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Choosing the best smartphone to upgrade to can be a daunting task. Things like battery life, camera capabilities, storage space, and even health and safety features, factor into how well a new phone will fit into your mobile lifestyle.
And whether you prefer Android or iOS-based devices, it's important to factor in pricing and device longevity when shopping for a new smartphone.
Since new models like the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and OnePlus 11 are almost yearly releases, it sometimes pays to opt for an older generation phone than the latest and greatest. Not only can you save a bit of cash, but you'll also still get a lot of the same features, even if you have to sacrifice a bit of performance to do so.
Also: Best pre-order deals for the Galaxy S23 series
To help you decide which is the best phone for you, I've put together a list of the top smartphones you can buy right now, all thoroughly tested by ZDNET's team of mobile experts.
Tech specs: Screen size: 6.8 inches | Storage: Up to 1TB | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy | Panel type: WQHD+ Edge | Color: Phantom Black, Cream, Green, Lavender | Battery life: 5,000mAh | Water and dust resistant: yes
Samsung's new Galaxy S23 Ultra is undeniably the most complete smartphone you can buy right now. It's built with a large 6.8-inch AMOLED display that produces vibrant visuals both in the brightest and dimmest environments, a reliable 5,000mAh battery, four cameras at the rear to help you capture a variety of shots, and an overclocked Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset.
That last bit is especially important given how much more powerful yet efficient the new Ultra flagship is, even when compared to last year's S22 series. From our testing, the S23 Ultra proved to be just as good being a dedicated gaming phone as it was a regular one. The same can't be said about competing handsets, including our runner-up, the iPhone 14 Pro.
Read the review: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review
The S23 Ultra really proves its worth through unique specs and features, ones that truly matter to day-to-day usage. That includes the base storage of 256GB (versus the industry's 128GB standard), the integrated S Pen that gives you enhanced precision and inputs, Samsung's five-year commitment to security updates, and even Samsung DeX, its mobile-to-desktop service that turns your S23 Ultra into a full-on computer when connected to a monitor or TV.
Tech specs: Screen size: 6.7 inches | Storage: UP to 1TB | Processor: A16 Bionic | Panel type: Super Retina XDR | Color: MIdnight, Space Black, Purple, Deep Purple, (Product)RED, Silver, Starlight | Battery life: 29 hours | Water and dust resistant: Yes
The iPhone 14 Pro Max is part of Apple's newest lineup of smartphones, and it continues to prove why the company continues to dominate the mobile space. The 6.7-inch display uses Apple's Super Retina XDR panel for bright colors, finer details, and enhanced contrast. It even supports 4K resolution for video playback as well as Dolby Vision for HDR. It also has the new Dynamic Island feature, which transforms that notch of dead space on previous models omto a notification hub.
It's built with an all-new A16 Bionic processor which boosts speed and overall performance to make using the iPhone 14 Pro Max an entertainment and work hub. With support for Wi-Fi 6, you can get blazing-fast wireless internet speeds even when an LTE network isn't available. And new sensors in the phone allow it to use Apple's new crash detection feature, which automatically knows when you've been in a car accident or have fallen and contacts emergency services. It also is equipped with the new satellite SOS system, which will allow you to call for help even if you don't have LTE service.
Read the review: iPhone 14 Pro review
The battery has gotten an upgrade as well, giving you up to 29 hours of use on a full charge. And with the fast-charging feature, you can get up to 50 percent battery with just 35 minutes of charging; which is perfect for when you forgot to charge overnight and need to top up on your lunch break or during a work meeting.
Can't decide between the Pro and Pro Max? You can read our full comparison to see what differences there are between the two models.
Tech specs: Screen size: 6.7 inches | Storage: Up to 512GB | Processor: Google Tensor G2 | Panel type: OLED | Color: Snow, Obsidian, Hazel | Battery life: 5,000mAh | Water and dust resistant: Yes
Months later, the Google Pixel 7 Pro still impresses with a camera array that features a 50MP main lens, a 48MP telephoto, and a 12MP ultrawide that shoots better low-light photography than ever before. Like last year's Pixel 6 Pro, the new Google flagship complements the improved camera hardware with its tried-and-tested computational chops, including Magic Eraser for on-the-fly content-aware fill, a new Macro Focus for enhanced zoom-in shots (up to 30x), and more.
That's not to take away from the overall design and performance of the Pixel smartphone. The latest Pro model still features the now-iconic Pixel camera bump that beams from side to side, polished aluminum build quality, and a vivid 6.7-inch LTPO display that refreshes between 1 to 120Hz. The larger footprint also gives room for a beefy 5,000mAh battery that should keep the Pixel running for hours on end.
Read the review: Google Pixel 7 and 7 Pro
At $899, the Pixel 7 Pro undercuts its closest competitors, the iPhone 14 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. Even then, you can expect snappy performance thanks to the Tensor G2 chip, with at least five years of consistent software and security updates.
Tech specs: Screen size: 6.1 inches | Storage: 128GB | Processor: Google Tensor | Panel type: OLED | Color: Charcoal, Sage, Chalk | Battery life: 4,410mAh | Water and dust resistant: Yes
If you're looking to buy a phone for your younger child or teen, the Google Pixel 6a is an excellent choice. It retails for under $500, which is great news for your budget and for parents of forgetful kids who may not be responsible enough for a more expensive smartphone. And just because the phone is budget-friendly, that doesn't mean that it skimps out on features.
The 6.1-inch screen uses an OLED panel for better color volume and range, enhanced contrast, and improved detailing. The Google Tensor processor lets you launch apps, call, text, and video chat faster and more easily while the Titan M2 chip and Tensor security core protect the phone from spying and hacking.
With 128GB of internal storage, there's plenty of space for photos, videos, apps, and documents. And if you need more room, you can sync your phone to your favorite cloud storage service to free up your local drive. The phone is also water resistant up to 4 feet, so you won't have to worry about rain, sweat, or spills ruining the phone.
Read the review: Google Pixel 6a review
The battery has an adaptive power mode, which automatically reduces power consumption when the phone isn't being used, which boosts the battery life to about 24 hours. This is especially handy since you and your kids won't have to remember to keep a charging cable handy while at work or school.
Tech specs: Screen size: 6.7 inches | Storage: Up to 256GB | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 | Panel type: AMOLED | Color: Titan Black and Eternal Green | Battery life: 5,000mAh | Water and dust resistant: Only IP64
A slow-charging phone can be a real pain point, especially if you're always on the go. That's why the OnePlus 11 carves out its own best category, beating Apple, Google, and even Samsung when it comes to charging speed. The latest model comes with 100W SuperVooc fast charging or 80W in the US, which is still great. For reference, the highest-end iPhone 14 Pro Max has a charging speed limit of 30W and Samsung's just-released Galaxy S23 Ultra caps out at 45W. Both of those devices take a least an hour to go from 0% to 75% battery.
The OnePlus 11 can go from empty to full in less than 27 minutes. That charging speed, and the fact that OnePlus includes its proprietary charger in the box, is game-changing.
Read the review: OnePlus 11
The best part is that the rest of the phone is no slouch either; you're getting a 6.7-inch AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rate, the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, a 5,000mAh dual-cell battery, and a competitive triple-camera array that gets the job done. In total, OnePlus is charging you a starting rate of $699, which is just as good of a value pickup as the best budget smartphone on this list.
Tech specs: Screen size: 6.7 inches | Storage: Up to 512GB | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 | Panel type: Dynamic AMOLED | Color: Graphite, Bora Purple, Pink Gold, Blue | Battery life: 3,700mAh | Water and dust resistant: Yes
Flip phones have made a (somewhat) triumphant return with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4, once again letting you sassily hang up on someone by snapping the phone shut while also bringing the form factor up to speed with modern expectations. The Flip 4 is incredibly compact when folded, about 3 inches square, making it perfect for slipping into your pocket, purse, or travel bag. It also features a cover screen to provide quick, easy-to-read alerts for phone calls, texts, and app notifications without needing to open your phone.
And not only is the Flip 4 compact, but it's also water and dust-resistant, so rain, sweat, and everyday use won't be an issue. The screen uses Corning Gorilla Glass to protect against cracks, scratches, and chips while still giving you complete control over your apps and phone. And if you can't live without a virtual assistant, the Flip 4 is compatible with Samsung's Bixby as well as Alexa, and Google Assistant to give you hands-free control over your new phone.
Read the review: The Galaxy Z Flip 4 solves these two big problems for me
Can't decide between the Flip 4 and Fold 4? You can read our full comparison to help you decide which is the right folding phone for you.
Tech specs: Screen size: 6.1 inches | Storage: Up to 1TB | Processor: A15 Bionic | Panel type: Super Retina XDR | Color: Midnight, Blue, Sierra Blue, Gold, Graphite, Green, Alpine Green, Pink, (Product)RED, Silver, Starlight | Battery life: 22 hours | Water and dust resistant: Yes
The previous generation of iPhones is still a great option if you're looking to upgrade, but aren't concerned with having the latest and greatest models. The iPhone 13 Pro offers up to 1TB of internal storage for apps, photos, videos, and music, but if you somehow need more room, you can sync your phone to iCloud to free up local drive space. The 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display gives you incredibly lifelike images with great color volume and detailing that's perfect for photography as well as streaming videos and video chatting with friends and family.
The A15 Bionic processor chip isn't quite as fast as the new iPhone 14, but still lets you quickly and efficiently multitask, launch apps, text, and call. The integrated battery gives you up to 22 hours of use on a full charge, letting you go all day before you need to even think about plugging in.
Read the review: iPhone 13 Pro review
Aren't sure if you should spring for the iPhone 14? You can read our full comparison of the iPhone 13 and new iPhone 14 to see which model is best for you.
Our pick for the best phone overall is the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. It features everything you could want from a smartphone including a large display, four cameras that can shoot 200MP photos and 8K video, up to 1TB of storage, a built-in S Pen for writing and drawing, and a 5,000mAh battery powering the system. Here's how the S23 Ultra fares with the rest of our top picks.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Up to 1TB
iPhone 14 Pro Max
Up to 1TB
Google Pixel 7 Pro
Up to 512GB
Google Pixel 6a
Up to 256GB
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4
Up to 512GB
iPhone 13 Pro
Up to 1TB
Choosing a phone can be a daunting task. But having a list of your must-have features can go a long way toward narrowing down your options. If you're a mobile professional or travel a lot for work, you'll want to choose a phone that can provide you with at least a full day of use on a full battery as well as both LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity.
If you're looking for your teen's first smartphone, a budget-friendly and less feature-heavy option may be better to prevent overspending as well as misuse. And if you're a content creator or other creative professional, you'll want a phone with an excellent front and rear camera to capture photos and videos for your social media feed.
Choose this best phone...
If you need...
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
A no-compromise smartphone that can get any job done
iPhone 14 Pro Max
The best iPhone money can buy
Google Pixel 7 Pro
A flagship camera experience at your fingertips
Google Pixel 6a
A more budget-friendly smartphone, or a first phone for kids and teens
A phone that can last long and charge from 0 to 100% in just 30 minutes
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4
An innovative and fun foldable phone that's user-friendly
iPhone 13 Pro
An older phone that still offers great features
The process to make our phone selections includes testing the phones for weeks, researching reviewer guides and manufacturer websites, talking with colleagues and other users who have hands-on experience with the smartphones, and then selecting the best from all of the available choices.
Over the past year, we tested new phones from Google, Samsung, Apple, OnePlus, and several others.
It's debatable between the iPhone 14 Pro, Google Pixel 7 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. For long-distance shots, Samsung's 200MP rear camera with 100x Space Zoom can capture subjects as far out as the moon. For point-and-shoot pictures and a rather simplified (but effective) camera experience, Google's Pixel phones have always been at the top. If you're a videographer at heart, then the iPhone 14 Pro, with Cinematic mode and Action mode, makes for an excellent tool to get the shots you need.
Also: Google Pixel 7 Pro vs iPhone 14 Pro: Which flagship should you buy?
The average phone battery gives you about 22 hours of use on a full charge, which is great for staying connected on your commutes, work flights, and at home in the evenings. But that's just the average, actual use time varies by phone model and by what you're using your phone for.
For example, the latest iPhone 14 Pro Max boasts a 29 hour battery life. But you'll most certainly get less than that if you habitually scroll through social media or stream video and music. And the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 has just a 9 hour battery life, which is further reduced by streaming, social media, and making calls.
Most smartphones have a base storage capacity of 128GB, which is plenty of space for average users to download apps and music, take photos, and shoot video. However, if you're a mobile or creative professional, you'll need more space. Many smartphones have expanded storage options up to 512GB or even 1TB, and you can always sync your phone to your preferred cloud storage service to free up local storage space.
If you're in the market for a new smartphone, there are tons of options out there. Whether you're looking to upgrade or get your first smartphone, Apple, Samsung, and OnePlus have great choices: