Our best phones 2019 list has changed dramatically thanks to new smartphones that keep being released: the Galaxy Note 10 in August, iPhone 11 in September, and the Google Pixel 4 in October. That means it’s smartphone shopping season.
Picking up one of these top-tier handsets is an expensive investment, no matter if it comes from Samsung, Apple or Google. Many of these phone prices start at $1,000, so you’ll want to take your decision seriously. But don’t worry: we’re here to guide you through the ins and outs of each…along with our professional opinion about how they rank.
You might be thinking already about saving money with the the forthcoming Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals – so just bookmark those hyperlinked pages to make sure you’re getting access to the top curated deals from across the web by our in-house experts. Yes, these will include phones too – including ones from this list, though the discounts will mostly hit Android handsets.
Our idea of the best phone has a big screen, yet is easy to handle; packs a camera suite capable of replacing a point-and-shoot; and has enough processor power and battery to get work done while you’re on the go. You won’t find slow smartphones with anything less than all-day battery life on this list.
Tomorrow’s top smartphone? That’ll probably be a 5G phone, like the Galaxy S10 5G, and then, eventually, a foldable phone with 5G, starting with the Huawei Mate X and Samsung Galaxy Fold. But foldable phones are unproven, and 5G in the US isn’t in enough cities around the country to recommend. Our list will remain practical.
Why we have more than a No. 1 pick: We have a top pick, but not everyone looks for the same smartphone features. Some will demand iOS 13 and cling to Apple’s iMessage, while others will want customizations and Google Assistant tools available in Android 10. Our phone reviews and best phone list reflect that diversity.
Likewise, your contract with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile is a preference. The best phone for AT&T may not be available on-contract on Verizon, and vice-versa. While we’ve seen more unlocked phones in the US in 2019, not all are available for every carrier. We have to take that into account when recommending phones, and we favor those that are completely unlocked or available on the four major carriers.
Our pick for best phone isn’t just crowning the newest iPhone and calling it a day, though our list does have a lot of familiar names: Apple, Samsung, Google and LG, all in the top 15. Newer companies in the US like Huawei and OnePlus make the list, too, though their limited availability is noted.
Best phone at a glance:
1. IPhone 11 Pro Max
The iPhone 11 Pro Max is the biggest phone Apple has created, and it’s also the most high-spec’d phone from the company.
It’s expensive even by iPhone standards, but it features an all-screen, notch-toting, almost bezel-free design with masses of power under the hood. The big upgrades compared to the iPhone XS Max are the improved cameras and boosted power.
Screen: The 6.5-inch OLED screen on the iPhone 11 Pro Max really grabbed our attention – it’s fantastic for video streaming and gaming.
Battery life: This is some of the best battery life we’ve ever experienced on an iPhone, with further optimizations within iOS and a larger cell inside the phone itself. It’s still not game-changing, but it’s better than other Apple handsets.
Camera: The triple camera setup on the iPhone 11 Pro Max is fantastic. This is the first time Apple has implemented three rear cameras, and it offers a great experience. Plus, it can be fun to use.
Mini verdict: If your hands are as big as your bank balance, the iPhone 11 Pro Max takes Apple’s smartphone to a whole new level with an improved camera and more.
2. Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is the best phone you can get for Android right now, if you’re just going by specs. Naturally, as the first flagship of 2019, its new Snapdragon 855 processor is the big standout here with even better performance than the phones that closed out 2018. Add in a few cool new (but not essential) features, Samsung’s stunning-as-ever display and design as well as top specs and you have a true flagship – for a true flagship price, of course, starting at $999.
Screen: The 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display is gorgeous, but that’s not surprising. it’s the same size as the Galaxy Note 9’s screen, and far larger than the Galaxy S9 Plus’ 6.2-inch display. The ‘Infinity O’ display ditches the notch for a punch-hole in the top right corner. Yes, it’s twice as wide as the hole in the S10 and S10e, but how else will you fit in the extra selfie camera? This choice (and thin bezels) enable a stunning 93.1% screen-to-body ratio, which keeps the phone as slim as possible.
Battery Life: The S10 Plus’ 4,100mAh battery is Samsung’s largest yet, just nudging past the Note 9’s 4,000mAh and far beyond the 3,500mAh one in the Galaxy S9 Plus. While that didn’t lead the new phone’s battery life to outpace its predecessors, it still kept it going through the full day with 10%-30% to spare in our casual testing. This is, of course, with standard settings: bump up the resolution from Full HD+ to QHD+, brighten the display or keep it on longer, and the battery will drain faster.
Camera: The S10 Plus has three cameras on the back: a 12MP regular lens, a 12MP optically zoomed telephoto lens, and a new 16MP ultra-wide lens. We found the photo quality to be a bit variable – perhaps due to the dual-aperture main lens – with good but not consistent low-light performance. It’s not quite up to par with the Google Pixel 3’s Night Vision mode, but it still outpaces most other phone cameras on the market. The two front-facing cameras allow depth for Portrait mode-style photos, which is worth the wider punch-hole gap in the display.
Mini verdict: After some time with the standard Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10e, we can say for sure that the S10 Plus beats them out. It has the best specs, cameras and battery life of the whole set, and it’s not too much more expensive than the other models. If you want a phone that will blow every other device out of the water in early 2019 – as well as its in-screen fingerprint sensor and reverse charging – this is your only real option.
3. iPhone 11
The iPhone 11 isn’t technically superior to the iPhone 11 Pro series, but it’s priced so well (for an iPhone) and has most of the key features you’ll won’t need much else from an Apple device. It takes the place of the iPhone XR with the same 6.1-inch screen, but a new dual-lens camera on back.
Screen: The 6.1-inch screen fits in between the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max sizes, making it an appealing choice if you want a large screen, but not the biggest. While it doesn’t have the perks of the OLED display on the Pro models, some people won’t notice a difference unless you see all of the phones side-by-side. It’s still a brilliant-looking phone, if you don’t mind the notch.
Battery life: This iPhone can delivery all-day battery life, and it’s slightly better than the iPhone XR battery, which we thought was stellar last year. The iPhone 11 Pro does last a bit longer and comes with a fast charger in the box – the iPhone 11 does not.
Camera: This is close to the best iPhone camera, with both a 12MP main camera and a new 12MP ultra-wide camera to cram more into the frame. It’s missing the triple-lens camera on the Pro models, which adds in a telephoto lens, but you’re getting the two essential cameras from that pairing, and it includes a long exposure night mode that will automatically bright up dark photos.
Mini verdict: The best thing about this new iPhone is that it costs $699, cheaper than the XR at launch a year ago.
4. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
This is Samsung’s most expensive non-foldable phone, and the big perk is that it comes with the handy S Pen that does new tricks. The screen is the most exquisite part of this really big phone, but you’ll have to be able to handle its large size and equally big starting price.
Screen: Can you handle a phone with a 6.8-inch display? If the answer is yes, then you’ll really enjoy this big-and-tall curved Infinity Display. It’s immersive and easy to ignore the small front-facing camera hole at the center-top of the screen. It’s the best display we’ve seen on a big phone.
Battery life: The Note 10 has a 4,300mAh battery, and we found that it goes a day and a half with normal use without a problem. Samsung has improved its underlying battery saving tech and it’s also equipped its phone with a 25W fast charger in the box and, there’s compatibility with 15W fast wireless charging now.
Camera: This is where the Note 10 Plus shines, even if it isn’t the best camera phone – it’s the camera we had the most fun playing with. Some of that it thanks to the five cameras: four on the back and one on the front. You have the standard wide lens, the 123 degree field-of-view ultra-wide lens, and the 2x optical zoom telephoto lens. But we really liked the selfie camera here thanks to fun filters like Color Point that keep you in color but isolate the background in black-and-white.
Mini verdict: The Note 10 is impressive and certainly impressively big. The S Pen is used for more than taking notes these days, and contains some tricks like trigger a remote camera shutter and a few new gesture controls. These won’t sell you on the phone, though. They’re nice-to-haves. What will tempt you is that immersive screen and great battery life.
5. Samsung Galaxy S10e
The Samsung S10e is the littlest (and least pricey) sibling of the S10 line in both size and features. While it loses out on a few of the cutting-edge features like in-screen fingerprint scanner and a telephoto lens, its remaining arsenal of flagship specs, ultrawide camera and good interface make the S10e a standout at a discount. Plus, it’s small enough to use one-handed.
Screen: The 5.8-inch AMOLED screen is crisp and sharp, with enough bright colors and customization options to tweak to your liking. While it’s nice that the budget flagship of the S10 line has an OLED screen (unlike the iPhone XR with its LCD display), it’s not as high resolution as its bigger siblings, capping out at 1080 x 2280 pixels to the S10 and S10 Plus’ 1440 x 3040 pixel maximum.
Battery life: A 3,100mAh capacity isn’t the biggest battery on the market, but it will see you through the day, and may last longer than you think thanks to the phone’s smaller screen. You’ll need to stretch it out if you plan to use Wireless PowerShare, the S10 line’s new feature that lets you donate battery charge to another Qi-charging device. Don’t worry, it won’t drain yours to oblivion: the feature shuts down when your phone hits 30% battery.
Camera: Considering the standard Galaxy S9 had a single lens, the S10e is a major upgrade with its two useful cameras. The first is the standard 12 MP, f/1.5-2.4 Dual Aperture lens found in the phone’s predecessor (switching between the two in day/night shots), while the second is a 16MP f/2.2 ultrawide lens that manages 123-degree field of view. While the phone misses the 2x telephoto of the other S10 phones, its ultrawide is far more useful.
Mini verdict: The S10e is a fantastic little phone, perfect for anyone who wants to use their flagship phone one-handed – or just wants all the best specs at a lower price. While it’s still more expensive than midrange phones or the current value champion, the OnePlus 6T, the S10e has more features and cutting-edge specs to push it beyond the competition.
6. OnePlus 7 Pro
This is the best in phone value if you want an all-screen display and don’t want to pay for the Samsung or Apple name. it’s a bit cheaper than the Galaxy S10e, though not as affordable as last year’s OnePlus 6T. It has almost everything except wireless charging, a microSD card slot and a perfect camera.
Screen: This is the main draw. Thanks to a mechanical pop-up selfie camera, the OnePlus 7 Pro has the best screen we’ve tested. No notch and punch-hole camera in sight, and it stretches from edge to edge. Even better, its 90Hz screen refresh rate gives it more fluid movement. Samsung’s screen has been dethroned.
Battery life: The OnePlus 6T has fairly good, but not great battery life thanks to its 4,000mAh battery. It’ll get you through a whole day, but not much more than that. The real news is its Warp Charge 30 adapter that allows this phone to go from 0% to 100% in a little over an hour. It’s very fast.
Camera: The camera has always been the weakest part of the OnePlus lineup, but we’ve experienced better phones from the OnePlus 7 Pro. It’s not going to top our best camera phones list, but the triple lens (regular, ultra-wide and telephoto) did a fine job in proper light. Nightscape mode has been improved, but begs for a tripod in mixed light (any lights in dark scene tend to smear).
Mini verdict: The OnePlus 7 Pro has the wow factor missing from smartphones in 2019 thanks to what’s on the screen (90Hz fluidity) and what’s not (a camera notch). It looks the part of a flagship phone and acts more expensive than it really in part because of its top-shelf specs. As long as you don’t want the best camera phone, this a solid option.
7. Google Pixel 4 XL
The Google Pixel 4 XL came out in October, bringing a long-awaited second camera lens, new radar technology with face unlock, and a better screen. While it’s still one of our top smartphone cameras, the loss of the rear fingerprint sensor and middling new features like the erratic Face Unlock and aerial gesture control Motion Sense makes this Pixel iteration less of a generational leap than its predecessors.
Screen: The Pixel 4 XL has the same 6.3-inch screen as the Pixel 3 XL, though it’s been stretched to a 19:9 aspect ratio and its refresh rate has been upped to 90Hz for smoother app browsing and gaming. Last year’s notch has been ditched for a return to a solid black bar. Colors are rich on the OLED display, and thanks to the dual front-facing speakers, it makes for a handy streaming device.
Battery life: While the 3,700mAh capacity sounds like a lot, we found the battery lasted less than a day with even moderate use – any extreme GPS or photo sessions will drain it even faster. If you’re not taking a lot of photos, it may be easier to get a full day of battery, but with such a good camera, it may be tough to avoid.
Camera: The Pixel 4 XL’s cameras are its best selling point. On back, the 12.2MP sensor paired with Google’s brilliant software optimization make for stunning photos in most situations, and the added 16MP telephoto enables respectable hybrid zoom clarity with its Super Res Zoom feature. Best of all, the Night Sight mode has been improved – and can even snap shots of the heavens with its Astrophotography function.
Mini verdict: The Pixel 4 XL is powerful and its camera capability is still great, but its middling new features and compromises make it a bit less of a standout iteration. Still, with Google’s knack for photo optimization, this phone can almost sell itself with the camera alone.
8. Huawei P30 Pro
Here in the US, Huawei phones are not as familiar to shoppers as Apple and Samsung’s best phones. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t have as much to offer. From Hauwei’s Mate line to it’s P series, it is making some of the very best phones, and the P30 Pro is is a true champion from the Chinese manufacturer.
Screen: The P30 Pro has a large, 6.47-inch display with only a thin chin bezel at the bottom of the screen and a teardrop notch at the top. It’s a sharp OLED display, and though it doesn’t have as high a resolution as some others, we’d be hard pressed to see the difference.
Battery life: The Huawei P30 Pro turns up in the battery department with a 4,200mAh cell. That’s easily enough for a whole day, and can pull through a day in a half comfortably or even two days with light use. There’s enough power there that Huawei enabled reverse wireless charging to let the P30 Pro power other phones.
Camera: While plenty about the P30 Pro is of flagship quality, the cameras are where it really stands out. Its suite of cameras make it among the very best camera phones in the world. It combines a high-resolution main camera, a camera with powerful zoom, an ultra-wide angle camera, and a time-of-flight sensor to handle depth. This makes it incredibly versatile, capable of taking better long-distance and low-light photos than most other phones.
Mini verdict: If you’re after a phone with great looks and a camera that’s ready for just about anything, then the Huawei P30 Pro is an excellent option. It also offers a price that stays below a lot of its competition. However, availability concerns in the US hold it back a bit.
9. Samsung Galaxy S10
The bigger S10 Plus is by far Samsung’s best phone, but the standard S10 backs almost all the same top-end features into a more compact form factor and slightly lower price tag. And yet, the S10e loses a few of those for even lower cost, putting the standard S10 in an awkward place. This middle child is a great phone, but it’s overshadowed by both its siblings, which occupy more desired niches in the smartphone market.
Screen: With a 6.1-inch display you’re not exactly getting a small screen with the standard S10, but Samsung has reduced bezels even more over the S9, keeping the dimensions surprisingly compact. You also get a fingerprint scanner embedded in the display, meaning there isn’t one on the back for a seamless rear cover.
Battery life: The battery in the S10 has grown versus the one in the S9, but with the increased screen size as well you’re still looking at all-day battery life with a nightly charge. The S10 also has Samsung’s new Wireless PowerShare, allowing you to wirelessly charge other devices on the rear of the handset.
Camera: Like the S10 Plus, the trio of cameras on the Galaxy S10 are among the best on the market, building on the excellent setup on the S9 series by offering more features, shooting modes and overall clarity.
Mini verdict: The Samsung Galaxy S10 gets proper under-the-hood upgrades, two more lenses and fun new perks. You’ll like all of these powerful features, while your friends will like the new Wireless PowerShare perk – it helps them out more than you.
10. iPhone XR
Apple’s iPhone XR was a little bit late to launch after the iPhone XS and XS Max that launched a bit earlier. But thanks to its lower price point, it makes for a more affordable option than the XS models. For some, the powerful internals paired with the large screen and lower price will make for a compelling buy, especially thanks to the surprisingly good battery.
Screen: The iPhone XR screen isn’t its strongest selling point, as it’s a notable downgrade. It’s resolution falls short of Full HD, and it’s not a battery-friendly OLED. Still, the Liquid Retina LCD display used still has good sharpness and brilliant colors.That said, the 6.1-inch display offers plenty of real estate.
Battery life: Though this is the more affordable iPhone to come out in Apple’s latest batch, its battery life stands out. Thanks to the A12 Bionic and chipset and lower resolution, the battery performance is great, making it the first iPhone that could comfortably get through a whole day of use in our testing without us worrying about.
Camera: While the other iPhones have dual rear cameras, the iPhone XR has just one sensor. For normal photo shooting, it does a great job though. The lack of a second camera also reduces the quality of Portrait Mode photos. But, the detractors came largely in comparison to other top cameras.
Mini verdict: The iPhone XR has all the performance of its more expensive siblings on the inside. It’s camera and screen may not be as impressive, but where it truly dazzles is in the battery life. If you want an iPhone with a battery you won’t always worry about, the iPhone XR is it.