The best smartphones of 2019
Another 12 months in mobile technology have flown by – and these are our picks for the best phones of 2019, the handsets that showcase the best of what a modern-day smartphone can be in terms of both hardware and software.
We've focused on the premium end of the market, the phones that provide the best specs rather than the best value (though some devices tick both boxes). Keep watch for prices on these flagships getting better and better as we go through 2020.
As in past years, 2019 has seen very good mid-range and budget phones from the likes of Nokia, Motorola, Honor and Oppo, but there are only so many slots available in our best-of-year picks ... and these are the phones we liked the most.
Honorable mentions too for the Samsung Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X, which both made us believe 2019 might be the year of the foldable phone – with those handsets still in limited supply and experiencing one or two early issues though, we might have to wait until 2020 for a real foldable breakthrough.
1. iPhone 11 Pro
At a glance: 5.8-inch, 1,125 x 2,436 pixel OLED display, Apple A13 Bionic CPU, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB / 256 GB / 512 GB storage, 12 MP f/1.8 + 12 MP f/2.0 + 12 MP f/2.4 (2x optical zoom) rear camera.
When it comes to the iPhone 11 series, going for the Pro model (or the 6.5-inch Pro Max) gets you a better camera and a better screen, and we reckon the extra investment is worth it – Apple has done wonders with the triple-lens rear camera here, especially in terms of low light performance, while the design of the iPhone remains as stylish and iconic as ever.
The new Apple A13 Bionic CPU gives you more power than you'll know what to do with, and despite one or two teething problems, iOS 13 is the most complete mobile OS Apple has put out yet. Apart from the price, it's hard to think of anything to put in the negative column for the iPhone 11 Pro – it's a true powerhouse of a phone in every respect.
2. Samsung Galaxy S10
At a glance: 6.1-inch, 1,440 x 3,040 pixel OLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 CPU, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB / 512 GB storage, 12 MP f/1.5-2.4 + 12 MP f/2.4 + 16 MP f/2.2 (2x optical zoom) rear camera.
Samsung really outdid itself with its first flagship of 2019, the Samsung Galaxy S10. It has a brilliant screen (as is the norm from Samsung), it's packed with power under the hood, it comes with software that's comprehensive and customizable, and it has a rear camera that can hold its own against the very best smartphone cameras put out by Samsung's rivals.
What's not to like? Well, it's expensive of course, and the Android software doesn't quite have the polish that it does on a Pixel or OnePlus phone, but really these are minor gripes. You can definitely argue that the Galaxy S10 showed just exactly how good Android phones can be in 2019 – and how they can still give the iPhone some serious competition.
3. Google Pixel 4
At a glance: 5.7-inch, 1,080 x 2,280 pixel OLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 CPU, 6 GB RAM, 64 GB / 128 GB storage, 12.2 MP f/1.7 + 16 MP f/2.4 (2x optical zoom) rear camera.
So what of Google? The Pixel 4 (and the 6.3-inch Pixel 4 XL) has a lot to recommend it, including a 90-Hz screen, a super-speedy Face Unlock mechanism, and the usual bunch of Pixel extras – like a real-time transcription app, automatic screening for spam and robo calls, and smart display-esque mode that kicks in when the phone is charging wirelessly.
As last year, the camera is phenomenal: there's a second lens this time, enabling some really impressive zoom capabilities, and you can even take photos of the night sky ... if you can keep the phone still for a four-minute exposure. Battery life could be better though, and we think Apple has edged Google in 2019 in the smartphone design department.
4. Huawei P30 Pro
At a glance: 6.47-inch, 1,080 x 2,340 pixel OLED display, HiSilicon Kirin 980 CPU, 6 GB / 8 GB RAM, 128 GB / 256 GB / 512 GB storage, 40 MP f/1.6 + 8 MP f/3.4 + 20 MP f/2.2 + TOF 3D (5x optical zoom) rear camera.
It's been a tough year for Huawei, with the US imposing restrictions on its access to Android and Google's suite of apps – but the Huawei P30 Pro was released before that ban came into full effect, and it's a reminder of just how good the Chinese giant is at making smartphones. The P30 Pro is excellent in just about every department that matters.
The rear camera is outstanding, as you would expect from Huawei, with an innovative periscope lens design enabling a full 5x optical zoom, while the specs are as good as you're going to find on a smartphone in 2019. Huawei's take on Android isn't quite the best in the business, but it's a small mark against what is otherwise a handset that oozes quality.
5. Sony Xperia 5
At a glance: 6.1-inch, 1,080 x 2,520 pixel OLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 CPU, 6 GB RAM, 128 GB storage, 12 MP f/1.6 + 12 MP f/2.4 + 12 MP f/2.4 (2x optical zoom) rear camera.
Sony continues to pump out very good smartphones year after year, which then continue to struggle to make a mark in the market as a whole – but as the Xperia 5 proves once again, Sony knows how to make handsets that are powerful on the inside, stylish on the outside, and packed with all the key features you're likely to need from a smartphone.
As always with Sony, the display and the camera are of the highest quality, so whether you're streaming videos from the web or snapping photos in challenging light conditions, the Xperia 5 won't let you down. With a bit of a sharper take on Android, and slightly more modern hardware design, the Xperia series could really start to challenge the big players.
6. Google Pixel 3a
At a glance: 5.6-inch, 1,080 x 2,220 pixel OLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 CPU, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB storage, 12.2 MP f/1.8 rear camera.
You can make the argument that the Pixel 3a and not the Pixel 4 was the most impressive phone that Google put out during 2019. The Pixel 3a is less powerful, but it's significantly less expensive too, and it keeps the best feature of the Pixel 3 intact – the fantastic camera. Even with a single lens, it remains one of the best mobile cameras currently on the market.
Getting such a good phone camera at such a low price is going to appeal to a lot of smartphone buyers, even if the phone skimps on the internal storage and screen size a little bit. It's going to be interesting to see if Google puts out a Pixel 4a and a Pixel 4a XL during 2020, but in the meantime it's got a mid-range phone that it can be proud of.
7. iPhone 11
At a glance: 6.1-inch, 828 x 1,792 pixel LCD display, Apple A13 Bionic CPU, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB / 128 GB / 256 GB storage, 12 MP f/1.8 + 12 MP f/2.4 rear camera.
As good as the iPhone 11 Pro is, the price is admittedly a little eye-watering – but you can save a significant chunk of money by opting for a slightly inferior screen and a slightly poorer camera with the iPhone 11. This is still a fine smartphone though, following on from the good work Apple did with the iPhone XR (which was the equivalent phone for 2018).
The guts of the phone are the same as the more expensive iPhone 11 models, so this phone is just as speedy and slick, and available in some better color choices too. All the usual iPhone goodies are included as well, including waterproofing, wireless charging, and seamless integration with everything else that Apple makes (from HomeKit to Apple TV).
8. Samsung Galaxy Note 10
At a glance: 6.3-inch, 1,080 x 2,280 pixel OLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 CPU, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB storage, 12 MP f/1.5-2.4 + 12 MP f/2.1 + 16 MP f/2.2 (2x optical zoom) rear camera.
As with every year in recent memory, Samsung has followed up on its flagship S series phone with a flagship Note 10 phone – a little bit more of everything, essentially, plus a stylus. And the stylus is the key here, as the S Pen has evolved to be a camera remote and a media controller as well as a very handy digital sketching and note-taking instrument.
The triple-lens rear camera is almost exactly the same as the one on the Galaxy S10, though you do get a bit more screen space here (see the S10 Plus and the Note 10 Plus for even bigger displays). It's the latest version of what is now a truly iconic phone, but with a stylus and a price this high, it's really only for the serious smartphone power users.
9. OnePlus 7T Pro
At a glance: 6.67-inch, 1,440 x 3,120 pixel OLED display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus CPU, 8 GB / 12 GB RAM, 256 GB storage, 48 MP f/1.6 + 8 MP f/2.4 + 16 MP f/2.2 (3x optical zoom) rear camera.
Hats off to OnePlus: its prices might have crept up a little in the five years since the OnePlus One appeared on the scene, but it continues to push out top-quality handsets that give the likes of Samsung, Apple and Google plenty to think about. The most recent OnePlus 7T Pro is, as you would expect, the best phone with a OnePlus badge so far.
That pop-up selfie camera might come across as something of a gimmick, but it means the gorgeous 6.67-inch screen isn't spoiled by any kind of notch or hole punch cut-out. Add in the excellent specs running behind the scenes, and the very tastefully designed OxygenOS (the OnePlus take on Android), and it's easy to see why this phone has so many fans.