For a while, things were looking bleak. The Note 7 crashed and burned, Apple did a copy and paste of the iPhone, and Google’s Pixel looked like something from 2012. Which is to say, 2016 was a pretty forgettable year for mobile, with a lack of innovation and meaningful features creating a pretty boring environment.
But there was a light at the end of the tunnel. We knew 2017 would make smartphones exciting again, and the year didn’t disappoint. We saw everything from the Galaxy S8 to the highly underrated HTC U11. In other words, this year was among the more memorable in recent memory.
The most popular trend this year was the edge-to-edge display. Samsung kicked things off and pretty much every competitor followed suit, including Apple, which release the iPhone X. On that note, Apple finally adopted wireless charging technology, while Google once again proved it’s the best in the biz when it comes to cameras.
Even if you don’t agree with our picks, one thing’s for sure: There was something for everyone this year, whether you could afford the Note 8 or wanted something more practical (and affordable).
Below are our picks for best smartphones of 2017.
Best budget: OnePlus 5T
The OnePlus 5T doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and it’s certainly not better than the Galaxy S8 or iPhone X. But for its price ($499), it’s one of the best values on the market. Not only does it offer a sleek design and great software, but it has incredibly powerful guts. And its suite of added features make it one of the more enjoyable Android experiences on the market. If you want to save some money without comprising power and features, you can’t do any better than the OnePlus 5T.
Best camera: Google Pixel 2
Google set a high bar last year with the original Pixel, and it surpassed its own standards with the sequel. Simply put, the Pixel 2’s images are unrivaled in their quality, offering great colors, exposure, and sharpness. It also features a portrait mode that uses a single lens arrangement, as opposed to the dual-camera setup of the iPhone X. In a market full of phones with really great cameras, the Pixel 2 is second to none.
Biggest surprise: Essential Phone
When Andy Rubin unveiled the Essential Phone, it showed a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the device fell well short of what Rubin envisioned, resulting in plenty of anger from critics and fans. But a funny thing happened. Several updates and an all-important price drop has seen a renewed interest in the device, finally living up to what Rubin initially promised.
With a gorgeous design, edge-to-edge display, and clean software, the Essential Phone is a fantastic first effort and a big surprise among the industry’s greats. The camera is still below the standards set by the Pixel 2 and iPhone X, but it’s good enough for selfies and social media.
Meanwhile, the design continues to shine, and the consistent updates from Essential means owners always have the latest security patches. The device’s larger ecosystem is still absent, but first adopters will still find plenty to like about the Essential Phone, which continues to be a joy to use among more established alternatives.
Best display: iPhone X (or Note 8)
This one was difficult to pick. On the one hand, you have the Note 8’s behemoth 6.3-inch screen, which features HDR support, vibrant colors, and 1200nits of brightness. It’s positively sumptuous to look at, especially when viewing content on Netflix and YouTube. By all accounts, it’s the most beautiful smartphones screen on the market.
The iPhone X’s display is equally as gorgeous. As the first iPhone to use OLED technology, pressure was on Apple to deliver—and deliver it did. The Samsung-manufactured screen was custom built for Apple’s newest flagship, and it’s an absolute dream to behold. It’s vibrant without being cartoonish, and it supports Dolby Vision HDR, so movies on iTunes look amazing.
Of course, there’s the issue of the iPhone X’s notch, which initially detracts from the experience. Overall, the Note 8 and iPhone X both feature excellent screens that are a treat for the eyes.
Most underrated: LG V30
Have you already forgotten about the LG V30? With the OnePlus 5T, Pixel 2, Note 8, and iPhone X all on the market, LG’s most recent flagship has been seemingly pushed aside. Which is a shame, because it’s a flagship worth checking out, in large part because of its high-end camera experience. It also features phenomenal specs, a gorgeous display, and a sleek build that feels just right. This is one of those situations where LG did almost everything right but was simply overshadowed by its more popular rivals.
Smartphone of the year: iPhone X
I’ve used a lot of smartphones over the past few years, reviewing everything from the iPhone 8 to the Moto Z, and never have I seen a device quite like the iPhone X.
Note: Jon chose the Note 8 as his smartphone of the year. While I agree it offers a great blend of power, features, and technology, it doesn’t feel much different from the ill-fated Note 7.
When Apple says the iPhone X is the future of smartphones, I tend to agree. It feels like a huge leap forward in design and user experience, with everything you could possibly need. The camera is fantastic, the screen is delightful, and it’s the fastest, most beautifully-designed iPhone yet.
There’s a learning curve when using the iPhone X because there’s no home button. But once you’re accustomed to the device’s gestures, you’ll never want to use a home button again. Face ID has also proved to be a worthy replacement for Touch ID.
I was pretty close to choosing the Pixel 2 XL (display issues notwithstanding) as my top phone of 2017. For me, the camera puts it ahead of the pack, and I love the handset’s clean software. But the iPhone X doesn’t feel like any of its competitors, and there’s something to be said about taking a new approach to the tried and true formula we’ve seen perfect by OEMs over the past few years.
By no means is the iPhone X perfect, and it certainly isn’t the cheapest smartphone on the market. But Apple’s latest flagship feels like it’s a generation ahead of the competition, bringing new ideas to the table that elevate the experience beyond the norm.
The iPhone has been boring for several years now, and the iPhone X is definitive proof that Apple can still innovate—even if it was late to the wireless-charging party.