We have seen a huge number of new smartphones over the past 12 months, with new models from both Apple and Samsung making it harder than ever to choose the best mobile phone. These products offer excellent processing speed, long battery life and crystal clear screens. You can also get a good photo of them.
We have tested and reviewed the best smartphones this year and these are our absolute favorites. It’s worth noting that new releases have generally been iterative rather than groundbreaking, so while the reviews below cover the best new models available. You won’t get a high-end phone, but you won’t miss out on a ton of goodies either.
Another thing to note is that you don’t always have to pay top dollar for decent phones these days. Many of the top manufacturers produce a “mid-range” version in addition to their flagship version, which is made much cheaper by removing some features, mostly unnecessary things like wireless charging or waterproofing.
Whichever brand you choose, most modern smartphones differ little from each other, so you can probably count on a good camera, sufficient storage space, and a good display. The only real differences are the physical size, the amount of image processing used to enhance the images and the operating system.
We could spend all day arguing over the best mobile OS, repeating the common arguments about Android versus Apple (I’ve reviewed it myself in the buying guide at the end of this article). But honestly, all you need to know is that they are both really, really good and it takes a while to get used to them. Should you choose Apple or Android? It really depends on personal preference. Personally I would say stick to what you know.
And whatever you choose, you’ll probably need a power bank to charge on the go – we’ve also tried and tested a selection of the best power banks of 2020.
Google Pixel 6 and Pro
I’ve always been a fan of Google phones, but I’ll be the first to admit that the company has made mistakes over the years. Last year’s bland Pixel 5 brought nothing new to the table, while the Pixel 4’s attempt to innovate with a radar on the front was deceptive nonsense and there has never been a Google phone with the durability of battery to remember.
Thankfully, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are a great upgrade that ticks a lot of boxes. These are very sexy phones. Instead of grouping the cameras in a box on the back of the phone, Google has placed them in a thick black border, which has the added benefit of leaving your finger somewhere when holding the phone. These devices feel premium with a reinforced glass back that’s held together by a recycled aluminum frame. They are very smooth in the hand and I recommend getting a case as the smoothness gets slippery sometimes.
The display (6.4 inches on the Pixel 6 and 6.7 inches on the Pixel 6 Pro) is also of the highest quality. It’s bright and beautiful, and the colors look richer and deeper than what I’ve experienced with competitors like the OnePlus 9 Pro. The screen is one of the main differences between the two models, with the Pro version having curved edges and a higher resolution and being able to display more frames per second (FPS – check the glossary below), although both are great.
But let’s face it, the big selling point of any Pixel phone is the camera, and the Pixel 6 series doesn’t disappoint. In the past, Google used its clever AI to compensate for its competitors’ inferior cameras, but that’s no longer necessary. Both versions have a 50-megapixel main camera and a 12-megapixel ultra wide-angle camera, as well as a 47-megapixel telephoto (zoom) camera in the Pro model. The internal camera is also slightly better on the Pro model, with a few more megapixels and a wider field of view so you can host more friends for selfies.
These cameras rival anything on Samsung, Apple, or other competing phones and have the intelligent AI I mentioned earlier to make your photos even better. In short: this is the best camera phone. The colors are brilliant whether you’re shooting at noon or at dusk, the AI helps you focus on exactly what you want to capture, and there are some cool tricks. I like the “Magic Eraser” tool which can erase small imperfections in the background of photos.
OnePlus 9 Pro
Since OnePlus first hit the Western market a few years ago, it’s been about beating Apple and Samsung flagships by offering new and better features than they could.
But one area where OnePlus hasn’t been able to compete is the camera. This is not due to a technical malfunction. OnePlus cameras have generally offered cameras as good or better than the competition in terms of megapixels. Likewise, the brand was one of the first to offer wide-angle lenses and other useful features that we take for granted in our phones.
The problem has always been that with some image processing, the images tended to become rather flat and lifeless. For this reason, in the OnePlus 9 Pro, the brand has teamed up with respected Swedish camera manufacturer Hasselblad to better capture and calibrate colors.
The result is OnePlus’ best camera ever, which, along with many other tweaks and improvements, really makes the 9 Pro worth the purchase price.
From there, with the camera, you have the normal four-sensor array on the back of the phone: there are two 8-megapixel sensors: a monochrome lens that captures black and white images in more detail than you’d get, then a filter and a 3.3x optical zoom lens. Then there is a 48-megapixel main camera and a 60-megapixel ultra wide-angle camera. The latter has also been slightly modified from last year’s models to remove the curved distortions that sometimes occur at the edges of wide-angle images. Finally, there is a 16 megapixel selfie camera.
All in all, it’s an impressive setup that works wonders, even if your technique basically boils down to “point and click”. The colors look good and realistic. They’re not as bright and saturated on the Pixel camera, which I personally would like, but there’s no denying that the overall level of detail is arguably better.
OnePlus’s other usual big selling points are its industry-leading displays. Here you have a beautiful 6.7-inch display with a slight curve around the edges (apparently the curve has been reduced this time because some customers have complained that they accidentally touched it while holding the phone – it didn’t hit me.) screen has a brightness of 8000 levels and 120 Hz, which makes everything incredibly smooth. Even if you’re just scrolling through the menus, it scrolls. It’s hard to explain, but if you go to a phone shop and compare it to the iPhone 12’s 60Hz screen, you’ll notice right away.
The last big thing to worry about when it comes to smartphones is the battery. At first I have to say that I was not very impressed. Like many phone designers, OnePlus has an “adaptive battery” that uses usage data to figure out how you’re using your phone and adjusts settings accordingly to prioritize which apps and settings save battery. Some manufacturers are better than others at this, for example Google is notoriously bad. On my first day with the device, the battery lasted a full seven hours, but over the course of a week it seems to have gradually adapted and now usually gets 18-21 hours on a single charge. It probably doesn’t matter much as long as you have a charger on hand as it goes from 0 to 100 in just 28 minutes. The socket is also powerful enough to charge laptops or the Nintendo Switch console, which is useful, even if it’s not incredibly tied to the phone.
Finally, there are little quiet but useful extra features. The OxygenOS that the phone runs on has been tweaked so that you can use the phone comfortably with one hand and there are some really impressive screen designs that make the phone truly premium.
Overall, it’s a great phone that looks and feels premium thanks to its all-glass construction. The cameras are the best and the loading speed is a huge selling point.