Need a new smartphone but don’t know which one is the very best? Here’s a guide comparing the current top-end smartphones from Apple, Samsung, Huawei and others to help you pick the best handset for you.
There has never been a better time to buy a new flagship smartphone with many quality handsets available at a wider range of prices than ever before. Whether your priority is two-day battery life, fantastic camera performance or a spectacular screen, there’s plenty to choose from.
This Guardian buyer’s guide to top-end smartphones was last updated on 6 March, and represents the best available models at the time. As new models are released and tested, this guide will be updated to help you choose the right flagship phone for you.
Best overall:Huawei Mate 20 Pro
The 6.38in QHD+ OLED screen is one of the biggest and best on the market, but thanks to its curved edges and slim bezels it’s still a relatively manageable 72.3mm wide. That means it’s a lot easier to wield day-to-day than some of the wider competition, so hopefully you’re less likely to drop it.
An iPhone X-like notch at the top of the screen contains a 3D IR-based face recognition system, which is much more secure than 2D camera-based versions. A pressure-sensitive fingerprint scanner is embedded directly under the screen too, which is good, but not quite as good as Huawei’s excellent rear-mounted capacitive fingerprint readers.
On the back there’s a brilliant triple camera system capable of up to 5x hybrid zoom at one end and 0.6x wide-angle zoom at the other so you can fit more in. Combined with solid camera software, it makes the Mate 20 Pro the best all-round camera on the market.
Running the show you have Huawei’s top-notch Kirin 980 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It’s got a battery that will see it last the best part of two days of heavy usage, or much longer with lighter usage, too, and both 40W rapid charging via cable and fast 15W wireless charging. The Mate 20 Pro can even wirelessly charge another Qi compatible device, a trick never before seen in a phone.
The only potential downside is the look of Huawei’s modified Android 9 Pie, EMUI 9, which is customisable and has plenty of features but may not be to everyone’s tastes. It may also not receive Android updates as fast as some others, although Huawei is improving in this regard.Advertisement
It’s also a metal and glass sandwich like most top-end smartphones at the moment, which means if you drop it the risk of smashing one or both sides is high.
Why should you buy it?
The combination of in-display fingerprint sensor, 3D face recognition, brilliant triple camera system, beautiful 6.38in screen, class-leading battery life, top-end performance and gorgeous design make the Mate 20 Pro the phone to beat.
Buy if: you want the best, most-cutting edge phone
Don’t buy if: you want a smaller phone
Best iOS:Apple iPhone XS
The best iPhone is not the biggest or most expensive. The iPhone XS combines a stunning, good-size 5.8in screen, svelte body and top-notch performance into the most appealing package from Apple to date.
Apple’s Face ID is the best face recognition system in the business, the dual-camera system on the back is excellent, as is the performance of the A12 Bionic processor and the class-leading gesture navigation system of iOS, which has replaced the home button of iPhones of yore.
You’re also in line for about five years of software updates, which is likely at least two more than any other brand of phone. The iPhone XS is a metal and glass sandwich, and will smash just like the competition when dropped, but the stainless steel sides and glass back exude a luxury feel not matched by other phones. Sadly most will put it in a case.
The biggest downsides are the price, which at £1,000 is likely significantly more than the competition, and battery life, which only manages about a day of medium usage. The iPhone XS has wireless charging and supports fast charging via a USB-C to Lightning cable, but only ships with a slow charger in the box. Its cellular modem performance is also not as good as competitors, struggling more to keep a working 4G data connection in congested areas, particularly compared with the Mate 20 Pro.
Why should you buy it?
If you’re locked in to iOS, or want the longest software update coverage, then the iPhone XS is the best Apple smartphone you can buy (and not very far behind the Mate 20 Pro overall), thanks to its combination of size, camera, capability and luxurious feel.
Buy if: you want the best iPhone
Don’t buy if: you don’t want to spend £999 or want to use Android
Best Android:Google Pixel 3
On the outside the Pixel 3 is quite attractive, but looks dated with a fairly large forehead and chin containing the front-facing speakers making it decidedly not “all-screen”.
The back is all glass, but four fifths of it is frosted, hiding fingerprints and scratches more easily than its polished competitors. It looks best in white and feels really nice in the hand.
It’s also one of the smallest and lightest phones that’s still of flagship performance and quality, with a great-looking 5.5in FHD+ OLED screen.
But what you buy the Pixel 3 for is the software experience, which is hands-down the best on any Android smartphone.
You get Google features first on the Pixel 3, such as Gmail’s Smart Compose feature, and the software is just smoother and more polished than any other Android, from operation to animation. The Pixel smartphones also receive both security and features updates before any other Android phones, guaranteed until at least October 2021.
The camera is also fantastic despite being a single camera on the back, offering zoom and portrait mode matching rival dual or triple-camera systems. Google’s Night Sight is class-leading too, producing some amazing photos in very low light conditions, rivalled only by Night Mode on the Mate 20 Pro.Advertisement
Performance all round is excellent, but battery life is only just about a day of medium usage, which is about the only downside. The Pixel 3 has fast wireless charging and relatively fast cable charging.
Why should you buy it?
The Android software experience is unparalleled, you get updates first and guaranteed through October 2021, it’s camera is great and it’s arguably the best smaller phone on the market that doesn’t skimp on performance.
Buy if: you want the best Android software experience in a smaller top-end phone
Don’t buy if: you want brilliant battery life