Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: 2017: The Year's Best Tech for Work and Play

10 best smartphones: Starting at half the price of an iPhone X

Now that all of the flagship phones have been announced for 2017, a new model has moved into the top spot.

All major smartphones have been announced for 2017 and now after getting hands-on time with the Apple iPhone X, Google Pixel 2, and Huawei Mate 10 Pro it's time to finalize the rankings. It's clear that any of the top five could be number one so provide your feedback on the rankings below.

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 spent time at the top of my last few updates and it remains a fantastic device. However, there is something I like better that is now available.

1. Apple iPhone X

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The Apple iPhone X is now in the hands of buyers and available in stores. It is the highest price mass market phone to launch with a starting price of $999 for 64GB and $1,149 for 256GB, but it seems the majority of people are buying it on a payment plan so that the cost is spread out over time and not as shocking as a lump sum price.

The iPhone X is the first unique iPhone design we have seen since the original iPhone launched 10 years ago. It has a large 5.8 inch front display with minimal bezels and no front home button. A Samsung OLED panel is used for the first time on an iPhone. There is a dual rear camera setup with a new way to use the iPhone due to the lack of a home button and traditional power button.

Without buttons on the front, the iPhone X relies on advanced facial recognition to unlock and use Apple Pay. It performs reliably and far exceeds the functionality of Samsung's iris scanning technology. Apple finally includes wireless charging too so you can conveniently charge it by simply setting it down on a wireless charging device.

CNET: iPhone X hands-on

The iPhone X is powered by the new A11 bionic chip and M11 motion coprocessor so it flies with iOS 11. It has an IP67 dust and water resistant rating. Glass is now used on the back to support wireless charging. The front facing camera is 7 megapixels and labeled TrueDepth so you can take portrait selfies.

The iPhone X is the most advanced iPhone to date and offers some new experiences with the front display. This includes extensive gesture support and new ways to access functions on the iPhone. It offers a big screen experience in a rather compact package when compared to other large screen smartphones.

2. Samsung Galaxy Note 8

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was at the top of my list at the end of 2016, before the recall forced its removal. The Galaxy Note 8 was in the top spot for a couple of months because it was the most advanced smartphone on the market. It still leads in many respects, but there are a few things about it that let the Apple iPhone X beat it out.

CNET: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Phone review

Samsung's Infinity Display earned the highest rating ever from DisplayMate and is 0.1 inch bigger than the S8 Plus. There is 6GB of RAM, the fastest Qualcomm mobile processor, advanced S Pen functionality, dual rear cameras with OIS, the ability to add inexpensive microSD cards, new Bixby assitant and a hardware button dedicated to its use, improved front facing camera, Samsung Pay payment technology, wireless and fast charging, IP68 dust and water resistance, a USB Type-C standard port, and traditional 3.5mm headset jack. There is nothing missing from the Galaxy Note 8 and it deserves the top spot.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is available now at a price ranging from $930 to $960. There are some launch specials from Samsung and carriers, including a Gear 360 camera or microSD card and fast wireless charger.

I spent a couple weeks with an evaluation device now have a couple of months with the Note 8 under my belt.

Check out Jason Cipriani's full Galaxy Note 8 review with a 9/10 rating. Jason is more conservative with his ratings than I am so a 9 from Jason is outstanding.

3. Huawei Mate 10 Pro

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Image: Huawei

Last week I had a chance to meet with several Huawei folks and am now testing out an Huawei Mate 10 Pro. So far, it's fantastic and given some recent issues with the Pixel 2 XL (display, sound cracking, and more), I decided to position the Mate 10 Pro higher than the Pixel 2 for now.

The Mate 10 Pro has similar specs, but also includes an extremely capable Huawei Kirin 970 processor, dual rear camera, and more. The Mate 10 Pro is rumored to be launching in the US in 2018 so stay tuned for that release.

The Mate 10 Pro has a 6 inch 18:9 OLED display, Kirin 970 processor with neural network processing unit, Android 8.0 Oreo with EMUI 8, 4/6 GB RAM, 64/128 GB internal storage, dual rear cameras, 8 megapixel front-facing camera, and massive 4,000 mAh battery.

One function that distinguishes the Huawei Mate 10 Pro from the Pixel 2, for the enterprise, is the capability to connect via the USB Type-C port to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for a nearly full desktop experience. The Galaxy Note 8 can do this through the DeX device, but the Mate 10 Pro doesn't even need a separate device to perform this function.

The Huawei Mate 10 Pro earned a 9.0 rating in our ZDNet full review.

4. Google Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 2

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The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were announced yesterday and bring some features I wanted to see (water resistance and smaller bezels on the XL) and some I didn't (removal of standard 3.5mm headset jack). They appear to be compelling smartphones with the highest DxOMark ratings to date.

The Google Pixel 2 XL has a large 6 inch 18:9 display, Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB and 128GB integrated storage, single rear 12 megapixel camera, IP67 dust and water resistance, a 3520 mAh battery, and dual front stereo speakers. The smaller Pixel 2 has a 5 inch display and smaller battery while the rest of the specs are the same as the XL model.

The smaller Pixel 2 starts at $649 while the Pixel 2 XL starts at $849 for the 64GB model. They are both powered by Android 8.0 Oreo and advertised to receive upgrades for three years. Google's newest Assistant features are present along with some other Google software advances.

The devices can be pre-ordered now and will start shipping on October 19.

5. Samsung Galaxy S8/S8 Plus

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The Samsung Galaxy S8/S8 Plus was at the top of my list earlier this year, but the Note 8 bumped it down with a few additional features and advanced hardware.

CNET: Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review

Samsung's Infinity Display looks fantastic and minimizes the top and bottom bezel while removing anything on the sides which roll down from the front to the back. Everything seen in the Note 8, except for the S Pen and dual rear camera, is present on the S8 and S8 Plus.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 launched at $750 and the S8 Plus at $850. Prices have dropped with the Note 8 release and the passage of time so you can now find it at a couple hundred less, making either the S8 or S8 Plus a fantastic deal.

The Galaxy S8 Plus earned a 9.6 rating in my full review.

6. Apple iPhone 8/8 Plus

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Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

The new Apple iPhone 8/8 Plus look like the iPhone 7/7 Plus, but have glass backs for wireless charging support. In addition the new iPhones have a slightly improved processor, improved camera, and improved LCD display.

CNET: iPhone 8 Plus hands-on

There are stereo speakers for good sound performance, but no standard 3.5mm headphone jack. These new iPhones do have fast charging support so they can gain up to 50 percent of battery capacity in 30 minutes.

There is no longer an 128GB capacity option with 64GB and 256GB models available. The iPhone 8 is priced at $699 and $849 while the iPhone 8 Plus is priced at $749 and $949.

7. LG V30

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I spent a couple of months with a non-final version of the LG V30 and then about another month with a retail version from T-Mobile. It is priced at $800, which is reasonable for a high end flagship when we see the top of the line models launching between $900 and $1,150. It is clearly the best V series phone and LG's best released in years. It is a phone for content creators thanks to its dual rear camera setup and advanced software designed to help you take great still photos and videos.

CNET: LG V30 hands-on

The V30 feels wonderful in the hand and looks rather stunning in silver. It is loaded with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot, has an IP68 dust and water resistant rating, and built to survive military drop tests. You will find two cameras on the back, one 16 megapixel and the other 13 megapixel for a wide angle experience.

The LG V30 earned an 8.7 rating in my full review.

8. OnePlus 5T

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About six months after the release of the OnePlus 5, we see the launch of the OnePlus 5T with a larger 18:9 aspect ratio display and improvements that make it a very compelling smartphone. The price, $499 and $559, are a major factor in considering this phone when there are flagships from $950 to more than $1000.

CNET: OnePlus 5T review (8.9/10)

The OnePlus 5T incorporates a face unlock system, has a dual rear camera setup, and several software customization options to make the phone extremely efficient for daily use. Rather than a glass sandwich design that is popular with most phones today, the OnePlus 5T has an unibody aluminum shell with a comfortable form factor and high quality construction.

The OnePlus 5T started selling last week with 6GB RAM and 64GB internal storage for just $499 and 8GB RAM and 128GB internal storage for $559. Unlike some other flagships from Samsung and LG, the OnePlus line has a history of regular updates and also an active community of users and developers so you can spend time customizing it to your heart's desire.

9. Essential Phone

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The Essential phone.

Earlier this year Andy Rubin launched the Essential Phone for $699. We don't have official sales figures, but there were some issues with the device for the first couple of months, particularly in regards to the camera performance.

Since then we have seen several camera improvements, regular security updates, and a major price reduction of $200 with continued software enhancements coming soon. At $499, the Essential Phone is a compelling flagship-level smartphone that is extremely well designed with ceramic and titanium.

The Essential Phone is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 process, has a 5.71 inch 19:10 LCD with barely any bezels and a unique top notch, Android 7.1.2 OS (Oreo is coming soon), 4GB RAM, 128GB internal storage, dual rear cameras, and large 3040 mAh battery.

I cannot say enough about how great the Essential Phone feels in hand thanks to its ceramic and titanium construction. It has a basic IP54 dust and water resistant rating so don't dunk it in the water.

The Essential Phone earned an 8.4 rating in my full review.

10. HTC U11

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For many years I was an HTC fan and purchased most of the One series. The HTC U11 was released in June and while it doesn't have minimal bezels or a 3.5mm headphone jack, it is the most gorgeous phone ever and has a camera that may be the best available.

CNET: HTC U11 review

The HTC U11 is blazing fast and has a minimal HTC Sense software experience. It is similar to a Google Pixel, but has water resistance, much better audio, and a cool squeezable edge.

Like the HTC 10, the HTC U11 provides a fantastic audio experience with dual stereo speakers and an included USonic headset that maps the specifics of each of your ears.

The U11 has a 5.5 inch high resolution LCD display, Snapdrago 835, IP67 dust and water resistant rating, and a rear 12 megapixel camera.

The glass back is a looker and the Solar Red one I purchased turns heads. It appears red, gold, orange, and pink in different lighting conditions and stands out from the crowd. It is available for $649, although there are regular coupons available so you should be able to pick it up for just $599. That is a great deal for a high end smartphone.

I awarded the HTC U11 a 9.3/10 in my review, while CNET awarded the HTC U11 an 8.1/10.

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