Best overall

Samsung Galaxy S8

See at Best Buy
See at Samsung

The Galaxy S8 has slick hardware with tiny bezels that let it have a bigger screen in a still-compact body. But inside it still offers everything you want: a high-end processor, lots of storage, an SD card slot, full waterproofing and a great camera.

Yes the fingerprint sensor is slightly awkward to use, but the GS8’s iris scanner is dramatically improved to make up for it. And it only takes one look at the industry-leading display to start to forgive Samsung’s decisions on the back.

Though its software can be a little overwhelming to novices, you can’t argue that Samsung continues to pack in hundreds of features to a single phone, making sure there’s something in here for everyone’s needs. Samsung takes this approach of offering more more more with just a few compromises — and it keeps selling phones in massive numbers.

Bottom line: The Galaxy S8 gives you piles of features in a beautiful body, and is a great choice for a wide range of potential buyers.

One more thing: For about $100 more, you can get a Galaxy S8+ with a larger display and longer battery life.

Why the Galaxy S8 is the best

Samsung’s Galaxy S brand carries so much weight in the mobile world, and the Galaxy S8 continues to leverage that brand while also offering a fantastic overall smartphone experience that today’s consumers want. Once again, Samsung took its core principles of great hardware, a top-end display, waterproofing, solid cameras and mounds of features and updated it all for 2017.

The result is a fresh design that shrinks down the display bezels and really smooths out all of the sharp edges to give you a sleek, thin phone with a large display that doesn’t feel that large. The extra-tall 18.5:9 aspect ratio comes in at 5.8-inches across on the Galaxy S8 and 6.2-inches on the Galaxy S8+, and in both cases feels quite a bit smaller than the numbers would lead you to believe.

The sleek body still packs in top-end specs, of course, starting with that magnificent Super AMOLED display and backing it up with a Snapdragon 835 (or Exynos 8895 internationally), 4GB of RAM, larger 64GB of storage with an SD card slot, a new USB-C port and locking it all down with waterproofing. The batteries are no bigger than last year’s models, but battery life hasn’t taken a hit. On the other side of the hardware, there’s one big downside: Samsung moved the fingerprint sensor to an awkward position on the back next to the camera, leaving you with the less-consistent and less-convenient face scanning and iris scanning instead.

Samsung continues to make phones with all of the design and features people are clamoring for.

The camera experience has actually changed more on the front than the back with a new 8MP unit that packs auto focus. But the 12MP rear camera is still no slouch — Samsung has improved its processing to get even more out of this setup, and it remains a competitor for the best overall smartphone camera out there.

The ongoing point of contention when it comes to Samsung phones is the software, and that’s the same once again on the Galaxy S8. Samsung continues to put in a massive number of features without removing any from years prior, leaving you with lots of things to get in the way and confuse you when you’re trying to get the basics done. On the other hand, it’s hard to find someone who can’t get done what they need to right out of the box on this phone. It truly is aimed at being relevant to as diverse a set of consumers as possible, and it succeeds on that point.

By putting up with a few of the out-of-the-box quirks and taking some time to set it up how you like it, the Galaxy S8 can do anything you want and get it done at a fast pace while looking great as well.

Best Google experience

Google Pixel XL

Google Pixel XL

See at Google
See at Verizon

The Google Pixel XL does almost everything right. Its metal body is well-built and easy to grip, and its spec sheet is still capable, featuring a Snapdragon 821 and 4GB of RAM powering its 5.5-inch QHD display. This isn’t its biggest strength, however.

The Pixel XL really makes its case because Google owns both the hardware and the software. Even the best manufacturers can’t achieve what Google has with its first-party powerhouse. It’s fast, clean and lovely to use with Google’s apps and services. Performance is amazing, and less-experienced users will feel at ease with its simpler interface.

Then there’s the camera, which continues to be one of the best in the business in all types of scenes, helped along by Google’s exemplary electronic stabilization that gives you silky smooth video recording.

Bottom line: Google doesn’t compete in the raw number of features, but offers a sleek, consistent and holistic experience that absolutely deserves praise.

One more thing: The Pixel is available unlocked through Google’s store in most countries, but if you’re in the U.S. we suggest considering buying through Google Fi.

Best for less

LG G6

LG G6

See at B&H Photo

The LG G6 uses a tall 18:9 display and tiny bezels (and did it before the Galaxy S8) to give you a larger screen in a smaller body. The all-new metal-and-glass design may not be totally inspired, but it’s built amazingly well and incorporates lots of little features — like waterproofing — to help it hold up over time.

All of the internal specs you expect are here, even though the battery isn’t removable like its predecessors. The one downside here is regional differences: the higher-quality Quad DAC is exclusive to Asia, while wireless charging is only for the North American market.

LG’s dual camera setup has returned but with a refined emphasis on the wide-angle camera so it packs the same sensor as the standard camera. The main camera takes fantastic photos to go toe-to-toe with the best of them, and the wide-angle shooter adds in something that no other phone offers.

Bottom line: This is LG’s best flagship phone to date, and going a step further it’s one that comes in at a notably lower price — around $550 now — than the Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel XL.

One more thing: LG’s software can take some time to get used to, but if you tweak it a bit it’ll likely fit your needs.

Best alternative

HTC U11

HTC U11

See at Amazon
See at HTC

HTC is back at the top competing with the big names after a few years where its flagships just weren’t up to speed. The HTC U11 is a great phone that has followed industry trends and also executed really well on them.

When viewed from the back you get a beautiful shining glass back that’s truly unique. Around front it’s a bit more boring, but the 5.5-inch QHD display is goodl — and the fingerprint sensor is sensibly located below the screen.

The best example of HTC turning things around is its camera — the 12MP sensor gets all the hardware right, and also has the processing to take best-in-class photos. A big improvement over even the phones it released earlier in 2017.

Internally you get all of the right stuff, with a Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB storage, a big-enough 3000mAh battery and complete waterproofing. The one thing missing? A headphone jack on the bottom.

Bottom-line: The U11 is a great all-around phone at a reasonable $650 price that should definitely be considered in the same realm as other high-end options.

One more thing: This is the only phone on this list without a headphone jack — be ready to use Bluetooth or the included USB-C adaptor.


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Best for speed

OnePlus 5

OnePlus 5

See at OnePlus

OnePlus continues to iterate on its proven formula of offering a phone with top-end internal specs, great software and no obvious flaws for a really competitive price. The OnePlus 5 is blazing fast, has super-clean software and solid battery life.

At this discounted price you get hardware design that’s rather simple, a good-but-not-great screen and a simply above-average camera — plus, it’s missing waterproofing. OnePlus continues to hit all of the basics, though.

Even at a slightly higher price of $479, the OnePlus 5 is a great deal in 2017 — especially for those who can’t (or won’t) spend $600+ on one of the other flagship options.

Bottom-line: For a solid experience and future-proof specs for a lower price than the flagship competition, the OnePlus 5 is a great choice.

One more thing: Remember you won’t get Verizon or Sprint compatibility on the OnePlus 5 — you’ll have to stick to GSM/LTE networks.

Best for less

Moto G5 Plus

Moto G5 Plus

See at Amazon

The Moto G5 Plus is the latest in a proud line of great affordable unlocked phones from Motorola. The design game has been stepped up this year, with a new metallic body, while the innards get a welcome upgrade to a Snapdragon 625 processor with 3GB of RAM, and 32-64GB of storage depending on where you buy.

The big difference compared to the Moto G4 Plus is that this year’s model has the performance and endurance to match more expensive handsets, thanks to that efficient CPU and a 3,000mAh internal battery. (And you’ll also benefit from Moto’s Turbo Charging feature for quick refills.)

The display and camera are decent, though not mind-blowingly brilliant, but overall it’s hard to argue with the package that the Moto G5 Plus delivers for under $250.

Bottom-line: For an inexpensive unlocked phone that doesn’t feel cheap, the Moto G5 Plus is an awesome choice.

One more thing: Make sure you don’t accidentally buy the standard Moto G5 or Moto G4 Plus — the listings are all very similar.

Conclusion

For most people shopping for an unlocked phone, the Galaxy S8 will serve as the best choice with its excellent design, top-end hardware, great camera and piles of software features. It’s hard to go wrong with this phone, whether you’re choosing the Galaxy S8 or larger Galaxy S8+.

Best overall

Samsung Galaxy S8

Samsung Galaxy S8

See at Best Buy
See at Samsung

The Galaxy S8 has slick hardware with tiny bezels that let it have a bigger screen in a still-compact body. But inside it still offers everything you want: a high-end processor, lots of storage, an SD card slot, full waterproofing and a great camera.

Yes the fingerprint sensor is slightly awkward to use, but the GS8’s iris scanner is dramatically improved to make up for it. And it only takes one look at the industry-leading display to start to forgive Samsung’s decisions on the back.

Though its software can be a little overwhelming to novices, you can’t argue that Samsung continues to pack in hundreds of features to a single phone, making sure there’s something in here for everyone’s needs. Samsung takes this approach of offering more more more with just a few compromises — and it keeps selling phones in massive numbers.

Bottom line: The Galaxy S8 gives you piles of features in a beautiful body, and is a great choice for a wide range of potential buyers.

One more thing: For about $100 more, you can get a Galaxy S8+ with a larger display and longer battery life.

Update July 2017: With new unlocked models available, the list closely follows our general “best Android phones” list — with the addition of the Moto G5 Plus for those looking to spend less on their phone.



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