The Best Android Phones

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We spend dozens of hours each year testing the latest Android smartphones in everyday use, and we think the Google Pixel is the best Android phone for most people. It has the fastest performance of any Android phone we’ve tested, a best-in-class 12-megapixel camera, and impressive build quality. It also runs the latest version of Android, and it’s guaranteed to get fast updates for two years.

Last Updated: May 25, 2017
After testing the Samsung Galaxy S8, it replaces last year’s Galaxy S7 as our pick for people who need to buy a phone through their carrier, or who want a phone with water resistance or a microSD card slot. We’ve also tested several other phones, including the LG G6, HTC U Ultra, and BlackBerry KEYone, but don’t recommend them for most people.
Expand Most Recent Updates
May 16, 2017: After testing the Samsung Galaxy S8, we’ve decided that it will replace last year’s Galaxy S7 as our pick for people who need to buy a phone through their carrier, or who want a phone with water resistance or a microSD card slot. We’ve also tested several other phones, including the LG G6, HTC U Ultra, and BlackBerry KEYone. We’ll post the full update in a week or so.
March 29, 2017: Samsung has debuted its latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S8, so anyone considering a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge should hold off on getting either of those phones. We’ve added our initial thoughts about the S8 to the What to look forward to section below, and we will be testing it soon.
March 10, 2017: On February 22, 2017, Google confirmed that less than 1 percent of its Pixel devices have defective microphones, likely caused by a hairline crack in the solder connection on the audio codec. If you run into any problems with the microphone on your Pixel, Google recommends replacing your phone under warranty.
March 3, 2017: LG and Sony announced new phones at the Mobile World Congress this year, and we’ve added them to the What to look forward to section below.
February 6, 2017: The Huawei Mate 9 is now available unlocked in the US, and it’s a good choice for people who want the best possible battery life and don’t mind a large phablet. However, it doesn’t dethrone the Pixel or the Galaxy S7, which have superior cameras, better software, and higher-resolution screens.
February 1, 2017: We’ve added HTC’s U Ultra to the What to look forward to section below.
December 16, 2016: The OnePlus 3T, a small improvement over the OnePlus 3, is our new budget pick. It’s more expensive than the OnePlus 3 (which it replaces), but it’s still the best phone in its price range.
November 23, 2016: After testing the Google Pixel, we now think it's the best choice for most people because it has the best camera and software of any Android phone, a great screen, and excellent build quality, and it comes in a phablet version too. We still like the Samsung Galaxy S7 for those who want a water-resistant phone with expandable storage.
November 18, 2016: After testing the Google Pixel, we think it’s the best choice for most people because it has the best camera and software of any Android phone, plus a great screen and build quality, and it comes in a phablet version, too. We still like the Samsung Galaxy S7 for those who want a water-resistant phone with expandable storage. Look for the full update to this guide shortly.
October 11, 2016: When the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 first became available, we tested it and added it to this guide’s section about the competition worth considering. However, due to a series of battery faults that made the phone a fire risk, Samsung recalled all Galaxy Note 7 handsets and discontinued the device. We have removed our testing results from this guide, and we urge anyone who still owns a Galaxy Note 7 to return it to their carrier immediately for an alternate phone or a refund.
Our pick
Google Pixel and Pixel XL
The Pixel is the fastest Android phone we’ve ever tested, it has the best camera, and it offers the best version of Android you can get, with guaranteed timely updates for two years from release.

There are actually two Pixels: the regular one, with a 5-inch screen, and the Pixel XL, with a 5.5-inch screen. Aside from size, display resolution, and battery capacity, the two phones are identical. Both versions offer more than a day of battery life, even under heavy use, though the Pixel XL will last longer. The Pixel phones’ 12-megapixel camera is even better than the one in the Samsung Galaxy S8, and the rear fingerprint sensor is one of the most accurate we’ve used. While their build quality is excellent, neither Pixel has IP68 water resistance like the Galaxy S8, and they lack a microSD card slot. The Pixels work on all US carriers, though Verizon is the only one that sells the phones directly; you can also buy them directly from Google, which now offers monthly payment plans through its store, unlike in previous years.

Also great
Samsung Galaxy S8
The best screen of any Android phone, a beautiful aluminum-and-glass design, water resistance, and a microSD slot.
Also great
Samsung Galaxy S8+
The same excellent guts and build quality as the Galaxy S8, but with a larger screen and much better battery life.

If you want a phone with a microSD slot, wireless charging, or water resistance, or you prefer to buy a phone through your carrier, consider the Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+. The company’s new curved Super AMOLED screens are the best displays we’ve ever seen. They’re crisp and bright, and have a taller aspect ratio with less “chin and forehead” on the front—that means the Galaxy S8 fits a 5.8-inch screen in a body that’s about the same size as the Pixel with its 5-inch screen. The Galaxy S8+ has a 6.2-inch screen in a body that’s similar in size to the 5.5-inch Pixel XL. The 12-megapixel camera found on both models takes excellent photos that are almost as good as the Pixel’s. The S8’s metal-and-glass body is attractive and includes IP68 water and dust protection, unlike the Pixels, and the Galaxy phones support wireless charging and microSD expansion. The new design finally drops physical navigation buttons in favor of virtual ones, which means the fingerprint sensor has to move to the rear of the phone—not necessarily a bad thing, but Samsung has placed the sensor next to the camera where it’s hard to reach, especially on the S8+. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ ship with Android 7.0, which is older than the Pixel’s 7.1 build. While Samsung’s version of Android is better than it used to be, it still includes features of dubious value, and the Galaxy S8 is still not as fast or responsive as the Pixel, even though it has a newer processor.

Also great
OnePlus 3T
This phone has a faster CPU and more memory than most flagship phones. The OnePlus 3T also has a durable aluminum body and the best camera on any phone near its price.

If you’re on AT&T or T-Mobile and want a great phone that’s not as expensive as a Pixel or Galaxy S8, consider the OnePlus 3T. It has a sturdy aluminum unibody design, its 16-megapixel optically stabilized camera is great for the price, and its fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate. The OnePlus 3T is faster than the Galaxy S8, despite costing hundreds less. Its biggest weakness is that its 5.5-inch 1080p AMOLED screen isn’t very bright and has odd color calibration.The 3T is nearly identical to the OnePlus 3, which it replaces, but it comes with a slightly better processor, improved battery life, a higher-resolution front camera, and a $40 price bump. It’s the best phone you can get for less than $450.

If you’re looking for a less-expensive option, check out our guide to budget Android phones. If you have a Mac or other Apple devices, you plan to do a lot of smartphone photography, or you just really like the iPhone, we also have a full guide to iPhones.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

Over the past five years, I’ve written more than a million words about Android phones, tablets, and software on websites such as Android Police, ExtremeTech, and Tested. I’ve also lived with dozens of different Android phones as my “daily drivers” during that time. I’ve used and reviewed more phones in the past year than most people will own in their entire lives.

Should you upgrade?

The Wirecutter’s philosophy on upgrading any product is that you should spend money on the things you use all the time and that are important to you, and you shouldn’t spend a lot on the rest.

If you’re happy with your current phone, don’t get a new one yet. The phones that will be available later will be better than the models out there today. On the other hand, if you use your phone constantly throughout the day and your old one isn’t serving you well anymore, get a new one.

If you’re happy with your current phone, don’t get a new one yet.

Another reason to consider an upgrade is if your current phone isn’t receiving software updates anymore. Without updates, your phone will get less secure over time—all software has bugs, which lead to security vulnerabilities, and if your phone isn’t getting updates, it isn’t getting fixes, either. And without updates, the phone won’t be able to take advantage of apps that require features present only in the latest OS. (Of course, newer apps may also require more power than an older phone’s hardware can supply.)

If your biggest complaint is that your phone’s battery life sucks, consider replacing the battery before replacing the phone. Most recent phones use sealed-in batteries, but you can usually ask the manufacturer or a third-party service to replace the battery. It’s a hassle, but it’s less of one than replacing the phone, and it’s a lot less expensive. If such an option isn’t feasible for you, any of our picks should get you through a day without issues.

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The Best Budget Android Phones

The Best Budget Android Phones

If you’re looking to spend under $400 on a smartphone, check out these options.

Read More

When it’s time to buy a new phone, we recommend getting the best-rated, most recently released phone you can afford. On the major US carriers, that usually means paying $20 to $30 per month for two years on a finance plan. Why shouldn’t you save some money by getting whatever cheap phone your carrier offers? Those inexpensive phones often have some combination of substandard specs, poor build quality, bad interface, and outdated, crufty versions of Android, never to be updated again. Chances are you’ll feel the difference in quality and usability every day. And they’re often already a year or two old, so they’ll be three or four years old by the time you pay them off—long past the last software update they’ll get. You’re almost always better off paying a bit more to get a better phone that you’ll enjoy using for at least two years.

Or—and this is an increasingly popular option as cheap phones get better—you could buy an unlocked phone outright.1 You can get a great Android phone unlocked—which means it’ll work on any compatible carrier—for $300 to $400, or even less if you’re willing to sacrifice a few features.

Our picks: Google Pixel and Pixel XL

A hand holding the google pixel, displaying its home screen.

The Google Pixel offers the best available hardware in a compact package.

Our pick
Google Pixel and Pixel XL
The Pixel is the fastest Android phone we’ve ever tested, it has the best camera, and it offers the best version of Android you can get, with guaranteed timely updates for two years from release.

The Google Pixel is the best Android phone for most people. The 12-megapixel camera is the best we’ve seen on Android. The Pixel is noticeably faster than every other Android phone we’ve tested—even the newer Samsung Galaxy S8—and it runs the best version of Android, unencumbered by heavy skins and redundant features. Google’s hardware took a big step up with the aluminum Pixel, which comes in 5-inch and 5.5-inch (XL) variants. The two Pixels have almost identical specs, so you don’t have to compromise on speed, RAM, or storage if you want a smaller phone. The main drawback of the Pixels is that they aren’t water-resistant, unlike the iPhone 7 or Galaxy S8. They also lack microSD card slots, but are available with up to 128 GB of built-in storage.

Verizon is the only US carrier that sells the Pixels in stores, but they’re also available on the online Google Store, unlocked for any carrier. Unlike most of the phones Google has sold before, the Pixels aren’t cheap. At the time of writing, the 5-inch version was starting at $650 and the Pixel XL was starting at $760, each with 32 GB of storage. Bumping up to 128 GB adds $100 to each phone’s price. Google is asking flagship prices for these phones, but the camera, software, and build quality are more than a match for similarly priced phones like the Galaxy S8, and even the iPhone 7. At least Google is offering monthly payment plans, which wasn’t the case with the older Nexus phones.

The 12-megapixel camera offers the same resolution as the Galaxy S8’s, and it takes even better photos, with accurate colors, good exposure in varied lighting conditions, and more fine details captured. And it’s fast. Really fast. It’s ready to snap a photo as soon as the camera app opens, and it doesn’t slow down to buffer. Even Google’s HDR (high dynamic range) photo captures are faster than Samsung’s now. In a long-term review posted after he’d used the Galaxy S8+, David Ruddock from Android Police says, “I can’t stop taking pictures with the Pixel. I love this camera.” Google offers free, unlimited full-resolution backups to Google Photos of pictures and videos taken on the Pixel. Even 4K videos will be backed up in original quality. (For anyone who doesn’t own a Pixel, Google Photos’s unlimited free backup option compresses photos and videos; uncompressed files count toward your storage quota.)

Buying a Pixel gets you the latest version of Android, Android 7.1 Nougat, with features no other devices yet have. These include Google Assistant, which is more advanced and conversational than the Google voice commands on other phones. Assistant can take selfies, send messages, tell you when your flight is arriving, help you set reminders, read the news, and more. It isn’t always perfect—some phrases that should work just produce errors, while slightly different phrasing works fine. As Dieter Bohn on The Verge explains: “Sometimes it amazes you with what it can figure out and sometimes it also baffles you when it can’t answer seemingly obvious questions.”

Android 7.1 includes other Nougat features like split-screen support, improved battery life, and support for Daydream VR. Split-screen is more useful on larger phones, like the Pixel XL, and on tablets like the Pixel C, but it’s occasionally useful even on the standard Pixel, and the implementation is less clunky than Samsung’s.

Google guarantees at least three years of monthly security patches and two years of major system updates for the Pixel phones, and the improved update system—a Nougat feature, but one that has to be built into the phone and can’t be added later—can install them in the background when you restart your phone. Most phones seldom get updates, and when updates do arrive, your phone is unusable while the update installs. Samsung is the next most proactive device maker with security patches, but Samsung’s patches can be delayed by carriers—Google’s aren’t. Full Android version updates like the upcoming Android O will take months longer on phones from Samsung, OnePlus, and others.

The google pixel laying face down on a wooden floor.

The Pixel’s design is unexceptional, but the build quality is best-in-class.

We’ve praised Samsung for its phones’ build quality in recent years, and the Google Pixel is just as great. The aluminum rear shell is better than the Galaxy S8’s glass back in the event you drop your phone (though the Gorilla Glass inlay at the top of the Pixel’s back may prove more vulnerable). Engadget describes the Pixel’s design as “yawn-inducing,” but it concedes that the build quality is great.

As with almost all modern phones, the battery is not removable, but Bohn at The Verge says, “Google was able to optimize battery life beyond what other Android phones can do.” The standard Pixel with its 2,770 mAh battery lasts as long as the Galaxy S8—comfortably longer than a day with heavy use. The Pixel XL’s 3,450 mAh battery gives it even better longevity. You can almost get away with charging it every other day.

The pixel xl and pixel set next to each other on a wooden floor.

The Pixel XL (right) is identical to the smaller Pixel except for the larger display and battery.

The Pixel’s 5-inch 1920×1080 AMOLED screen helps with the stellar battery life. At its size, it’s hard to tell the difference between 1080p and the 1440p AMOLED on the Galaxy S8, though Samsung has a slight advantage. The Pixel XL’s 2560×1440 AMOLED looks a bit sharper than the Pixel’s 1080p panel, but it, too, falls a bit short of the Samsung in color and brightness.

Unlike the similarly priced Galaxy S8, LG G6, or iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, the Pixels aren’t water-resistant. They’re fine in the rain or with minor splashes, but they won’t survive a dunking—disappointing in a phone this expensive, especially when all the serious competition can. The Pixels also don’t have a microSD card slot or 64 GB versions, which means if you want more than 32 GB of storage, you need to spend an extra $100 for the 128 GB version.

Also great: Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+

Samsung galaxy s8 being held above a wooden floor.

Also great
Samsung Galaxy S8
The best screen of any Android phone, a beautiful aluminum-and-glass design, water resistance, and a microSD slot.
Also great
Samsung Galaxy S8+
The same excellent guts and build quality as the Galaxy S8, but with a larger screen and much better battery life.

If you prefer to buy a phone from your carrier, or you want a phone with a huge screen, water resistance, a microSD card slot, or wireless charging, you should get the Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+. In addition to those features, they have the best displays of any phone we’ve tested; and, with curved sides, tall aspect ratios, and incredibly narrow bezels, there’s a lot more screen on each than on the Pixels. The Galaxy S8, about the same size as the Pixel, fits a 5.8-inch screen in the same space as the Pixel’s 5.1, and the S8+ has a hand-stretching 6.2-inch screen in a chassis that’s about the same size as the 5.5-inch Pixel XL’s. The S8 and S8+ are great Android phones, but they can’t quite match either of the Pixel’s camera, software, or responsiveness, and they’re both more expensive than the equivalent Pixels. Samsung’s software isn’t as responsive as the Pixels’ pure Android, and it won’t get updates as fast, though it’s better than what you get from LG or Huawei.

The S8 is available from all major carriers for around $750, usually with a payment plan that breaks down to $30 to $35 per month over two years. The S8+ is around $850, with a slightly higher monthly payment. Both are also available unlocked directly from Samsung.

The Galaxy S8 makes a good first impression with a 5.8-inch 2960×1440 Super AMOLED display. (The 6.2-inch panel on the S8+ is the same resolution, but it’s more difficult to reach all of the screen with one hand.) Samsung’s new AMOLED is the brightest, sharpest display we’ve ever tested. DisplayMate says this screen can reach an astounding 1,000 nits of brightness for excellent outdoor readability, and the colors are more accurate than on other phones. The left and right edges of the screen curve down toward the back of the phone, giving the body a comfortable, rounded shape (although this can make it more vulnerable to drops). Samsung has improved its palm rejection technology, too. This was a problem with last year’s curved phone, the Galaxy S7 Edge, that led to phantom touches. Dan Seifert at The Verge says, “I didn’t have an issue with errant touches with either the S8 or the S8 Plus [sic] in my time with them.”

The samsung galaxy s8 set on a wooden floor, face down.

The metal and glass body of the S8 line feels extremely solid, and it’s rated IP68 for water and dust resistance, which means it’ll keep working after being exposed to rain or even complete submersion in a pool. That’s something you don’t get with the Pixel or LG V20. Samsung finally killed the physical home button and the capacitive navigation buttons in favor of on-screen ones, and the portion of the screen that holds the home button is pressure-sensitive (like Apple’s 3D Touch, but only on part of the screen), so it works even when the screen is off. However, this moves the fingerprint sensor to the back of the phone, and unlike on the Pixel, it’s very high up, right next to the camera, making it inconvenient to use and often leading to smudges on the camera. CNET warns, “You will curse this.”

The Galaxy S8 has a 12-megapixel main camera with very similar specs to the one on last year’s Galaxy S7. Its large f/1.7 aperture lets it take in more light than the camera on many other phones, and it has optical image stabilization and almost instantaneous autofocus. The result is that the Galaxy S8 gets a bright, sharp photo in almost any lighting conditions, the first time, whereas some other phones struggle to even do so occasionally. David Ruddock at Android Police says, “With a steady hand you can get some pretty crisp shots where other phones would just render an unpleasing mess of noise and blur.” We still like the Pixel’s camera a little better because it’s faster (both to open and to capture), its white balance is better in low light, and the HDR images look nicer. The Galaxy S8 is a close second, though.

The S8 and S8+ come with 64 GB of storage (a nice increase over the 32 GB you get in the base model of most phones), and a microSD card slot gives you the option of expanding memory if you need it. The 3,000 mAh battery on the S8 is non-removable, but it packs enough power to get you through more than a day of heavy usage including games, messaging, email management, and navigation. The S8+’s 3,500 mAh battery lasts even longer. The Galaxy S8 includes wireless charging (both Qi and PMA), unlike the Pixel, but its wired fast-charging standard is the relatively ancient QuickCharge 2.0 instead of USB Power Delivery, so it’s slower than the Pixels’ wired charging.

The S8 and S8+ are the first phones to ship with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 CPU. However, Samsung prioritized battery life over speed, and as a result the Galaxy S8 is slower than phones like the Pixel and LG G6 that have older processors. The Galaxy S8 is fast enough, but it won’t blow you away.

Samsung has been making its Android interface a little better each year, and the S8 version is better than the UI layers used by companies like Huawei or LG. However, the settings layout is confusing and Samsung’s painfully colorful “squircle” icons stick out like a sore thumb. The Galaxy S8 also has Samsung’s new Bixby assistant, which takes up space on your home screen and even has its own hardware button. This feature does little more than list news stories and link to themes in the Samsung store—Android Central calls it “undercooked,” which is an understatement. The Pixel’s clean version of Android is much faster, easier to use, more attractive, and still a version ahead at Android 7.1, compared with 7.0 on the Galaxy S8.

Samsung has pledged to keep its flagship devices updated with monthly security patches, but it still struggles to stay caught up. The Galaxy S7 on US carriers regularly went two or three months between security patches, while the Pixel gets regular monthly updates. (Google never misses a patch.) Samsung also takes several months to push new Android versions, and shipping the Galaxy S8 with Android 7.0 instead of 7.1 seems like a bad way to start.

Best budget flagship phone: OnePlus 3T

A person holding the Oneplus 3t Android phone.

Also great
OnePlus 3T
This phone has a faster CPU and more memory than most flagship phones. The OnePlus 3T also has a durable aluminum body and the best camera on any phone near its price.

If you’d rather not pay $600 to $700 for a phone (even spread out over two years), consider the OnePlus 3T. It’s as fast as or faster than other flagship phones, but it’s much less expensive. But unlike phones in the $200 range, the 3T doesn’t cut too many corners to keep the price low—it’s almost as good as phones like the Galaxy S8 or the Pixel, thanks to blazing-fast hardware, superb build quality, and a speedy fingerprint sensor. The 1080p display has some color-calibration issues, the phone isn’t water-resistant, and the camera is less reliable than the Galaxy S8’s or the Pixel’s, but the 3T is still the best phone you can get for the price.

The OnePlus 3T has a Snapdragon 821 processor, 6 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of storage. Though it lacks a microSD card slot, you can get 128 GB of storage for $40 more. In my review for Android Police, I note that it’s “as fast as phones that cost twice as much.” The OnePlus 3T is unlocked and supports dual SIM cards, a rarity for phones available in the US. It’s compatible with only GSM networks like those of AT&T and T-Mobile—the Pixel and the unlocked Galaxy S8 both work on Verizon and Sprint, too—but it has full-band support for those GMS networks.

The OnePlus 3T has an aluminum unibody design, meaning the frame is made from a single block of sturdy metal. It feels very similar in the hand to last year’s Nexus 6P. On the left side is something you won’t find on any Android phones from other manufacturers: an alert slider. This switch lets you toggle between normal, priority, and silent notification modes without waking the phone. The OnePlus 3’s home button is also its fingerprint sensor, one of the fastest and most accurate we’ve ever tested. It’s faster than the Galaxy S8’s and a bit faster than the one on the Pixel. Unlike the Galaxy S8, the OnePlus 3T isn’t water-resistant.

The OnePlus 3T’s 16-megapixel camera is competent—better than the camera on any other phone in this price range—but it falls short of the reliably excellent cameras of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the Google Pixel. You shouldn’t judge the quality of photos on the 3T’s display, though, as it’s just not calibrated very well. Some colors look almost neon, and the display is quite dim next to those of most other phones we’ve tested. It’s the exact same display used in the OnePlus 3, and Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica wrote, “[T]he OnePlus 3 won’t win any display awards.” The 1080p resolution is low enough that the PenTile subpixel pattern is visible, and text doesn’t look as crisp as it does on the 2560×1440 AMOLED panels of the Pixel XL and Galaxy S8. It’s not a bad display, but a $440 phone should have better.

The oneplus 3t Android phone on a wooden surface.

The all-aluminum chassis of the OnePlus 3T feels great in the hand.

Even though 6 GB is more RAM than you get with any other phone right now, the 3T doesn’t seem to offer better performance than phones with 4 GB of memory. Brandon Chester of AnandTech writes that the RAM is “really just sitting there using energy.”

The OnePlus 3T’s 3,400 mAh battery will get you through the day comfortably. The OnePlus 3T does support fast charging, but not the Qualcomm Quick Charge that most other phones use, or even USB-C Power Delivery: The company’s Dash Charging works with only the included power adapter, and you can’t get Dash Charge hardware from anyone else. The phone will still charge at normal speed (that is, as fast as any non-fast-charge phone) with a standard USB-C cable and USB charger, and any fast charging is better than none, but using a proprietary charging technology instead of a standard is annoying.

The OnePlus 3T’s build of Android 7.1 Nougat, called OxygenOS, is clean, fast, and pretty close to stock Android. It adds a number of cool extras, like gestures you can use with the screen off to launch the camera or turn on the flashlight. (Neither the Galaxy S8 nor the Pixel is as capable when the screen is off.) You’ll also find a dark-UI mode intended to make the phone more pleasant to use at night. As Chris Velazco of Engadget points out, “The overall effect [of OxygenOS] is more subtle than other companies’ approaches, and I think it’s more valuable as a result.” OnePlus was one of the first phone makers to push a Nougat update; however, updates to the 3T will probably slow down dramatically when OnePlus releases a new phone—the OnePlus 2 still doesn’t have Nougat. Future updates will come with the same multiple-month waits. As we mentioned above, Google phones get those updates right away for at least two years.

If you’re willing to risk a long wait for updates, and you don’t mind a middle-of-the-road display, the OnePlus 3T is the best phone you can get for around $400. We’ve seen reports of issues with OnePlus’s warranty service in the past, but that situation appears to be improving. Our criticisms aside, we think the 3T’s low price makes it a compelling alternative to phones that cost almost twice as much.

Also worth considering

The phones below aren’t better for most people than either the Pixel or Galaxy S8, but each fits a specific niche those don’t, or has a feature those lack. If long battery life or a physical keyboard is a must-have, for example, they’re worth a look.

Huawei Mate 9

The Huawei mate 9 being held above a wooden background.

Also great
Huawei Mate 9
The Huawei Mate 9 is a big, excellent phone with Alexa support and amazing battery life, but a relatively low-res screen and a few software foibles.

The Huawei Mate 9 is a fast, unlocked phablet with a big battery in a slim package. It’s about the size of the Pixel XL, but it has a much larger screen and much better battery life. It’s also the only Android phone with support for the Amazon Alexa voice assistant. While it’s about $200 cheaper than the Pixel XL or the Galaxy S8, it works only on GSM networks such as AT&T and T-Mobile. Its screen has a lower resolution than the Pixel and Galaxy S7 screens, and its camera and software, though decent, aren’t as good, either.

Thanks to its 4,000 mAh battery, the Mate 9 lasted longer on a charge in our tests than any high-end Android phone we’ve tried: I was able to get three days of use out of a single charge. Aiding the battery life is the 1080p, 5.9-inch display—most phones of this size have 2560×1440 screens. (Higher-resolution screens use more power.) The custom Kirin 960 octa-core processor is powerful and efficient, and the Mate 9 has 4 GB of RAM just like the Pixel and the Galaxy S7.

The all-aluminum chassis looks nice and has extremely narrow bezels, a design that allows Huawei to squeeze that 5.9-inch LCD into a phone just a few millimeters wider and taller than the Pixel XL, which has a 5.5-inch screen. Like the Pixel, the Mate 9 has a fast and accurate rear-facing fingerprint sensor. It has a dual-camera array on the back, consisting of a 12-megapixel standard sensor paired with a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor. Using both at once helps make photos clearer and speeds up capture times. Photos from the Mate 9 aren’t quite as good as those from the Pixel or Galaxy S8, but they are better than those taken with most other phones.

The Mate 9 ships with Android 7.0 Nougat with the EMUI 5.0 skin. Huawei has cleaned up its Android skin dramatically compared with earlier versions, with improvements to notifications, quick settings, and the home screen—there’s finally an app drawer! It’s still inferior to the pure Android experience on the Pixel, and not quite as good as the interface on the Galaxy S8, but Huawei’s software is no longer a dealbreaker.

At $600, the Mate 9 is a little cheaper than most flagship phablets, and it’s unlocked, with support for GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile. However, in contrast to the Pixel and Galaxy phones, it isn’t available on a monthly payment plan, and it won’t work on CDMA networks like Sprint or Verizon. It uses proprietary fast-charging instead of QuickCharge or USB Power Delivery, so only its included adapter will quick-charge it. And unlike the Galaxy S8 and S8+, the Mate 9 isn’t water-resistant. Unless battery life is your greatest concern, you should stick with one of our main picks.

BlackBerry KEYone

The blackberry keyone held above a wooden floor, displaying the home screen.

Also great
BlackBerry KeyONE
The BlackBerry KEYone has a physical keyboard that will make fans of the classic BlackBerry design very happy.

The BlackBerry KEYone is the only modern Android phone with a physical keyboard. It has excellent build quality, better battery life than the Pixel or Galaxy S8, and a clean version of Android with added Blackberry features. The KEYone isn’t as fast as the Pixel or Galaxy S8, and the price is a little high considering the midrange specs, but this is the keyboard-bearing phone some people have been waiting for. It’s the only real option, if that’s what you want.

The keyboard takes up the bottom section of the phone (it’s not a slider like the BlackBerry Priv was), so there’s no reason to buy this phone if you aren’t going to use that keyboard. If you are, it’s a very good physical keyboard. The keys have more travel than you’d expect for a phone, and each key can be configured as a shortcut to launch apps or contacts. However, the keyboard leaves less room for the screen, which is only 4.5 inches. That’s a bit cramped by current flagship-smartphone standards, but the impact-resistant 1080×1620 LCD is bright and crisp. The 3,505 mAh non-removable battery is huge in relation to the small screen, and as a result the KEYone can go two or three days between charges.

The KEYone is fast enough for managing email, messaging, and multitasking, but it’s not as responsive as the Pixel, Mate 9, or Galaxy S8. The KEYone has 3 GB of RAM paired with a Snapdragon 625. That chip is already a year old, and it was reserved for cheap midrange devices when it came out, but if you’re buying this phone you’re not going to be playing games (except maybe Snake). BlackBerry uses a very clean build of Android, which includes few UI tweaks and no heavy background services; the KEYone comes with a suite of very capable Blackberry apps for unified messaging, security, and backup. It also ships with Android 7.1.1, and BlackBerry remains committed to fast security updates.

While the keyboard is the KEYone’s main selling point, it’s also the best reason not to buy it. You’ll pay a premium price of $550 (unlocked for GSM or CDMA) for this phone, so you should buy the KEYone only if you demand a keyboard.

What to look forward to

Sony expanded its Xperia X series with the announcement of the Xperia XZ Premium and the Xperia XZs at MWC 2017. The 5.5-inch XZ Premium will have Snapdragon’s new 835 processor, a high-resolution 4K display, and a 3,230 mAh battery; the XZs will have a 5.2-inch display, a Snapdragon 820, and a 2,900 mAh battery. Both will have a microSD card slot. The XZs is available now for $700, but Sony has yet to release availability or pricing information for the XZ Premium.

The competition

LG G6: The LG G6 is not a bad phone, but it’s not better at anything than the Pixel or the Galaxy S8. Like the Galaxy S8, this phone has a taller screen ratio and narrow bezels to cram a big display (5.7 inches here) into a manageable frame. The 1440p LCD is nice, but not as nice as the Galaxy S8’s or Pixel’s AMOLED. The G6 is fast and runs Android 7.0, but the Pixel is noticeably faster and is already on Android 7.1. Unlike past LG phones (including the V20) the LG G6 does not have a removable battery. That will put off some longtime LG fans, but the G6’s glass and aluminum frame feels very solid, and the phone is water and dust resistant like the Galaxy S8. Even though the G6 is much better than last year’s G5, most people will be happier with one of our main picks.

LG V20: If you absolutely have to have a phone with a removable battery, the LG V20 is one of your only options. With this phone, LG took what was good about the G5 (its unpopular early 2016 flagship) and ditched the rest. That means vastly better build quality than the G5 and no expensive modular accessories. However, it’s still clunkier and less comfortable to hold than the Pixel, Galaxy S8, or newer LG G6. Aside from the battery, there’s no real reason to get it over one of our picks.

HTC U Ultra: The HTC U Ultra is a very pretty phone, until you touch it. The highly polished mirror finish of the glass chassis picks up fingerprints and smudges mores than any other phone we’ve tested. The phone is fast, but the 3,000 mAh battery struggles to last a day. The U Ultra also lacks a headphone jack, despite the fact that this is a big phone with a 5.7-inch LCD—there should be plenty of space for the jack. HTC borrowed a trick from LG’s V series and added a ticker display above the main one, but HTC’s version is buggy and not as useful as LG’s. But the biggest issue with the U Ultra is that it costs $750 unlocked with no payment plan option and no sales through carriers, and it works only on GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile. There’s no reason to buy it over the Pixel or S8.

Sony Xperia X series: The problem with Sony’s phones used to be that they were good, but you couldn’t buy them from official US retailers. Now the problem is that you can buy them, but they aren’t good and cost far too much. The Xperia X is $550 unlocked at the time of writing, but it offers only midrange hardware, including a Snapdragon 650 processor and 5-inch 1080p screen. The 23-megapixel camera is awful—one of the worst we’ve tested in a non-budget phone. This handset isn’t even water-resistant like past Sony phones. Another model in the line, the Xperia X Performance, offers water resistance and a better CPU, but the screen is still a 5-inch 1080p LCD, the camera is still wretched, and it’s $700.

Sony’s midrange Xperia X Compact and flagship Xperia XZ came out recently. The 4.6-inch X Compact and the 5.2-inch XZ both have 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage, but the XZ has a 1080p display (versus the X Compact’s 720p) and a better processor. The X Compact sells for a little less than $400 unlocked, and the XZ costs around $500. We don’t plan to test these models, as we don’t anticipate either one replacing any of our picks for US buyers.

Motorola Moto Z: The Moto Z has a nice 5.5-inch AMOLED display and an almost impossibly thin (5.2 mm) frame. However, its battery is small and it doesn’t have a headphone jack—you have to use the included USB-C adapter to attach traditional wired headphones. Moto offers a line of modular accessories called Mods, but they’re all far too expensive (as much as $80 for a speaker and $300 for a video projector) and don’t work particularly well—the Mods simply aren’t worth it when you consider that the phone already costs as much as the Galaxy S7 at more than $600 at the time of writing. The design compromises necessary to accommodate the Mods make this a disappointing phone. The Moto Z Force (Verizon only) adds a larger battery and shatter-resistant screen, but it’s even more expensive.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro: The $500 Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is the first Lenovo-branded Android phone to launch in the US, and it’s the first shipping phone with Google’s Tango augmented-reality platform. However, the phone is gimmicky and not worth the asking price. Tango uses positional sensors and cameras to add virtual objects to the real world, putting a 3-D model of a dinosaur, for instance, in your living room. Tango is fun to play with, but it’s just a novelty right now; none of the apps or games are compelling. The Phab 2 Pro itself is mediocre as a smartphone, with a midrange Snapdragon 652 processor and a sluggish fingerprint sensor. It’s also impractically huge, with a 6.4-inch screen—it’s basically a small tablet. The placement of the Tango sensors on the back make it extremely awkward to hold, as well. You should put that $500 toward a Pixel instead.

(Photos by Ryan Whitwam.)

Footnotes:

1. Most carrier-purchased phones are locked to that carrier at the time of purchase; once you’ve paid off the phone, the carrier will usually unlock it upon request. Verizon phones are the exception, as they aren’t locked—though they use a different network than AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. Jump back.

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Sources

  1. Dieter Bohn, Google Pixel Review: Home Run, The Verge, October 18, 2016
  2. David Ruddock, Google Pixel review: A very good phone by Google, Android Police, October 18, 2016
  3. Chris Velazco, Pixel and Pixel XL review: What happens when Google designs phones?, Engadget, October 18, 2016
  4. Raymond Soneira, Galaxy S8 OLED Display Technology Shoot-Out, DisplayMate, April 2017
  5. Dan Seifert, Samsung Galaxy S8 Review: Ahead of the Curve, The Verge, April 18, 2017
  6. David Ruddock, Galaxy S8 and S8+ review: Another pair of excellent mainstream smartphones from Samsung, April 18, 2017
  7. Ron Amadeo, OnePlus 3 review: A great $400 phone you can actually buy, Ars Technica, June 29, 2016
  8. Brandon Chester, The OnePlus 3 Review, AnandTech, June 20, 2016
  9. Brian Barrett, Review: LG V20, Wired, November 5, 2016
  10. Chris Velazco, BlackBerry KEYone review: Vintage vibes and a modern OS, Engadget, May 4, 2017

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