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The Best Phones You Can Buy Right Now

Illustration for article titled The Best Phones You Can Buy Right Now
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

With so many people stuck at home, buying a new phone hasn’t been a super high priority. However, with a number of states starting to open up and phone makers largely done announcing new gadgets until the fall (aside from a few exceptions noted below), now’s a good time to consider your options.

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Buying forecast for summer and fall 2020: If you’re aren’t totally enthused with the current selection of phones or just aren’t ready to upgrade yet, the next big wave of phones should starting arriving in August and September. While they haven’t been officially announced, Samsung is expected to reveal the Galaxy Note 20 and possibly the Galaxy Fold 2 at an event in early August, with Apple following shortly after with the launch of the iPhone 12 in September.

In the meantime, there are a couple of other rumored releases of note (especially for budget-conscious buyers). Google is potentially launching the Pixel 4a in July, while rumors claim OnePlus is also working out a new budget/mid-range phone due out sometime in July as well. So if you really need to save money on a super affordable phone it’s probably a good idea to wait a little longer.

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The best all-around phone

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Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Our Pick: Samsung Galaxy S20+ ($1,200+)

If you’re looking for a high-end phone with class-leading performance and specs, the Galaxy S20+ has to be your top candidate right now. Not only does the S20+ have one of the best-looking displays in the industry, its screen features a 120Hz refresh rate which makes everything from games to simply scrolling through Instagram look smooth and fluid. And as a bonus for people who hate curved screens, the S20 family’s displays are flatter than the S10's so there’s less distortion around the edges of the display.

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The S20+ also comes with a massive 12GB of RAM which makes it easier to keep multiple apps running in the background, while also sporting a 3x zoom camera in back. But critically, unlike the standard S20, the S20+ has slightly better battery life and supports all three flavors of 5G used today, which makes it more future proof than the regular S20. The only thing the more expensive S20 Ultra really has over the S20+ is its 10x zoom camera, which is nice to have, but it’ll cost you considering the S20+ starts at $1,200, while the S20 Ultra starts a $1,400.

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Also consider: Google Pixel 4 ($800+)

There’s a lot to like about the new Pixel 4 including a fully revamped design, the addition of a 2x telephoto lens, 3D facial recognition tech, and a nifty new gesture recognition system. And thanks to software tweaks and a new 90Hz screen, stock Android feels smoother and faster than ever before.

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The main things holding the Pixel 4 back from earning our top spot is its lack of an ultra-wide angle camera (which you get on every other flagship phone from 2019) and just average battery life. However, if you don’t mind big screens, the Pixel 4 XL offers an extra two hours of battery life compared to the standard model, which should help alleviate anxiety about running out of juice.

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The best mid-range phone

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Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
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Our pick: Pixel 3a and 3a XL ($400+)

Even though it starts at just $400, the Pixel 3a might be the best phone Google has ever made. It has all the great features we loved on the standard Pixel 3, including a colorful OLED screen, rear-mounted fingerprint reader, and, most importantly, the same excellent camera experience, but for half the money. The only big thing it’s missing is wireless charging. But in return, the Pixel 3a comes with a built-in headphone jack. If all you want from a phone is a nice screen, excellent performance, excellent battery life, and a top-notch camera, then the Pixel 3a is exactly what you need, and one of the best smartphone values available today.

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Also consider: OnePlus 7T ($600)

While its price sits on the high side of the mid-range bracket, for anyone looking for a phone with better specs and performance than the Pixel 3a, the OnePlus 7T is it. Like the OnePlus 7 Pro, the OP7T has a gorgeous 90Hz display that makes even simple things like scrolling through your app drawer a treat for your eyes.

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Meanwhile, on the inside, the OP7T features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ chip, which offers almost double the performance of the Pixel 3a, two extra rear cameras (a 2x telephoto and 117-degree ultra wide), and a big 3,800 mAh battery that delivers more than 14 hours of continuous use. And unlike a lot of other big-name Android phone makers, OnePlus consistently delivers some of the most timely OS updates. Just know that while the OP7T is only available in stores from T-Mobile, unlocked versions also work on both AT&T and Verizon.

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The best budget phone

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Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
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Our pick: Samsung Galaxy A50 ($350)

By streamlining and revamping its affordable phones, Samsung has managed to dethrone Moto’s G-Series line with the Galaxy A50 as the best new budget phone. Not only does the A50 come with a bigger and better looking 6.4-inch OLED display, but it also has slightly faster performance and three extra hours of battery life (12 hours 18 minutes) compared to the Moto G7 (9:29). And while both have dual rear cameras, the Galaxy A50's pics routinely come out sharper with more pleasing colors. So while the Galaxy A50 costs a bit more than the Moto G7, if you can swing it, that extra $50 is totally worth it.

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Also consider: Moto G7 ($300)

While the G7 might not sit at the top of our budget phone rankings anymore, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth some serious consideration. For 2019, Motorola doubled the phone’s base storage to 64GB, while still providing a microSD card slot in case you need even more room. Meanwhile, the G7 features a large 6.2-inch screen, headphone jack, and two rear cameras with support for fancy camera tricks like portrait mode, selective color, an even a special cinemagraph tool. And with support for all the major U.S. cell networks, there’s no need to worry about the Moto G7's carrier compatibility. Oh, and it’s $50 cheaper than the Galaxy A50 too.

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Note: We’re working on new comparisons for budget phones, so stayed tuned for an update and more coverage very soon.

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The best super-premium phone

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Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
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Our Pick: Galaxy S20 Ultra ($1,400)

Look, the Galaxy S20 Ultra isn’t a good deal by any means, but if you want a phone with practically any feature you could ever want (aside from a stylus), the S20 Ultra is it. It’s got a massive 6.9-inch display with a 120Hz refresh rate, triple rear cameras including one with a 10x hybrid zoom, outstanding performance, and ridiculous battery life. So while it ain’t cheap, that’s sort of to be expected for a phone packing this much inside.

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Meanwhile, for any stylus die-hards out there, while the Galaxy Note 10+ remains a solid option, you’ll probably want to wait until early August to see what Samsung is doing with the Galaxy Note 20.

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The iPhone most people should buy

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Photo: Caitlin McGarry (Gizmodo)
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Our Pick: iPhone SE ($400)

If you just want a simple no fuss iPhone for all your everyday needs, the iPhone SE is it. While it doesn’t have fancier features like Face ID or multiple rear cameras, starting at $400, it costs $300 less than a standard iPhone 11. The iPhone SE also sports the same A13 chip used in iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, so you won’t be losing anything in terms of performance. And for anyone who doesn’t want to give up their beloved Home button, the iPhone SE is the only new iPhone left that still has one.

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Also consider: iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max ($1,000+)

On top of a new OLED display with an excellent peak brightness of 1,200 nits, the iPhone 11 Pro’s upgrades are all about photography. On its latest high-end handset, Apple gave the iPhone 11 Pro a new triple rear camera module featuring 12-MP wide, ultra-wide, and 2x telephoto lenses, along with support for things like 4K/60 FPS video capture, an audio zoom feature, two new studio lighting modes, and more. And as a small nod to the phone’s “Pro” moniker, Apple is even including an 18-watt power adapter in the box, so unlike the standard iPhone 11, you don’t need to buy any extra accessories to take advantage of Apple’s fast wired charging. If budget isn’t a factor, the iPhone 11 Pro is the iPhone you want.

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What about 5G Phones?

It’s been almost exactly a year since the first 5G network went live in the U.S. back in March 2019, and since then coverage has expanded greatly to include a large number of cities, metro areas, and suburban locations. However, picking a single 5G phone for most people is still quite challenging, as you have to consider a lot of different variables such as where someone lives or works (5G speeds and availability varies greatly depending on carrier), how often someone typically upgrades their phone (every year, every other year, or more), and how much you’re willing to spend (currently, the least expensive 5G phone available in the U.S. starts at $840).

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If you’re the type of person that upgrades their phone every year, you can safely buy a 4G-only phone now, because while the extra speed you get from 5G is nice, you won’t be missing out on any special features or capabilities. It’s a similar situation if you upgrade every other, as app makers and service providers are still figuring out ways to really take advantage of what 5G can do.

But if you’re planning on buying a new phone now and holding onto it for three years or more, you’ll probably want to grab a 5G now phone, or even hold off on upgrading until closer to the end of 2020 or early 2021. And if you do get a 5G phone, you’ll want to make sure you get one that can handle the three main types of 5G used today (sub-6Ghz, 2.5Ghz, and mmWave). The Samsung Galaxy S20+ (but not the regular S20) and LG V60 are both good choices.

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How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

6/29/20: Updated the list with a new intro and buying forecast. Also added new entries for the iPhone SE, and Galaxy S20 Ultra, along with a note about upcoming coverage for budget phones.

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3/31/20: Removed the LG G8X and Galaxy S10, added the Galaxy S20 as the best phone overall and updated the section regarding 5G phones.

11/18/19: Added the Pixel 4 to our best overall phone recommendations and the G8X Dual Screen to the best super premium list. 

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10/8/19: Updated the list for fall 2019 with new picks for the Best Mid-Range, Budget, and iPhone sections. Also updated and renamed the Hyper Phone category to Super Premium Phone, and added a section discussing 5G phones.  

5/17/19: Revamped the list to reflect all the big Spring 2019 phone releases. Replaced the Pixel 3 with the OnePlus 7 Pro as the second-best phone overall. Awarded Pixel 3a “Best Mid-Range Phone” and moved the OnePlus 6T to second choice. Replaced the Moto G6 with the Moto G7 as “Best Budget Phone” and also updated the Best Hyper Phone with the Huawei P30 Pro.

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3/11/19: Added the Samsung Galaxy S10 as the best phone overall. Moved the Pixel 3 to “Also Consider.”

6/29/20: Updated the list with a new intro and buying forecast. Also added new entries for the iPhone SE, and Galaxy S20 Ultra, along with a note about upcoming coverage for budget phones.

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Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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DISCUSSION

Still using the Galaxy S8 over here, and it will probably be the first phone I actually keep for more than the two years it takes to pay it off. Usually around this time there’s so much slowdown and battery degradation that I’m ready for a new phone, but I honestly can’t tell any difference in this phone’s performance after almost two years (though my memory is terrible, so who knows).

I’m gonna pay it off a bit early. It’s gonna be nice to have a decent phone and have a lower phone bill.