Take a moment to think about what you want most from your smartphone. Really think about it. Is it battery life? Design? Camera quality? Why not all of the above?
The problem with choosing a smartphone in 2018 is there are so many great options. We hit peak smartphone this year, that plane where (almost) all smartphones are good, no matter if they’re cheap or expensive, big or small, tall or short. Pretty much everything that’s widely available looks and performs the same, which makes it a challenge to find the right one for you.
The smartphone is one of the most important purchases you’ll make, because they’re with us all the time. After using and reviewing several phones this year, we’ve come up with a list of the best smartphones of the year. Whether it’s camera, battery life or design you value most, there’s something for everyone.
Overall: iPhone XS Max
Out of the three iPhone models introduced in 2018, the iPhone XS Max is Apple’s best—and most expensive. But the higher price brings with it features that make the iPhone a better device. In fact, the combination of design, camera quality, performance, and battery life make Apple’s iPhone XS Max our favorite smartphone of 2018—and yours, too, according to our poll.
Although the iPhone XS Max is similar in a lot of ways to Apple’s smaller iPhone XS, the larger version offers a few advantages. The most obvious is the 6.5-inch display, which provides more screen real estate in any iPhone model ever. It makes a big difference during daily use and it’s particularly great for watching YouTube and playing games.
The second advantage is battery life. The iPhone XS Max’s larger size allowed Apple to fit in a bigger battery. During normal usage, the iPhone XS Max can typically get through a full day with plenty of juice to spare. When staying connected is so crucial, the iPhone XS Max’s battery will never be a concern.
Apple’s iPhone XS Max also excels in other areas, from design to software to performance. On the design front, the device is identical to the iPhone XS and last year’s iPhone X, with a beautiful edge-to-edge display, stainless steel frame, and a faster, more accurate Face ID unlocking system. Phones don’t get any more beautiful.
The camera is also a major reason to consider the iPhone XS Max. With improved sensors, processors, and algorithms, Apple’s new Smart HDR feature is able to capture stunning pictures. And with a refined Portrait Mode, users can now adjust a picture’s depth of field after it’s been taken. As a whole, the camera experience has never been better on an iPhone.
With an A12 Bionic processor, the iPhone’s XS Max’s performance is better than any other device on the market. It’s fast and fluid, but most importantly, it’s future-proof, which means performance should still be great 12 plus months from now.
Every component, improvement, and new feature works beautifully with Apple’s iOS software, a platform that continues to offer the best app experience on the market. Even though the iPhone XS Max isn’t old, you can also rest assured knowing that Apple will keep it up-to-date with new software updates for at least a few more years, too.
With a starting price of $1,099 (all the way up to $1,499), the iPhone XS Max isn’t cheap. But the high price doesn’t diminish the high quality of Apple’s device. The stunning design, excellent camera, and powerful specs make the iPhone XS our favorite device of 2018.
Camera: Pixel 3 / Pixel 3 XL
When we talk about the Pixel 3, we talk about the device’s market-leading camera. But to dilute it down and simply say the Pixel 3’s camera is good would do the device a disservice, because it doesn’t just make nice images. Google has also introduced wonderful new features, including Top Shot and Super Res Zoom, that make the Pixel 3’s camera more well-rounded.
After hitting a home run with the Pixel 2, Google has improved the Pixel 3’s camera in every way. The search giant’s HDR+ feature, which takes multiple photos and combines them through software, is better than ever. The front-facing camera, meanwhile, features a wide-angle lens that makes it really easy to capture more of a scene, like when you’re snapping a photo of a group.
One of the most impressive aspects about the Pixel 3 is how it retains detail all the way to the edges, proving again that Google’s machine learning is the best in the business. Pretty much all smartphone cameras today are excellent. But the Pixel 3 raises the bar to an all new level.
What ultimately elevates the Pixel 3 above the competition is a feature called Night Sight. We’ve been testing the feature over the last several weeks, and it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say the feature is the most innovative change to the smartphone camera in years.
The basic way to explain Night Sight is that it makes taking detailed images in low light much easier. So, the next time you’re at a wedding and there isn’t much light, Night Sight will brighten the photo to make it look like a completely different scene.
“Instead of capturing one bright and blurry photo, Night Sight captures an equal amount of light over a burst of many photos that are dark but sharp,” said Alexander Schiffhauer, Product Manager, Computational Photography at Google. “By merging this burst, Night Sight prevents motion blur and brightens the photo, giving you a bright and sharp photo.”
The results really do speak for themselves. Out of the many features that have been introduced over the past several years, Night Sight is the biggest game changer for low light photography, an area where most mobile devices struggle. No other smartphone comes close to replicating what the Pixel 3 can do, making it the top mobile camera on the market right now.
Most Innovative: Mate 20 Pro
It’s too bad the Mate 20 Pro isn’t more widely available, because it’s the most innovative device of 2018. There are a number of factors that make Huawei’s device such a great phone, from its Kirin 980 processor to its triple-camera setup to its in-display fingerprint sensor. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
One of the coolest things about the Mate 20 Pro is its design. At a glance, it looks like every other all-glass smartphone, but Huawei added a bit of flare. The device sports a Hyper Optical Pattern, which essentially means the glass back features a ridged finish, making the Mate 20 Pro easier to grip. It’s not a must-have feature, but it makes a difference.
Huawei also included facial recognition. But it isn’t some half-assed clone; Huawei’s feature, known as 3D Face Unlock, uses an IR sensor and 30,000 invisible dots projected onto your face to identify users. It works well and proves that Apple’s lead with Face ID is closing.
Finally, the Mate 20 Pro supports reverse wireless charging, which is as cool as it sounds. Essentially, the device can wirelessly charge a friend’s or family member’s device. It probably won’t be a feature you use often, but how cool is that?
Each one of these features combine to make the Mate 20 Pro, which also has incredible specs, the most innovative device of 2018.
Design: iPhone XS
It’s not new or controversial to say that all smartphones today are beautiful (expect maybe the Pixel 3). That’s why it’s so difficult choosing the best design. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, so someone might prefer the Note 9’s design over the OnePlus 6T’s. But the device that most stands out for its design is the iPhone XS.
For years, Apple has earned plaudits for its impeccable design and engineering, and the iPhone XS perfectly displays the company’s talents. With an edge-to-edge display, stainless steel chassis, and more durable materials, Apple’s iPhone feels more premium than ever.
Again, the majority of devices in today’s market look and feel fantastic. But Apple keeps its lead, if only by a hair, with the immaculately designed iPhone XS.
Underrated: LG V40
Something happens each year that somehow causes LG devices to fly under the radar despite their obvious quality. Last year, it was the LG V30 that we crowned the most underrated device. This year, it’s the LG V40 that we think deserves more love. Seriously, it’s a damn good device, with a sleek design, excellent battery life, and a strong camera system. At the very least, if you get the chance to check the device out, I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its quality.
Value: OnePlus 6T
I realized there are several devices that come in at a few hundred dollars cheaper than the OnePlus 6T. But this award isn’t for best budget phone. We’re talking about value. How much phone do you get for the price you pay? With the OnePlus 6T, the answer is “a lot.”
In addition to a terrific design, excellent software, and powerful specs, the OnePlus 6T feels incredibly premium, like it should cost a few hundred dollars more. The camera has been improved as well, while battery life is strong enough to last more than a full day.
Earlier this month, we said the OnePlus 6T should be the Android device in your pocket, period. You’d be hard pressed to find a device with such an immaculate finish at such a great price. And with such beefy specs, the device should last for the next 18 months and beyond.