest on the market… and it shows in the performance. It’s not terrible, with some clever background processing keeping things going, but it’ll only last you around a day when others are starting to eke into two.
Camera: The smart camera here is great if you want to capture more of the picture, with a much wider field of view bringing in more information. The smart sensor tries to work out what’s in front of you – with great results, but only when it gets things right. It’s not the best camera out there, but you can take some stellar shots.
Mini verdict: It’s so tight at top of our best smartphone list that the small tweaks can make all the difference, and LG impresses thanks to offering up a tightly-made package for a pretty reasonable price – it’s similar to many other top Android phones out there, but you’ll certainly find some elements to enjoy here.
Read more: LG G7 ThinQ review
The LG V40 is all about its cameras, and that’s obvious with one look at it – the five cameras are its standout feature. It doesn’t rival Google, Apple, or Samsung on photo quality, but it does have more angles and that’s fun for creative types. We ranked it just below the LG G7 only because its price is unnecessarily higher.
Screen: This smartphone has a great big OLED display that stretches 6.5 inches with support for HDR10. It’s almost as bezel-free as an iPhone XS, and it includes a smaller notch, with just enough room for a small speaker and two selfie cameras.
Battery life: The LG V40 battery is smaller than we had hoped, which is a key reason why this phone didn’t rank a lot higher. You’ll get all-day battery life, thanks to the lower peak brightness of the display, but you may want to take the charger with you to work and on overnight trips.
Camera: There are a total of five cameras on this phone, and that’s been the most fascinating part of testing it. It offers both super-wide and telephoto lenses on back as well as a regular lens. On the front, you get a wide lens and normal lens. The HDR isn’t always as good as you’ll find on a Samsung, Apple or Google phone, but there are some creative perspectives you can capture and neat tools like Cine Shot (cinemagraphs) and Cine Video (tap-to-zoom-anywhere).
Mini verdict: The LG V40 is for creatives, even if its execution puts it behind Apple, Samsung, and Google. If it’s on sale below $900, it’s something you should consider. The dedicated Quad DAC gives it good audio, and you’ll have fun with all five cameras.
Read more: LG V40 review
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is an incredibly impressive phablet that’s perfect for anyone who wants a productive, powerful device. It’s got one of the best displays, a top camera, and an excellent mix of speed and performance under the finger. On top of that, the S Pen is a real point of differentiation in a sea of similar phones.
Screen: The Note 8 maximises Samsung’s dual curved edge and nearly bezel-less Infinity Display to the point where this phone feels like a mini tablet from the future. It’s more squared off than the Galaxy S phones, but still lovely to look at.
Camera: The camera on the Note 8 is superb and near the front of the pack for all round quality. On the rear its dual lenses allow for optical zoom as well as digital zoom, as well as live focus which enables you to do all kinds of effects including blurring the background – even after you’ve taken the shot.
Battery life: The battery in the Note 8 isn’t quite best in class – you can thank the large screen and slender design for that. But it’ll still last you all day unless you’re streaming a lot of video or using it with the brightness pumped up.
Mini verdict: It’s an expensive phone – only just behind the iPhone X in terms of out-and-out cost. But it’s a better choice than the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus – its competitor in terms of overall size and quality – if you want to be able to jot things down in an instant and take beautiful bokeh photos, as well as splash the phone in water.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review
No surprise, the curved Samsung Galaxy S8 was the best phone when it launched a year ago and it deserves to remain on our top 10 list thanks to its remarkable design and now cheaper price.
Screen: The 5.8-inch curved screen was deemed the best on the market when it launched and it still holds up thanks to its 18.5:9 aspect ratio that stretches up and down the phone. Its color reproduction and contrast ratio look even, if if you don’t have it cranked all the way up wot Quad HD.
Battery life: The battery life, despite being smaller than in previous devices from Samsung, is still pretty decent. It’s not amazing, but it’s not very far from the performance of the Galaxy S9 and will last around a day… although you might want a little top up wirelessly or fast charged.
Camera: The camera is still very strong, despite being usurped by the S9 – the auto mode offers clean, crisp and clear shots every time and combined with screen quality makes you want to show off your best snaps. There’s an easy-to-use pro mode as well to get the best out of your snapping.
Mini verdict: The Samsung Galaxy S8 is an easy way to upgrade a recent Samsung flagship smartphone without paying the full price of the slightly superior Galaxy S9. It has a great camera and enviable curved screen design. The not-center-aligned rear fingerprint sensor is a pain, but one you can overcome if the price is right.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy S8 review
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