It’s near enough impossible to get by without a smartphone these days – so it’s worth having the best phone you can buy. In this guide, we’ll be running through the best phones on the market, what they’re great for, and who they’re best for.
We’ll also explain the specs you should be looking for in a new phone, as well as talking about the brands, operating systems and the best deals you can get on each phone.
Read on for our expert list of the best smartphones for 2019
Google Pixel 3 XL – Incredible cameras, design and AI features. The best phone on the market
Apple iPhone XS – The best iPhone yet, and almost the best phone full stop that you can buy
Cameras: 1x 12.2Mp rear camera, 2x 8Mp front cameras
Storage: 64GB/ 128GB Storage
Screen: 6.3-inch 1440×2960 OLED display
Operating System: Android 9
We think the Google Pixel 3 XL is the best phone you can buy right now. While its exceptional cameras often grab the headlines, it’s also a beautifully judged phone all round.
It has a unique design, combining different glass finishes to create pleasing gloss and matte finishes for different parts of the phone. Its big ‘notch’ at the top of the phone is certainly distinctive (though not to everyone’s tastes).
Being a Google phone, it uses a stock version of Android. That means zero manufacturer bloatware and instant access to security and feature updates.
The Pixel 3 XL also utilizes Google Assistant brilliantly. The speedy performance is impressive, too, thanks to a Snapdragon 845 processor and 4GB Ram.
The Pixel 3 XL’s 6.3-inch OLED display is bright, sharp and excellent for playing games or watching TV shows and movies.
While you can’t add a memory card, you do get free unlimited Google Photos storage. Plus, Google Assistant is excellent at helping you optimize files to free up space.
And the cameras? They’re the best on the market, bar none.
The iPhone XS might not be a huge step forward from 2017’s iPhone X, but it’s still a brilliant phone and one of the best on the market. It has a brilliant OLED display with beautiful screen quality. At 5.8-inches, it easily fits into the palm of your hand, and is crafted from high-quality glass and metal to make it a truly premium-feeling phone. The XS’ excellent hardware is paired with equally strong software. iOS and the powerhouse A12 Bionic processor means that AR functions are effortless, and the TrueDepth facial authentication is faster than ever. There’s a bump in audio quality from the older iPhone X, with new stereo speakers offering wider audio playback. It’s also IP68 certified, making it one of the best waterproof phones you can buy. Plus, it’s the first iPhone to offer dual SIM card support. Battery life is decent and you’ll easily get through a day with moderate usage. The price might seem a bit steep to some, but this is a phone you’ll be able to hang onto for years to come. Click to read our full review of the iPhone XS
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Samsung Galaxy Note 9
Price: From $999
Cameras: 2x 12Mp rear cameras, 8Mp front camera
Storage: 128GB/ 512GB
Screen: 6.4-inch 1440×2960 Super AMOLED
Operating System: Android 8.1
Samsung’s Note series of phones has always sought to give users of everything, and this latest Note 9 version is no different. It packs in a whopping 6.4″ edge-to-edge display, a mammoth 4,000mAh battery and 128GB storage as standard with the option to add up to a 512GB micro-SD card.
However, the Note 9 has brains to go with its brawn. Its signature stylus, known as the S Pen, has evolved from a simple note taking implement to a Bluetooth-connected smart stylus than can control your phone from afar. Its two rear cameras also feature the same adaptive sensors as the S9 and S9+, which adapt to the lighting conditions around you, ensuring more detailed snaps.
While its Bixby smart assistant can’t match Google Asssitant, the Note 9’s huge feature set mean that it is well worth the near-$1,000 asking price. It’s probably the best ‘big’ phone on the market.
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Google Pixel 3
Price: From $799
Cameras: 12.2Mp rear camera, 2x 8Mp front cameras
Storage: 64GB/ 128GB
Screen: 5.5-inch 1080×2160 OLED
Operating System: Android 9
While its bigger brother claims the top spot, the regular Pixel 3 is far from a bad phone. In fact, it carries over many of the XL’s excellent traits. It borrows the same design language with a textured glass and metal construction although, unlike the XL, it opts for a bigger top bezel rather than a notched screen. It also uses the same processor, and has the same amount of Ram — so there should be no performance drop off from the larger phone. The exceptional cameras are retained from the XL and it uses the same Android 9 operating system and excellent integration with Google Assistant. In fact, the only area you really lose out (beyond the smaller screen) is in the battery stakes. The regular pixel has to make do with a 2,915mAh unit, compared to the 3,430mAh one in the XL. This means you’ll likely see slightly shorter battery life.
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Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Price: From $1,215
Cameras: 40Mp + 20Mp + 8Mp rear cameras and 24Mp front camera
Storage: 128GB/ 256GB
Screen: 6.4-inch 1440×3120 AMOLED display
Operating System: Android 9
The Mate 20 Pro is the latest excellent phone from the controversial Chinese tech giant and with its mind-boggling specification list, it is a serious contender for the best Android phone out there.
Its three rear cameras, with lenses supplied by German camera giant Leica, take exceptional shots from a range of distances in a variety of lighting conditions with help from the Mate 20 Pro’s AI smarts.
The large 6.4-inch screen is pin-sharp, and will make watching TV shows and movies a dream. There’s also an innovative in-display fingerprint reader and facial recognition for speedy authentication. Its powerful Kirin 980 processor gives a variety of AI benefits and makes multitasking a piece of cake.
However, you’ll be hard-pressed to get your hands on one in the US. No major carrier currently offers Huawei phones and, if you can find a way to import one, you’ll need to have deep pockets thanks to its $1,200+ asking price.
Price: From $549
Cameras: 20Mp + 16Mp rear cameras, 16Mp front camera
Storage: 128GB/ 256GB
Screen: 6.41-inch 1080×2340 AMOLED display
Operating System: OxygenOS (based on Android 9)
If value for money is your biggest concern, the OnePlus 6T is almost certainly the phone for you.
It manages to combine flagship specifications, including the Snapdragon 845 processor, large AMOLED display, dual cameras and a big battery with a mid-range price tag.
The 6T even includes an in-display fingerprint reader, face unlock and a tiny ‘teardrop’ notch, so you can make the most of its fantastic display.
So why’s it so cheap? OnePlus’ engineers have gone big on specs, and cut back (slightly) on materials. It doesn’t have a waterproof rating and isn’t capable of fast-charging, for example. However, it’s still brilliant value for money.
Compare deals on the OnePlus 6T
Samsung Galaxy S9
Price: From $719
Cameras: 12Mp rear camera, 8Mp front camera
Storage: 5.8-inch 2960×1440 Super AMOLED display
Screen: 64GB/ 128GB/ 256GB
Operating System: Android 8
The Galaxy S9 is getting slightly long in the tooth, having been launched way back at the start of 2018. However, it’s still one of the best phones on the market. You get an excellent 5.8-inch notchless display with tiny bezels. The screen also curves around the side of the phone, which make the bezels feel even smaller. Round the back, you get a single 12Mp with the excellent dual aperture lens which allows for brilliant picture quality across a range of light conditions. It’s also IP68 rated, meaning it’s effectively waterproof – great if you want to take photos on the beach, for example. All told, the S9 is a great phone, but not quite as great as its bigger brother, the Note 9. Read our full review of the Samsung Galaxy S9
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Apple iPhone XR
Price: From $749
Cameras: 12Mp rear camera, 7Mp front camera
Storage: 64GB/ 128GB/ 256GB
Screen: 6.1-inch 828×1792 LCD display
Operating System: iOS 12
The iPhone XR is, unofficially, the new ‘cheap’ iPhone. However, at $750, it’s not exactly a bargain. But in our opinion, it’s a better choice than the bigger and pricier XS Max.
Firstly, the XR actually offers something different. It comes in a variety of colors not seen since the much-loved iPhone 5C, which launched back in 2013. This gives the XR a unique look and makes it a refreshing change from Apple’s typical monochrome design language.
Secondly, by being cheaper, the XR actually offers something different to the XS and the XS Max in particular. It keeps many of the headline features from the XS, with no significant downsides. The LCD screen is perfectly fine, and its 6.1-inch screen will suit more people than the unnecessarily-large 6.5-inch XS Max.
The XS Max is the largest and most expensive iPhone ever and, frankly, we’re not sold on it. That doesn’t mean its a bad phone, but we think you’d be better off with the XS. Its larger 6.5-inch screen is super sharp, just like the XS’. It uses the same cameras as the XS. It has the same processor as the XS. It does have a larger battery, though, but at 3,174mAh it’s hardly market-leading. All told, the XS is a great phone, but paying an extra $100 for 0.7-inches of screen doesn’t seem worth it. We think you’re better off getting the (still plenty large) iPhone XS, or saving and getting the brilliant iPhone XR.
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Huawei P20 Pro
Price: From $900
Cameras: 1x 40Mp + 1x 20Mp + 1x 8Mp rear cameras, 24Mp front camera
Storage: 128GB/ 256GB
Screen: 6.1-inch 1080×2240 AMOLED display
Operating System: Android 8.1
First things first, you can’t buy the Huawei P20 Pro in the US. This is due to US carriers refusing to stock the Chinese phone due to security concerns about Huawei. If you’re not in the US, however, you’ll have access to a fantastic phone.
The standout feature is the unprecedented triple cameras. These cameras let you take remarkable wide-angle and detail photos effortlessly thanks, in part, to the AI system that automatically detects what sort of photo you’re taking and adjusts settings on-the-fly for the optimal shot.
It’s expensive, however, but given the sheer amount of hardware you’re getting, from the triple cameras to the 6.1-inch AMOLED screen and huge 4,000mAh battery, it’s certainly worth the investment.
How to Choose the Best Phone for You
Phone Cameras – This is a hugely competitive feature in this Instagram-age of ours. The best cameraphones now often have two (or even three, in the case of the Huawei P20 Pro) cameras that work together to take great shots.
Phone Storage Space – Most phones now offer at least 64GB of internal storage, with some offering up to a whopping 512GB. iPhones get access to Apple’s iCloud storage which allows 50GB storage for just 99 cents a month.
Memory Card Slot – Most Android phones, though notably not the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL offer support for microSD memory cards. These can double or sometimes triple your available storage for $20-30.
Screen Size – Phone screens are bigger than ever, with some topping 6” diagonally. However, many recent large phones have avoided feeling unwieldy by removing bezels and adopting the tall, but narrower, 16:9 aspect ratio rather than the traditional 3:2.
Screen Quality – Typically, the higher the screen’s resolution, the better the screen will look. However, there’s more to screens than just the pixels. Whether the screen is an OLED or LCD, for example, will impact screen quality.
iOS vs Android – or Apple vs Google. iOS gives you better integration with other Apple devices and typically better security, but you have less control and customization. There are more Android devices to choose from, and you have more control over your OS, but the experience isn’t quite as slick as iOS.
Phone Battery Life – Batteries are measured in mAh, and the higher the number, the bigger the battery. Most top phones can typically last between a day and a day-and-a-half of typical usage.
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Tom Fogden is a writer for Tech.co with a range of experience in the world of tech publishing. Tom covers everything from cybersecurity, to social media and website builders when he's not reviewing the latest phones, gadgets, or occasionally even technology books.