There are a lot of great smartphone options available at any given moment, so it can be a challenge to sort through them all if you’re trying to choose the absolute best one. The stakes here can’t be understated: your smartphone is most likely the most important gadget in your life, and you’ll probably be living with the one you buy for at least a year, if not two or three.
Picking the best phone has never been much of a challenge — most of the time there’s a phone that stands out from the pack in all the areas that matter: performance, value, camera, and support. But this year, depending on who you ask, you could get as many as four different answers for what’s the best phone to buy. And depending on what kind of phone user you are, any one of them could be the ideal phone for you.
This article was updated on December 1st, 2017.
The absolute best phone: Apple iPhone X
Apple’s latest iPhone isn’t just the most interesting iPhone in years, it’s easily the best smartphone ever made. The iPhone X has almost everything you could think to ask for in a smartphone: blazing-fast performance; a gorgeous display; top-of-the-class cameras; loud, clear speakers; reliable battery life; and a head-turning design. In addition, the X is water resistant and can be recharged with a wireless pad. The main thing that most people will miss is a standard headphone jack.
Apple’s extensive support system, through both its own and carrier stores, are another incredibly important point in the iPhone’s favor. There’s simply no other company that provides as much support for a smartphone after you purchase it. On top of that, since it’s an iPhone, the iPhone X enjoys the broadest support of accessories and cases.
The iPhone X separates itself from Apple’s other iPhones with its larger, crisper, edge-to-edge display, novel face-unlocking feature, and new gesture-based user interface. It’s a different experience than other iPhones, and though it may take a day or two to get used to, it’s very intuitive once you do.
The iPhone X also separates itself from Apple’s other iPhones with its very high starting price: $999 unlocked. This, more than anything else, is what caused some debate within The Verge. Are the additional features in the iPhone X really enough to justify the extra cost compared to an iPhone 8?
If you’re the sort of person who upgrades every two or three years, you want to get the phone that will have the longest life possible. That is, without a doubt, the iPhone X. If you’re the sort of person who upgrades often, chances are you have already purchased your phone for this year. Good job, you! I bet it’s a great phone! If you currently have an iPhone 7 and are on the fence, you can probably hang on to it for another year, honestly.
But if you’ve got anything older than an iPhone 7, the iPhone X’s extra RAM, better screen, and all the rest make the cost worthwhile — especially when you consider that there are more options to defray that cost than ever. You can set up payment plans or upgrade plans with either Apple or your carrier, bringing the cost down to somewhere between $40 and $50 per month on most plans.
You can get the iPhone X unlocked or from virtually any carrier. And though iOS 11 is perhaps the buggiest release of the platform in years, it still is easy to use and has the best third-party app support of any mobile platform.
If you’re coming from an older iPhone, or even an Android device, the iPhone X offers more in terms of raw “upgrades” than any other phone you can buy right now.
But spending a thousand dollars on a phone is not an easy thing to do, and you can get way more phone than you’d expect for hundreds of dollars less. If you want to go the less expensive route, here’s an alternative.
A more wallet-friendly pick: Apple iPhone 8 / 8 Plus
There are many reasons to skip right past Apple’s iPhone 8 or 8 Plus when browsing for a new phone. They don’t look any different from the last three iPhone models that preceded them. They have huge bezels above and below the screen. The iPhone 8 Plus is a practical giant among smartphones in 2017, even though it has a smaller display than many other phones with tidier dimensions.
But apart from its design and aesthetics, the $699 iPhone 8 is a tremendously good smartphone. It has a fast processor. Its camera is easy to use and reliable for getting great pictures almost every time. It’s water resistant and now has wireless charging options. The iPhone 8’s battery life isn’t class leading, but it’s consistent and reliable. If you do want significantly better battery life, the $799 iPhone 8 Plus is a better pick.
Then there are the other factors in owning a smartphone to consider. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have by far the most case and accessory options available (even more than Apple’s flagship iPhone X). Apple’s customer care and support is unmatched by any of its competitors. You can get the iPhone 8 unlocked or from virtually any carrier, even smaller MVNOs.
The iPhone 8 pair don’t have the flash or overall new feeling of the iPhone X, but they still provide 90 percent of what you get with the X for about 70 percent of the cost. The future might be for the phones with narrow borders, but the iPhone 8 is for the present.
An Android alternative: Samsung Galaxy S8 / S8 Plus
iOS isn’t for everyone though, and there are many great Android phones available this year. This is where we’d usually say that the best Android phones come from Google itself, as they have the best software and performance. And this year, Google’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are very good phones, with the best cameras you can get on any smartphone.
But they have a number of issues that make them difficult to recommend without reservations. They can only be purchased direct from Google or Verizon, meaning you can’t pay for your phone with your service bill if you’re on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or any other carrier. Google’s after-purchase support system pales in comparison to Apple’s or even other Android device makers. And frankly, there just aren’t very many cases and accessories available for the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL.
That’s before we get to the laundry list of hardware and software problems (mostly with the larger Pixel 2 XL) that have plagued Google’s phones since they came out earlier this fall. Most of those have been addressed with software updates, so the phones are reliable enough to purchase now. But it still doesn’t inspire confidence.
So if you’re looking for the best Android phone right now, it’s actually Samsung’s six-month-old Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. Like the iPhone 8, the S8 pair give you a choice between small or large and adequate or exceptional battery life. But otherwise they are basically the same phone.
Inside, the S8 has the top-of-the-line processor in the Android world, a great camera, water resistance, wireless charging, and expandable storage. It even still has a headphone jack, which is slowly going the way of the buffalo among flagship smartphones.
But the star of the S8 is its display. The super bright, exceptionally vibrant OLED screen stretches to the edges of the device and curves on its sides in an almost liquid fashion. It makes the S8 look just as fresh today as it did when it debuted.
Also, thanks to Samsung’s popularity and the support of all four carriers, the S8 also has plenty of accessories, from cases to battery packs to wireless chargers, available to it.
Not everything is perfect with the S8 — the placement of the fingerprint scanner and that silly Bixby assistant (which you can now fully disable) are its biggest flaws — but it gets enough right that we’re confident recommending it to anyone looking for an Android phone.
If an iPhone or Samsung aren’t your style, here are some other options that might work for you. We don’t consider any of them to be the best phone for most people, but depending on your needs, budget, or priorities, they could be a better choice for you.
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