Your smartphone is one of the gadgets you’ll use the most day to day, so it’s important to choose one which best fits your requirements and expectations. While all modern phones make and receive calls and messages and support an internet connection, other functions such as camera quality, speed and how much storage a device has can differ greatly.
How large (or small) you prefer your smartphone’s display is largely a matter of taste, and resolution refers to how many pixels it’s capable of displaying horizontally and vertically – e.g. 1242 x 2688 means a screen displays 1242 pixels horizontally and 2688 vertically. The higher the number of pixels, the sharper and clearer images and text will appear. A ppi figure refers to the density of pixels per inch, and while it’s preferable for your phone to sport a high ppi density, the naked eye struggles to perceive the difference in screens of 400 ppi+, so it’s not the most important factor to consider.
The processor is the brain of your phone, meaning the faster and more powerful it is, the faster and more powerful the phone will be. RAM refers to the storage, or random access memory, where your phone holds data while you’re running an app or playing a game, and keeps operations running smoothly simultaneously. While a higher amount of RAM is more likely to keep your phone running quickly, the amount of storage it possesses is probably more pressing.
The amount of storage a phone has is measured in gigabytes (GB), and is taken up by your apps, photos, videos and music. If you take a great deal of pictures, or enjoy access to hundreds of apps, you may find a device with more storage more helpful – although there are free apps such as Google Photos available to store your pictures in the cloud free of charge.
Camera set-ups can also seem relatively complicated. Resolution is measured using megapixels (MPs), but a 16MP camera won’t necessarily take a significantly higher quality image than a 12MP camera because pixel quality has greater bearing than quantity. The f/ figure refers to the aperture of a camera, or the amount of light it allows in. The lower the f-stop number, the wider the aperture and the more light can reach the camera’s sensor and take better photos in low-light conditions.
From £1,099, Carphone Warehouse
Best for: Apple fans who have been waiting for a true iPhone phablet
Key specs – Screen size: 6.5-inch AMOLED; Screen resolution: 1242 x 2688 pixels, 458 ppi; Dimensions: 157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7 mm; Processor: Apple A12 Bionic; RAM: 4GB; Storage: 64GB/256GB/512GB; MicroSD card support: No; Battery: 3174 mAh; Operating system: iOS 12; Rear-facing camera: 2 MP, f/1.8 wide-angle, 12MP, f/2.4 telephoto; Front camera: 7 MP, f/2.2; Weight: 208g; Headphone jack: No; Water resistant: Yes – IP68; Colours: Space grey, silver, gold; First went on sale: September 2018
Apple’s biggest and best iPhone to date, the iPhone XS Max is the best smartphone on the market. Its glass body and stainless steel sides look and feel premium, its new Bionic A12 processor makes web browsing and switching between apps incredibly fast and its overhauled camera system is a significant upgrade on last year’s iPhone X. One of its best new features is the ability to adjust the depth of field once a shot’s been taken, and the 6.5-inch display offers a rich and deep colour spectrum.
As with nearly all Apple products, price is the mitigating feature. The iPhone XS Max starts at £1,099 for 64GB of storage, rising £1,249 for 256GB and £1,449 for 512GB, which is more than a lot of laptops and even some cars. Running a screen that large takes a lot of power too, meaning its battery life sometimes falls short of the mark.
From £899, Samsung
Best for: Android devotees who love large handsets
Key specs – Screen size: 6.4-inch AMOLED; Screen resolution, 1440 x 2960 pixels, 516 ppi; Dimensions: 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8mm Qualcomm Snapdragon 845; RAM: 6GB/8GB; Storage: 128GB/512GB; MicroSD card support: Yes – up to 512GB; Battery: 4000mAh; Operating system: Android 8.1 Oreo; Rear-facing camera: 12 MP, f/1.5 wide-angle, 12 MP, f/2.4 telephoto; Front-facing camera: 8 MP f/1.7; Weight: 201g; Headphone jack: Yes; Water resistant: Yes, IP68; Colours: Midnight black, lavender purple, ocean blue; First went on sale: August 2018
The Galaxy Note 9 is a high-end powerhouse of a phone, complete with a bright, 6.5-inch display, powerful processor and excellent camera. It’s a stellar example of an Android handset at (almost) the top of its game – but with a price tag to match.
While it will easily meet all of the needs you could realistically have for a smartphone in terms of messaging, web browsing and watching videos, it also has a vast array of features you’ll probably never use.
Bixby, Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Siri, is still woefully inadequate (especially as the handset comes with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant anyway), and the S-Pen stylus is unlikely to prove tremendously useful for the vast majority of users bar stylus devotees. It’s a great-looking phone that’s simple to use, but still suffers from a lot of unnecessary inbuilt apps (bloatware is still an issue for Samsung) and isn’t vastly different from its excellent predecessor the Note 8.
The Note 9’s excellent camera and excellent battery life deserve special mentions – but is best characterised as a series of incremental improvements over actual smartphone innovation.
From £999, Carphone Warehouse
Best for: iPhone users who prefer their handsets on the medium-sized side
Key specs – Screen size: 5.8-inch AMOLED; Screen resolution: 1125 x 2436 pixels, 458 ppi; Dimensions:143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm; Processor: Apple A12 Bionic; RAM: 4GB; Storage: 64GB/256GB/512GB; MicroSD card support: No; Battery: 2658 mAh; Operating system: iOS 12; Rear-facing camera: 2 MP, f/1.8 wide-angle, 12MP, f/2.4 telephoto; Front camera: 7 MP, f/2.2; Weight: 177g; Headphone jack: No; Water resistant: Yes – IP68; Colours: Space grey, silver, gold: First went on sale: September 2018
The iPhone XS is the successor to the wildly-successful iPhone X and is virtually identical to its iPhone XS Max sister, bar its smaller 5.8-inch display and lower price tag (£999 starting price, as opposed to £1,099). Apple fans will welcome the markedly-better rear-facing and front-facing camera system and fun iOS 12 features, including new Animoji and Memoji characters, which uses the front-facing camera to map animated characters’ facial expressions to your own, and the stylish new gold finish.
If you already own an iPhone X, the iPhone XS may not be enough of a noteworthy leap-forward to encourage you to upgrade. But if you’re looking to replace an older model with a reliable, swift and beautiful-looking iPhone at a (slightly) lower price than the very best, the iPhone XS is an excellent bet.
From £699, Tesco Mobile
Best for: Shoppers looking for something aside from the predictable Apple/Samsung upgrades
Key specs – Screen size: 6.1-inch AMOLED; Screen resolution: 1080 x 2240 pixels, 408 ppi; Dimensions: 155 x 73.9 x 7.8 mm; Processor: Hisilicon Kirin 970; RAM: 6GB/8GB; Storage: 128GB/256GB; MicroSD card support: No; Battery: 4000 mAh; Operating system: Android 8.1 Oreo; Rear-facing camera: 40 MP, f/1.8 wide-angle, 20MP B/W f/1.6 wide-angle, 8MP f/2.4 telephoto; Front-facing camera: 24 MP, f/2.0; Weight: 180g; Headphone jack: No; Water resistant; Yes, IP67; Colours; Twilight, black, midnight blue, pink gold; First went on sale: April 2018
Chinese brand Huawei has enjoyed a riotous few years, which has seen the phonemaker rocket from relatively unknown in western territories to the third best-selling smartphone company in the world – behind Samsung and Apple. The P20 Pro offers many of the features made popular by its more established rivals, including facial recognition and the current vogue for large displays, but puts its own twist on proceedings with unparalleled highly-specced triple rear-facing cameras and a mermaid-esque iridescent ombre body.
The P20’s main selling point is its ridiculously good rear-facing camera set-up, which consists of one 40MP wide-angle, one black and white 20MP and one 8MP telephoto lens. Its photographs are comparable to those taken on a DSLR, particularly in low-light conditions, and its battery life is more than sufficient for even the heaviest user. It runs slightly slower than rival Samsung devices and the software isn’t quite as refined as Google’s Pixels, but the P20 Pro is a phone lagging only slightly behind its significantly more expensive competition.
From £469, OnePlus
Best for: Power, speed and performance for less
Key specs – Screen size: 6.28-inch AMOLED; Screen resolution: 1080 x 2280 pixels, 402 ppi; Dimensions: 155.7 x 75.4 x 7.8 mm; Processor: Qualcomm SDM845 Snapdragon 845; RAM: 6GB/8GB; Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB; MicroSD card support: No; Battery: 3300 mAh; Operating system: Android 8.1 Oreo; Rear-facing camera: 16 MP, f/1.7 wide-angle, 20MP f/1.7 wide-angle; Front-facing camera: 16 MP, f/2.0; Weight: 177g; Headphone jack; Yes; Water resistant: “Splash resistant,” not IP graded; Colours: Midnight black, mirror black, silk white; First went on sale: May 2018
OnePlus is another relatively unknown smartphone maker which has quietly gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2013, making zippy Android phones at far cheaper prices than its rivals and winning over a legion of fans in the process.
The OnePlus 6 is a strong all-rounder, combining a large, vibrant screen with excellent speed and performance powered by the powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor. Its camera is good, if not amazing, its comparatively low-res screen means it lags behind its more expensive competition and it lacks the polish of Samsung’s offerings, but if a highly-specced Android at a great price is what you’re after, you won’t be disappointed by the OnePlus 6.
From £739, Google Store
Best for: Fans of pure Android and sleek devices
Key specs – Screen size: 5.5-inch FHD+OLED; Screen resolution: 1080 x 2160 pixels, 443 ppi; Dimensions: 145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9 mm; Processor: Qualcomm SDM845 Snapdragon 845; RAM: 4GB; Storage: 64GB/128GB; MicroSD card support: No; Battery: 2915 mAh; Operating system: Android 9.0 Pie; Rear-facing camera: 12.2 MP, f/1.8; Front camera: 8MP f/1.8 wide-angle, 8MP f/1.2 ultra-wide; Weight: 148g; Headphone jack: No; Water resistant: Yes – IP68; Colours: White, black and pink
Google’s third generation Pixel demonstrates a company beginning to hit its stride as a smartphone maker: ironing out the major issues which plagued the Pixel 2 (namely a dim, dull screen and slightly dated-looking design) and making one of the year’s best phones in the process.
The Pixel 3 replaces last year’s coated aluminium with an all-glass body, and sports a beautifully bright and detailed FHD+OLED screen, which is a vast improvement on its predecessor. It also offers the best Android experience, free from the weird skins or unnecessary apps some other manufacturers insist on adding, and is one of the few handsets currently running Pie, the newest version.
Its camera set up is fantastic – two on the front and one on the back – and takes vivid, rich images by simply pointing and shooting. Its battery life is acceptable, if unremarkable, at around 12 hours of regular use, and it lacks the facial recognition technology which is becoming commonplace among its competition. A fantastic phone which makes up for many past sins.
From £369, John Lewis
Best for: Bargain hunters
Key specs – Screen size: 5.84-inch LCD; Screen resolution: 1080 x 2280 pixels, 432 ppi; Dimensions: 149.6 x 71.2 x 7.7 mm; Processor: Hisilicon Kirin 970; RAM: 4GB/6GB; Storage: 64GB/128GB; MicroSD card support: No; Battery: 3400 mAh; Operating system: Android 8.1 Oreo; Rear-facing camera: 16 MP, f/1.8, 24 MP B/W f/1.8; Front-facing camera: 24 MP, f/2.0; Weight: 153g; Headphone jack: Yes; Water resistant: No; Colours; Phantom blue, phantom green, midnight black, glacier grey; First went on sale: May 2018
If you’re unfamiliar, Honor is a sub-brand of Chinese phonemaker Huawei, which means the Honor 10 gets to benefit from a lot of the Huawei P20 Pro’s impressive features at a lower £399 price. Like the P20 Pro, it sports a shimmery, shiny body designed to catch millennial eyes, a speedy and powerful processor and a simple-to-use interface. Unlike its big sister, the Honor 10’s battery life and camera is merely impressive, rather than outstanding, but its specs are nothing less than stellar value-for-money.
From £739, Samsung
Best for: Those who want a high-end Android with the looks to match
Key specs – Screen size: 5.8-inch AMOLED; Screen resolution: 1440 x 2960 pixels, 570 ppi; Dimensions: 147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5 mm; Processor: Exynos 9810 Octa; RAM: 4GB; Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB; MicroSD card support: Yes – up to 512GB; Battery: 3000 mAh; Operating system: Android 8.0 Oreo; Rear-facing camera: 12 MP, f/1.5; Front-facing camera: 8 MP, f/1.7; Weight: 163g; Headphone jack: Yes; Water resistant: Yes – IP68; Colours: Lilac purple, coral blue, midnight black; First went on sale: March 2018
The Galaxy S9, announced during Mobile World Congress in February 2018, is sleek, fast and powerful, and the perfect alternative to shoppers who like Samsung’s smartphone interface but don’t fancy paying through the nose for its larger Note 9 sister. Samsung is well practised at making great-looking phones, and the 5.8-inch S9 is no exception, with a gently curved back and beautifully tapered display.
Where it’s let down, however, is by its software. Its AR emoji, customisable human characters it developed to compete with Apple’s animated Animoji, look strangely warped and we found it very difficult to create an avatar that came even close to resembling us. The screen appears extremely vivid in comparison to more muted rivals (though this is largely a matter of taste), and pictures appear saturated and warm, which won’t be for everyone. That aside, the S9 is a great phone which performs well in day-to-day tasks.
From £699, Carphone Warehouse
Best for: Fans of Sony TV technology who watch lots of content on the go
Key specs – Screen size: 6-inch P-OLED; Screen resolution: 1440 x 2880 pixels, 537 ppo; Dimensions: 158 x 73 x 9.9 mm; Processor: Qualcomm SDM845 Snapdragon 845; RAM: 4GB; Storage: 64GB; MicroSD card support: Yes – up to 512GB; Battery: 3300 mAH; Operating system: Android 9.0 Pie; Rear-facing camera: 19 MP, f/2.0; Front-facing camera: 13MP, f/1.9; Weight: 193g; Headphone jack; No; Water resistant: Yes – IP65; Colours: Black, silver white, forest green, Bordeaux red; First went on sale: October 2018
Sony’s latest flagship smartphone, the Xperia ZX3, is designed to take the best of the Japanese company’s Bravia TV technology and squish it down into a 6-inch display. It largely achieves this ambition thanks to its advanced X-Reality software, which successfully upgrades footage and content shot in standard dynamic range (SDR) to near HDR, or, in non-technical terms, greatly improves the resolution, contrast and colour-range of Netflix shows and YouTube videos. If you spend a lot of time watching videos, films or programmes on your phone, this is the one you’ll want to do it on. It’s also the very first handset to support Google’s Android 9.0 straight out of the box.
The handset’s design has also come on in leaps and bounds, trading the sharp edges favoured by older Xperia models for tapered curves. The downsides reside in the Xperia ZX3’s software: the phone is supposed to sense when it’s being raised horizontally and automatically open the camera app, but rarely did in testing. Similarly, tapping a finger or thumb on either side of the display is supposed to open a side sense menu of favourite apps, but failed to work more often than not.
From £579, Carphone Warehouse
Best for: Crackberry addicts who just can’t let go of that physical keyboard
Key specs – Screen size: 4.5-inch LCD; Screen resolution: 1080 x 1620 pixels, 434 ppi; Dimensions: 151.4 x 71.8 x 8.5 mm; Processor: Qualcomm SDM660 Snapdragon 660; RAM: 6GB; Storage: 64GB/128GB; MicroSD support: Yes – up to 256GB; Battery: 3500 mAh; Operating system: Android 8.1 Oreo; Rear-facing camera: 12MP f/1.8, 12MP f/2.6; Front-facing camera: 8 MP, f/2.0; Weight: 168g; Headphone jack: Yes; Water resistant: No; Colours: Black, silver; First went on sale: June 2018
While you could be forgiven for thinking BlackBerry had largely faded into obscurity, the firm is still soldiering on making solid devices for security-minded business people. The physical QWERTY keyboard is very much still front and centre and is satisfying to type out messages with, if a little fiddly. Its 4.5-inch LCD display suffers in comparison to its larger, more colourful rivals (as does the under-powered camera) but BlackBerry’s main strengths lie in both the security and resilience of its devices – it can survive a nasty drop with ease.
The clever keyboard shortcuts, in which you can assign apps like Twitter or Google to open by pressing the new Speed Key and an assigned key, such as T or G, are a nice touch, and privacy controls preventing the device from turning on if it detects it’s been tampered with will help to allay the fear of the more paranoid among us.
£279, John Lewis
Best for: People who want a no-nonsense handset at a great price
Key specs – Screen size: 5.9-inch HD+; Screen resolution: 720 x 1520 pixels, 287 ppi; Dimensions: 150 x 72 x 7.97mm; Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 625; RAM: 4GB; Storage: 64GB; MicroSD card support: Yes – up to 256GB; Battery: 3000 mAh; Opearing system: Android 8.1 Oreo; Rear-facing camera: 13MP f/2.0, 2MP f/2.4; Front-facing camera: 8MP, f/2.2; Weight: 162g; Headphone jack; Yes; Water resistant: Splash resistant, not IP graded; Colours: Black: First went on sale: October 2018
The Motorola One is a no-frills handset which does everything you need it to do: browse the internet, make calls, play music and support all the apps which have become part of daily life, such as Spotify, Facebook, Instagram and Netflix. Its battery life is commendable, and its TurboPower charging feature means just 20 minutes of charging gives you an additional six hours of power – handy for when time is at a premium,
Its camera and performance is adequate, and while it’s far from the most sophisticated or accomplished smartphone, it’s a cut above the basic feature phones which are presented as the alternative to the £800+ range of high-end flagship models from Apple and Samsung. It’s also a bargain at £279.
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