At a glance, the smartphone market looks dominated by Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy. If you don't want to buy into the big players' ecosystems, there are alternative flagships from decent brands, which usually offer similar specs. Here New Atlas rounds up the specs and features of five of the best alternative phones: Sony Xperia XZ2, LG G7 ThinQ, HTC U12+, Huawei Mate 10 Pro and OnePlus 6.
Note that this list is by no means exhaustive – there are plenty of other worthy flagships from different companies, as well as other phones from the brands we've included here. But many models aren't readily available in the US, so for simplicity's sake we've picked out our five favorites that are easy for North American customers to get their hands on.
These five phones are all roughly similar in height and width, and are within the realm of most of the market nowadays. The U12+ is thicker than most, but even that is topped by the Sony Xperia XZ2, which dwarfs every other phone we've seen this year at 11.1 mm thick.
The Xperia is also the heaviest phone of the lot, tipping the scales at almost 200 g. Again, the rest all fall within the usual range of modern smartphones.
Although these companies like to give their finishes fancy-sounding names, blacks, grays and blues abound. Sony has a splash of green or pink on offer, LG and HTC throw in some red varieties, Huawei has an understated brown and OnePlus an elegant white model.
The days of metal backings seem to be fading, as all five manufacturers have opted for glass front and back, ringed in aluminum.
Phones and other electronic devices are given an Ingress Protection (IP) rating based on how well they keep out dust and liquid. The Mate 10 Pro's IP67 rating means it's completely dust-tight, and can survive submersion in water to a depth of 1 m (3.3 ft) for up to 30 minutes, while IP68 (as awarded to the Xperia, G7 and U12+) increases that depth to 1.5 m (4.9 ft).
The OnePlus 6 hasn't been given an official IP rating, but the company is happy to brag that the new phone is water resistant – at least to splashes and quick, shallow dunks. As usual, we'd caution against deliberately testing any of them, but still it's nice to have a little peace of mind that spilling a drink on them isn't the end of the world.
The line between phone and tablet is increasingly blurring, with the 6-in mark now seeming normal for a phone. All of these models hover around that figure, although the Xperia XZ2 brings up the rear at 5.7 in.
Along with its smaller screen, the Sony phone has the largest black bars above and below its display. The G7 ThinQ and OnePlus 6 both have "notches" at the top, which have proven relatively divisive in the last year or so, which may be why LG gives users the option to set the display to start below the notch. The black bars that creates on either side of the notch can show notification icons, signal strength and battery life.
The G7 ThinQ boasts the best resolution by a pretty good margin, but none of these phones are slouches in that department regardless.
The Xperia and G7 are built with IPS LCD screens, while the Mate 10 Pro and OnePlus 6 use AMOLED. The two technologies use different lighting mechanisms, and since they each have their pros and cons, it's hard to say which is "better." IPS LCD screens are generally thought to produce more natural colors and sharper images, while AMOLED screens can be brighter and provide better contrast.
The HTC U12+, meanwhile, uses a different form of the former tech called Super LCD, which essentially means it doesn't have the usual air gap between the glass and the display. That should help reduce glare.
Fingerprint sensors are basically standard on phones now. The OnePlus 6 also throws in a facial recognition unlock system.
Five of the six phones use the latest version of Qualcomm's Snapdragon chipset, the 845. Huawei has gone with the Kirin 970, from its homeland of China. This stuff is pretty deep under the hood though, so most users won't really notice the difference.
Phones are starting to get more generous with their RAM. 4 GB is the baseline, as found in Sony's and LG's phones, while HTC, Huawei and OnePlus have 6 GB. The OnePlus 6 even has an 8 GB model.
Storage options start at 64 GB, which is plenty for some people. Again, HTC, Huawei and OnePlus up the game to 128 GB, while OnePlus expands it further, to a roomy 256 GB.
If you decide down the track that 64 GB isn't enough, the Xperia, G7 and U12+ let you plug in a MicroSD card for more room. The Huawei Mate and OnePlus 6 don't, but their larger built-in storage options should be some consolation.
With a capacity of 4,000 mAh, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro has the beefiest battery we've ever seen in a smartphone. The U12+ has a respectable 3,500 mAh, while the others are closer to the 3,000 mAh mark – about average for current smartphones.
In practice, you should be able to wring a heavy day's use out of all of these phones with no problem (at least for the first 12 months or so), and most likely part of the next day too.
The ability to quickly top up the battery is a pretty standard feature across the board.
A less common feature is wireless charging, with only the Sony Xperia XZ2 and LG G7 offering the option. Still, in our experience this tech hasn't yet been perfected to the point of necessity, so you're not missing out on much.
The LG G7 and OnePlus 6 are among the last habitats of the critically-endangered headphone jack. If you haven't yet made the switch to Bluetooth headphones or earbuds, that time is fast approaching. Prefer the old-school tech? All phones with no 3.5 mm jack come with an adapter to let you plug them into the USB-C port.
All five phones have NFC chips, letting you share data and files with nearby friends or make payments through services like Google Pay.
Front cameras are catching up to their rivals on the other side of the device. 8 MP is about standard now, while the OnePlus 6 can snap your selfies in 16 MP. At the other end of the range sits the Xperia, with a 5 MP camera. But still, how much detail do you really want to see in your own face?
Two heads are better than one in the main camera game, with all phones bar the Xperia boasting dual cameras. One of the LG G7's lenses is a wide-angle, while the U12+ combines a wide-angle with a telephoto lens. Huawei has added an interesting twist, with a 20-MP monochrome sensor alongside a 12-MP RGB one. Not only does that setup allow for native black-and-white photography, but used in partnership with the color one it can sharpen up your regular photos.
The Xperia's single 19-MP camera is still a good one, benefitting from Sony's expertise in the camera field.
High dynamic range (HDR) photos and 4K video are present across the board here, as is some form of Optical Image Stabilization (OIS).
Slow motion is available on several, in 120, 240 or 480 frames per second. Sony ups the ante with a super slo-mo mode of 960 fps, on par with that defining feature of Samsung's Galaxy S9 series.
The G7, U12+ and OnePlus 6 all have timelapse modes, while the former two let you put augmented reality stickers on your face – a popular feature with the kids, we hear.
The Xperia XZ2 has a feature called 3D Creator, which allows users to create a 3D scan of their face or an object and turn it into an emoji or image, in a similar vein to Apple's Animoji and Samsung's AR Emoji.
And finally, the G7 is Google Lens-enabled, meaning it can perform Google searches on objects and landmarks in your photos and give you more information on them. It can also translate signs in foreign languages.
All five phones are running Android 8 Oreo, although the U12+ and OnePlus 6 have their own proprietary versions built from the same base.
Most of the phones are compatible with the Google Assistant, while the HTC U12+ also brings Amazon's Alexa into the fold.
The Huawei Mate 10 Pro is the oldest of the bunch, dating back to last November. The others have all launched in the last few months.
Most of these phones retail for US$799, while the Sony Xperia rings up for $100 less. The OnePlus 6 is a comparative bargain at $529.
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