It is not easy to pick the top phone when so many great options exist, however after spending time with most all of these over the past few months, my top pick was easy. It is the one phone I would pick if someone told me I could only have a single smartphone.
This best 10 smartphones list is usually updated twice a year, but we have had so many recent smartphones that it’s time for an update while we anticipate hearing about new phones from Apple, Google, and Huawei in the next couple of months. I will post another list around the holidays, but it’s going to take something really special to knock my top choice from the number one slot.
1. Samsung Galaxy Note 8
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was at the top of my list at the end of 2016, before the recall forced its removal. The Galaxy Note 8 regains the top spot as it is clearly the most advanced smartphone currently on the market.
Samsung’s Infinity Display earned the highest rating ever from DisplayMate and is 0.1 inch bigger than the S8 Plus. There is 6GB of RAM, the fastest Qualcomm mobile processor, advanced S Pen functionality, dual rear cameras with OIS, the ability to add inexpensive microSD cards, new Bixby assitant and a hardware button dedicated to its use, improved front facing camera, Samsung Pay payment technology, wireless and fast charging, IP68 dust and water resistance, a USB Type-C standard port, and traditional 3.5mm headset jack. There is nothing missing from the Galaxy Note 8 and it deserves the top spot.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 can be pre-ordered now and will ship soon. The Note 8 is the most expensive mass market smartphone to launch at a price ranging from $930 to $960. There are some pre-order specials from Samsung and carriers, but it is still a lot of money for a smartphone.
I tested a Note 8 at a briefing and have spent a week with an evaluation unit, which confirms my selection as the top pick for the Note 8.
Check out Jason Cipriani’s full Galaxy Note 8 review with a 9/10 rating. Jason is more conservative with his ratings than I am so a 9 from Jason is outstanding.
2. Samsung Galaxy S8/S8 Plus
The Samsung Galaxy S8/S8 Plus was at the top of my list earlier this year, but the Note 8 bumped it down with a few additional features and advanced hardware.
Samsung’s Infinity Display looks fantastic and minimizes the top and bottom bezel while removing anything on the sides which roll down from the front to the back. Everything seen in the Note 8, except for the S Pen and dual rear camera, is present on the S8 and S8 Plus.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 launched at $750 and the S8 Plus at $850. Prices have dropped with the Note 8 release and the passage of time so you can now find it at a couple hundred less, making either the S8 or S8 Plus a fantastic deal.
The Galaxy S8 Plus earned a 9.6 rating in my full review.
3. Apple iPhone 7/7 Plus
Whenever I need to make sure I have a phone that does it all and gets me through a long day, I regularly pop my SIM into the Apple iPhone 7 Plus. The water resistance, improved cameras, more RAM, a larger capacity battery, a faster processor, and stereo speakers are all compelling features.
However, the iPhone 7/7 Plus ends up in third because it has no fast charging technology, internal storage is locked to whatever capacity you purchase, there is no standard headphone jack, there is no wireless charging, Apple Pay has limitations, and the phones are quite large for the display sizes.
4. LG V30
We do not yet know the pricing or availability of the LG V30, but I have now spent a couple of weeks with a non-final unit and it is stunning. It is clearly the best V series phone and LG’s best released in years. It is a phone for content creators thanks to its dual rear camera setup and advanced software designed to help you take great still photos and videos.
The V30 feels wonderful in the hand and looks rather stunning in silver. It is loaded with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot, has an IP68 dust and water resistant rating, and built to survive military drop tests. You will find two cameras on the back, one 16 megapixel and the other 13 megapixel for a wide angle experience.
5. HTC U11
For many years I was an HTC fan and purchased most of the One series. The HTC U11 was released in June and while it doesn’t have minimal bezels or a 3.5mm headphone jack, it is the most gorgeous phone ever and has a camera that may be the best available.
The HTC U11 is blazing fast and has a minimal HTC Sense software experience. It is similar to a Google Pixel, but has water resistance, much better audio, and a cool squeezable edge.
Like the HTC 10, the HTC U11 provides a fantastic audio experience with dual stereo speakers and an included USonic headset that maps the specifics of each of your ears.
The U11 has a 5.5 inch high resolution LCD display, Snapdrago 835, IP67 dust and water resistant rating, and a rear 12 megapixel camera.
The glass back is a looker and the Solar Red one I purchased turns heads. It appears red, gold, orange, and pink in different lighting conditions and stands out from the crowd. It is available for $649, although there are regular coupons available so you should be able to pick it up for just $599. That is a great deal for a high end smartphone.
6. LG G6
LG was the first to get its flagship out to customers with the new 18:9 aspect ratio and after using one for several months I considered it as a possible top five contender. It is priced at a reasonable $500 and comes with a microSD card slot, incredible performing dual rear cameras, shock resistance, minimal bezels and a pocketable form factor, wireless charging, and dust and water resistance.
The LG G6 has a dual rear camera setup and is one of the best camera phones available. I recommend the V30 over the G6 though as the V30 has everything that G6 does with better software and a Quad DAC for high end audio.
The LG G6 has a rather thick uniform body and doesn’t have anything that particularly makes it stand out from the crowd. The LG UX is OK and is not too intrusive, but LG doesn’t have a great track record with regular software updates and there is still something for LG to prove in 2017. The LG G6 is a wonderful device to use to show that LG is able to compete with Samsung and Apple.
Check out my full review (9.5 rating) of the LG G6.
7. BlackBerry KEYOne
It’s great to see BlackBerry devices appearing again on my best 10 lists. I’ve spent a few months with the BlackBerry KEYone and if I am going to spend a weekend away from a readily available power source, it is the phone to bring as it seems to last forever. The physical keyboard is fun to use and the device keeps getting the latest software updates before nearly every other smartphone.
The BlackBerry KEYone doesn’t have all of the highest flagship specs found in other phones, but it is a very capable device with an excellent camera. The KEYone has a 4.5 inch display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, massive 3505 mAh battery, 12 megapixel rear camera, and fingerprint sensor built into the keyboard spacebar.
TCL is now making BlackBerry hardware and as I saw on the DTEK60 it is doing a fantastic job at providing monthly Android security updates, which is not something many Android manufacturers can say.
The BlackBerry KEYone is priced at $549, which is a reasonable price for this unique BlackBerry device, and a cool all black model just launched on AT&T last week.
Check out the Jason Cipriani’s full review of the BlackBerry KEYone (7.0 rating).
8. Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL
The Google Pixel and Pixel XL are outstanding devices and for about a month I owned a Google Pixel XL. We are likely to see updates from Google in a month or two, so the current Pixel and Pixel XL are being outpaced by the competition.
The Pixel has a 5 inch display while the Pixel XL has a 5.5 inch display. Both are powered by a Qualcomm 821 processor. Other key specs include 4GB of RAM, 32 or 128GB of internal storage, 12.3 megapixel camera and 8 megapixel front facing camera, and Android 7.1 Nougat.
There is no water resistance or wireless charging capability, internal storage is locked to either 32GB or 128GB, and the bezels of the phone are quite large when you compare it to the new LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8.
Just like the iPhone, you will get updates to the Android software first on a Google Pixel or Pixel XL so if having the latest version of the software is important to you then you can’t beat a Pixel.
The camera helps you take wonderful photos and that was the one reason I almost kept mine. However, there are too many other compromises with the hardware that I was not willing to make. The Google Pixel is priced at $649 and $749. The Google Pixel XL is priced at $769 and $869.
9. Moto Z2 Force
Thankfully, Motorola continues to actively support the Moto Mods and the newest high end Moto is the Moto Z2 Force Edition, available now between $650 and $720 with some launch specials.
The Z2 Force Edition brings the shatterproof display we saw last year on the Z Force Droid on Verizon. While the display will withstand drops, it also scratches very easily so if you buy this phone then you should immediately put on a screen protector.
The Z2 Force Edition has a Snapdragon 835, 4GB RAM, 64GB internal storage, dual rear 12 megapixel cameras, and a rather small 2,730 mAh battery. It supports Moto Mods, including the new 360 Camera Mod, which was a lot of fun to use on some mountain hikes.
Motorola has done a good job updating these latest Moto Z phones with the operating system and monthly Android security updates. You can also use the Moto Z2 Force Edition in a Google Daydream headset for a VR experience.
The Moto Mods snap on and off easily and are very functional. Motorola has spent time and money fostering the Moto Mods development and we are starting to see projects on Indiegogo and elsewhere.
10. OnePlus 5
The OnePlus line of phones launched with high end specifications at a reasonable price. The prices have gone up with the last couple of devices, but the OnePlus 5 still offers an amazing value at $479 (64GB) and $539 (128GB).
You can find the OnePlus 5 in midnight black, slate gray, and soft gold with the ability to purchase directly from OnePlus.
The OnePlus 3T feels much like an HTC 10, but the customization, more RAM, and longer battery life make it compelling. It does have a 1080p display so the resolution is not as high as an HTC 10, but it is priced significantly lower.
The OnePlus 5 has a Snapdragon 835 processor, 6GB or 8GB of RAM, and 64GB/128GB of internal storage. There is a 3,300 mAh battery to keep you going, along with Dash Charge for quick top off when you need it.
OnePlus has shown it can update the phone regularly as well with a few updates already made since its release. It has some awesome customization options and a handy alert slider on one side.
Sandra Vogel gave it a 9/10 rating in her ZDNet review. CNET awarded the OnePlus 5 8.9/10 in its review. I have not personally tried the OnePlus 5, but after seeing such high scores in these two reviews I may have to test one out and see if it should move further up my list here.
These past six months have been very difficult for me to choose my favorite and I actually ended up purchasing a few phones, including the S8 Plus, a gorgeous Solar Red HTC U11, and a Note 8. Huawei phones are not readily available in the US so my list doesn’t reflect these devices. What other devices would you recommend for this top ten list?
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