Gofre's 2019 Smartphone Buying Guide (last updated June 2019) Watch

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Product Warning 20/05/2019:
This week Google announced that they will be cutting ties with Huawei, potentially cutting off their access to key elements of the Android experience like Chrome, Gmail and the Play Store, as well as future Android versions and security updates. Until such a time that it can be confirmed by Huawei that they will find a way to continue offering the level of support expected from Google by European smartphone users, this is my warning to refrain from buying any Huawei phones intended as long term purchases. Once the situation has been clarified, either this warning, or all Huawei phones, will be removed from this guide.


It has been a while, but it is finally time for an update- Gofre's Summer 2019 Smartphone Buying Guide is here! So if you're in the market for a new phone and don't know what to choose, look no further. The guide will be broken down into several categories, so whether you're constrained by budget, want the best phone for a particular feature or simple want the most awesome phone on the market, this guide will help you figure out exactly what's best for you.

On Notches and Headphone Jacks
Two trends have been proliferating in the smartphone industry over the last couple of years and have now become the norm among the majority of manufacturers, those trends being the replacement of conventional bezels with notched displays and the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack. In previous iterations of this guide I have decried the inclusion of these trends by brands as anti-consumer in the case of the headphone jack, and unnecessary and just plain ugly in the case of the notch, and these are opinions I still hold to. However with these trends becoming the norm rather than the exception, it's clear that these are not things that dissuade the general public and this guide would become very repetitive if I included these things in the negatives paragraph of every phone that has them. You can consider this my disclaimer that I judge both of these things as negatives for a phone, but will not be mentioning it in any individual entry.

Contents (click the links to visit each category)

1. Editor's Choice: The Best Phone for the Most People

2. Cream of the Crop: The Top Flagship Smartphones

3. Frugal Phones: The Best Phones for Different Budgets
£0-£100
[ii]£100-£200
[iii]£200-£300

4. The Best Phones for Specific Features
Best Phones for Photography
[ii]Best Small Phones
[iii]Best Phones for Media, Gaming and VR

Notes:
*For a phone to qualify for this guide it must be available to purchase from a genuine UK retailer.
*All prices mentioned correct at the time of writing from established high street or online retailers.
*All images courtesy of GSMArena.
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Editor's Choice Award; The Best Phone for the Most People

Xiaomi Pocophone F1


Pocophone starting at £286 from eBuyer

My criteria for a phone to get my Editor's Choice phone is pretty simple, it needs to offer a genuine flagship-calibre experience at a widely accessible price point off-contract without any significant compromises. In short, these are the best phones for the largest number of people.

This year my Editor's Choice is the Xiaomi Pocophone F1, which has essentially adopted the old OnePlus model of aiming to offer the best possible flagship experience at the lowest possible price. And with the trend towards most flagships launching at over £800, the amount of tech they've been able to fit into an absurd sub-£300 price tag is very reminiscent of the groundbreaking OnePlus One. Inside we have the same top tier Snapdragon 845 processor found in almost every other flagship phone released last year offering equally excellent performance, alongside a very healthy 6GB of RAM. On the exterior of the device you'll find the front filled by a 1080p notched display with excellent viewing angles and daylight visibility, while around the back there's the dual camera system and a fingerprint sensor. The primary camera sensor is actually the same one found in last years Pixel 2 phones, which I called the best overall cameras of any phone at the time, and when paired with an aftermarket download of the Pixel's camera app the Pocophone is capable of photo quality almost never before seen in phones of this price. All of that is powered by a 4000MaH battery, something that puts almost all other flagships to shame and results in class leading battery life.

However to fit all of that into a sub-£300 price tag, there are of course going to have be compromises. The most noticeable omission from the list of features you would normally see in a flagship (and at this point almost every midrange phone at this point in time too) is NFC, a nod to the fact that while Xiaomi is making big strides in European markets, it is still a China-first company where the use of contactless payment solutions is nowhere near as prevalent as it is here in the UK. Its choice of materials are also unlikely to be confused with a more expensive phone, with the phone being encased in plastic rather than the distinctively more premium feeling metal and glass that that are typically found wrapped around flagships. And while the camera has an excellent sensor at its core, it lacks any form of image stabilisation which harms image quality in low light which is where phone cameras suffer the most already. Xiaomi's camera software also overprocesses photos a little too aggressively for Western tastes, but as mentioned previously you can load up a copy of the Pixel's camera app and improve results dramatically. 4K 60fps video is out of the question either way, however, instead only managing 30fps. However these shortcomings should not distract from the fact that this is absolutely the best phone you can get for under £300, and that any phone being considered for purchase needs to justify itself against what this phone can do for such a small amount of cash.
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Cream of the Crop: The Top Flagship Smartphones

Every year, of the hundreds of phones that get released, there will be only one or two phones from each manufacturer worthy of the title of flagship. These are the phones that companies stake their reputation on, the ones that people queue outside shops at midnight to get their hands on first. These are the phones that you're going to be happiest signing your life away on a two year contract for.

This could also have become the most crowded category in this guide, because almost every manufacturer on the market has a phone worthy of consideration and they all approach the idea of what it means to be a "flagship" in very different ways, and as such they all have their own pros and cons. And while all of these phones could earn a recommendation for their different interpretations, this year I'm going to be a little more ruthless and limit my flagship recommendations to what I feel are the four best absolute phones on the market. I'm not saying the flagships from Sony, HTC, OnePlus, LG, Xiaomi and others are not worthy of consideration, only that the phones below are so good at what they do that there has to be something very specific that you like or need about another flagship to justify choosing them over one of the following four phones.

A Note on Size: All of the phones here are pretty massive with screens somewhere in the region of 6.4", and while this is the direction that the market is increasingly heading down I can appreciate that there are also people who do not want phones of this size. If that is the case and you want something smaller, most of these phones have sibling models that offer virtually the same excellent experience at a smaller size- the S10+ has the regular S10, the Note 9 has the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus, the iPhone XS Max has the iPhone XS, and the Pixel 3 XL has the Pixel 3.

The Top Three

Samsung Galaxy S10+


If my Editor's Choice phones win the award for "the best phone for the most people", then these Samsung Galaxy phones could arguably get my award for "the best phone, full stop". Samsung achieve this lofty praise by being the best in more areas than any other phone with relatively little in the way of compromises.

First up is Samsung's newest flagship, the S10+. In typical Samsung fashion they took the design of their previous year's flagships and dialled everything up to eleven. It's still a testament to curved glass, with impeccable build quality and the screen now stretching all the way to the edges of the frame with almost no bezel in sight, instead opting for a hole-punch to house the selfie camera. That screen continues Samsung's usual trend of replacing their previous flagship as the best phone display on the market- it's a gorgeous HDR panel that nothing else on the market can match up to, and thanks to the lack of bezels they have crammed a Note-sized 6.4" display into a frame the size of the 6.1" S9+ from last year. Performance is superb with the newest flagship grade Snapdragon or Exynos processor on board (depending on region) paired with 8GB of RAM and a very healthy 4,100mAh battery, the camera system is great with three sensors for different perspectives, and it comes loaded with extras that make it the most feature packed phone since the Mate 20 Pro like in-screen fingerprint sensor, fast wireless charging, reverse-charging for juicing up other phones and accessories, and Samsung staples like DeX desktop functionality. It even managed to do all this while holding on to waterproofing, an SD card slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

It's unfortunate that Samsung achieved all this, but left a couple of not-so-insignificant niggles to stop it being as close to perfect as last year's Note 9 was. The biggest sticking point is the fingerprint sensor, which was hotly anticipated as the first ultrasonic sensor on the market that would resolve all the issues of speed and reliability that the first generation of optical sensors suffered. Unfortunately while it is much improved over these early efforts after a few software updates, it still simply doesn't match the speed and reliability of a separate capacitive sensor. This came in tandem with the loss of extensive facial and iris scanning sensors found in last year's Galaxy flagships, as with no bezels there is simply nowhere to put them. The next big area where the S10 line disappoints is the camera system- it's a great camera, but Samsung were simply unable to improve upon or even match the results achieved by the best phones of last year, especially in the hotly-contested battleground of low light processing. Despite those niggles, the S10+ is a fantastic phone that 90% of people would be extremely happy with.

Google Pixel 3 XL


While Samsung reign as kings of the Android market with their feature packed smartphones, perhaps the most different and potentially compelling interpretation of an Android flagship comes from the makers of the OS itself, Google, and their Pixel line line of smartphones. Often referred to as the iPhone of the Android world, the Pixel phones are Google's expression of what the ideal Android phone should be like. And the results are damn impressive- the 6.3" OLED display is gorgeous, performance is excellent thanks to the Snapdragon 845 processor, build quality is fantastic and there's both wireless charging and fast charging on board. However the two largest draws to the Pixel line have always been the camera and the software, and this is where the Pixel 3 XL really XLs. Despite only having a single camera in a time when most brands are trying to throw three or even four cameras into their phones, through a combination of an excellent sensor and Google's software wizardry the Pixel 3 XL is able to consistently deliver arguably the most pleasing images of any smartphone on the market in almost any conditions. On the software front, in typical Google style they guarantee faster updates and longer support life cycles than any third party brand can match, and they deliver it in a clean, unobstructed version of Android that flies on the high end hardware. It's a simple to use, unobtrusive phone that ticks off the essentials that most people want from a phone in an uncomplicated way.

However the Pixel 3 XL does have a few key issues that stop it climbing to the top of the pile. Chief among them is the design; I know I said I wouldn't treat notches as a negative at the start of this guide, but a notch that obnoxiously big paired with an enormous chin are an affront to the eyes in 2019 where bezels have all but gone extinct and even notches are starting to die out- it's simply an ugly phone, that Google didn't even try to mitigate with useful concessions like a two row notification bar. For less subjective criticisms, its processor is a generation behind the Android competition, and while it still performs excellently it doesn't quite match up to the best on the market. Next, the iPhone comparison also carries through to the negatives, notably the lack of expandable storage and a smaller battery than its big phone competitors. Finally the camera, while able to deliver the best images of any Android phone, loses when it comes to versatility with only a single sensor where other phones can use a secondary wide-angle or telephoto camera to achieve shots the Pixel's software cannot reliably imitate.

Apple iPhone XS Max


There is one big group that are likely to not even consider my top recommendations for the best smartphones on the market, and that is iPhone users. The other side of the coin in the smartphone OS duopoly, the iPhone XS is the best phone ever made if you want a phone with iOS. And it is an excellent phone with lots to get excited about- the display is fantastic (and now at a size that meets the growing trend towards large phones), performance is superb, the camera is excellent in any scenario and arguably the best on the market for video, and it has both fast charging and wireless charging. However the main draw of any iPhone is the software it runs, and the newest version of IOS that you'll find on the XS Max comes with all the same draws that it always has- tight integration between software and hardware yields excellent performance, you can rely on receiving updates for years to come, and it keeps you embedded within Apple's wider ecosystem for seamless integration with their other hardware like the Apple Watch, Homepod and Mac computers, as well as software services like iMessage, AirDrop and HomeKit. If you're already invested in Apple's world and want to keep things that way, there's very little risk of the XS Max disappointing you.

However while iOS is the XS Max's greatest strength, it's also one of its largest shortcomings. iOS takes a walled garden approach to delivering a smartphone experience and as pretty as that garden is, it is difficult to fully overlook how rigid and inflexible iOS is- Apps can only be installed from Apple's App Store, you have limited control over system behaviour for things as simple as changing the default app for web browser, NFC connectivity is restricted exclusively to Apple's own ApplePay service, and there's almost no scope for customisation in either a practical or aesthetic sense with iOS still using what is essentially the same archaic grid of apps that has sat on iPhone screens for over a decade. On the hardware side of things, there's no fingerprint sensor to be found so you're stuck with facial recognition as the primary means of security, which works very well but it's not as fast and simply a little less convenient than giving users a choice between the two security options. The battery is also only 3200MaH, the smallest of almost any phone of this size and no amount of optimisation allows it to match the results achieved by sheer capacity of other phones with larger cells. With all that said though, if you're considering the XS Max is probably means you've decided on an iPhone already, and if an iPhone is what you want then you really won't be disappointed with the XS Max.

The Next Wave: The Top 5G Smartphones

5G is the next big thing in mobile networking, offering speeds that most people have never experienced even on their fibre optic broadband networks, but to make use of this new network you'll need a smartphone equipped to connect to it. The phones listed below make it into the guide mainly by virtue of being the only 5G phones that are actually available to buy right now, but that doesn't stop them being excellent phones just like the 4G models they are based on. If you're determined to get in at the start of the 5G revolution, you'll be very happy doing it on either of these devices.

OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, Xiaomi Mi Mix 35G


These two phones share a lot more DNA than just their 5G antennae, offering superb flagship caliber smartphone experiences. Up front of both phones you'll find bezelless, notchless AMOLED displays, with the selfie cameras hidden away in different ways- the OP7P uses a mechanised pop-up camera that feels distinctly futuristic, while the MM3 used a magnetic push-up system that will inspire a feeling of nostalgia in anyone use remembers the slider phones of the early 2000s. Under the hood both phones are using the top tier Snapdragon 855 processor that blitzes through any task, while around the back you'll find solid camera systems embedded in a premium feeling chassis- metal and glass for the OnePlus, and a unique ceramic frame for the Xiaomi. Choosing between the two is mostly a matter of preference- the larger and more innovative OnePlus, or the more compact (but still pretty big), simplistic Mi Mix. The Mi Mix is also a little more affordable, but if you're getting in on the ground floor with 5G then price is unlikely to be a strong motivator for you. Either way, they're superb phones.

Honourable Mentions: The biggest honourable mention I can recommend right now is, quite frankly, not buying into 5G just yet. Coverage across the UK is still fairly patchy, prices are sky high on the few networks offering the service, and there's a huge number of 5G phones just on the horizon, mostly in the flagship space but midrange devices will surely arrive soon. Give it a year for the technology to mature and expand, and you'll have a much larger range of devices and plans to choose from at a far greater range of price points.
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Frugal Phones: The Best Phones for Different Budgets

As awesome as it is to go out and buy the latest and greatest phone on the market, a lot of people cannot afford to (or simply don't want to) sign themselves into a two year commitment or pay out half a month's paycheck on a single gadget. Luckily the market for high quality, affordable phones has ballooned in recent years, and there are plenty of great options for those who want a high quality smartphone experience without breaking their bank.

£0-£100: Vodafone Smart X9

Vodafone Smart X9 starting at at £100 from Vodafone

The Vodafone Smart X9 is an excellent value prospect for a double digit price tag, with a distinctively more premium design that you would think possible from a sub-£100 device. This is most obvious from the front, with the Smart X9 adopting the 18:9 aspect ratio for the display and trimming down the bezels significantly compared to other phones at this price, and at 1080p resolution it also looks the part when it's turned on while the vast majority of phones at this price are still carrying 720p panels. The premium illusion continues to the metal frame that surrounds the device, and the surprising inclusion of dual cameras on the rear. Image quality won't stand out from other phones of this price on the face of it, but this does allow even the budget user to have fun with the bokeh-style effects that are all the rage in 2018. Throw in a power efficient processor and 3,100MaH battery, and you have a phone that will continue to surprise you with just how good it is for £100. The only real downside is that it's locked to Vodafone, which is great if you use their network but if not, you'll have to dig a little deeper into your pocket in order to get it unlocked for use with other carriers.

£100-£200: Xiaomi Redmi Note 7

Starting at £179 from Xiaomi

Xiaomi have long been known for delivering extremely high quality phones at affordable price points, and the Redmi Note 7 may be their best effort yet at a price point that can still be thought of as territory of low low end phones. There's nothing fancy or innovative here, they've simply focused on the essentials and gotten everything right- the display is big and sharp with only a tiny notch interrupting it, it's got an excellent Snapdragon 660 that will happily handle anything besides graphically intensive apps, it's got a huge 4,000Mah battery that will happy get through a day of heavy use and potentially push into 2 days of casual workloads, the camera system punches well above its weight class, and it's all wrapped in an attractive, well built frame that comes in a selection of attractive colours. It's a shame that it has a prominent Achilles Heel in the omission of NFC, but if you do not use contactless payments with your phone then there's very little reason not to buy this phone if you're shopping at this price point.

However if you do really want NFC, the Moto G7 Plus gets my Honourable Mention spot, offering a similar overall package but simple a little step down in most areas with a weaker processor and inferior camera and battery life.

£200-£300: Pocophone F1, Samsung Galaxy A50

Pocophone starting at £282 from eBuyer
Galaxy A50 starting at £299 from Clove

It would be unusual if my Editor's Choice phone did not also make it into my recommendations for phones at its price point, so you won't be surprised to hear that the Xiaomi Pocophone F1 is my absolute top choice for if you want to buy a phone under £300. I won't wax on too much about its exceptional performance paired with excellent display, camera and features since I've already done that at the top of this guide, but suffice to say it's exceptional value at a price point that most people should be able to justify without resorting to a 2 year contract.

Samsung make a surprise entry in the budget category with their renewed A series, with the Galaxy A50 being an excellent mid-tier option. They have achieved this by taking almost an inverse approach to the Pocophone- rather than trying to build a solid midrange phone around a flagship grade processor, they've built a flagship worthy exterior and powered it with a solid mid tier processor. And from the outside there's very little to betray its midrange price tag, with the headline feature being one of the SuperAMOLED displays Samsung is known for with an in-display fingerprint sensor that usually only finds its way into premium devices. That leaves the gorgeous "glasstic" back uninterrupted save for the excellent triple camera system that puts almost anything else at this price tag to shame (with the notable competition being a GCam equipped Pocophone. Under the hood you a solid mid-tier Exynos processor that will happily handle all but the most intensive tasks alongside the same huge 4,000mAh battery found in the Pocophone. If you're less interested in absolute blistering performance and more after a premium overall experience, I would take the A50 over the Pocophone.

£300-£400: Google Pixel 3A

Starting at £399 from Google

The Pixel 3A is my recommendation for a phone for people who do not care about phones, and I mean that in a good way. Most people out there aren't tech enthusiasts, they simply want a phone with a great screen, uncomplicated software, and most of all a great camera, without spending the same money as a decent used car. In this sense, the Pixel 3A absolutely excels by nailing the stuff most people care about. The Pixel phones have always had excellent displays and the cheaper 3A is no exception, surprising almost everybody on release with a fanatsic AMOLED panel. The software is absolute stock Android, which brings the dual benefits of being intuitive and simple to use while also allowing the phone to feel extremely fast despite the relatively diminutive processor for this price. However the main draw of the Pixel line has always been the camera, and it's good news here- this isn't just a great camera, this is every bit as good as the one that makes the Pixel 3 the best camera phone on the market, and it's doing it at a price point where the camera has always been the first compromise. It's not a phone that will win performance awards and there are niggles like the lack of waterproofing and expandable storage, but that doesn't stop the Pixel 3A being an extremely compelling package for the things it excels at.
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The Best Phones for Specific Features

We're lucky to be living in a time when smartphone technology is so good and the market is so competitive, that it's easy to find a phone that's good at everything. However there are times when certain features take priority in a buyer, and the rest of the phone can take a back seat when it comes to choosing because they are really making their choice based on only that certain feature.

The Best Small Display Phones: Samsung Galaxy S10E, Apple iPhone XS


It doesn't feel like it was so long ago that HTC released a phone called the Titan, named for its "enormous" 4.7" display! Fast forward to 2018, however, and 4.7" is just about the smallest screen you'll find on any premium phone, with the market voting with their wallets and throwing their support (read: money) at larger and larger displays. However there are still people out there who do not want something enormous and so demand for daintier handsets continues to hold out.

The Galaxy S10E and iPhone XS set themselves apart as the most compact flagship phones on the market, both offering fantastic flagship experiences at a noticeably smaller size than most competing models. The two phones share a lot in common, with excellent 5.8" OLED displays wrapped in premium feeling shells and powered by the most powerful processors their respective brands have to offer. The biggest point of difference is going to come down to their operating system, with the S10E using Android and the XS using iOS, and for 90% of small phone buyers that will be the deciding factor. However if you don't have a stake in either operating system, my primary recommendation is the S10E thanks to its superior screen with less obtrusive cut-out camera (at such a small screen size the large notch of the iPhone deprives you of a meaningful amount of screen real estate), the superior battery life, the more useful secondary wide-angle camera (although if you like portraits and bokeh-effects, take the iPhone) and the superior flexibility of Android. However if you're jaded by the trend towards gargantuan phones, either of these options will be a welcome reprieve.

Honorable Mentions: The Pixel 3 is a worthy competitor to the Galaxy S10E with an even smaller 5.5" display, but despite the tiny screen the Pixel is actually noticeably larger on account of its now-outdated bezels. However if you just want the smallest display, or a tiny phone with the best possible camera and speakers, then the Pixel 3 is the way to go. On the iOS front the iPhone 8 brings a substantially smaller 4.7" display and is smaller than the iPhone XS despite the chunky bezels, but is a generation behind in terms of performance, camera and design improvements as Apple elected not to refresh their non-X models at all last year.

Finally there's the 4" iPhone SE if you want something truly tiny, however it's just a little long in the tooth now to make it a serious recommendation.

Best Large Screen Phones: Samsung Galaxy A70, Xiaomi Mi Max 3, OnePlus 7 Pro



It feels strange reintroducing a Big Screen category to the phone guide in 2019, because quite frankly most devices on the market are pretty enormous now. Gone are the days when the 5.5" iPhones are considered "plus" sized, we're dealing with the big guys here. If even the 6.4" displays of the XL/Max sized flagships aren't scratching the itch for you, you'll find what you're looking for here.

First up is Samsung's new massive midranger, the Galaxy A70. Everything about it is a stretched out version of the Galaxy A50 mentioned in the budget section of this guide, encompassing an excellent overall smartphone package with only the mid-tier processor betraying it's more budget status compared to the S series. The biggest difference is up front, with a massive 6.7" AMOLED display with only a small waterdrop notch (my issue with notches is mitigated on displays this big where it simply takes up a small amount of the notification bar). This combination makes for an excellent midrange device for those looking for a massive display and premium experience without breaking the bank.

Alternatively if your sole priority is display size, the Xiaomi Mi Max 3 has one of the largest screens you can buy while still fitting into a normal human's pocket. At 6.9" the Max 3 is largest phone in this guide, and with no notch interrupting it, it makes for one of the ways of consuming media on the go. The gargantuan 5,000Mah battery is the other big inclusion here, and paired with a power efficient processor it can get through two days of pretty heavy use without breaking a sweat. The specs are well in line with other midrange devices, nothing to write home about but sufficiently powerful to handle day to day tasks happily, and the inclusion of actual bezels make the phone significantly larger than it would be otherwise, but if you just want the most screen real estate you can get then you're likely to be very happy with the Max 3 despite these things.

Finally there's the OnePlus 7 Pro, which couples a huge 6.7" display with an absolutely top tier smartphone package. Contrary to most phones of this size that are squarely midrange, the OP7P is flagship in every sense of the word. The display is the headline feature here in more than just size, it's a phenomenal curved AMOLED panel with a 90Hz refresh rate, something rarely seen in phones at all that makes navigation and animations feel ridiculously smooth. There's no bezels or notch at all, instead opting for a pop-up selfie camera, which both keeps the phone's size down to a minimum (let's not kid ourselves though, it's still huge) as well as keeping the front of the phone looking extremely sleek. Under the hood you're getting the best processor on the market and anything up to 12GB of RAM, and around the back you're getting a very capable camera system, ticking all the major boxes for delivering a great flagship experience. The only downside is that the battery, while a very healthy 4,000Mah, does not delivery the same longevity as other phones in this class because of the high refresh rate of the display, although OnePlus are working on improving this with software patches.

Best Phones for Photography: Google Pixel 3/3 XL, Apple iPhone XS Max


It's very difficult to find a flagship phone with a camera that doesn't take very good photos most of the time- they will vary in terms of tonality and temperature, or their particular set of features, but as a general rule if you buy a high end phone from the last couple of years you can depend on it to get you good results most of the time. There are, however, areas that different phone cameras can set themselves apart, such as video quality & features, low light performance, and unique secondary cameras. It is for these three reasons I have selected these phones to be the shortlist for best camera phones (full assessments of each phone an be found in the flagship category).

For your money right now in 2019, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL deliver the best image quality of any single camera on the market. You don't get ultra-wide or telephoto perspectives, but through a combination of its excellent sensor and superb processing software the Pixels are capable of delivering better images than anything else that the competition can muster in most scenarios, and for that reason it gets my top recommendation for anyone who just want to take their phone out of their pocket and point it at things. This may sound like faint praise, but it's difficult to overlook just how good the photos out of the humble one-camera setup of the Pixel 3 can be.

The iPhone XS Max takes the second runner's up spot, and is a worthy consideration against the previous two titans as a photography-first camera in two main scenarios- you want the best video camera on the market, or you simply want the best camera phone running iOS. I don't need to tell you again about how the XS Max is the best iPhone ever made, but when it comes to video the XS Max is genuinely worth considering over the Android competition even if you are embedded in Google's camp. Just as Google's software tips the Pixel 3 over the competition despite the diminutive hardware, iOS processes video in a way that delivers far more pleasing footage than competing Android phones anywhere in the market, who seem to treat video more as an afterthought. Apple have a significant edge over the Android competition when it comes to high frame video, with 4K 60fps and up to 240fps at 1080p, double the speeds the majority of its competition. Photo quality is also excellent, and the only reason it isn't a primary recommendation as a stills camera is that the P30 Pro and Pixel 3 exist, and they're simply better.

Honourable Mentions: The Galaxy S10 line are all great, with excellent cameras and a versatile 3 sensor system, but they simply aren't as good as the Pixel 3 or the iPhone XS. Speaking of the Pixel, the Pixel 3A and 3A XL deliver the exact same superb camera system at a significantly lower price, at the expense of the dedicated imaging chip that speeds up processing, and being a less premium and powerful phone in other areas. One the video front, the V30 is probably the most fully featured smartphone for video on the market, with certain features previously restricted to enthusiast level cameras like the option to shoot in LOG profiles with full manual control, which is enough to get any videographer excited as it gives you an unparalleled scope for processing footage for a smartphone. Finally, while the Sony Xperia 1 is a far more pedestrian high end phone when it comes to video quality and options, it has a unique trick up its sleeve when it comes to high speed recording, shooting up to a staggering 960fps at full 1080p where every other manufacturer on the market only manages 720p (even those using the newer and more powerful processors), if they include the feature at all. For reference, half a second of 960fps slowed down to a conventional movie frame rate of 24fps would give you a full 20 seconds of action.

Best Phones for Multimedia, Gaming and Productivity: Samsung Galaxy Note 9


With one of the largest and bests display on the market, it shouldn't be surprising that the Galaxy Note 9 is a media consumption king. The pixel dense, HDR certified SuperAMOLED panel is fantastic, and comes in tandem with excellent stereo speakers that will put out sound you'd be surprised to hear from a smartphone, and top class performance to keep even the most intensive of Android games ticking over nicely. The Note 9 is also supported by the option of of a tailor-made VR headset built by Samsung with best in class build quality and features (including a touchpad for navigating the phone without having to remove it from your head), a host of Samsung and third party software designed with this particular VR ecosystem in mind, and additional accessories for producing your own VR content like the Galaxy Gear 360 camera. Put all of this together and you have the best option for mobile VR and general multimedia on the market. If you're more business than pleasure, then the Note line's trademark stylus will certainly be an attractive prospect, working in tandem with the digitiser equipped display to make an excellent platform for electronic notetaking or sketching with other handy features like the ability to operate as a bluetooth remote.
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(Original post by Gofre)
Cream of the Crop; Flagship Smartphones
These are the phones that make a buzz in the press every year, the phones that get people queuing in the cold at 3am just to make sure they get one on launch day. These are the phones manufacturers release to show off the best that they can come up with, intended to offer the best smartphone experience to the largest number of people. If you’re in the market for a versatile smartphone that can handle whatever you throw at it, odds are something here will appeal to you.

Samsung Galaxy S6


Samsung have for a long time been the biggest player in the Android market by quite a large margin, and are locked in a continual struggle with Apple over the title of largest smartphone manufacturer in the world. However while their flagship phones never fail to sell by the million, criticism has existed for a while over their overzealous modification of Android and cheap, plasticky designs compared to the premium feeling phones they were competing with.

Enter the Galaxy S6, Samsung’s newest flagship that seems almost as if it was designed to address every criticism thrown at them over the last few generations. The cheap plastic exterior is gone, replaced with a distinctly more premium feeling combination of metal and glass, and while the software is still skinned it is nowhere near as overladen as before and a large chunk of Samsung’s bloatware apps have been gutted from the phone. And this comes on top of other substantial improvements that you’d expect from a top flagship from a top brand; Its eight core processor is the most powerful on the market by a long way and it runs flawlessly, its camera produces some of the best photos of any phone to date, and they’ve even managed to cram a 1440p resolution into a gorgeous AMOLED display that’s a lot smaller than the majority of phones carrying this resolution, all making for arguably the best looking smartphone display ever.

There are a few caveats though. The radical change in design meant the loss of a hallmark Samsung feature; the ability to remove and switch out the battery. Battery life is perfectly decent, but gone are the days of being able to carry a spare and bet on getting a couple of days of regular use between charges. The radical design overhaul also meant losing the microSD card slot (although it does come in a 128GB model) and waterproofing, which may also be a big deal to some people. And while Samsung are becoming increasingly more restrained with their software skinning, it’s still quite a bit more ostentatious than the pure Android experience you can find on other phones.

HTC One M9


Where the Galaxy S6 represents hearing its predecessor’s criticism and striving to address it, the HTC One M9 represents confidence in the previous phone’s design with a focus on refinement and not breaking what ain’t broke. This is most obvious when looking at the phone, or rather it isn’t obvious at all- the One M9 looks almost identical to the previous model, the M8. And that’s perfectly fine, because the HTC One line have cemented themselves in the minds of many as being among the best looking and feeling Android phones ever made. Refinements have been made to its exterior though, most notably a grippier finish to the aluminium body and flattened edges around the border of the phone to make it easier to hold while still retaining its iconic design. The refinements spread to the interior of the phone too, with a move to the latest top-tier chipset from Qualcomm, gained even more RAM and moved to the latest version of Android. HTC have also finally dropped their long-criticised ultrapixel camera with its tiny resolution and opted for a more conventional 20MP sensor (for better or for worse, more on that below), and its Boom Sound speakers, already the best speakers on any smartphone ever made, have even gotten a little louder and bassier.

However for all these small improvements, there are still problems to be found. Chief among them is the camera, and considering this has long been the achilles heel of the One line the biggest change HTC have made is also the most disappointing- the new camera is still pretty poor by modern smartphone standards. HTC are desperately trying to rectify this with every software patch they release, but as of right now if camera quality is a big factor for you then the One M9 is very difficult to recommend over the Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6. Its display is also 1080p, which while perfectly sharp for a phone on the smaller end of the Android flagship spectrum, sticks out on the spec sheet when being compared to its Samsung and LG competitors. HTC’s Android skin, like Samsung’s, is also fairly heavy handed when compared to a pure Android device, which may not be to everyone’s taste.

Apple iPhone 6


Finally we have the other major name vying for the top spot in the smartphone industry, Apple’s latest flagship the iPhone 6. The huge leap in screen size from the 5S is an acknowledgement (or resignation) from Apple that the market wants larger phones whether Apple think they should or not, although at 4.7” it is still noticeably smaller than the top tier Android phones it closely competes with. This will appeal to some people though, and wrapped around that screen is a phone that has all the hallmarks of a premium smartphone- performance is excellent, the display looks fantastic, the camera produces gorgeous images, and iOS runs beautifully. It offers a distinctly different experience to an Android phone, and I would wager if you spent ten minutes with both an iOS and Android flagship you would soon figure out which approach you prefer, but for those who find themselves leaning towards Apple there’s a lot to love about the iPhone 6.

However as with all phones, it’s not a perfect device. Apple’s processor design is very different to most Android chips which lets them get superb performance out of a comparatively humble looking dual core CPU, but it can’t quite match the performance of the latest Android flagships released 6 months after it. The display looks gorgeous, but at “750p” resolution it doesn’t match the pixel density of larger 1440p phones. And while its camera produces gorgeous still images, the lack of 4K recording and image stabilisation make it a less desirable choice for budding videographers (the 6’s slow mo video capture is the best of the bunch though). Finally a nod has to be made to the iOS/Android debate, and while iOS generally tends to be the lead platform for most apps and sees more rigorous optimisation across all areas of its software, Android has advantages of its own in its huge scope for customisability and flexibility, including being able to install unapproved apps from sources other than the official app store.

Honourable mentions; A shoutout has to go to the Galaxy S6’s sibling, the Galaxy S6 Edge. The “edge” features may be gimmicky and not particularly useful, but the overall design of the phone is really unique and makes it feel extremely slim. It also boasts a larger battery over the vanilla S6 too. Both the LG G4 and iPhone 6 Plus have the spec sheets to qualify as flagship phones and aim for mass appeal, but their enormous screens mean they aren’t going to appeal to the same range of buyers as the above options. The Sony Xperia Z3 was the latest flagship to be released by Sony (who have long been rumoured to be dropping out of the smartphone industry and have yet to release a high end phone this year), has the waterproofing that Samsung elected to drop, and has a superb camera, but it’s using the processor from last year’s flagships and doesn’t have the same gorgeous screen quality these phones all have, making it difficult to recommend as a true alternative to the best of the best from other brands. As for other manufacturers and operating systems, it’s very difficult to recommend anything else outside of iOS and Android- Microsoft have elected not to release any flagship grade phones until the release of their major upcoming update to Windows Phone (and let’s face it, no other manufacturer cares about making Windows Phones anymore), while the once-mighty Blackberry have been on a downward spiral for years and their current offerings have virtually zero meaningful advantages over the other 3 OS on the market. However if you’re clinging to the last decade and still want a physical keyboard, the Blackberry Passport and Blackberry Classic offer different takes on the keyboard while using Blackberry’s latest operating system.


I've never had the best of experiences with HTC phones for battery life, but for the actual UI and HTC Sense, it is absolutely brilliant.

I'm thinking of getting an S6 for my upgrade and I know that the battery life on the samsung is better which is a massive bonus for me, but the icons on the samsung seem old and not modern like the HTC icons :/
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greeneyedgirl
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I still can't decide between S6 and M9 - I do love my HTC One, but hate the crappy camera.
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Queen Cersei
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Any advice on which phones don't have problems with touch screens? For the second time my HTC phone has lost its screen sensitivity so I need to upgrade and want to avoid that problem again... I will be choosing from the frugal bunch (this thread has made my decision soooo much easier!)
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Young Sinatra
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Great guide but I think that you should mention that the amazing OnePlus One's price for a 16GB model has plummeted to £179 and the 64GB one is £219. Killer smartphone with specs that match up and some better than Apple's overpriced "flagship" iPhone 6.
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longsightdon
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Nice guide bro
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guitaristemily
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Windows phones are good too - sure, you can wait for the update(in a few months) but they are good phones...
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DTonesXD
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get yourself a second galaxy s5 if you like photography and want it around £200
far better than xperia Z series. I have a z2 and my dad has an s5, it is far better so i decided to buy one as well, it should come tomorrow.
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Gofre
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(Original post by James A)
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I've never had the best of experiences with HTC phones for battery life, but for the actual UI and HTC Sense, it is absolutely brilliant.

I'm thinking of getting an S6 for my upgrade and I know that the battery life on the samsung is better which is a massive bonus for me, but the icons on the samsung seem old and not modern like the HTC icons :/
The S6 does a have a theme store, which includes being able to change the icons :yep:

(Original post by greeneyedgirl)
I still can't decide between S6 and M9 - I do love my HTC One, but hate the crappy camera.
The M9's camera is certainly better than the M7/M8, but it's still disappointing :erm: The S6 is definitely the better choice if camera is a priority!

(Original post by Queen Cersei)
Any advice on which phones don't have problems with touch screens? For the second time my HTC phone has lost its screen sensitivity so I need to upgrade and want to avoid that problem again... I will be choosing from the frugal bunch (this thread has made my decision soooo much easier!)
Most of the big flagship phones from the last couple of years have solid reliability scores, I don't think any particular brand is known specifically for screen problems Any of the phones in that category should last a few years without suffering problems like that if they're looked after :yep:

(Original post by Young Sinatra)
Great guide but I think that you should mention that the amazing OnePlus One's price for a 16GB model has plummeted to £179 and the 64GB one is £219. Killer smartphone with specs that match up and some better than Apple's overpriced "flagship" iPhone 6.
I was planning on mentioning how it's ludicrously cheap (and back in stock, coincidentally), I must have forgotten! I'll edit that in

(Original post by longsightdon)
Nice guide bro
Thanks :yy:

(Original post by guitaristemily)
Windows phones are good too - sure, you can wait for the update(in a few months) but they are good phones...
They are good, I did mention a few of them at certain points, but in my opinion there's just no really compelling advantage the OS has to justify choosing from the limited hardware options over the wealth of Android or iOS options right now :dontknow: I'm really hoping Microsoft come back with a bang when they launch WP10 though! I have my fingers crossed for a killer flagship and another high end camera phone
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F1's Finest
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(Original post by Gofre)
The S6 does a have a theme store, which includes being able to change the icons :yep:



The M9's camera is certainly better than the M7/M8, but it's still disappointing :erm: The S6 is definitely the better choice if camera is a priority!



Most of the big flagship phones from the last couple of years have solid reliability scores, I don't think any particular brand is known specifically for screen problems Any of the phones in that category should last a few years without suffering problems like that if they're looked after :yep:



I was planning on mentioning how it's ludicrously cheap (and back in stock, coincidentally), I must have forgotten! I'll edit that in



Thanks :yy:



They are good, I did mention a few of them at certain points, but in my opinion there's just no really compelling advantage the OS has to justify choosing from the limited hardware options over the wealth of Android or iOS options right now :dontknow: I'm really hoping Microsoft come back with a bang when they launch WP10 though! I have my fingers crossed for a killer flagship and another high end camera phone
I think I'm gonna go with the S6 now Even the youtube video reviews seem to point that way too!

Time to find an upgrade deal now !
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guitaristemily
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(Original post by Gofre)
They are good, I did mention a few of them at certain points, but in my opinion there's just no really compelling advantage the OS has to justify choosing from the limited hardware options over the wealth of Android or iOS options right now :dontknow: I'm really hoping Microsoft come back with a bang when they launch WP10 though! I have my fingers crossed for a killer flagship and another high end camera phone

my 625 has a battery life which is way better than my sisters iphone 5s, and my dads z2.

we all ogt our phones within 6 months of eachother.

the os is easy to understand. you know were everything is, and it is also more costumisable at a basic level (no downloads/hacking needed as in ios and android)
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username1221160
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You can't replace the battery on the Galaxy 6? Damn. It was the one massive advantage the Galaxy had over the iPhone for those of us who are away from an electric supply for a few days.

Cheers for the guide.
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Gofre
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(Original post by Quantex)
You can't replace the battery on the Galaxy 6? Damn. It was the one massive advantage the Galaxy had over the iPhone for those of us who are away from an electric supply for a few days.

Cheers for the guide.
Unfortunately not! The LG G4 is the only flagship left with this now.
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greeneyedgirl
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(Original post by Gofre)
The M9's camera is certainly better than the M7/M8, but it's still disappointing :erm: The S6 is definitely the better choice if camera is a priority!
Well you know I like my photography! And most of the time I have my DSLR if I know I'm gonna want photos, but still sometimes need phone camera!
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Young Sinatra
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(Original post by Gofre)
Unfortunately not! The LG G4 is the only flagship left with this now.
Damn I thought the OP One does too
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Sykro
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Now to dig up some rare earth minerals, pollute the environment and create a set of modern day child slaves with no health or safety equipment, commended to a life of poverty to satisfy first world desires :gah:

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Good analysis though
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