We've seen some fantastic handsets hit the market over the last 12 months, and here we're going to recap the cream of the crop for 2018. These are the phones that have most impressed us this year, and which are going to be the phones to beat in 2019 too.
Our list is in no particular order, because the best phone for you really depends on what you need in terms of performance and price, and whether you prefer Android or iOS. All nine of these smartphones are well worth considering for your next upgrade.
Google Pixel 3
Google Pixel 3 at a glance:
- Screen: 5.5-inch OLED, 1,080 x 2,160 pixels (443 ppi), 18:9 aspect ratio
- Internals: Snapdragon 845, 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB/128 GB of storage
- Rear camera: Single-lens 12.2 MP
On paper, the Google Pixel 3 doesn't stand out all that much from the other Android flagships of 2018, but Google's work on the Pixel camera continues to impress – even with just a single lens. The recent Night Sight update is evidence of just how powerful the Pixel's image processing algorithms have become, transforming the look of low-light photos.
The design upgrade from last year is a minor but noticeable one, wireless charging has been added, and this being Google you're guaranteed to get Android updates faster than anyone else too. If you want a bigger screen and can put up with a rather chunky notch, you can opt for the Google Pixel 3 XL instead – the internal specifications are the same.
iPhone XS Max
iPhone XS Max at a glance:
- Screen: 6.5-inch OLED, 1,242 x 2,688 pixels (458 ppi), 19.5:9 aspect ratio
- Internals: A12 Bionic, 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB/256 GB/512 GB of storage
- Camera: Dual-lens 12 MP + 12 MP
Apple launched three new iPhones this year but we think the iPhone XS Max is just about our favorite. It has the biggest screen and the best internal components – and it's also the priciest, so perhaps not one for those on a budget. The upgrades from the iPhone X aren't huge, but then the iPhone X was a brilliant phone too, so doesn't need much tweaking.
The star of the show in the iPhone XS Max and the smaller iPhone XS is that A12 Bionic processor from Apple, which is going to give you all the power you need on a phone for now and for years to come. Add in the iOS 12 upgrades like screen time monitoring and custom Siri shortcuts, and this is undoubtedly one of the best phone experiences today.
OnePlus 6T at a glance:
- Screen: 6.41-inch OLED, 1,080 x 2,340 pixels (402 ppi), 19.5:9 aspect ratio
- Internals: Snapdragon 845, 6 GB/8 GB of RAM, 128 GB/256 GB of storage
- Camera: Dual-lens 16 MP + 20 MP
OnePlus continues on its mission to offer flagship-level specs and performance at the lowest possible price, and with the OnePlus 6T it feels like it's really hit its target – top-end specs, a svelte design (including a compact notch), and even an in-screen fingerprint reader... for the price, it's difficult to recommend any 2018 smartphone above this one.
There is of course some level of corner-cutting to keep the overall price down – there's no wireless charging and no IP68 waterproofing here, for example – but all the important boxes are ticked. We're also big fans of the OxygenOS version of Android that OnePlus develops. It looks good, it's fast, and it does justice to the quality of the hardware.
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus at a glance:
- Screen: 6.2-inch OLED, 1,440 x 2,960 pixels (529 ppi), 18.5:9 aspect ratio
- Internals: Snapdragon 845/Exynos 9810, 6 GB of RAM, 64 GB/128 GB/256 GB of storage
- Camera: Dual-lens 12 MP + 12 MP
Samsung is at a disadvantage as far as end-of-year lists go in that it releases its flagship phones early on. Nevertheless, the Galaxy S9 Plus (and the smaller Galaxy S9) still hold up very well almost a year after they launched. They combine top-of-the-range specs with hardware design that's rarely bettered, even if you have to pay premium prices in return.
We like the larger Plus phone most, but there's not much to choose between the two S9 models. The Infinity Display really sets the blueprint for how gorgeous a phone can look without a notch, while the camera remains one of the most capable around. Samsung's Android UI is less impressive, but you can't have everything – it's fine, it's just not the best.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 at a glance:
- Screen: 6.4-inch OLED, 1,440 x 2960 pixels (516 ppi), 18.5:9 aspect ratio
- Internals: Snapdragon 845/Exynos 9810, 6 GB/8 GB of RAM, 128 GB/512 GB of storage
- Camera: Dual-lens 12 MP + 12 MP
Speaking of flagship Samsung phones, there's also the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. With a bigger screen and the same premium internals as the Galaxy S9 phones. The Note 9 also adds an S Pen stylus – it's been upgraded this year to act as a remote camera button, a slideshow controller, and more, making the overall proposition even more appealing.
Again, you'll have to dig deep to afford the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, but if you find a stylus useful on a phone then it's pretty much you're only option. You do get plenty of power and performance for your money, with a rear-facing camera that's not quite the best in the business but certainly close to it. The huge 4,000 mAh battery is worth noting as well.
LG V40 ThinQ
LG V40 ThinQ at a glance:
- Screen: 6.4-inch OLED, 1,440 x 3,120 pixels (537 ppi), 19.5:9 aspect ratio
- Internals: Snapdragon 845, 6 GB of RAM, 64 GB/128 GB of storage
- Camera: Triple-lens 12 MP + 12 MP + 16 MP
LG's handsets tend to get a little overshadowed by the bigger names, which is a shame as the LG V40 ThinQ has a lot going for it. With its 3.5 mm headphone jack, 32-bit Quad on-board DAC, and special BoomBox Speaker functionality, this is a handset that will particularly appeal to anyone who wants to get high-fidelity audio out of their phone.
There's plenty more to talk about too, not least that triple-lens rear-facing camera that brings with it 2x optical zoom and a range of low light and depth of field improvements. There's also a dual-lens camera on the front to boost your selfie game at the same time. Last but not least it's all wrapped in a stylish, understated design and a choice of colors.
Huawei P20 Pro
Huawei P20 Pro at a glance:
- Screen: 6.1-inch OLED, 1,080 x 2,240 pixels (408 ppi), 18.7:9 aspect ratio
- Internals: Kirin 970, 6 GB/8 GB of RAM, 128 GB/256 GB of storage
- Camera: Triple-lens 40 MP + 20 MP + 8 MP
Putting its ongoing problems with selling phones in the US to one side for a moment, Huawei continues to produce some excellent handsets year after year, which is reflected in steadily growing sales numbers too. The P20 Pro is the best of the bunch for 2018, with superb photo capabilities, leading levels of performance, and a polished hardware design.
Huawei loves to focus on its phone cameras, and the triple-lens shooter on the back of the P20 Pro lets you access 3x optical zoom and a variety of special effects in terms of focus and low light performance. The camera will even recognize the kind of scene you're trying to snap and adjust the settings accordingly, making it easier to get a great shot each time.
Sony Xperia XZ3
Sony Xperia XZ3 at a glance:
- Screen: 6-inch OLED, 1,440 x 2,880 pixels (537 ppi), 18:9 aspect ratio
- Internals: Snapdragon 845, 4 GB/6GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage
- Camera: Single-lens 19 MP
Sony is slowly but surely catching up to its rivals in terms of smartphone design, and that's really the only area where it lags behind. In terms of specs, camera performance, screen quality and everything else, it's right up there with the best players in the game, and the Sony Xperia XZ3 is further proof. There's even some Bravia TV display tech included here.
While 4 GB of RAM is so-so, it matches the Pixel 3, but the Snapdragon 845 processor is the best chip for Android phones in 2018. It's still got thicker bezels than most phones this year, but we can live with that, and there's lots in the positives column – waterproofing, wireless charging, Android 9 Pie, and a single-lens camera capable of some fine shots.
Nokia 7 Plus
Nokia 7 Plus at a glance:
- Screen: 6-inch LCD, 1,080 x 2,160 pixels (403 ppi), 18:9 aspect ratio
- Internals: Snapdragon 660, 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage
- Camera: Dual-lens 12 MP + 13 MP
Picking the best smartphones of the year inevitably leads to us choosing the priciest ones for the most part – these are the handsets that are the fastest and most well built, usually. But if you're looking for a great affordable phone, the Nokia 7 Plus really impressed us this year. Like a lot of recent Nokias, it looks and feels more expensive than it actually is.
It's one of just two Android phones in our list not to use the Snapdragon 845 chip, so expect mid-range performance. But it can also be found for a much lower price than handsets at the premium end of the market. It's nicely designed, it features a camera that gets good results in most situations, and it's guaranteed to receive speedy Android updates too.
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