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Choosing the best smartphone for your needs can be challenging. With so many brands offering similar features at similar prices, it can be hard to understand what device actually has the things you want. If you’ve already determined you only want an iPhone, your decision-making process is slightly easier. (And even then, Apple’s lineup offers more options than ever.) Those also considering Android will have even more options to choose from, and likely more questions. Do you want a camera that can zoom into subjects that are extremely far away, or do you want intuitive AI that can screen your incoming calls for you? Here at Engadget, we test smartphones all year round and can help you make sense of what’s available and what to look out for. And, of course, we’ve included our favorite phones to help you whittle down your shortlist.
Android or iOS?
When you’re searching for the best smartphone, it becomes clear that each OS has its pros and cons. Apple’s tight-knit ecosystem makes it super easy to share data between iPhones, iPads and Macs or seamlessly hand-off phone calls or music from one device to another. At the same time, you’re effectively locked in, as services like Apple Messages aren’t available on other platforms.
As for Android, there’s a much wider range of handsets from companies like Google, Samsung, Sony and more. However, Android phones don’t enjoy that same length of software support and often have lower trade-in values. In short, there’s no wrong answer. However, you will want to consider how your phone will fit in with the rest of your devices. So unless you’re really fed up with one OS and willing to learn another, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to switch from an iPhone to an Android phone (or vice versa) – especially if everyone else in your household is using the same platform.
Since your cell phone often pulls double duty as your primary camera, figuring out what kind of photo tools you want is key. Nowadays, practically every mobile phone can take a great picture in bright light. But if you want a long optical zoom, you’ll probably have to upgrade to a more expensive device.
Mid-range phones often only have two rear cameras (a primary wide-angle lens and a secondary ultra-wide camera) and can sometimes struggle in low-light situations. Each phone maker also has various features that might be a better fit for your style, with Apple offering four different color presets on the latest iPhones, while Google’s Pixel 6 comes with neat tools like dedicated long exposure and action pan modes.
Will you get 5G or Wi-Fi 6?
The good news is that in 2022, most phones have at least 802.11ac Wi-Fi and support for one or more types of 5G connectivity. However, if you want the fastest wireless speeds you can get, it’s going to cost you a bit more. For example, on certain networks, mmWave 5G offers up to gigabit download speeds, less latency and better bandwidth. But mmWave 5G also requires more sophisticated (and pricier) modems, which means support for it is often missing from budget and mid-range handsets like the iPhone SE and Pixel 6a.
On the bright side, mmWave 5G isn’t as widely available as other versions of 5G, so depending on where you live and what network you’re on, you may not be missing out on much if you buy a phone that doesn’t support it. It’s a similar situation for Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6e, which are available on a number of high-end devices, but harder to find on less expensive handsets. Wi-Fi 6 also requires you have to have a compatible router, so unless you know you need it or have a specific use case in mind, the lack of support for mmWave 5G or Wi-Fi 6E shouldn’t be a dealbreaker when looking for a new phone.
Other features to consider
Because not everyone agrees on what makes the best phone, you should think about any other specs that might be extra important for you. Mobile gamers will almost certainly appreciate the 120Hz refresh rates you get on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S23 or the Apple iPhone 14 Pro. Alternatively, if long battery life is important, you’ll probably want to go with a larger iPhone or an Android phone with a battery that’s between 4,000 and 5,000 mAh in size. Meanwhile, if you find yourself juggling a lot of devices, it can be really nice to have a phone that supports reverse wireless charging, which on Samsung phones even lets you recharge the company’s Galaxy Watches.
Best iOS smartphone: iPhone 14 Pro
The iPhone 14 Pro features the biggest changes to Apple’s flagship line in years. With the new Dynamic Island, the company is finally (sort of) ditching the notch and in its place sits a pill-shaped cutout to house the front cameras for Face ID. In addition to being smaller than before, the island also features software tweak that makes notifications, media playback and ongoing activities look more cohesive.
But it’s not just the Dynamic Island that makes the iPhone 14 Pro feel like a notable upgrade. The new Always On Display manages to help you stay on top of your notifications without overly draining battery, while the upcoming Emergency SOS via Satellite lets you explore further with some peace of mind. Those who aren’t ready to give up physical SIM cards may be reluctant to go for this year’s phones, since they don’t have onboard slots and are fully eSIM. But thankfully Apple’s setup and conversion process makes switching over painless. With excellent performance, capable cameras and respectable battery life, the iPhone 14 Pro is the best Apple handset money can buy. – Cherlynn Low, Deputy Editor
Best Android smartphone: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
The Galaxy S23 Ultra has pretty much everything you could want or need on a super premium flagship phone. It features a gorgeous 6.8-inch AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, a speedy Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip, longer battery life and a built-in S Pen for all your drawing and notetaking needs. New for 2023 is a huge 200MP sensor for the phone’s main cam, which comes with improved OIS, 8K/30fps video recording and some additional photography tools in the Expert RAW app.
The main downsides are that starting at $1,200, the S23 Ultra is as expensive as ever, and while its advanced photo and video features have a lot of potential, you need to put in some extra time and effort to get the most out of them. And because the phone’s design, display and most of its cameras are so similar to previous model, anyone who bought an S22 last year can safely skip upgrading this time around. But for people who want a true do-everything handset, the S23 Ultra is in a class of its own. – Sam Rutherford, Senior Reporter
Best midrange Android smartphone: Google Pixel 6a
If all you want is a simple, affordable and easy-to-use phone without any unnecessary bells and whistles, the Pixel 6a is the best phone to choose. Starting at $449, the 6a features a colorful 6.1-inch OLED display, while Google’s excellent photo processing produces pics that match what you get from phones that cost twice as much. It particularly excels with nighttime photography thanks in part to Night Sight, a feature that brightens up dim environments and brings out more detail overall.
Google upgraded the Pixel 6a’s design to look more like its flagship phones, plus you also get handy IP67 dust and water resistance, too. There’s also an under-display fingerprint reader for another layer of security. As far as specs go, you’re getting Google’s Tensor chipset, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which all translates into excellent performance. And, unlike a lot of other midrange phones, the Pixel 6a enjoys strong software support, with Google promising regular software updates for the next five years. – S.R.
Best midrange iPhone: iPhone SE (2022)
With an A15 Bionic chip and iOS 15, the latest Apple iPhone SE is possibly the most powerful phone you can find for under $450. Sure, it has a dated design, but some folks might actually appreciate the retro look. The best thing about the iPhone SE is its home button: It’s the only new iPhone to have Touch ID. And though it only has a single rear camera, the SE still takes solid pictures. If you can get over the small, low-res screen, the iPhone SE will serve you well. It’s also really the only sub-$500 option for iOS diehards.
If you’re open to considering Android and want to spend less than $400, consider something from Samsung’s Galaxy A-series or the OnePlus Nord N20. Those looking to spend even less can check out the Moto G Power – just be prepared to compromise on features like display and cameras at lower prices. – C.L.
Best camera on a smartphone: Pixel 7 Pro
It’s hard for me to leave the house without the Pixel 7 Pro. As long as there’s a chance I might want to take photos, I make sure I’ve brought Google’s latest flagship. The Pixel 7 Pro’s triple rear camera system is versatile enough to capture anything from the largest group shots or wide landscapes to faraway animals (like that time I thought I spotted a whale when staring at a distant blob from Acadia National Park). Google’s Night Sight still outperforms the competition when taking pictures in low light, too, and its computational photography delivers clear, vivid photos.
Of course, Samsung and Apple’s flagships are closing the gap, and these days there is little difference between the photos they deliver. Some people might even prefer the warmer tint on Galaxy devices. But special features like Google’s Magic Eraser and Motion effects make the Pixel 7 Pro the most fun to shoot with. Plus, I love the additional tools you get on Pixels, like Call Screening, Material You theming and Live Captions, among others. – C.L.
Best foldable for multitasking: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4
For people who want a big, powerful phone that adapts to their needs, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4 is in a class of its own. On this year’s model, Samsung has refined the Fold’s dimensions, adding a sleeker hinge and a slightly wider cover screen that makes it easier to type and use one-handed. Inside, the phone’s 7.6-inch flexible main display is brighter too (upwards of 1000 nits), and thanks to a redesigned taskbar that lives along the bottom of the screen, multitasking and launching app pairs is easier than ever. Other improvements include a 3x zoom lens in back and a new 50MP main sensor. And while the 4MP under-display-cam hidden beneath its main display isn’t good for much more than video calls, its new sub-pixel matrix helps camouflage its existence even better.
Unfortunately, the Z Fold 4 is still sorta bulky, and at $1,800, it’s definitely not cheap. But if you’ve dreamed about a phone that can transform into a tablet at a moment’s notice while also delivering multitasking features unmatched by any other phone, this thing is the ultimate choice for mobile productivity. — S.R.
Best foldable for selfies: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4
While the Z Flip 4 doesn’t offer the same kind of screen space as its bigger and more expensive sibling, it’s way more compact and thanks to its size and hinge, it’s great at propping itself up on a table for shooting selfies. On top of that, Samsung has also increased the size of its exterior screen so that it’s easier to frame up pics without opening the phone. And with the addition of a new Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chip, this year’s model offers significantly better battery life than before. Meanwhile, for gadget lovers that also appreciate a bit of style, the Bespoke Edition of the Z Flip 4 lets you customize the color of the phone’s exterior panels, so you can make sure your foldable smartphone doesn’t look like anyone else’s. — S.R.