2019 has been an interesting year for smartphones. Sure, we've seen more of the same from some brands (we're looking at you, Apple), but there's been some big innovation, too. For instance, Samsung and Motorola have been experimenting with folding displays – with some mixed success upon launch.
Huawei, of course, has its own folding phone. But, it also became embroiled in a US-China trade war and was ultimately forced to abandon Google services on its latest products, rendering them almost worthless to most Android users.
However, amongst the noise of cracking folding displays and the drama of geopolitical intrigue, some genuinely brilliant phones have come to the market. So, let's take a look at the best phones of 2019.
Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
The S10 Plus was quite simply the best phone to arrive in 2019.
Everything from the metal and glass design, to its excellent cameras, to the super-sharp screen oozes class and refinement. It's a phone that can, genuinely, do everything. Gaming, photography, and productivity tasks are all handled with ease. Plus, it even manages to garner impressive battery life numbers.
In fact, we only had two real misgivings about the S10 Plus – the price and Samsung's software. The S10 Plus is expensive, costing $999 from new — although it's no more expensive than many of its premium rivals. As for the software? Well, Samsung's OneUI Android skin is better than previous efforts, but it's still slightly too invasive for us to really love.
Still, neither of those flaws make the S10 Plus a bad phone, and its excellent features more than atone for such issues.
- Fantastic screen
- Great-looking design
- Strong cameras
- Speedy processor
- OneUI is a huge improvement over previous Samsung skins
- Samsung can be slow to issue OS updates
- Bixby isn't very helpful
Google Pixel 4 XL
A controversial one, this. The Pixel 4 series has attracted criticism for its looks, slightly below-par battery life (although this isn't such an issue on the larger XL model), and lack of RAM.
However, we feel that the Pixel 4 XL is still one of the best phones on the market. Its 90Hz refresh rate screen is a delight to use and it has almost peerless cameras, despite the lack of an ultra-wide angle lens. Its battery life can't match the S10 Plus, above, but its stripped-back version of Android is absolutely seamless and a joy to use (take note, Samsung software developers).
All told, the Pixel 4 XL is the closest Android analogue to an iPhone. Everything just works in its own, uniquely Google, way.
- Stunning camera
- Impressive screen quality with new 90Hz refresh rate
- Snappy Face Unlock tech
- Significantly better battery life than Pixel 3 XL and Pixel 4
- Stock Android interface is easy to use
- Design might not be to everyone's taste
- Gesture controls feel a bit gimmicky at the moment
- No ultra wide-angle camera lens
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
The Note 10 Plus is another knockout phone from Samsung's 2019 offerings. Unlike the S10 Plus, however, the Note 10 Plus won't be a phone for everyone — it's only for those needing to push their phones to the absolute max.
It has a huge, sharp 6.8-inch 1440×3040 resolution display, making it perfect for gaming, watching films, multitasking, or even manipulating spreadsheets. It has a crazy 12GB of RAM and the lowest storage option is 256GB – although, you can even augment that with a microSD card.
Like the S10 Plus, however, the Note 10 Plus is expensive, and has the same Samsung software quirks. Still, it's easily one of the best phones launched this year.
- Screen is bright, sharp, and large
- Rear glass case is a work of art
- Impressive front and rear cameras
- Breathtaking speed and performance
- Stylus still makes it one of the most interesting phones on the market
- Very expensive
- Typical Samsung quirks
- No headphone jack
The OnePlus 7 is a brilliant phone for a remarkably low price. For around $600, you get a phone with top-tier cameras and performance, as well as impressive battery life and OnePlus' brilliant Android skin, OxygenOS.
It's not perfect — for example, the rear case feels slightly tinny and plasticky, despite being Gorilla Glass 6. However, you'll struggle to find a better value Android phone on the market. It can easily compete with the flagship models from Samsung, Apple, and Google, while costing around $300 less.
- Blisteringly fast
- Good screen
- Great cameras
- Faster updates than bigger manufacturers
- Cheaper than most similarly-specced rivals
- OnePlus phones are becoming more expensive
- Construction feels a little bit plasticky
- No waterproof rating
Google Pixel 3a XL
The Pixel 3a XL is the largest version of Google's cheaper Pixel 3a series and, like the OnePlus 7, above, it's remarkable value for money. You won't find a cheaper phone with better cameras (and it often outperforms more expensive models, too) and it looks every inch the premium phone.
Battery life is strong, although it doesn't quite have the raw power of some more expensive phones. However, as with the Pixel 4 XL, you get the same seamless Google experience every time you interact with the phone.
If you're looking for a cheap Android smartphone that won't let you down, you can do a lot worse than the Pixel 3a XL.
- Incredible camera
- Decent performance
- Good screen
- Fantastic value
- Clean version of Android
- Plastic design is a shame
- No expandable storage
Samsung Galaxy Fold
The Galaxy Fold had a troubled birth, but it deserves a spot on our list for being the most ambition phone launched (outside of China) this year. With its folding screen, this device completely changes the design status quo on how phones should look and work.
Aside from the impressive central feature, the Galaxy Fold is fast, being able to easily run three apps at a time on its large display. It has Samsung's typically impressive cameras, and turns heads like no other phone on sale.
It's expensive, of course, and not without some significant flaws, but it makes our list for originality alone.
- Folding screen is cool and innovative
- Lightning fast performance
- Strong cameras
- Head-turning design
- Incredibly expensive
- Concerns over reliability
- Front screen is too small for regular use
Motorola Moto G8 Plus
Motorola's G8 Plus is another brilliant budget Android phone. Costing just north of $300, it has a good screen, impressive cameras, very strong battery life, and decent performance.
Really, if you don't need all of the top flagship features, there aren't many phones which will give you such a complete experience for such a low price. It even gets a headphone jack and supports microSD cards.
Does it have any major flaws? Not really. However, there are some things you need to be aware of before buying the G8 Plus. It's not the quickest phone on the market and the plastic case might be a surprise to anyone used to metal and glass constructions. The other issue is US availability – the phone is not yet available in the States, but that should change early in 2020. We think it's worth the wait — it's a remarkable phone for the price.
So those are the best phones of 2019. It's an eclectic list, sure, but it takes more than specs to make a good phone. The G8 Plus and Pixel 3a XL, for example, are seriously outgunned by some of the other phones on this list but, as a package, they're both excellent phones.
What's more, can you put a score on software quality? We love using Google's phones — they're remarkably straightforward. Samsung's on the other hand, often have duplicate apps and functions, making things take slightly longer than they should. However, when the cameras, performance, and hardware designs of Samsung's phones is so strong, it's impossible to keep them off the list.
For more, see our guide to the Best Phone Brands
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