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The 10 best smartphones you can buy right now

The best smartphones on the market right now
ZDNet’s Matthew Miller talks with TechRepublic’s Karen Roby, breaking down the best of the best smartphones that are available to consumers right now. Read more: https://zd.net/2AEIxGA

It’s been six months since the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus was released and while it is still an extremely capable phone, its larger cousin knocked it from the top spot. While there is uncertainty with Huawei at the moment, its current devices deserve consideration and are now back on this top 10 list.

In the next couple months, we will likely see the release of the Apple iPhone 11, Google Pixel 4, Samsung Galaxy Fold, Huawei Mate X, Huawei Mate 30 Pro, OnePlus 7T, and more. These are all certain to shake up this 10 best smartphones list.

It’s easy to find a great phone these days and today’s phones are so good you really don’t need to be replacing them on an annual basis, but carrier and manufacturer upgrade programs make this fairly painless. Then again, you can also find great phones at nearly half the price of the flagships as you will see in this current 10 best list.

Must read: Best Android phone for business: One month with Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

1. Samsung Galaxy Note 10/10 Plus


The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 sat on top of our 10 best smartphone list for much of the past year and is now being toppled by its worthy successor. While the headphone jack is gone, everything else has been improved on the 2019 version of the Galaxy Note. The Note 10 is now offered in two variants, with the presence of a microSD card slot, display size, and battery capacity being the prime differentiators.

The Galaxy Note 10 Plus is the ultimate enterprise smartphone with the latest Qualcomm processor, massive amounts of RAM, fast internal storage, microSD card expansion, capable rear quad-camera system, and much more.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 has a Link to Windows button in the quick controls area along with support for the latest version of DeX. Extending it to an external monitor with Samsung DeX is quick and easy, while also providing a full functioning desktop experience. The additional capability to charge up other devices and gear, such as the new Galaxy Buds, via wireless technology on the back of the Note 10 is convenient for road warriors.

The Note 10, starting with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage, starts at $949.99 while the Note 10 Plus with 12GB of RAM and 256GB internal storage starts at $1,099.99. There will also be increased RAM and storage options for both devices, but the default base models offer ample RAM and storage for most users. Pre-orders launch today, 8 August, with in-store availability scheduled for 23 August. The Note 10 Plus 5G will launch on Verizon to start with at pricing to be announced by Verizon

2. Huawei P30 Pro


The 6.47-inch Huawei P30 Pro comes in a range of colours — including black, for traditionalists.

Image: Huawei

The Huawei P30 Pro was one of the last smartphones announced in the spring and is a stunning smartphone with arguably the best camera available on a phone today, thanks in large part to its innovative periscope telescopic lens and 40 megapixel main camera. Its massive 4,200 mAh battery and Kirin 980 processor keep it going at full speed for more than a day.

The Huawei design is gorgeous and has prompted others to come up with more interesting colors and hues in the latest smartphones. It can also charge up other phones wirelessly and has even been charging up my iPad Pro 11 via USB-C to USB-C. It has the highest specifications you can expect from a flagship with only the Note 10 beating it out in some areas.

CNET: Huawei P30 Pro review (9/10)

The Huawei P30 Pro turns night into day with some kind of photographic magic and can zoom in further than any other smartphone available today. It makes a great phone for field workers with its ability to capture images from far away while also capturing ultra-wide angle shots for industries like real estate.

Check out our full Huawei P30 Pro review and camera experiences after a month of use.

3. Apple iPhone XS Max/XS


Apple pushed the entry-level price of a flagship up to $1,000 two years ago with the iPhone X and raised the bar again last year with the most expensive flagship available in the iPhone XS Max. ZDNet’s Jason Cipriani awarded the iPhone XS Max an impressive near-perfect score of 9.6/10 so I’m pretty sure Jason would give the top spot to this phone.

I ordered my own iPhone XS Max to replace my iPhone X, using the T-Mobile Jump On Demand program, but after two weeks I sent it back as I found the small size of the iPhone X was one of the primary reasons it still earned a place in my pocket. I then tried the iPhone XR and finally went full circle and am back to the iPhone X form factor with the iPhone XS.

The Apple iPhone XS Max has been shown to best all other phones in benchmarking testing and the Apple A12 Bionic chipset certainly blazes new trails. It has a fabulous OLED screen, good sized battery, and new camera software to make it a very compelling flagship. It continues to get regular updates and iOS apps are still better than comparable Android apps, despite the improvements in Android phones.

The apps on iOS continue to remain better overall than what we see in Android and enterprise customers like the security and control provided on the iPhone. The iPhone XS Max definitely deserves consideration as the number one phone, but newer models trump it for now.

The iPhone XS Max starts at $1,099 for a minimal storage 64GB model and runs up to $1,449 for the 512GB model.

CNET: iPhone XS Max review (8.9/10)

Check out our iPhone XS Max and iPhone XS reviews.

Also: Goodbye iPhone XR: Signal strength and size bring me back to the iPhone XS

4. Samsung Galaxy S10/S10 Plus


Samsung’s current mass market flagship is a winner in almost every respect, remaining a more affordable and pocketable option compared to the new Note 10 series. Prices have dropped over the past six months too so you can get this phone at a great price.

Last year’s S9 Plus was a solid Android smartphone, but the S10 Plus improves upon that device with an ultra-wide camera, much longer battery life, better software with One UI and the ability to wirelessly charge up other devices.

Must read: Galaxy S10 Plus: 4 reasons I’m smitten with Samsung’s latest phone

Samsung’s S10 and S10 Plus have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, Super AMOLED Infinity-O display, 8GB RAM (with 12GB option), 128GB to 1TB storage options with a microSD for even more capacity, five cameras, IP68 rating, WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5, ANT+, and a stunning design with gorgeous Prism color options.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus continues to have all of the excellent Galaxy Foundation aspects such as a high level of water resistance, fast wireless charging, a stunning Super AMOLED screen, expandable microSD storage, a 3.5mm headset jack, and much more. In addition, extending it to an external monitor with Samsung DeX is quick and easy, while also providing a full functioning desktop experience. The additional capability to charge up other devices and gear, such as the new Galaxy Buds, via wireless technology on the back of the S10 Plus is convenient for road warriors.

The Galaxy S10 Plus has now been available for six months, which means you can often find special offers from your preferred carrier. Amazon regularly has unlocked models at even more affordable pricing than Samsung or the carriers. The Galaxy S10 started at $899.99 while the S10 Plus started at $999.99 for the 8GB/128GB model.

CNET: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review (9/10)

Check out our Galaxy S10 Plus review (9.5/10).

5. Samsung Galaxy Note 9

S Pen

The Galaxy Note 9 was arguably the best phone for business customers in 2018 and until the release of the Note 10 Plus continued to be the phone I kept going back to after getting bored of testing out new, flashy phones. I’ve been using one now for a full year and despite trying out many other phones I held onto this one long enough to trade it in for the next Note.

The Galaxy Note 9 improved upon the Note 8 with a Bluetooth S Pen, more internal capacity and RAM, a massive 4,000mAh battery, better dual rear cameras with some software intelligence, enhanced audio capability, and new placement of the rear fingerprint scanner.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Note 9: Everything you need to know

The One UI software that came with the Android 9 Pie update greatly improves the Note 9 with a less obtrusive and more user-friendly experience. While it took several months for users to receive the update, it’s been well worth the wait. Note fans are looking ahead to the next several months when the Note 10 is likely to be revealed in all its glory.

Since it has been out now for a year, you can find great deals on the Note 9. If you want the Note experience and just must have that 3.5mm headset jack, or you have a Note 8, then the Note 9 is still a great phone to buy.

CNET: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review (9/10)

Check out our Galaxy Note 9 review.

6. OnePlus 7 Pro


OnePlus launched the new OnePlus 7 Pro three months ago and it was universally lauded for its lovely design, fast performance, and sheer power at a price comparable to the lowest level Apple and Samsung flagship phones. OnePlus continues to challenge flagship phones with high end internal specs at prices hundreds less than competing premium phones.

OnePlus just missed a top five spot on my list, and arguably could be in the top five, due to its high end specifications, reasonable price that is hundreds less than other flagships, extremely responsive performance, and use of new technology such as the UFS 3.0 internal storage (now seen on the Note 10 Plus) and 90Hz screen refresh rate.

Prices range from $669 to $749. The lowest cost one still has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage while the $749 model has 12GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage. You will not find another phone with these great specs for these prices.

CNET: OnePlus 7 Pro review: The best Android phone value of 2019 (8.8/10)

The OnePlus 7 Pro is composed of two pieces of 3D Gorilla Glass with a metal frame. The design is elegant and the build quality is superb. It has a lovely AMOLED 6.67-inch display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, triple rear cameras, ample RAM and internal storage options, a large 4,000mAh battery and Warp Charge 30 capability, with excellent radio support for GSM networks. There is no certification for dust and water resistance and a 3.5mm headphone jack is nowhere to be found.

See also: 11 reasons the OnePlus 7 Pro is good for business

Unlike the majority of phones today, there is no notch or hole-punch in the display for the camera. The front-facing camera extends and retracts out of the top only when in active use. The phone is quite large compared to most phones today, but with no notch you get a fabulous full screen experience with it.

Check out our full review of the OnePlus 7 Pro where Jason Cipriani awarded it an outstanding 9/10 rating. It is currently carrying my Google Fi SIM and I am enjoying the experience.

7. Google Pixel 3 XL and Pixel 3


Image: James Martin/CNET

While the Galaxy Note 10 offers just about everything you want, software updates are not its specialty. If you want an Android phone that will always have the latest firmware and security updates, while also offering a fairly stock experience, then nothing beats the Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL. These two phones are the exact same except for the overall size and battery capacity.

The Google Pixel 3 XL has a large 6.3-inch 18:9 display, Snapdragon 845 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB and 128GB integrated storage, single rear 12.2 megapixel camera, dual front-facing cameras, IP68 dust and water resistance, a 3,430mAh battery, and dual front stereo speakers. The smaller Pixel 3 has a 5.5-inch display and smaller 2,915mAh battery while the rest of the specs are the same as the XL model. Thankfully, wireless charging is included this year, along with a set of wired Pixel Buds in the retail package.

The larger Pixel 3 XL has a display with a notch while the smaller model forgoes this design approach so often seen today. They both help you shoot stunning photos so if photography means more to you than other functions and features you may want to consider the Pixel 3 or 3 XL over other smartphones in this list. You can check out my weekend with the Pixel 3 XL where I captured some great shots while on vacation.

In addition to software being a focus for Google, the camera is another reason to buy the Pixel 3 or 3 XL over other better smartphone hardware. Google has set the bar with its Night Sight mode for the camera and it is truly magic.

CNET: Google Pixel 3 XL review (8.9/10)

The smaller Pixel 3 starts at $799 while the Pixel 3 XL starts at $899 for the 64GB model. They are both powered by Android 9.0 Pie 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 3 XL a 9.2/10 rating.

8. Google Pixel 3A XL and Pixel 3a


Google recently launched a couple of mid-level phones that are much more affordable and still include Google’s industry-leading camera solution. The Pixel 3A and 3A XL are the exact same phone with just the screen size and battery capacity being different from each other. An $80 price difference differentiates between the two sizes with the same color options also being available.

The Pixel 3A and 3A XL are powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor with 5.6 or 6-inch OLED displays, 12MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, stereo speakers, and 3,000/3,700mAh battery options. This is clearly targeted to the masses with limited internal storage and US carrier availability at Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, as well as unlocked directly from Google.

CNET: Google Pixel 3A review (8.2/10) and Pixel 3A XL review (8.2/10)

The smaller Pixel 3A is priced at just $399 while the Pixel 3A XL costs $479. The only option, other than size, is the color of the phone. Available colors include Just Black, Purple-ish, and Clearly White. They are both powered by Android 9.0 Pie 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 3A XL an 8.5/10 rating.

9. Apple iPhone XR

#5: Colors, colors, and more colors!

Last year Apple announced three new phones with one that people seem to like more than any other one month after the other two. I traded in the iPhone XS Max for an iPhone XR, saving $350 over the iPhone XS Max, but couldn’t give up the iPhone XS form factor in the end.

The Apple iPhone XR differs from the XS/XS Max with a LED screen instead of OLED, lower resolution, no 3D Touch support (does anyone even care about this?), a single rear camera, and a 6.1-inch display that fits in between these other two new phones. It has the same Apple A12 Bionic processor, same camera software and hardware as the 12MP prime camera, and other enhanced Apple features like face unlock. The iPhone XR has a larger capacity battery than the iPhone XS and a reported battery life greater than the XS and XS Max.

Also: Hidden iOS 12.1 iPhone shortcuts and tricks you need to know

You can purchase the iPhone XR in black, white, blue, yellow, coral, and Product Red. The iPhone XR starts at $749, which is $250 less than the 64GB iPhone XS. There is also a 128GB model for just $799, which is likely the best deal for the iPhone XR with the iPhone XS 256GB at a whopping $1,149.

The battery life of the iPhone XR is awesome and the camera does a great job. For many people, it is likely one of the best iPhones you can buy today and is more reasonably priced than the new XS and XS Max.

Check out our full review of the iPhone XR with an 8.4/10 rating.

10. LG V40 ThinQ


LG continues to release great phones that appreciate over time and in a crowded flagship market, the LG V40 may have a tough time finding its place as well.

While Huawei was one of the first major brands to launch a phone with three rear cameras, LG bumped that up by announcing a phone with five total cameras. Three are found on the back and two are on the front. Today, we see phones with six cameras thanks to the time-of-flight depth camera now adding quad cameras to the back of new flagships.

LG has always stood apart from the others with its second rear camera having a true wide-angle lens for great landscape and large room photography. The LG V40 keeps the wide-angle camera while also adding a telephoto lens to the standard lens option so you can do just about anything you want, including snapping once to take three photos, with this flagship phone.

Like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, the LG V40 ThinQ has everything but the kitchen sink included. It has a 3.5mm headphone jack with Quad-DAC support, triple rear camera setup, dual front-facing camera, wireless charging, IP68 rating, MIL-STD 810G shock resistant rating, microSD expansion card for inexpensive unlimited storage expansion, a screen that extends nearly the full front with a notch, and incredible audio support with its Boombox speaker system. The 3,300mAh battery will not get you as far as the top five phones in this list and is one area that keeps me from using it daily over the long term.

CNET: LG V40 ThinQ review (8.8/10)

Check out our full review of the LG V40 with an 8.5/10 rating. It is a jack-of-all trades, but a master of none.

Disclosure: ZDNet may earn a commission from some of the products featured on this page.

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