The Best Smartphones

Android or iOS, we've got the best of both

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Finding the best smartphone often depends on whether you want Apple's iPhone or a smartphone running Google's Android software.

We have not yet published reviews of the latest models in each line: iPhone 14, Google Pixel 6a, and Samsung S22 series.

Best Overall

Apple iPhone 13

5
Apple iPhone 13
iPhone 13.

Apple

What We Like
  • Up to 30 hour battery life

  • Fast charging

  • Amazing cameras

What We Don't Like
  • No included power brick

  • Poor sound quality at high volume

  • No expandable storage

Price Watch: MSRP $799 (128GB), $899 (256GB), $1099 (512GB)


The iPhone 13 is an excellent smartphone. There are four models to choose from, the smaller iPhone 13 mini, the 'base' iPhone 13 we review here, and the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max, which feature a larger screen and better cameras.

Our tester Victoria spent a month using the iPhone 13, racking up 520 hours. She concluded that the iPhone 13 is "the best way to get Apple's most advanced hardware and software improvements without sacrificing too much on price, size or design."

The iPhone 13 feels sturdy and luxurious, Victoria said, and its 6.1-inch display is coated in a type of glass known as Ceramic Shield, which Apple claims offer four times the protection of rival smartphone glass. The display is sharp and bright from all angles, although for the ultimate in streaming performance, the iPhone 13 Pro does boast a bigger and better screen.

However, for most people, the iPhone 13 will be more than enough and is also far lighter than its big brother, weighing in at 6.1 ounces.

In our real-world tests, the iPhone 13 lasted an impressive 29 hours on a single charge. During this test, we used the iPhone 13 as we would typically do for a month; we used it to send WhatsApp messages, play Sim City, make video calls with our parents, send emails, record videos on days out with our toddler, watch TikTok, stream Netflix shows and more. We then recorded how long it lasted between charges each day and took the average.

On paper, the camera setup on the iPhone 13 looks nearly identical to the iPhone 12, but Apple has made many software and sensor upgrades that make this camera among the best our tester has used.

Screen Size: 6.1 inches | Resolution: 2532x1170 | Processor: A15 Bionic | Camera: 12MP/12MP rear and 12MP front | Battery: 3,227mAh

Best Value

Apple iPhone SE

4.2
Apple iPhone SE

Amazon

What We Like
  • Great performance

  • Inexpensive

  • Good camera

  • Small, compact

What We Don't Like
  • Battery life is weak

  • Design is dated

  • No 5G

In early 2020, Apple wanted to offer most of what made the iPhone 11 great but at a substantially lower price. The iPhone SE (2020) was the result. This little phone comes in a compact package but still carries the A13 bionic processor. From a benchmark perspective, the A13 beats out even 2021 flagship phones like the Galaxy S21. The iPhone SE also has the same RAM and storage options, but it's all behind a tiny 4.7-inch screen and Touch-ID-enabled home button.

The phone mimic's the iPhone 6 in terms of design, so some consider it dated. But the iPhone SE is more for people who want a powerful phone but don't want to carry a phone which is big enough to land small planes. Apple left out 5G connectivity and didn't debut a 5G iPhone for another six months after the iPhone SE came out.

The battery compromise that had to be made to get the phone this small also means the phone has trouble getting through a day. But the phone does offer wireless charging, which is another nice bonus. 

If you want a powerful Apple phone and a fingerprint in a tiny package, this is the best phone that meets all those criteria.

Screen Size: 4.7 inches | Resolution: 1334x750 | Processor: A13 Bionic | Camera: 12MP rear and 7MP front | Battery: 1,821mAh

Best Value (Android)

Google Pixel 4a

4.5
The Pixel 4a is our pick for best value Android.

Amazon

What We Like
  • Solid camera

  • Great performance

  • Good battery

What We Don't Like
  • 5G missing

  • Boring design

Pixel phones are made by Google, which also makes Android. One area where Google Pixel phones have consistently stood out is in photography. Google uses the Pixel as a showcase for what Android can be. Additionally, Google treats its phones to perks like feature drops and updates earlier than any other Android phone. The A-series of Pixels tend to have less power and be a little less pretty, but otherwise, they give you a unique Android experience.

The Google Pixel 4a delivers a quality Android experience, powered by the Snapdragon 730G mid-range processor and 6GB of RAM. Those specifications aren't excellent on their own, but Android runs smoothly on them and delivers a great experience and all-day battery life. The phone has a single camera that our reviewer Andrew describes as "so consistent that I'd take it over the multi-camera modules of much more expensive phones with underwhelming cameras."

If you're looking for a beautiful phone, look elsewhere. This phone is very plain looking. Plus, the Pixel 4a leaves off 5G. Google has another phone, the Pixel 4a 5G, which can access 5G networks, as its name implies, but that's not the one we're recommending here. For now, the Pixel 4a sits under $350, and it's one of the best phones you can buy at that price point. If you love pure Android and you're working with a budget, snap this up fast.

Screen Size: 5.8 inches | Resolution: 1080 x 23400 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G | Camera: 12.2MP/12.2 rear and 8MP front | Battery: 3,140mAH

Best 5G

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G

4.5
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • 120Hz screen

  • Great cameras

  • Speedy performance

  • Great battery

  • 5G

What We Don't Like
  • No mmWave 5G

  • Plastic build

  • Only 1080p

The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is a compromise and course correction. The "fan edition" of the Galaxy S20 cuts back on a lot of the extras of its flagship siblings while still providing an excellent core of functionality. You get a 1080p screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. The phone has a plastic back, but it still has wireless charging.

You still get the Snapdragon 865 processor, 6 or 8 GB of RAM, and 128 or 256GB of storage. You get 5G, but not mmWave 5G. Overall, this is a speedy phone with excellent battery life.

A" for the camera setup, you get the same cameras found on the Samsung Galaxy S20, except instead of a cropped 64GB cropped sensor, you get a 3x optical zoom. According to Andrew, "Everyday snaps are pretty excellent across the board, with solid detail and vivid coloring, although SamSamsung'sgressive processing can give photos an unrealistic sheen at times."

S"reen Size: 6.5 inches | Resolution: 2400x1080 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 | Camera: 12MP/8MP/12MP rear and 32MP front | Battery: 4,500mAh

Best small smartphone

Apple iPhone 13 mini

4.5
Apple iPhone 13 mini
iPhone 13 mini.

Apple

What We Like
  • Compact

  • Very powerful

  • Great display

  • Great cameras

What We Don't Like
  • No power brick

The iPhone 13 mini has everything the iPhone 13 has but comes in a smaller package with a smaller battery.

On the plus side, this makes this one of the most powerful compact phones you can buy. You get a powerful A15 bionic processor, great cameras, and 5G connectivity. But the trade-off is that the battery is tiny by most modern standards, and it can struggle to make it through a full day on a single charge.

iOS usually runs well on a smaller battery, but in the case of the iPhone 12 Mini, the battery might be too small.

Of course, if you don't mind charging up a bit during the day or at work, that's not a problem. The iPhone 13 Mini has flagship power in a tiny package that slips easily into your pocket or bag.

Screen Size: 5.4 inches | Resolution: 2340x1080 | Processor: A15 Bionic | Camera: 12MP/12MP rear and12MP front | Battery: 2,227mAh

Android vs. iOS

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.

Android

Android is the most popular smartphone operating system in the world, and for a number of reasons. Unlike Apple, which only allows 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 use the Android operating system.

Android is usually better at working with those apps and services if you're a tried-and-true Google user. (Google Play Music streaming service, Google Drive cloud storage, other Google devices like the Google Home smart speaker, and more.)

iOS

In the U.S., Apple’s iOS is 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 Apple builds it, and as such, it’s both super easy to use, ultra-stylish, and plays nice with other Apple devices.

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.

What to Look For in a Smartphone

Once you've decided on Android or iOS, you'll want to consider other factors, including the amount of storage, screen size, battery life, and camera quality. Budget is also a huge consideration, and iOS and Android have offerings that can fit your budget.

Processor

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

There are a few companies developing processors for smartphones. Apple designs its 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 the most common, and in 2018, the flagship Qualcomm chip was the Snapdragon 845. The higher the number here, the better.

If you want more powerful processors, look for ones with multiple "cores." Traditional processors can only perform one task simultaneously, 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, videos, etc., you can keep on there. It’s easier to get by with less storage if you use cloud storage like Apple Photos or Google Drive, but some things 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 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. MicroSD cards start at a low price for low-capacity ones and range from there.

Camera

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

RAM

RAM, or Random Access Memory, is another form of storage, but instead of using it to save files, your system uses it to save things that it might want to pull up quickly. Open apps are usually held in RAM so that when you close them and open them again, they can show up on the screen without reloading.

Generally speaking, more RAM is better when buying a smartphone, but phones with more RAM often cost more. You’ll probably find phones in the 2GB of RAM range for a mid-range phone, 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 LCD or Liquid Crystal Display is the most common display type in mid-range and low-end phones. 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 generally don’t produce the deepest blacks or brightest colors. There are two types of LCDs: 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, saving battery life. On top of that, when black shows up on the screen, OLED displays don’t light it, meaning that blacks look deeper, and contrast ratios are higher. You might see “Super AMOLED” displays, which is Samsung branding for its OLEDs.

You’ll probably only notice the difference between LCD and OLED displays if you have a 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 lot bigger over the years, which might be important to you. Smaller displays come in at four inches, while larger displays can range up to seven inches.

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, 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 sensors the easiest way to authenticate, though it depends on their 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.

Nowadays, some phones also have facial recognition, which is 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.

We recommend a phone with at least a fingerprint scanner, though other authentication methods can also be helpful.

Battery Capacity

Not all batteries are the same size, and a smaller battery can seriously impact 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 a power-hungry processor may not last as long as a phone with a smaller battery, lower-resolution display, and less intense processor.

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.

Andrew Hayward has covered the latest tech since 2006 for many major media publications. His top specialty is smartphones and mobile accessories, meaning he was the perfect choice to review a big chunk of the phones on this roundup.

Yoona Wagener wrote for Lifewire, covering a wide range of consumer tech, including phones, laptops, smart home devices, and more.

FAQ
  • Which smartphone has the best camera?

    Top-tier smartphones all come with excellent cameras and usually feature multiple rear sensors. You typically get a primary sensor for regular shots, an ultrawide sensor for wide-angle shots, a depth sensor for bokeh, and a telephoto sensor for zoomed images. This is true of top phones from Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Google, and others. The Google Pixel lineup is well known for its excellent software augmentation, allowing for improved low-light shots and post-processing. The iPhone and Samsung flagships have a superb hardware array and AI-enhanced shooting. Look at our list of the best smartphone cameras for more details.

  • What is the best Android smartphone for overseas?

    The Android phone market is extensive, with options ranging from premium to ultra-budget devices. In terms of pure hardware, the latest flagship from Samsung is typically the best Android phone on the market. However, it does have plenty of rivals, especially overseas, where you'll see great options from Xiaomi, Realme, and even Huawei.

  • What is the best budget smartphone?

    Just because you're on a tight budget doesn't mean you have to settle for less. There are plenty of mid-range and budget options available. While they won't have the latest and greatest processor, you can get plenty of new features like the edge-to-edge design, a sleek build, multiple rear cameras, and even 5G support. Samsung offers phones at many price points, while Nokia has a variety of mid-range options packaged in a stylish design. Motorola and LG have great workhorses as well.

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