Best Phones

Updated October 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for best phones

We call them phones, but the modern telephone has evolved well beyond making phone calls: smartphones can now do just about anything, and they’re vital parts of our lives. (Seriously, would you go anywhere without your smartphone?) Whether you use your phone for staying connected to work, engaging with social media, listening to music, or making phone calls, it’s important to have one that can keep up with you and that you can rely on.

Finding the right phone can be tricky because new upgrades come out every year, and shopping for one also means finding a model that’s compatible with your wireless carrier of choice. On top of that, you need to make sure you get one with enough file storage, a big enough screen, and a decent camera because you’ll be using it dozens of times each day. It’s not a small decision!

Overwhelmed yet? That’s what you’ve got us for. Here’s everything you need to know to pick out the perfect phone for your lifestyle. When you’re ready to buy, check out our favorite phones in the grid above.

Always buy phones new and avoid used or refurbished phones. There’s no accepted standard for refurbishing smartphones, so you’re taking a big risk on the quality of work that’s been done or that anything’s been done at all!

Key considerations

Before you start to compare features or look at any specific models, answer these questions first. They’ll help you filter out all of the options that aren’t right for you.

Do you want to own or lease your phone?

You have two options: you can pay an arm and a leg to buy a smartphone and own it outright, or you can lease one from your wireless provider and pay for it in monthly installments over two years. Buying a phone up front is expensive, but you have the advantage that you can switch carriers painlessly, not to mention that you won’t have any added monthly costs. On the other hand, leasing a phone means fewer up-front costs but typically requires you to sign a two-year repayment contract that can be expensive to break. Consider your budget carefully, along with your preferences around mobile phone contracts, and decide before you start shopping.

One of the big four or an MVNO?

Most people opt to subscribe to one of the big four wireless carriers (soon to be three after a new merger): AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. That’s usually the simplest way to go, but it’s not the cheapest. If you’re looking to save money, consider a provider who lets you pay month to month instead of requiring a contract. Mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) like Boost Mobile and Cricket Wireless rent networks from the big four and then offer no-commitment contracts. The only catch is that MVNOs rarely get first-generation phones, so you’ll likely have to settle for last year’s models.

Android or iOS?

There are two main mobile operating systems for smartphones: Google’s Android mobile and Apple’s iOS. Most phones run Android because it’s designed for a variety of hardware manufacturers; iOS is only found on iPhones and iPads. Apple’s iPhones are more expensive, but they last longer than most Android phones and hold their resale value. They’re also designed to integrate seamlessly with other Apple products like MacBooks and Apple Watches. Android-based phones are more affordable and often see cutting-edge features (like WiFi 6 compatibility) well before Apple devices. The bottom line: both are great options. If you own a lot of Apple hardware already, get an iPhone, but if money’s tight, stick with an Android phone.

Expert Tip
Set up lock-screen security measures. Don’t let just anyone access your phone! Be sure to use the built-in security features like a passcode or face recognition so that you’re the only one who can unlock your phone.
STAFF
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Features

Smartphones often try to one-up one another by adding “must-have” functionality, but when it comes down to it, there are three features that matter more than all the others.

Screen size

Your phone’s screen size defines your experience. Get one that’s too small and you’ll find yourself frustrated with not being able to see enough at once. Get one that’s too big and you could end up with a phone that won’t fit in your pocket. Smartphone screens typically range from 4 to 6 inches, so think about which size you prefer most.

File storage

Even if you live most of your digital life in the cloud, you’ll still need local file storage to keep all of the photos you take—even more if you take a lot of videos. We recommend a minimum of 64 gigabytes of file storage, but if you’re an avid photographer or videographer, 128 gigabytes is a better choice.

Camera

Smartphone cameras have evolved incredibly quickly—it’s now possible to get a nearly pro-quality camera and take frame-worthy photos with the right model. If you’re into photography, or if you take a lot of pictures of your kids, get a smartphone with a 12-megapixel or better camera.

Expert Tip
If you need a headphone jack, check which phones still have them. Headphone ports are slowly disappearing as hardware manufacturers nudge consumers toward wireless Bluetooth headphones instead. Don’t assume that every phone has a jack.
STAFF
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Accessories

Screen cleaner: WHOOSH! Screen Cleaner Kit
Smartphone screens pick up smudges pretty easily, so we recommend picking up some screen cleaner along with a nonabrasive cloth. We love the kits from WHOOSH because everything is included, and the included cloth is super high quality.

Sanitizer: KeyEntre UV Smartphone Sanitizer
Chances are you touch your phone a lot every day, so it’s important to have a deep-cleaning option to keep germs away. In addition to screen cleaning kits, we recommend getting a UV-based sanitizer, which will eliminate bacteria and keep your phone free of germs. We like KeyEntre’s sanitizer because it’s affordable and easy to use, and it also doubles as an essential oil diffuser, if that’s your thing.

Charging cable: SVEUC Multi-Charging Cable
If you carry around multiple devices with you throughout the day, chances are you have multiple charging cables for them as well. Reduce the load with a multi-charging cable, so you can charge multiple devices from a single USB port. SVEUC’s solution comes in a variety of lengths and colors, and the braided design means it will last forever.

Expert Tip
Plan on buying headphones. Many newer smartphones don’t include headphones, so you’ll need to buy your own. That’s a good thing. In most cases, included headphones are only so-so and getting your own means you can find the right fit for your ears and preferences.
STAFF
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Phone prices

Inexpensive: Phones priced as “free” or advertised for less than $300 typically require a contract and a monthly payment plan, so you’re paying full price over time. If you see a phone with a price tag that looks too good to be true, it means you’ll be taking a small loan from the wireless carrier. Be sure to do the math on monthly payments to see how much you’ll be spending in the long run. You may also encounter older phones or even refurbished models in this price range, but we advise avoiding both, as used phones rarely have a long lifespan.
 

Mid-range: Phones between $300 and $600 are solid performers that you can count on to last for two to three years. You can find flagship phones in this price range like the iPhone or Google Pixel, but they’ll be entry-level models. If you’re looking for an Android phone that’s a respectable compromise or an iPhone with just the basics, you’ll find plenty of options for less than $600.
 

Expensive: Phones between $600 and $1,000 are the cream of the crop. Smartphones in this category are essentially mini laptops that have enough storage, RAM, and processing speed to function as reliable work companions. Spending this much on a phone can be a tough pill to swallow, but if you need a phone that won’t feel slow in two years, and one with the best camera, brightest screen, and most available space, you’ll need to look at spending this much. Just be sure to also buy a service plan to protect your investment.

Tips

  • Put your smartphone in a case. Most phones are pretty durable, but they’re not that durable, so it’s always a good idea to use a case. If you live an active lifestyle, get a case that’s rugged and designed to put up with a little abuse. If you just need basic protection, you can get a more traditional case. Keeping your phone protected also keeps it in good condition in case you decide to sell it when it’s time to upgrade.
  • See if your wireless provider has a smartphone widget to help you track data usage. Most wireless providers give you a certain amount of wireless data to use each month and then charge you for any overages. If you’re worried about how quickly you’re going through your mobile data, download your wireless carrier’s app. Many include widgets that allow you to easily check in on your data consumption from your phone’s lock screen.
  • Enable the location and security services on your phone first. Before you do anything else on your new phone, go through all of the security setup so you can take action and quickly locate it if it’s ever lost or stolen. In iOS, the Find My app will let you locate your phone from another device at any time. Google Play’s Find My Device app does the same thing for Android-based phones.
If you’re spending more than $500 on a new phone, buy the protection plan. Most vendors will give you the option of buying equipment insurance for a nominal fee. We suggest taking it. It typically means you’re covered in case of accidental damage, which can be a lot more affordable than replacing a phone.

FAQ

Q. What does it mean if a phone says it’s unlocked?
A.
When you buy a phone directly from a carrier, oftentimes they will “lock” it so it cannot be used on other carrier networks. Locked phones can sometimes be unlocked by carriers once a contract is complete. If you see a phone advertised as “unlocked,” that means it can be used with any mobile carrier.

Q. Are smartphone screen protectors worth it?
A.
Yes. A screen protector is the easiest way to keep your phone’s screen from getting scratched, dinged, or cracked. They’re the most cost-effective option for keeping your phone’s screen in good shape, especially considering that replacement screens cost more than $100, and that’s without the cost of finding someone to help you install one.

Q. What’s the easiest way to get my photos from my old phone onto my new phone?
A.
We recommend backing up your photos to a cloud-based service like Amazon Prime Photos or Google Photos, so you can easily get to all of your older photos with an app. Using a cloud-based storage app will save you from having to manually transfer every photo file from one device to the other.

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