When you really think about it, Apple's iPhone ruined everything. Before that sleek slab of glass and metal came along, we had the halcyon days of the banana phone, the keyboard phone and even the PlayStation phone. Nowadays, most folks (and several store assistants) will struggle to tell the latest Samsung apart from Google's Pixel.
What happened? Well, in an era of ultra-lightweight, bezel-less handsets, manufacturers have turned to the moral of every Disney movie going for inspiration. You see, when it comes to the latest crop of flagship phones, it's what's on the inside that counts. That means a point-and-shoot camera that excels in all scenarios, the speed you need to dart between Instagram, WhatsApp and your favourite apps in the blink of an eye and a well-tuned display worth binging with for hours on end.
That's a lot to ask from your next device, which is exactly why we've tested the best smartphones out there to find your next upgrade. And if you want to level up your tech game further? Then check out our expert guides to TVs, in-ear headphones, over-ear headphones, speakers and smart home devices. And be sure to read our hands-on verdict with the iPhone 11 Pro.
1/10 Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
Also known as the “everything phone”, the latest entry in Samsung’s supercharged Note series is a beast by any standard imaginable. Rather than acting as the testing ground for Samsung’s latest innovations, the 10 Plus is pretty much a refined version of this year’s Galaxy S10 with the S-Pen stylus bundled in for good measure. It’s an undeniable expense but at that price you do get pretty much every feature going in a modern day smartphone, to the extent that we simply don’t have the space to run through them all here. Rest assured, this a very fast, very capable smartphone with a killer triple lens camera. A shimmering glass posterior that reflects every colour under the sun goes even further to marking this device out as truly premium. If your monthly contract can stretch to it, why settle?
2/10 OnePlus 7 Pro
OnePlus phones tend to go above and beyond to give you the features you’d expect from an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy for dramatically less cash. Plus, you get a few future-gazing extras thrown into the mix. This year’s Pro edition of the OnePlus 7 sticks to that trusty formula by adding a pop-up selfie camera and 90hz 6.67-inch screen into the mix. While the selfie camera is straight-up gimmicky fun, that screen is the real deal. Why? The faster refresh rate means scrolling up and down your timeline is a significantly smoother experience, so much so that even swapping back to the Pro’s pricier competitors can feel like a step down – so long as you can stomach a camera that’s good but not quite great.
3/10 Google Pixel 3A
A great mid-range smartphone for people who just want a device that’ll do the essentials with a minimum of fuss. Specifically, you get a battery that’ll last well over a day, fast-charging for when you get caught short and a brilliant 12.2MP camera that really delivers. While other rivals at this price fall short as darkness falls, the Pixel 3A’s low light performance is unrivalled. Things aren’t quite as snappy as with Google’s flagship Pixel 3, or any handset that’s kicking around the $1240 mark, and its 5.6-inch screen is best for short bursts of YouTube-related distraction, but otherwise you can’t say fairer for the cash.
4/10 iPhone XR
The iPhone XR is an Apple-made handset that won’t set your bank balance back into its overdraft, but that’s not why we love it so much. Despite not having the dual camera or ultra-svelte design of the iPhone XS, this is just a really great device in pretty much every other respect. It’s battery life is superb, iOS 12 is as hassle-free as ever, Face ID works like a charm and its internals are effortlessly breezy when flitting between apps. So long as you’re willing to settle for a so-so camera and a 6.1-inch LCD screen that isn’t as detailed as top tier AMOLED models here. Still, as the “affordable” iPhone in Apple’s roster, the iPhone XR really does fit its billing to perfection. So much so that we’d hesitate before choosing the XS over it.
5/10 Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
The 5G revolution is, sort of, upon us. Missed the memo? Ultra-fast new data speeds are now available across London, Manchester and several more UK cities, so long as you’re standing in the right spot and aren’t hidden away inside a building. As much as the prospect of downloading an entire Netflix season in a minute or so is genuinely enticing, this limited availability means 5G is very much in early adopters territory. So if you’re going to jump aboard the bandwagon you’ll want a phone that’s great in its own right and also supports 5G. Enter this variant of Samsung’s S10 with an expansive screen, bumper battery and supremely versatile triple lens camera.
6/10 Oppo Reno 10x Zoom
It might be unrelated to Nevada’s other major casino complex, but sticking your cash on Oppo’s Reno 10x Zoom isn’t a gamble that’s without its merits. The product of the world’s third biggest smartphone-maker – China is a big old country, you know – this is a handset that (unsurprisingly) prides itself on its camera. On the back, a 48MP main lens, a 13MP telephoto and an 8MP ultra-wide lens all produced images that stood up to, and exceeded, scrutiny. Elsewhere a pop-up selfie lens and flash are a fun enough novelty, just as with the OnePlus 7 Pro. The biggest drawback? Oppo’s Color OS 6 requires patience and rewards a long-winded bloat purge. If you have the necessary patience, this phone is well worth a punt.
7/10 Google Pixel 3
Before its third incarnation, Google's Pixel was a phone for hipsters and tech-heads. As for the Pixel 3? It's too good for just those folks. Granted, former models also came with the best camera in a phone bar none and sashayed through your day-to-day app demands like a molten hot butter, but this new Pixel elevates itself with a sleek all-glass design that really looks the part. Better still, this phone has dropped almost a couple of hundred pounds in price since launching, making it a bona fide steal.
8/10 iPhone XS Max
The best iPhone you can get is also the most expensive. Whoever could have foreseen that turn of events? Yep, the iPhone XS Max is a phone of great excess, but it also happens to be worth every penny if you have the necessaries. Chiefly, that 6.5-inch Super Retina Display is an absolute joy to behold when breezing through YouTube clips and the latest must-watch Netflix series. There's no better way to binge on your way into work.
9/10 Honor View 20
Remember the great iPhone notch debate of 2017? Of course you don’t, it wasn’t that important. Anyway, it’s well and truly over now with the arrival the Honor View 20 and its 6.4-inch hole-punch display, which heralds a genuinely new era for smartphone design. Now there’s just a hole in your screen for a selfie cam and the rest of it is yours to use as you please. Aside from that next-gen display, there’s loads more to like about the View 20. It’s got a two-day battery life, impressively fast internals and a reflective glass design that’s means it could happily pass for a device at twice the price.
10/10 Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Huawei's Mate 20 Pro might not be a perfect phone, but it's not far off that hallowed status either. What it lacks in finesse is made up for in sheer power and the kind of top-end specs that simply can't be quibbled with. From its lightning-quick Kirin 980 chip to its glorious 6.4-inch Oled screen and a triple lens camera with added wide-angle skills, you'll struggle to find more bang for your telephonic buck.