Could last year's flagship be your ideal phone?
High-end flagship smartphones appear in advertisements and dominate review headlines, but these innovative smartphones are often priced at $1,000 or more. With smartphones being released with high-quality components, durable features, and the capability to receive software updates, phones that were flagships one or two years ago can save you hundreds while offering nearly the same experience as the latest and greatest.
It's that time of year when all the newest Android smartphones and the latest Apple iPhones are announced and released into the market. The following are excellent smartphones to consider as you ignore the hype around the shiny new phones available at the end of 2020. They are not in any sort of ranked order, but they are all very capable phones that are definitely worth considering.
You can read more phone buying tips and how we make our recommendations here.
At the end of 2019, the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren was at the top of my 10 best smartphones list and is still a stunning phone. While the name is a mouthful, it was one of the first 5G phones on T-Mobile and has several cool McLaren design elements, including the unboxing experience.
The OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus processor with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage. Three rear cameras offer a solid imaging experience. The front-facing camera slides up from the top only when you need it and is a sleek design feature.
A large battery and super fast Warp Charge 30T keep you topped up all day long. The black with papaya orange highlights is delightful, and it was tough to sell this phone and move on. At more than a year old, it's also $200 off the original price so $699 for a very capable 5G phone is a great buy.
The OnePlus 7T was recently succeeded by the OnePlus 8T, but that means a huge price drop on last year's model. You can now find it for 1/3 off the original retail price. It is an extremely capable phone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of UFS 3.0 internal storage. The 90Hz display offers one of the smoothest experiences seen on an Android phone.
Triple rear cameras let you capture standard, ultra-wide, and telephoto images. There is also a macro mode that lets you capture images from as close as 2.5cm. It's rare to have this capability on a phone without an external macro lens.
The Warp Charge 30T adapter keeps the 3,800mAh battery topped off in minutes. In our full review, we stated that it was the best smartphone value of 2019, and while competitors are now offering phones in this price range, those phones often compromise on the internal specifications.
Also: OnePlus 7T review
The new Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is probably the best enterprise phone available today, but the previous Galaxy Note 10 Plus is still worth considering. Samsung doesn't sell it directly any longer, but places like B&H offer it for about $620.
The Galaxy Note 10 Plus improved on the Note 9 with enhancements in the S Pen, enhanced audio, and an improved camera experience. It's a gorgeous phone powered by a Snapdragon 855 process and will be upgraded to Android 11.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 series was announced in January, with multiple models ranging from a smaller sized one up to one packing Samsung's latest camera technology and support for the S Pen. Last year's Samsung flagships were arguably the best smartphones available at the time.
The Galaxy S20 is offered in the form of the S20, S20 Plus, and S20 Ultra. There is some difference in the cameras, as well as display and battery size. The Galaxy S20 phones are now running Android 11 with Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processors, plenty of fast LPDDR5 RAM and internal storage, IP68 dust and water resistance, and more. These phones are renowned for excellent cellular reception and fast performance.
Apple's iPhone models are sold on an annual basis, but Apple is the leader in keeping its phones updated for years after launch. While the four new iPhone 12 models are compelling, you can save some money and pick up the iPhone 11 Pro or Pro Max from last year and maintain a high level of productivity.
The 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max differ only in screen size and battery capacity with the Apple A13 Bionic chip, 4GB of RAM, and three internal storage options. The latest version of iOS is available on these phones, and the triple rear cameras help you capture amazing still and video content.
The iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max have a high level of water resistance and will last you through a full day, and there are plenty of accessories available at low prices. The 11 Pro and Pro Max are no longer available directly from Apple but can be found from other online retailers. Amazon sells renewed iPhone 11 Pros starting at $729.
The best value iPhone of 2019 and the one universally loved was the Apple iPhone 11. It remains a classic, and despite the new four iPhone 12 models, Apple still sells the iPhone 11, starting at $599.
The iPhone 11 provides a nice 6.1-inch display while being powered by Apple's A13 Bionic processor, 4GB of RAM, and three internal storage options. The display is LCD, compared to the OLED panels used on the Pro models. We also find two cameras on the iPhone 11 so no telephoto option is present.
Several color options are available for the Apple iPhone 11 and it slots into Apple's new pricing tier nicely.
Also: Apple iPhone 11 review
The Pixel 4A brings nearly the same amazing imaging experience to a phone with a mid-level processor and a low starting price of just $349. If fantastic still photos that you can capture with ease are desired, then you may even want to consider carrying one around as a second imaging phone.
With the Pixel 4A, you get a classic, fast rear fingerprint sensor, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage, 12.2-megapixel camera, front 8-megapixel camera, and a capable Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G processor.
Also: Pixel 4A review
Sadly, LG is shutting down its mobile phone business, so we won't see any new phones from LG. However, that also means you may be able to find great buys on LG phones still in stock with software support expected for the rest of 2021.
The LG V60 ThinQ is a 5G phone with MIL-STD 810G shock resistance, a Google Assistant key with LG specific functions, and a triple rear camera system. The 5,000mAh battery seems to go on forever.
Inside the phone, we see a Snapdragon 865 processor, 6.8-inch display, 8GB of RAM, 128GB internal storage with a microSD card slot, IP68 rating, 5000mAh battery, and more. It is available now for just $415 at Amazon, which is less than half of what it was at launch.