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Apple or Android?
Big, small, stock, or skinned, if you’re in the market for a new smartphone, chances are there’s an Android option to fit your fancy. And unlike Apple’s rigid release cycle, Google’s hardware partners unleash a seemingly endless stream of new devices year-round. But therein lies the problem: With so many options out there, how do you settle on the right one? Lucky for you, we test and review nearly every smartphone available on all the major US carriers.
Keep in mind that while the reviews above may not show your carrier of choice, most of the phones here are available for, or compatible with, multiple US carriers. Read on for what to look for when buying, as well as our top picks for Android phones.
When to Buy a New Android Phone
Most of this year’s big releases are on this list already. The few we’re still waiting to review are LG’s V40 and Huawei’s Mate 20, both of which have unusual arrays of cameras, and the OnePlus 6T. Those will be on the market by early November. After that, we expect the Android phone market to stay pretty stable until we see the LG V8 and the Samsung Galaxy S10 around April 2019.
This list has phones from $59 to $1,100. But most of the phones here are either quite cheap, or very expensive. Readers from countries outside the US, where $300 to $400 phones are popular, will probably be pretty curious about that.
Relatively few phones in the US sell with list prices between $250 and $500. That’s because most phones here are sold on monthly payment plans that hide the upfront price of the phone. People who don’t have sufficient credit to go for a monthly payment plan, in general, purchase phones that cost under $200 upfront. There are some exceptions to this rule—people do buy a limited amount of unlocked Galaxy S9 phones and iPhones with full payment—but the prevalence of monthly payment plans has largely killed the $300 to $500 segment.
We’ve put the LG G6, one of last year’s flagships, on this list to fulfill people who are looking for a phone in the $300 to $500 range.
What Size Phone Is Right for You?
There’s been a dramatic shift in Android phone shapes and sizes over the last year. LG and Samsung have both started to make their phones taller and narrower, resulting in one-hand-friendly models with improbably large screen sizes. We go into more detail on the new form factors in This Is How We Need to Measure Phone Screens Now.
You can find Android phones with stated screen sizes from 4.6 inches up to 6-plus inches. With the new form factors, though, it’s very important to look at the width of the phone as well as the width of the screen. That’s how the biggest screen in our list, the 6.4-inch panel on the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, doesn’t overwhelm.
Which Is the Best Android Version?
Not all Android is created equal. Device manufacturers like HTC and Samsung have been applying their own visions to Android for some time now. If you want a pure Google experience, then you want to go for a Pixel device; they’re the developer models where Google makes sure to deploy upgrades first. Motorola and OnePlus also have very clean user interfaces, although they tend to add more invisible features to Android.
The newest version of Android is 9.0 Pie, which is available only for the Google Pixel phones, OnePlus phones, and the Essential Phone at the moment. The Essential Phone isn’t on this list because the company seems perpetually on the verge of going out of business, which makes us feel uneasy about recommending it.
For most other phones, Android 8.0 Oreo is the current shipping version, and you should find it on most phones today. Do not accept any phone with a version older than 7.0 Nougat, as the older the Android software version gets, the more likely it is to have serious security flaws.
The Ongoing Trade War
We’ve frequently recommended phones from the Huawei, Honor, and ZTE brands in the past—they’re often high-quality products that are great value for the money. But over the past year, the US government has essentially gone to war with those companies, making their future on the US market extremely unreliable. So for now, we’ve eased away from reviewing most Huawei, Honor, and ZTE products until their distribution in the US is clearer.
See How We Test Phones
Because we know we have many readers in the UK and Canada, though, we’ve included one Huawei phone on this list—the extraordinary P20 Pro. While we do not generally review or include phones not available in the US, the P20 Pro shows what we’re missing out on.
Should You Buy Through a Carrier or Unlocked?
The US market is still dominated by carrier-sold phones, but a new breed of high-quality unlocked options are starting to flood the market.
Some high-quality Android phones are available completely unlocked for around $250, no strings attached. Every phone on this list can be bought direct, with no carrier involvement. But most people still buy their phones through carriers, which offer a single point for service and support, as well as monthly payment plans that dramatically lower the upfront prices of phones.
Of the bunch shown here, the Galaxies, Motorolas, and the Pixel work on all four major US carriers. The LG G6 doesn’t work on Sprint. Most other unlocked phones only work on AT&T, T-Mobile, or virtual carriers on those networks.
Choosing Android as your mobile operating system is only half the battle. If you’re still on the fence, check out our list of The 10 Best Smartphones, regardless of OS.
For help choosing a carrier, see our test results for the Fastest Mobile Networks and The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans You’ve Never Heard Of.
Pros: Compact. Fast performance. Beautiful OLED screen. Sharp front and rear camera with impressive low-light, zoom, and bokeh capabilities. Useful Google Assistant functionality. Highly optimized software with guaranteed updates.Cons: No headphone jack or memory card slot. Bottom Line: The Google Pixel 3 is the best small Android phone you can buy with the latest specs, impressive camera capabilities, and genuinely innovative AI features. Read Review
Pros: Big battery. Lots of storage. Excellent S Pen stylus. Class-leading processor and modem.Cons: Expensive. Heavy.Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is an attractive pen-enabled phablet with a fast processor, a terrific modem, and a huge battery.Read Review
Pros: Gorgeous screen. Beautiful body. Spectacular network performance. Dual main cameras with excellent low-light capture. Loud audio. Cons: Camera software oversharpens images. AR Emoji and Bixby disappoint. Bottom Line: It’s not revolutionary, but the Samsung Galaxy S9+ sets the bar for smartphones in 2018, with the best hardware features you can get.Read Review
Pros: Affordable. Support for all major US carriers. Solid specs and overall performance. Long battery life.Cons: Average camera. Still uses micro USB. Bottom Line: The Motorola Moto G6 Play is a more affordable take on the standard G6 that trades some power for battery life, striking an ideal balance of price and performance. Read Review
Pros: Unique tri-lens camera. 5x lossless hybrid zoom is seriously impressive. AI chip offers improved photo scene recognition.Cons: Not officially available in the US. Expensive. Glass body attracts smudges. Notched screen will not be to everyone’s liking.Bottom Line: The Huawei P20 Pro one-ups the camera phone competition by adding a third telephoto sensor, giving you improved long-distance firepower.Read Review
Pros: Excellent one-handed form factor. Sturdy build. Useful dual rear cameras. Crisp HDR screen. Waterproof. SD card slot.Cons: Processor lags behind upcoming flagships. Screen could be brighter. Odd aspect ratio. No removable battery. Bottom Line: The 5.7-inch LG G6 packs the biggest screen it can in a body narrow enough to hold comfortably, but otherwise falls short on innovation.Read Review
Pros: Solid build. Fast performance. Excellent main camera. Elegant software.Cons: No monthly payment plans. Second camera doesn’t add much. Not compatible with all carriers.Bottom Line: The OnePlus 6 is a fast and elegant phone that should be the top choice for US dual-SIM users, but its pricing is a little awkward for everyone else.Read Review
Pros: Feels great in one hand. Excellent low-light camera performance. Better sound and network support than the Galaxy S8.Cons: Not a radical upgrade from the Galaxy S8. Larger S9+ model has better cameras, more RAM, and stronger Wi-Fi performance.Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy S9 puts the latest LTE bands and a great low-light camera into a smaller form factor than the S9+ for the best one-handed phone right now.Read Review
Pros: Nice physical keyboard with powerful shortcut key. Focused on security and privacy.Cons: Dim screen. Disappointing cameras.Bottom Line: The Key2 will thrill BlackBerry devotees with a great little keyboard and more privacy control than you’ll get on other Android smartphones.Read Review
Pros: Affordable. Sturdy build. Decent overall performance. Removable battery. Cons: Mediocre camera quality. Fingerprint sensor depends on carrier.Bottom Line: The Moto E5 Play is an affordable no-frills smartphone that can provide all your basic calling, app, and web browsing needs. Read Review
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