It is done. This year’s Android players have now all shown their hand. With the shopping and holiday seasons fast approaching, it’s also time to make a decision on which of these phones to get. If you’re an Apple fan, the choice is almost clear (though you’ll have to decide between three prices). In Android land, however, you might easily be paralyzed by so many choices. To make that decision-making process a bit easier, here are some of this year’s best high-end smartphones, depending on what kind of experience you’re after.
Best in price
For some buyers, it’s really the price that’s the dealbreaker. Specs are almost the same across all the premium flagships, with smartphones varying mostly in camera performance or special features. And when it comes to bang for the buck, it’s hard to argue that OnePlus still has the market advantage, with the OnePlus 6T starting at only $549 in full retail price. Even its highest configuration only goes as far as $629, undercutting even the least expensive flagship this year.
Sure, there’s the Xiaomi-made Pocophone F1, but until the problem with US network support is addressed, it’s really DOA in the market. Xiaomi’s latets Mi Mix 3 is definitely fancy and affordable but it’s not available in the US. And, sadly, the Essential PH-1 is a generation too old to be recommended, even at its current low price tag and with its fast updates.
Best in gaming
Mobile gaming, especially mobile esports, is a huge deal and a multi-million dollar industry today. Naturally, there is a new generation of smartphone users whose primary use for smartphones will be for playing games (in addition to keeping on top of their social networks). If you don’t mind carrying what looks like a gaming PC in your pocket, or are even proud of it, then the ASUS ROG Phone was made exactly for you.
Yes, it is more expensive than its biggest rival, the Razer Phone 2, but you are getting what you pay for. You have a custom Snapdragon 845 that runs faster than anyone else’s, a better-than-nothing 90 Hz OLED screen, two USB ports in different positions, a cooling fan attachment, and “Air Triggers” for extra buttons. You might want to also save up for the accessories that make the ROG Phone Android’s Switch. Verizon subscribers will have to skip this one, though, and grab the Razer Phone 2 instead.
Best in camera
This one is a bit contentious because not everyone agrees with benchmarks or with how smartphone cameras should behave. If DxOMark is to be believed, then the best option US buyers have is the HTC U12+. That currently ranks the highest on that scale with one major caveat: the Pixel 3 has yet to be reviewed.
Google has had a track record for pulling a rabbit out of its single camera hat and the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are no different. At least. based on what it showed off earlier this month. And from our own review of the duo, they are exactly as advertised. Unsure about that? You could also go for a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 or, if strapped for cash, a Galaxy S9+. Sadly, neither the still top-ranking Huawei P20 Pro (pending the Huawei Mate 20 Pro review) nor the new Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 are available in this particular market.
Best in multimedia
Some smartphone users value their videos and music. Display quality is hard to get wrong these days, especially when they’re made by mostly the same companies. Audio, on the other hand, is harder to get right. In that arena, LG still holds the title, even if the LG V40 ThinQ or LG G7 ThinQ may falter in other aspects.
It still sticks to a 3.5 mm headphone jack, which is the only way to enjoy its 32-bit Quad DAC experience. That said, this year LG has added a “Boombox” stereo experience for listening without headphones. As for the display, LG’s performance in the OLED department has improved though still not there.
Best in productivity
What does productivity mean? On the one hand, it means being able to accomplish tasks. On the other, it also means being able to produce. In both contexts, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 excels. It has two things no other smartphone has: an S Pen and Samsung DeX. The Huawei Mate 20 X actually has equivalents but good luck getting one.
Samsung’s latest phablet also a gigantic 4,000 mAh battery, better than good dual cameras, and a gorgeous no-notch screen. The downside? It’s one of the most expensive smartphones this year and Samsung Experience, though improved, can still be a hog.
What if you need an excellent camera, great performance, and the best that Android has to offer? Then you probably have to go to the maker of Android itself. As always, Google’s smartphones set the standard for Android phones, at least the way Google sees it. And since it’s a Pixel phone, you’re guaranteed a pure Android experience and updates up to three years.
And as before, there are two choices to be made, but fortunately, Google has made that choice easier. If you’re willing to pay the price for a larger screen with a large notch, then the Pixel 3 XL is obviously the way to go. Otherwise, the Pixel 3 is almost exactly the same and you wouldn’t miss out on anything. Except for the experience of having a large notch.
Of course, these aren’t the only top Android smartphones this year. Depending on where you are, more choices are available to you, like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro or the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3. And if you’re not so keen on having the top of the line, the Honor 8X that we recently reviewed is also an option. And then, of course, there’s the growing number of Android One and Android Go phones available for (nearly) pure Android experiences at lower prices and also lower performance. Suffice it to say, there’s always an Android phone that will fit your need, budget, and market.