The 10 Best Smartphones of 2020

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The Rundown
Best Overall (Android):
Samsung Galaxy Note20 5G at Amazon
"The powerful Note20 is a large, stylus-equipped flagship phone packed with features and capble of taking incredibly sharp photos."
Best Overall (Apple):
Apple iPhone 12 at Apple
"For the latest and greatest Apple smartphone, the iPhone 12 gets you an attractive new design and a powerful set of features."
"The Apple iPhone SE is the best, affordable iPhone on the market."
"The Galaxy S20 FE is a 5G phone that offers incredible value for most consumers."
"For those tired of hand-busting phones, the compact iPhone 12 mini packs a lot of power into a small design."
"For blazing fast 5G connectivity without breaking the bank, the Pixel 4a 5G has solid specs and connectivity at a reasonable price."
"The improved Z Fold2 adopts a similar design to the older Fold with some design tweaks, improved specs, and speedy 5G connectivity."
"The stylish OnePlus 8 Pro refines previous versions with its new 120Hz display, 5G speeds, and fast wireless charging."
"The Pixel 5 is the best phone Google has to offer, even better, it costs less than most rival flagship phones."
"The unique Surface Duo is Microsoft's take on a folding phone, consisting of a pair of 5.6-inch displays that fold out into a 8.3-inch screen."

The best smartphones simplify and add value to your life, keeping you connected to the people you care about and the broader world. The best models deliver high performance, which means you're never staring at your phone in irritation waiting for an app or webpage to load. They also pack excellent cameras that rival full, dedicated digital models from just a few years ago, and gorgeous displays with remarkable resolution and color accuracy for such (relatively) small devices.

Of course, even in the age of texting and messaging on social, call quality is still vital, a large part of which is the audio quality a phone's built-in speakers are capable of delivering. In the same vein, there's also the matter of connectivity to the best Bluetooth headsets or best wireless earbuds, so you can not only hear conversations but listen to music and podcasts without having to deal with lagging or interruptions.

See our full list of the best smartphones below.

Best Overall (Android): Samsung Galaxy Note20 5G

What We Like
  • Excellent triple camera setup

  • Fast and powerful processor

  • Useful stylus

  • Great productivity features

  • Gorgeous screen

What We Don't Like
  • A little large and bulky

  • Expensive Ultra model

The Samsung Galaxy Note20 5G together with its higher-end variant, the Note20 5G Ultra, are arguably the biggest, most powerful Android phones on the market. Both are great options if you're looking for a high-performance, stylus equipped phone to allow for fast multitasking, note-taking, web browsing, gaming, and photography. Both phones are powerhouses, boasting Snapdragon 865+ processors and between 8GB to 12GB of RAM depending on the configuration, allowing them to handle everything you can throw at them.

The Note20 is slightly smaller and more affordable with its 6.7-inch FHD screen. It has Samsung's classic Infinity-O display with a cutout in the center for the selfie camera. The screen is a Super AMOLED Plus with 393 pixels per inch (ppi) and HDR10+ certification, giving you rich, inky blanks and great color contrast. The Note20 Ultra is slightly bigger, consisting of a 6.9-inch Quad HD display. It's higher resolution at 496ppi and boasts a 120Hz refresh rate, allowing for smooth scrolling, gaming, and browsing.

Camera quality is breathtaking, with the Note20 boasting a triple rear camera setup with a 12MP ultra-wide camera, a 12MP wide-angle camera, and a 64MP telephoto camera for high-quality zoom. The Note20 Ultra takes it a step further with a 12MP ultra-wide camera paired with a 108MP wide-angle camera, a 12MP telephoto camera, and a laser autofocus sensor for fast focusing and snaps. Both phones are capable of lossless optic zoom, though the Note20 can do 3x while the Note20 Ultra can handle 5x. Both has optical image stabilization for focused photos and stable video, and both can record 8K video at 24fps, 4K at 60fps, and 1080p at 120fps and 60fps.

As with previous phones in the Samsung Note series, both devices are IP68 water and dust resistant, support fast wireless charging, and USB PD 3.0 wired charging. Perhaps the biggest other selling point is that both are 5G-enabled, allowing them to work on the new, fast 5G networks that are becoming available in the US and other countries.

Best Overall (Apple): Apple iPhone 12

What We Like
  • Attractive new design

  • Powerful A14 Bionic processor

  • Great camera capabilities

  • Fast charging, wireless charging, and MagSafe

What We Don't Like
  • Still no USB-C port

  • Doesn't include adapter or earbuds

The iPhone 12 is the base model of Apple's new flagship phone lineup. It comes with refinements to design and improved hardware compared to last year's iPhone 11. The big design change is that the sides of the phone are now squared off, reminiscent of the iPhone 4. Aside from that, you still have an edge-to-edge display, a cutout along the top for Face ID and the selfie camera, and an attractive glass back.

The front of the phone is made of reinforced ceramic glass and features a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display. The 2532x1170 panel offers a crisp 460ppi and supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision, giving you rich, saturated colors and dynamic range. Under the hood, the phone has a powerful new A14 Bionic processor running on iOS 14.1 which comes with a variety of new features.

Camera performance is also improved, with a 12MP primary sensor and a 12MP ultrawide sensor. The camera supports optical image stabilization, can record 4K at 60fps, and 1080p at 240fps. It's complemented by a 12MP front-facing camera that can also record 4K video at 60fps. Last, but not least, the phone features all the key features you'd expect from a flagship device like wireless charging, the new MagSafe for attachments, IP68 water and dust resistance, and fast charging, though that'll require a separate adapter.

Best Value: Apple iPhone SE (2nd generation)

What We Like
  • Hand-friendly size

  • Flagship CPU

  • Portrait mode everywhere

  • Affordable price

What We Don't Like
  • Tiny screen

  • No Portrait Mode for animals or objects

Launched in 2020, the iPhone SE (2nd Generation) comes perfectly positioned for the moment. It's more than just a relaunch of the affordable first-generation model, putting fresh guts into an iPhone 8 shell. With the new SE you're looking at a dated but classic design featuring big black bezels on the top and bottom, a touch ID button, and a largely aluminum unibody.

That means unlike the classic SE, you won't have a 3.5mm headphone jack, but you do get to take advantage of a slightly larger 4.7-inch screen. It's an HD Retina display, so it's not as big or sharp as the panels you get on either the iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro, On the plus side, you get tons of power with the new A13 Bionic CPU. it's easily one of the most powerful chips on a phone for this price and size. It also has 1GB more RAM than the old iPhone 8, allowing you handle just about any task when it comes to browsing, streaming, and gaming.

Our Editor-in-Chief Lance Ulanoff was particularly impressed by the camera capabilities, praising the 12MP rear camera and 7MP face time camera for their ability to take beautiful Portrait Mode pictures. He noted that this feature was made possible by the aforementioned A13 Bionic chip, which takes advantage of the integrated image processors, onboard AI, and machine learning to snap great portrait shots with both sensors.

Other nice touches come from the fact that the new SE boasts IP68 waterproofing, supports wireless charging, and can fast charge with an 18W charger. It's also capable of supporting dual SIMs (one physical SIM and an eSIM), gigabit LTE, Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth 5. These are feature's you'll be hard-pressed to find on an Android phone for just $399, making the iPhone SE (2nd Generation) one of the best compact phones you can buy.

"The Apple iPhone SE is the best, affordable iPhone on the market. It’s a canny piece of rebranding for an aging design that reinvigorates it through silicon and ultra-smart programming." — Lance Ulanoff, Editor-in-Chief

Best 5G: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G

What We Like
  • Good price to performance ratio

  • Attractive modern design

  • Solid specs

  • Good camera performance

What We Don't Like
  • Screen resolution could be higher

Samsung appears on this list quite frequently and for good reason. Of the major manufacturers, they have one of the largest numbers of 5G phones on the market. The Galaxy S20 FE is their latest one, taking aim at the mid-range segment of the 5G phone market. In many regards, this is a Galaxy S20 with some compromises to bring you a lower price.

It boasts a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display that's edge-to-edge, making it similar in appearance to the S20, it's actually a tiny bit bigger. However, screen resolution isn't as high at 2400x1080 and the pixel density is 407ppi, which is still very crisp, but not on the same level as the 563ppi the S20 packs in. There are also some missing features like HDR10+ for improved color saturation and dynamic range, but the screen is a high refresh 120Hz panel so you still get smooth usage.

Under the hood, you have a Snapdragon 865 processor which is nearly top-tier and just shy of the Snapdragon 865+ most of the highest-end phones have. Aside from that, you're looking at 6GB RAM and 128GB storage, or 8GB RAM and 256GB storage options, giving you plenty of power for multitasking and games. Camera performance is also looking promising, with a 12MP main camera, 8MP telephoto with 3x optical zoom, and a 12MP ultra-wide camera. It can record in both 4K and 1080p. Last, but not least, you get all the features you'd expect like an in-display fingerprint, fast charging, wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, and a sizable 4,500mAh battery.

Best Compact: Apple iPhone 12 mini

What We Like
  • Compact and portable design

  • Crisp screen

  • Powerful processor

  • Great cameras

  • Includes all features of larger model

What We Don't Like
  • No USB-C port

  • Doesn't include adapter or earbuds

  • No high refresh display

It might seem like most phones on this list are unwieldy, hand-straining devices, but the iPhone 12 mini is here to offer an alternative. As part of Apple's new flagship lineup, the iPhone 12 mini offers a smaller option for those who are tired of huge phones that don't fit in your pocket. The iPhone 12 mini essentially takes the hardware of an iPhone 12 and packages it down into a smaller form-factor.

Like the larger iPhone 12, you get squared off sides, a cutout at the top for the camera and sensor array, and an edge-to-edge screen. The panel is a 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR OLED, just like the iPhone 12. The resolution works out to 2340x1080 and comes to a crisp 476ppi. It supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision, giving you great dynamic range and rich colors.

The hardware is impressive, with an A14 Bionic chipset running iOS 14, making this one of the most powerful small phones on the market. It also comes with the same 12MP dual rear cameras as the iPhone 12, letting you shoot both regular and ultrawide shots, and record 4K at 60fps. Other features present include IP68 water and dust resistance, fast charging, and fast wireless charging.

Best Value 5G: Google Pixel 4a 5G

What We Like
  • Affordable price

  • 5G connectivity

  • Solid overall specs

What We Don't Like
  • No high refresh screen

  • No wireless charging or waterproofing

With more 5G networks going live from all major carriers, you might want to spring for a 5G-enabled phone but be leery about the price. Fortunately, Google has you covered with the Pixel 4a 5G. A slightly pared-down variant of the Pixel 5, it features a 6.8-inch OLED screen with a 2340x1080 resolution. The pixel density is a crisp 443ppi, and it supports HDR though not Dolby Vision or HDR10.

Specs are at the solid mid-range level, featuring a Snapdragon 730G chipset, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. The camera consists of a single 12.2MP sensor with OIS for improved low-light shooting. It can record 4K at 30fps and has an 8MP selfie camera. It won't match the multi-camera setup of the Pixel 5, but it still offers great overall performance.

The Pixel 4a 5G supports fast charging, but not wireless charging and it isn't waterproof, which are some of the bigger compromises you make for the affordable price.

Best Folding: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 5G

What We Like
  • Unique folding design

  • High resolution screen with high refresh rate

  • Powerful specs

  • Strong camera capabilities

What We Don't Like
  • Screen can be fragile

  • Very pricey

The Galaxy Z Fold2 is one of the best folding phones on the market. It takes the best part of Samsung Galaxy Fold and the Z Flip, to create the ultimate 5G folding phone. The Fold2 has a Samsung's famous foldable dynamic AMOLED screen that snaps open at a hinge. The panel gives you a total screen size of 7.6 inches (2208x1768) when fully unfolded, essentially giving you a tablet in the form-factor of a smartphone. We've yet to put the phone to the test, but because the screen is "ultra-thin glass", it'll likely pick up scratches and still suffer from a crease over long term use, but it's hard to know for sure without testing.

The screen doesn't have compromises in other regards, though. It supports HDR10+ for great multimedia content, has a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, and when folded close, there's a cover display that's 6.23-inches, letting you see notifications, time, date, and use various apps.

When it comes to hardware, the Z Fold2 matches other top-tier Samsung phones like the Note20 Ultra and S20 Ultra. You get a Snapdragon 865+ processor, 12GB of RAM, 256GB and 512GB storage options, and all the other features you'd expect like dual-band Wi-Fi, USB-C charging, wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, and fast charging.

Camera performance looks solid on paper, with three 12MP sensors consisting of a wide, telephoto, and ultra-wide sensors, dual 10Mp front sensors, and the ability to record in 4K. Like other top flagships in Samsung's lineup, there's a 5G modem for fast uplink and downlink.

What We Like
  • Attractive design

  • High refresh screen

  • Great camera quality

  • Excellent macro photography

  • Solid battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Lackluster color filter camera

  • Storage can't be expanded

The OnePlus 8 Pro is a stylish and capable successor to the OnePlus 7 Pro. It makes a number of refinements and enhancements to the design and features we liked in the previous model. For starters, it's a 6.78-inch sleek and stylish device that features attractive curved Gorilla Glass 5 edges and a metal frame. There are a number of eye-catching colors including green, blue, and black.

When it comes to specs, you won't be disappointed. Under the hood you have a Snapdragon 865 processor, 8GB or 12GB of RAM, and storage options for 128GB or 256GB. This is all running on OnePlus' clean Oxygen OS based on Android 10. The result is fast, smooth performance that looks particularly gorgeous on the 120Hz Quad HD AMOLED display. Blacks are rich and dense, and other colors appear bright.

Lifewire's Lance Ulanoff noted that the camera module also improved significantly from the 7 Pro. It consists of a 48MP main camera with a second 48MP ultra-wide camera with a 120-degree field of view, and software based curved correction. All this results in a sensor that can take great wide angle and low-light shots. There's also 8MP 3X optical zoom along with 30X hybrid zoom, it won't quite match what Samsung has to offer, but it comes close.

Last, but not least, the 4,510mAh battery allows the phone to sip power, and the Warp 30 charger and Qi wireless charger can both top up juice fast.

"If you want a premium Android 10 experience, OnePlus 8 Pro will not disappoint, It’s a big, beautiful phone that doesn't feel too big, and, with a few exceptions (dopey color filter camera, inconsistent portrait mode performance), rarely disappoints. It can even, in some small ways, outshine even the Samsungs and iPhones of the world." — Lance Ulanoff, Editor-in-Chief

Best Google: Google Pixel 5

What We Like
  • Lower price than many flagships

  • Excellent camera performance

  • Solid processor and multitasking

  • Wireless charging and waterproofing

What We Don't Like
  • Refresh rate could be higher

  • Processor could be more powerful

The Google Pixel 5 is the latest flagship phone from Google, and a direct successor to the Pixel 4. It has a large 6-inch OLED screen with a resolution that works out to 2304x1080 (432ppi). That makes it fairly sharp, though not as sharp as the Quad HD panel on the Note20 Ultra. The refresh rate is 90Hz, again, lower than the 120Hz refresh rate most Samsung phones on this list can hit.

Hardware is solid, though again, you're looking at a Snapdragon 765G processor rather than an 865+, and 8GB of RAM and 12GB of storage. With Google's lightweight software and optimized performance, we expect the phone won't have trouble with multitasking or gaming, though it won't handle as well in benchmark tests. Camera performance is one of the more standout features the Pixel series has become known for with a 12.2MP main senor and 16MP ultra-wide, optimized for shooting in low light and challenging settings.

In all other regards, the phone has everything you'd expect like IP68 water and dust resistance, a sizable 4,000mAh battery, fast charging, wireless charging, and reverse wireless charging capabilities. While it's true there are are trade-offs, the Pixel 5 is also $200 cheaper than most flagship phones on this list, making it a worthy choice if you're looking for a high-end Google device to get.

Best Unique: Microsoft Surface Duo

What We Like
  • Compelling productivity features

  • Useful dual screens

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Screen isn't edge-to-edge

  • Compact clamshell design

The Microsoft Surface Duo is possibly one of the most anticipated phones in the world. It's Microsoft's take on a dual-screen folding phone, consisting of two 5.6-inch AMOLED displays that can fold out into a larger 8.3-inch screen. Together with this comes a slew of productivity and mutlitasking features allowing you to run apps side by side, and do things like composing an email or taking notes while watching a video.

Unlike other folding phones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold, the Surface Duo has a 360-degree hinge and the two screens are separated, meaning you will see some bezel separating them. However, this build does mean a more durable pair of screens that's less prone to scratches, which is what you want when looking at a $1,399 phone.

In other regards, the Duo matches up to most flagships on the market. The Snapdragon 855 processor and 6GB of RAM is capable, even if i it isn't the latest and greatest. The phone is Android, but it'll boast a number of Windows-inspired enhancements and customization to take advantage of the dual screen setup. Perhaps most intriguingly, the Surface Duo will support the Surface Pen, making it a real competitor to Samsung's Note series.

The camera consists of a 11MP rear sensor with AI that's optimized to shoot either as front or rear. Under the hood, you'll find a 3,577mAh battery and a USB-C charging port with fast charging.

Final Verdict

If you're shopping for a smartphone and want the very best of the best (and prefer Android handsets), the Samsung Galaxy Note20 (view at Amazon) with its killer display and amazing performance is the market leader. On the Apple side, the iPhone 12 (view at Apple) has a powerful A14 Bionic processor, refined design, and improved camera capabilities.

How We Tested

Our expert reviewers and editors evaluate smartphones based on design, performance, display quality, functionality, and features. We test their real-life performance in actual use cases; phones are now such an integral part of our lives that it's critical to test them in a variety of real-world scenarios. Our testers also consider each unit as a value proposition—whether or not a product justifies its price tag, and how it compares to competitive products. All of the smartphones we reviewed were purchased by Lifewire; none of the review units were furnished by the manufacturer or retailer.

About Our Trusted Experts

Jesse Hollington has been testing and reviewing smartphones and smartphone accessories for over a decade, and has used every smartphone and mobile platform from the early Palm, Symbian, and Windows CE days to the modern era of Apple iPhones and the entire gamut of Android-based phones from the Google Nexus One to the latest Samsung devices.

Lance Ulanoff is a 30-plus year industry veteran and award-winning journalist who has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” Previously, Lance served as a columnist for Medium, Editor-in-Chief of Mashable, and Editor-in-Chief of PCMag.com.

Andrew Hayward has been covering the latest tech since back in 2006 for a number of major media publications. His top specialty is smartphone and mobile accessories, meaning he was the perfect choice to review a number of the Samsung handsets on our list.

Ajay Kumar is a tech editor at Lifewire who's been covering mobile phones and consumer electronics for nearly a decade. He's been published in PCMag where he's reviewed hundreds of phones, tablets, and other devices. He's personally used several of the phones on this list.

The Ultimate Smartphone Buying Guide

The humble telephone has come a long way over the years. Gone are the days when the phone was simply a way to call people. These days, smartphones are the hub of our digital lives, serving as a way to communicate with people, surf the Web, play games, pay bills, stay organized, and more.

When shopping for a smartphone, there are many factors to consider. First, you'll have to figure out which operating system you want that smartphone to run. And you’ll also want to consider other factors, including the amount of storage, screen size, battery life, and camera quality, to name a few. And so, because a smartphone is one of our most important possessions, it can sometimes be tough to pick out the right one. That, however, is why we’ve put together this guide—to help you find the perfect smartphone for your needs.

Smartphone Operating Systems

So if you decided you want a smartphone, you'll have to then consider which operating system you want to use. The operating system on a smartphone plays the same role as an operating system on a computer. It’s basically the software that you interact with on a daily basis. On an iPhone, the operating system is iOS, while on an Android phone, it’s Android. There are a few advantages and disadvantages to each operating system, which we’ll go over below.

Android

Interested in an Android operating system? Android is the most popular smartphone operating system in the world, and for a number of reasons. For starters, unlike Apple, which only allows for iOS to be used on its iPhones, Google licenses out Android to other companies. That’s why the likes of Samsung, HTC, Huawei, and Google itself all use the Android operating system.

Smartphone
 Lifewire / Claire Cohen

If you’re a tried-and-true Google user, then Android is usually better at working with those apps and services. We’re not just talking about the Google search engine here—other operating systems make good use of that, too. Instead, we’re talking about the Google Play Music streaming service, Google Drive cloud storage, other Google devices like the Google Home smart speaker, and more. Now more than ever, choosing a smartphone operating system is about choosing an ecosystem, and if you go for an Android phone, it might be helpful to either already use Google’s services, or be willing to switch.

Android is also generally considered to be the operating system “that can do more" and has more features. That’s because of the nature of Android—the code for Android is available for developers who want it, and Google is far less closed off than Apple about that. If you’re a tinkerer, or you want to install apps from third-party sources, Android may be the way to go—through we recommend only downloading apps from the Google Play Store to ensure that your phones stay malware-free. The trade-off of being able to do more is that it’s slightly less easy to use than phones with iOS.

Last but not least is the fact that Android phones make use of Google’s work in machine learning and artificial intelligence. The result of that is that Google Assistant is more capable than some other digital assistants, and Android is better at predicting what you might want to do and when you might want to do it.

In the end, there are a few main reasons to go for an Android phone. They can be a little cheaper, they work better with Google’s apps and services, and they’re a little smarter.

iOS

Apple’s iOS may not be used by as many people around the world, but in the U.S. it’s actually the dominant smartphone operating system. There are plenty of reasons to go for an iPhone—the phone that runs iOS—over an Android device. The main ones, however, are that it’s built by Apple, and as such it’s both super easy to use, ultra-stylish, and plays nice with other Apple devices.

From the start, iOS guides you through getting used to your phone, and pretty much everything is where you would expect it to be. Settings are all in the settings app, apps are all lined up together, and so on.

Because of the fact that Apple controls every aspect of the development of an iPhone, they can generally last longer and feel faster in how they handle things like multitasking. That doesn’t necessarily mean that iOS phones perform truly better than Android phones—though they often do—it just means that iOS is better at working with the hardware to create a great user experience.

There’s also the fact that iPhones work better with other Apple devices. Safe to say, if you have a Mac computer or iPad, then an iPhone may be the way to go, as it makes it easy to sync things like photos, messages, e-mails, and more, all with Apple’s iCloud.

If you want a simple user interface, better Apple integration, and a phone that performs better for longer, then a phone with iOS is probably the way to go.

Other Features and Considerations

The operating system isn’t the only thing to consider when buying a smartphone—though if you’ve figured out which operating system you want, then you’ve done a lot of the work. You’ll also want to think about the hardware (processor, RAM, etc.) under the hood, the camera, screen size, battery capacity, and more. Only a few of these things are an issue when buying an iPhone (there are only a few iPhone models each year to choose from). But if you’re buying an Android phone, these things might all be something to consider.

Smartphone
 Lifewire / Jordan Provost

Processor

The processor is essentially the brain of a computer, or in this case, a phone. More powerful processors basically mean that your phone can “think” faster, meaning tasks are completed quicker, multitasking is zippier, and your phone will perform well for longer. Longevity is important here: A phone with a sub-par processor might be perfectly fine at handling the apps of today, but that may not be true of the apps being released in two years.

There are a few companies developing processors for smartphones. Apple develops its own processors in-house, but the likes of Qualcomm, MediaTek, Samsung, and more, all develop processors for Android phones. In the U.S., Qualcomm chips are most common, and in 2018, the flagship Qualcomm chip is the Snapdragon 845. The higher the number here, the better.

If you want more powerful processors, you’ll want processors with multiple “cores.” Traditional processors can only perform one task at a time, but a dual-core processor can process two, and a quad-core processor can process four.

Storage

Storage is perhaps the most important thing for most people to consider. The more storage you have on your phone, the more files, apps, photos, video, etc., that you can keep on there at a time. These days, it’s a little easier to get by with less storage if you use cloud storage like Apple Photos or Google Drive, but some things simply can’t work without being stored on your phone. We recommend getting a phone with at least 16GB of storage (for light users), though 32GB is going to be much better, and 64GB or more should be enough for heavy users.

Some phones also allow for external storage, usually through a MicroSD card slot. With this slot, you can buy a small card about the size of a SIM card, which can be used to store files on. MicroSD cards start at around $10 for low-capacity ones and range up from there.

Camera

The camera has become one of the most important aspects of a phone. After all, when a phone has a great camera it means you can quickly capture a moment without having to carry around another camera.

There are a few things that make a great camera, but the most important is the software behind it. Two phones with identical camera specs can yield vastly different results, so, unfortunately, it’s near impossible to shop for a phone with a great camera by only looking at specs on paper.

Still, there are a few specs to consider. For starters, the resolution of the camera is important to many people. Resolution determines the number of pixels that make up a photo or video—and a higher number of pixels means the photo will look good on higher resolution displays. As displays continue to go up in resolution, that can be very important.

Smartphone
 Lifewire / Claire Cohen

You’ll also want to think about aperture, which is basically the size of the hole that light goes into before it reaches the camera sensor. The larger the hole, the more light that’s let in—which can be helpful for low-light situations. Aperture is expressed as an f-number—like, for example, f/2.0. Larger apertures, however, are represented by smaller numbers—which is confusing, but unfortunately the way it is.

We recommend looking at reviews for a phone to determine whether the camera is good or not. As mentioned, simple specs don’t mean a whole lot when it comes to camera quality, here are a few phone cameras we highly recommend.

RAM

RAM, or Random Access Memory, is another form of storage, but instead of using it to save files, its used by your system to save things that it might want to pull up quickly. Most commonly, open apps are saved in RAM so that when you close them and open them again, they can show up on the screen without having to completely load again.

Generally speaking, more RAM is better when buying a smartphone, but phones with more RAM also often cost more. For a mid-range phone, you’ll probably find phones in the 2GB of RAM range, but for most users, a device with 3GB or more is recommended.

Display Type

When it comes to phones, a screen isn’t just a screen. There are a few different types of displays, and they’re not all created equal.

The most common type of display type in mid-range and low-end phones is the LCD, or Liquid Crystal Display. LCDs are inexpensive to produce, which is why they’re used so often, but the trade-off is that they’re not the best at conserving battery life and they generally don’t produce the deepest blacks or brightest colors. There are two types of LCD’s though: TFT-LCDs, which are cheaper and the worst at color reproduction, and IPS-LCDs, which are a little better at color reproduction and wider viewing angles.

These days, high-end phones are doing away with LCDs in favor of OLED displays. Because OLED displays light up individual pixels rather than the display as a whole, it saves on battery life. On top of that, when black shows up on the screen, OLED displays simply don’t light it, meaning that blacks look deeper, and contrast ratios are higher. You might see “Super AMOLED” displays out there, which is basically Samsung branding for its OLED displays.

You’ll probably only notice the difference between LCD and OLED displays if you have a truly sharp eye, although you might find the battery improvements that come with OLED displays to be worth the extra cash.

Screen Size

Phone display sizes have gotten a whole lot bigger over the years, and that might be important to you. Smaller displays come in at four inches, while larger displays can range up to seven inches. Phone displays are likely to continue to get bigger, too. That’s because of the trend of edge-to-edge displays, which minimize the amount of space between the screen and the edge of the phone and make for phones with larger displays, but the same overall size.

If you like to watch videos, look at photos, or play a lot of games on your phone, you might want to consider buying one with a larger display size.

Smartphone
 Lifewire / Claire Cohen

Biometric Authentication

Gone are the days when you had to enter a PIN code to access your phone. These days, most smartphones have a fingerprint sensor built into them, ensuring you can get into your device quickly and easily, and at the touch of a sensor. Some higher-end phones also have other forms of biometric authentication, like iris scanning or facial recognition.

Many consider fingerprint sensing to be the easiest way to authenticate, especially depending on its placement. While some phones mount a fingerprint sensor on the front of the device, others have a sensor on the back, making it easy to quickly scan your fingerprint as you take your device out of your pocket.

These days, some phones also have facial recognition, which is both safer, and sometimes easier to use. All you have to do to authenticate yourself with facial recognition is look at your phone, which does present some difficulty if your phone is on your desk, for example.

Some other high-end phones also offer iris scanning, which presents its own advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that iris scanning is highly secure and relatively easy to use, but the disadvantage is that iris scanners are expensive to make and implement.

We recommend a phone with at least a fingerprint scanner, though any other methods of authentication can be useful, too.

Battery Capacity

Not all batteries are the same size, and a smaller battery can have a serious impact on how long your phone lasts on a single charge. Battery capacity is measured in milliampere-hours, or mAh—where a higher number represents a larger capacity. Of course, it’s not always as simple as “larger batteries make your phone last longer.” A phone with a larger battery but an equally high-resolution display and power-hungry processor may not last as long as a phone with a smaller battery, lower-resolution display, and less intense processor.

Most phones that you come across should last at least a day of normal use on a single charge, but the fact remains that bigger batteries are helpful, and battery capacity is definitely something you should consider. We recommend getting a phone with at least a 2,500mAh capacity—though again, how long that lasts will depend on a lot of different factors.

Charging

While battery capacity is important enough, for many, how you charge up that battery is equally as important. Many devices simply charge through their charging port, and most low-end and mid-range phones don’t have any fancy fast-charging tech. Some phones, however, have ways to accelerate how fast their battery is charged, at least when coupled with the right charger. This fast-charging tech varies from company to company, but whenever present, it can be very helpful to have.

There’s another charging tech that can be helpful, and that’s wireless charging. Wireless charging has been around for some time now, and some Android manufacturers have been making use of it for years. Just recently, Apple introduced wireless charging on its phones, so the tech has quickly become a whole lot more popular. Wireless charging essentially allows you to charge your phone by popping it onto a charging mat or dock, without having to plug it in. It’s very convenient, but something largely reserved for high-end devices. If you are buying a high-end device, wireless charging is definitely something to consider.

Smartphone
 Lifewire / Claire Cohen

Durability

You’ll likely want your phone to be durable, and there are a few ways to make sure it is. The most common rating for durability is an “Ingress Protection” rating, which covers water-resistance and dust-proofing. Most phones that have an IP-rating have at least IP67, which means that a phone is dust-tight and can withstand being immersed in up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. A rating with numbers higher than that is always battery.

Some phones also have military drop-test ratings, which means they’re testing to be able to withstand drops and bumps. Phones that have this aren’t common, but they should be able to withstand a whole lot more abuse than the standard phone. Most commonly, you’ll see the MIL-STD-810G standard, which means the phone has been tested to withstand a total of 26 drops on each face, edge, and corner. The standard is a little misleading because manufacturers can test with up to five samples, meaning each sample is only dropped five or six times, but it still means that the phone should withstand the odd drop perfectly fine.

Conclusion

As you can tell, there are quite a few things to consider when buying a new smartphone. You’ll then want to decide between Android or iOS. And of course, you still need to figure out a budget, and decide on the specifications that are most important to you (whether they be power-related, display-related, or otherwise). Find the best phone with those specs in your price range, and voila, you have yourself a new phone.

No matter what’s important to you, there’s almost certainly a smartphone that will be perfect for your needs. There are dozens of phones out there, after all, and more are being released every single week.