CES and MWC have passed with new phones now arriving in the hands of 2018 buyers. There is likely to be more new phones announced in the coming months, but it's time to take a look at the best available right now.
I struggled mightily with which of the top four to put in the number one spot, but gave the nod to a phone that has it all and doesn't compromise by leaving out a single feature. I still often find my main SIM in the number two phone, but couldn't justify making any other number one selection at this time.
1. Samsung Galaxy S9/S9 Plus
Samsung recently announced the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus with devices arriving in the hands of buyers this week. It's an evolution in the Galaxy S line, but one that leads as close to perfection as you can expect for a smartphone today.
Samsung's Infinity Display continues to take the top spot with every new release, trumping the Apple iPhone X that lived in that spot for a few months. There is 6GB of RAM, the fastest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 mobile processor, a rear dual aperture camera, another one with super slow motion support (S9 Plus only), the ability to add inexpensive microSD cards, improved Bixby assitant and a hardware button dedicated to its use, 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. It also launches with Android 8.0 Oreo. There is nothing missing from the Galaxy S9 Plus and it deserves the top spot.
There are a few experiences in my usage that convinced me to place the S9 Plus above the iPhone X, including the RF performance of the S9 Plus. It holds a connection longer, with faster speeds, than the iPhone X on T-Mobile in the same area. The S9 Plus also has a newer Qualcomm modem than the iPhone X and also supports T-Mobile's 600 MHz spectrum. For work, it is tough to beat the Galaxy S9 Plus.
The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are available now at prices starting at $720 (S9) and $840 (S9 Plus). T-Mobile and Samsung have the best prices with other carriers adding additional premiums on top of the MSRP. If you buy an unlocked one from Samsung it will not contain carrier bloatware and is priced lower than most US carriers too. Compared to the $1,000+ iPhone X, the S9 and S9 Plus are reasonably priced.
I awarded the S9 Plus a 9.7/10 rating in my full review, but could almost be convinced it is 9.9. Jason Cipriani is evaluating the slightly smaller Galaxy S9 so we should see his review on ZDNet soon too.
2. Apple iPhone X
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 review (8.9/10)
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.
3. Samsung Galaxy Note 8
The Galaxy Note 8 was in the top spot for a couple of months because it was the most advanced smartphone on the market and it arguably could still be placed in that top spot. The Galaxy S9 Plus offers a few improvements, but no S Pen, and the iPhone X is also a very compelling smartphone.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 has all of the excellent Galaxy Foundation aspects found in the S9 and S9 Plus, but it doesn't yet have Android 8 Oreo, it uses the Snapdragon 835 processor, and the camera does not have dual mechanical aperture. That said, it has the S Pen and if you enjoy using a stylus with your phone then the Note 8 cannot be beat.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is available now at a price ranging from $930 to $960, depending on the carrier.
I spent a couple weeks with an evaluation device and 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.
4. Google Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 2
The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL 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). Both are excellent phones with the stock Android experience so if you want a phone functioning the way Google designed Android to operate then the Pixel 2 may be the one.
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. There is no wireless charging or 3.5mm headset jack on either phone.
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 will receive OS upgrades for three years. Google's newest Assistant features are present along with some other Google software advances.
ZDNet's Jason Cipriani awarded the Pixel 2 XL a 9/10 rating.
5. Apple iPhone 8/8 Plus
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.
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.
6. Huawei Mate 10 Pro
I've been spending lots of time with the US model Huawei Mate 10 Pro and it works well as a daily driver.
The Mate 10 Pro failed to launch directly on US carriers with some government security concerns, but is available at various retailers now for $799. (CNET: Huawei dealt a blow, loses Best Buy as smartphone retailer) One good thing about not being associated with a US carrier is that the phone is not loaded with unnecessary bloatware.
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, 6 GB RAM, 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 and Galaxy S9/S9 Plus can do this through a 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.
7. OnePlus 5T
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 (128GB model), are a major factor in considering this phone when there are flagships from $950 to more than $1000.
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 is available with 6GB RAM and 64GB internal storage for just $499. 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.
Sandra Vogel posted a full review of the OnePlus 5T on ZDNet and awarded it a 9/10 rating.
8. Sony Xperia XZ2
It has been a while since I have had a Sony Xperia phone on my 10 best list, but after moving the fingerprint scanner to the rear and refreshing the design a bit it is tough to pass up on the latest Sony Xperia XZ2.
The Sony Xperia XZ2 launches with the newest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, Android 8.0 Oreo, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage with microSD card support, IP68 water and dust resistance, a 5.7 inch Triluminos display, 19 megapixel rear camera with super slow motion 960 fps support, and stereo speakers.
We do not yet have pricing or availability information for this new Sony phone.
9. LG V30/V30S
I spent a couple of months with a non-final version of the LG V30 and then another couple of months 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 review (8.6/10)
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.
At MWC, LG showed off a V30S that has the specs of the LG V30 Plus with some additional software improvements, primarily in way of AI in the camera experience. It hasn't yet been released and pricing information has not yet been provided.
The LG V30 earned an 8.7 rating in my full review.
10. BlackBerry Motion
The BlackBerry Motion is a full touchscreen model with similar design features found in the BlackBerry KEYone. It packs a 2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chipset with a 650MHz Adreno 506 GPU and 4GB of RAM, a 5.5 inch 1920 x 1080 IPS LCD display, massive 4000 mAh battery to give you long battery life, 12 megapixel rear camera and 8 megapixel front camera, and microSD expansion card slot.
BlackBerry has been building a reputation for timely software and security updates, often releasing these updates just days after Google releases them to its Pixel line. BlackBerry Hub is also a very efficient communications tool to help you be more productive.
The BlackBerry Motion scored a solid 7.5/10 score in the full ZDNet review and is worth considering if you need a BlackBerry device to get your work done.