'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?
ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.
When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.
ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.
The smartphone launch season is heating up, with the likes of Samsung, Google, and even Motorola getting in on the action. So if you're eyeing a new handset to freshen up your everyday carry, you've come to the right place.
Also: 7 things you didn't realize your phone can do
We've put together a list of the best smartphones you can buy right now, all thoroughly tested, daily-driven, and nominated by industry analysts, veterans in the mobile space, and, of course, ZDNET's team of subject matter experts.
Each device has lived in the hands and pockets of professional reviewers so that no matter what your preference is, there's a pick on this list that will certainly satisfy your needs.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 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. In my ZDNET review, I mentioned that "the mobile platform brings meaningful improvements to the Galaxy phone experience, while Samsung's done its part to optimize the S23 Ultra with a larger vapor cooling chamber and more efficient back-end processing. Together, you get a phone that's powerful enough for any type of user, including mobile gamers." For a smartphone that's not made specifically for gaming, that's as high praise as it gets, right?
Review: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
The S23 Ultra proves just as much of 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.
iPhone 14 Pro Max 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 latest lineup of smartphones, and it continues to prove why the company dominates 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. But perhaps the most intriguing visual feature is the new Dynamic Island, which transforms that notch of dead space on previous models into a notification hub.
During testing, ZDNET Editor-in-Chief Jason Hiner remarked that "Despite its silly name, Dynamic Island is both functional and elegantly designed. And there are now subtle and useful new animations for a whole host of activities, from FaceID unlock to AirPods pairing to live sports scores."
New sensors are also present on the Pro iPhone, allowing users 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. The 14 Pro Max is also equipped with the new satellite SOS system, which allows you to call for help even if you don't have LTE service.
Review: iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max
Just as important is the upgraded battery, now giving you up to 29 hours of use on a full charge. And with fast charging, 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.
Google Pixel 7 Pro 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. ZDNET's Jason Cipriani test both the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 7 Pro back in October and found the latter the most impressive for its new 30x Super Res Zoom, suggesting that "Someone (Google) finally showed Samsung how these fancy zoo features are supposed to look."
Like the year before's Pixel 6 Pro, the latest 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 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.
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.
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G tech specs: Screen size: 6.3 inches | Storage: 128GB | Processor: Exynos 1380 | Panel type: AMOLED | Color: Graphite, Lime, Violet, White | Battery life: 5,000mAh | Water and dust resistant: Yes
Believe it or not, Samsung's best-selling smartphone last year was not one of its S-series or foldable devices, rather it was the humble Galaxy A53 5G, which delivered an uncompromising phone experience with a smooth-scrolling screen, reliable battery, and up to five years of software support. The device was priced at just $449, undercutting its more premium competitors and heavy-handedly beating Apple's own mid-range handset, the iPhone SE.
This year's A54 5G ticks just as many boxes as its predecessor but with a series of subtle yet useful upgrades. For example, the display is still a large 6.4-inch panel that ramps up to 120Hz refresh rate, but now shines at 1,000 nits of brightness (from 800 nits), the battery size is still a healthy 5,000mAh capacity, and the unit is now powered by an Exynos 1380 chipset. That's a minor bump from last year's Exynos chip, but a bump nonetheless.
Review: Samsung Galaxy A54 5G
The Galaxy A54 also features an exterior design that's more in line with Samsung's S-series phones and a new camera system that's headlined by a 50-megapixel main lens. From our testing, the photo results -- both in daytime and nighttime -- were evenly lit and sharpened just enough for you to share with others with confidence. Video capturing is capped at 4K, though the 128GB internal storage that can be expanded via MicroSD card should be ample enough for use.
OnePlus 11 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. From ZDNET's testing and comparisons, both of those devices take a least an hour to go from 0% to 75% battery, falling noticeably short of the OnePlus 11's numbers.
In less than 27 minutes, the OnePlus can go from empty to full. That charging speed, and the fact that OnePlus includes its proprietary charger in the box, put it a step above the rest.
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 a 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.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 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.
While the larger Galaxy Z Fold 4 is both flashier and more powerful, "most people are better served with the Galaxy Z Flip 4, which is more affordable, acts as its own selfie tripod, and disappears in your pocket," says Avi Greengart, Lead Analyst at Techsponential.
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.
Review: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4
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.
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.
iPhone 13 Pro 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.
"This (iPhone 13 Pro) is certainly very viable given the excellent software support that Apple provides, typically supporting five generations of iOS features," adds Ben Wood, Chief Analyst and CMO of CCS Insight. "Usually, the biggest challenge for any user will be battery deterioration or a broken screen, both of which can be replaced to extend the lifespan of the device."
Review: iPhone 13 Pro
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.
Best phone model
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Up to 1TB
Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy
iPhone 14 Pro Max
Up to 1TB
Google Pixel 7 Pro
Up to 512GB
Google Tensor G2
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G
Up to 256GB
Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4
Up to 512GB
Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1
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 want...
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
A no-compromise smartphone that virtually any type of user can take advantage of. It's the only 2023 smartphone with a built-in stylus.
iPhone 14 Pro Max
The best iPhone money can buy. It has a large screen, the longest-lasting battery out of all the models, and a toolbox of a camera system.
Google Pixel 7 Pro
A flagship camera experience at your fingertips. The Pixel 7 Pro differentiates itself with a slew of AI-powered camera tricks like Magic Eraser and Photo Unblur.
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G
A more budget-friendly smartphone that doesn't compromise on performance and battery life. The A54 5G is also eligible for up to five years of software and security updates, besting that of any phone of a similar price.
A phone that lasts long and charges from 0% to 100% in just 30 minutes. The OnePlus 11 is quietly good value, too, starting at $699.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4
An innovative and fun foldable phone that's user-friendly. It's also more affordable than the larger Z Fold 4.
iPhone 13 Pro
An older phone that still offers great features. The iPhone 13 Pro can now be had for less than its original price, yet it will be supported with iOS features for another four to five more years.
The process to make our phone selections includes real-world testing and researching about the phones for weeks, consulting with colleagues, industry experts, and analysts who also have hands-on experience with the smartphones, and then selecting the best from all of the available choices.
Ultimately, we weigh in the following aspects when curating this list:
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 nine-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 videos. 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:
Don't let the absence of the "Pro" label fool you -- the Pixel 7 is one of the better-value smartphones on the market to date. You can easily find one for around $450 right now, yet it comes with a flagship Tensor G2 processor and very capable cameras.
The iPhone 14 Plus is arguably the best model if you value battery life, a large display, and a price that leaves a smaller dent than the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
If you're on a tight budget, the Samsung Galaxy A14 5G is highly recommended at $200. For the price, you're getting a decent 6.6-inch display with 90Hz refresh rate, 5G, a 5,000mAh battery, and more.