The past year saw a host of incredible smartphones hit the market. From foldables to 5G, this year brought a new phone for everyone. But a handful of phones truly stood out.
To give you a better idea of which phones are the best of the best, I'm breaking this year's list down into categories ranging from the best affordable phone to the best iPhone. If you're in the market for a new phone, these are the ones to look out for.
Best phone for low-light photos
Google's (GOOG, GOOGL) Pixel 4 is an impressive smartphone thanks to its improved camera technology, a new telephoto lens, and a number of AI updates. While I wish the Pixel 4 had a third ultra-wide camera, it’s still the best Android for taking photos because of its incredible low-light photo capabilities.
I used the Pixel 4 in a number of settings, and it easily captured the best low-light shots. Apple's iPhone 11 certainly offered improved low-light photos over the iPhone XS, but it still falls short of the Pixel 4.
Google also brought back its Super Res Zoom, which takes multiple shots at once when you zoom in on a subject to ensure your image doesn't end up pixelated, as many photos do when captured using digital zoom.
The phone with the best overall photo capabilities is the iPhone 11 Pro, thanks to its three-camera design, including that ultra-wide camera. But in low-light situations, the Pixel is tops.
Best iPhone for everyone
Apple's iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max are certainly fantastic phones thanks to their triple camera setups, but with starting prices of $999 and $1,099, respectively, they're also expensive. That's where the iPhone 11 comes in. Starting at just $699, the 11 is the iPhone for everyone.
Not only does it pack the same performance as the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, thanks to its A13 Bionic chip, it also packs the company's new ultra-wide camera lens in addition to the standard wide-angle lens. While it doesn't have the telephoto lens found on its pricey stablemates, the ultra-wide lens is easily more useful in everyday life, allowing you to pack far more of your subject or subjects into a single shot.
What's more, Apple added the same new low-light photo mode found on the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max to the iPhone 11. Buying the iPhone 11 is a no-brainer for iPhone fans.
Best Samsung phone
Samsung produces some of the best smartphones you can buy. That's also why it's the No. 1 smartphone maker by sales on the planet. But of all of the devices the company sells, its best phone is its most understated.
The Galaxy S10e starts at $749, compared to the S10, which starts at $899, and gets the same high-powered Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, as well as 6GB of RAM.
Its flat-screen design also helps it stand out more from Samsung's other Galaxy phones, which have screens that appear to cascade off the left and right edges. It's an understated look that I absolutely love. Like the iPhone 11, the S10e gets wide-angle and ultra-wide angle camera lenses. It's a fantastic device and among Samsung's most affordable flagships.
Best affordable Android powerhouse
Every year, Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus puts out an incredibly well-appointed phone, and every year it's among the most affordable. This year, that device is the OnePlus 7 Pro. Starting at $549, the 7 Pro sports Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 processor, 8GB of RAM, and three different camera lenses, including a 3x telephoto zoom and ultra-wide angle lens.
For an added piece of panache, the 7 Pro also has a pop-up, front-facing camera that automatically retracts itself to protect it from being damaged if it falls when it is popped out.
It's a monster of a smartphone that Android fans should absolutely look at.
These phones aren't necessarily among the best of the year, but they're worth noting due to the fact that they pushed the envelope in smartphone technologies. The first of the lot are Samsung's Galaxy Fold, Huawei's Mate X, and the newly announced Motorola Razr.
While the Galaxy Fold was recalled for issues to do with its folding screen, and the Mate X costs $2,400, and the Razr is expected to come out next year, they and their creators deserve credit for trying to bring about a new kind of smartphone design beyond the standard single-screen rectangles we have today. Here's hoping we'll see more such devices in the year ahead.
Then there are the new crop of 5G smartphones we've seen this year. There are the 5G versions of Samsung's Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note10, the Mate X, the Motorola Moto Z series and its 5G Moto Mod, the OnePlus 7T 5G, the LG V50 ThinQ 5G, among others.
While 5G networks are still in their infancy, these are the first phones to take advantage of them. It's not advisable to purchase them at this time, since you'll spend the vast majority of your time on 4G LTE networks.
They aren't the best of the best, but they're absolutely the future.