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The 10 best smartphones of 2018

Smartphones: Is there any innovation left?

A couple more new phones recently launched and we have also had the chance to spend more time with some others, which leads us to reevaluate some of our initial experiences. The good news for consumers is that no one else has matched Apple $1,000 starting price for a smartphone so there is hope Apple didn’t start a trend for flagship smartphones.

While the Samsung Galaxy S9 has the best specifications on paper and is arguably the best phone for the masses, I can’t get through a full day without charging so I took it down from the top spot.

1. Huawei P20 Pro

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Image: Huawei

While US consumers will have to resort to eBay to pick one up, the Huawei P20 Pro is one of the most exciting phones of 2018.

The unique triple camera design with 68 megapixel worth of shooting power should help you take some fantastic shots with a low light mode that beats out all the other smartphones available today.

Huawei has been including massive capacity batteries in its flagships and the P20 Pro is no exception with 4,000 mAh that is sure to get you through at least one full, busy day. It has a large 6.1 inch OLED with a notch you can show or hide, a powerful Kirin 970 processor with integrated AI, IP67 dust and water resistance, and more.

Huawei’s EMUI has come a long way and the home screen now has a standard Google Feed on one panel with an interface that is close to stock. When Huawei does provide software and settings beyond stock Android, those serve to enhance the device rather than clutter it up and slow it down. The P20 Pro flies through every action and is a sheer joy to use.

Sandra Vogel awarded the Huawei P20 Pro an 8.9/10 rating in her full review and CNET gave it an 8.4 in its review.

2. Samsung Galaxy S9/S9 Plus

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Samsung

Samsung launched the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus more than a month ago. It’s an evolution in the Galaxy S line, but one that leads as close to perfection as you can expect for a smartphone today.

CNET: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus review (8.8/10)

Samsung’s Infinity Display continues to take the top spot with every new release, trumping the Apple iPhone X that lived in that spot for a few months. There is 6GB of RAM, the fastest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 mobile processor, a rear dual aperture camera, another one with super slow motion support (S9 Plus only), the ability to add inexpensive microSD cards, improved Bixby assitant and a hardware button dedicated to its use, Samsung Pay payment technology, wireless and fast charging, IP68 dust and water resistance, a USB Type-C standard port, and traditional 3.5mm headset jack. It also launches with Android 8.0 Oreo. There is nothing missing from the Galaxy S9 Plus and it deserves the top spot.

There are a few experiences in my usage that convinced me to place the S9 Plus above the iPhone X, including the RF performance of the S9 Plus. It holds a connection longer, with faster speeds, than the iPhone X on T-Mobile in the same area. The S9 Plus also has a newer Qualcomm modem than the iPhone X and also supports T-Mobile’s 600 MHz spectrum. For work, it is tough to beat the Galaxy S9 Plus.

The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are available now at prices starting at $720 (S9) and $840 (S9 Plus). T-Mobile and Samsung have the best prices with other carriers adding additional premiums on top of the MSRP. If you buy an unlocked one from Samsung it will not contain carrier bloatware and is priced lower than most US carriers too. Compared to the $1,000+ iPhone X, the S9 and S9 Plus are reasonably priced. We have also recently seen special offers dropping the price lower as Samsung sales are not as high as anticipated.

I awarded the S9 Plus a 9.7/10 rating in my full review, but after further daily use I would probably now give it a 9.2. Jason Cipriani took the slightly smaller single camera Galaxy S9 for a spin and awarded it a 8.9/10 rating in his full review.

3. Apple iPhone X

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The Apple iPhone X has been available for several months now and regular readers may be stunned to know I still have one. It is the highest price mass market phone to launch with a starting price of $999 for 64GB and $1,149 for 256GB, but it seems the majority of people are buying it on a payment plan so that the cost is spread out over time and not as shocking as a lump sum price.

The iPhone X is the first unique iPhone design we have seen since the original iPhone launched 10 years ago. It has a large 5.8-inch front display with minimal bezels and no front home button. A Samsung OLED panel is used for the first time on an iPhone. There is a dual rear camera setup with a new way to use the iPhone due to the lack of a home button and traditional power button.

Without buttons on the front, the iPhone X relies on advanced facial recognition to unlock and use Apple Pay. It performs reliably and far exceeds the functionality of Samsung’s iris scanning technology. Apple finally includes wireless charging too so you can conveniently charge it by simply setting it down on a wireless charging device.

CNET: iPhone X review (8.9/10)

The iPhone X is powered by the new A11 bionic chip and M11 motion coprocessor so it flies with iOS 11. It has an IP67 dust and water resistant rating. Glass is now used on the back to support wireless charging. The front facing camera is 7 megapixels and labeled TrueDepth so you can take portrait selfies.

The iPhone X is the most advanced iPhone to date and offers some new experiences with the front display. This includes extensive gesture support and new ways to access functions on the iPhone. It offers a big screen experience in a rather compact package when compared to other large screen smartphones.

Check out Jason’s full review (9.5/10) and my experiences after using it for a month.

4. LG G7 ThinQ

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Image: LG

If you’ve read about the LG G7 ThinQ you have probably seen that most people state it is not exciting and there is nothing that unique and compelling to make people choose the LG G7. To be honest, you could say that about most phones as we have reached peak smartphone and there is very little left that manufacturers can do to raise the bar.

That said, I have now spent five days with a pre-production device and one day with a T-Mobile retail unit and find the LG G7 ThinQ to be one of my favorites. Pricing has not yet been revealed, but if LG launches it for less than the Samsung S9, then I may be inclined to bump this up to possibly number two in my list.

Like the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, the LG G7 ThinQ has everything but the kitchen sink included. It has a 3.5mm headphone jack, dual camera setup (one is widescreen that is unique among the dual camera devices), wireless charging, IP68 rating, microSD expansion card for inexpensive unlimited storage expansion, a screen that extends nearly the full front with a notch, and incredible audio support.

The LG G7 ThinQ includes AI elements in its camera and brings the best from the LG V30 video camera with Cine Video mode and more. LG set the bar for phone cameras a few years ago and may be doing it again with the LG G7 ThinQ.

We posted a first take of the phone, but now that we have a retail US carrier model in hand we will work to get a full review up in a week or two. There is a lot to like in the LG G7 ThinQ and LG is standing behind it with a two year warranty and promises of “continuous upgrades” so now we just need to know the price and availability.

5. Samsung Galaxy Note 8

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The Galaxy Note 8 was in the top spot for a couple of months because it was the most advanced smartphone on the market and it arguably could still be placed in that top spot. The Galaxy S9 Plus offers a few improvements, but no S Pen, and the iPhone X is also a very compelling smartphone.

CNET: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Phone review (8.9/10)

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 has all of the excellent Galaxy Foundation aspects found in the S9 and S9 Plus, but it doesn’t yet have Android 8 Oreo, it uses the Snapdragon 835 processor, and the camera does not have dual mechanical aperture. That said, it has the S Pen and if you enjoy using a stylus with your phone then the Note 8 cannot be beat.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is available now at a price ranging from $930 to $960, depending on the carrier.

I spent a couple weeks with an evaluation device and now have a couple of months with the Note 8 under my belt.

Check out Jason Cipriani’s full Galaxy Note 8 review with a 9/10 rating. Jason is more conservative with his ratings than I am so a 9 from Jason is outstanding.

6. Google Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 2

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Image: James Martin/CNET

The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL bring some features I wanted to see (water resistance and smaller bezels on the XL) and some I didn’t (removal of standard 3.5mm headset jack). Both are excellent phones with the stock Android experience so if you want a phone functioning the way Google designed Android to operate then the Pixel 2 may be the one.

CNET: Google Pixel 2 XL review (8.7/10)

The Google Pixel 2 XL has a large 6-inch 18:9 display, Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB and 128GB integrated storage, single rear 12 megapixel camera, IP67 dust and water resistance, a 3520 mAh battery, and dual front stereo speakers. The smaller Pixel 2 has a 5 inch display and smaller battery while the rest of the specs are the same as the XL model. There is no wireless charging or 3.5mm headset jack on either phone.

The smaller Pixel 2 starts at $649 while the Pixel 2 XL starts at $849 for the 64GB model. They are both powered by Android 8.0 Oreo and will receive OS upgrades for three years. Google’s newest Assistant features are present along with some other Google software advances.

ZDNet’s Jason Cipriani awarded the Pixel 2 XL a 9/10 rating.

7. Apple iPhone 8/8 Plus

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Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

The new Apple iPhone 8/8 Plus look like the iPhone 7/7 Plus, but have glass backs for wireless charging support. In addition the new iPhones have a slightly improved processor, improved camera, and improved LCD display.

CNET: iPhone 8 Plus review (8.9/10)

There are stereo speakers for good sound performance, but no standard 3.5mm headphone jack. These new iPhones do have fast charging support so they can gain up to 50 percent of battery capacity in 30 minutes.

There is no longer an 128GB capacity option with 64GB and 256GB models available. The iPhone 8 is priced at $699 and $849 while the iPhone 8 Plus is priced at $749 and $949.

8. Huawei Mate 10 Pro

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(Image: Huawei)

I’ve been spending lots of time with the US model Huawei Mate 10 Pro and it works well as a daily driver.

The Mate 10 Pro failed to launch directly on US carriers with some government security concerns, but was available at various retailers for $799. You can now find it on Amazon and other locations for $690 and it still is a great phone. ( CNET: Huawei dealt a blow, loses Best Buy as smartphone retailer) One good thing about not being associated with a US carrier is that the phone is not loaded with unnecessary bloatware.

CNET: Mate 10 Pro review (8.4/10)

The Mate 10 Pro has a 6 inch 18:9 OLED display, Kirin 970 processor with neural network processing unit, Android 8.0 Oreo with EMUI 8, 6 GB RAM, 128 GB internal storage, dual rear cameras, 8 megapixel front-facing camera, and massive 4,000 mAh battery.

One function that distinguishes the Huawei Mate 10 Pro from the Pixel 2, for the enterprise, is the capability to connect via the USB Type-C port to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for a nearly full desktop experience. The Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S9/S9 Plus can do this through a DeX device, but the Mate 10 Pro doesn’t even need a separate device to perform this function.

The Huawei Mate 10 Pro earned a 9.0 rating in our ZDNet full review.

9. OnePlus 5T

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OnePlus

About six months after the release of the OnePlus 5, we see the launch of the OnePlus 5T with a larger 18:9 aspect ratio display and improvements that make it a very compelling smartphone. The price, $499 and $559 (128GB model), are a major factor in considering this phone when there are flagships from $950 to more than $1000.

CNET: OnePlus 5T review (8.9/10)

The OnePlus 5T incorporates a face unlock system, has a dual rear camera setup, and several software customization options to make the phone extremely efficient for daily use. Rather than a glass sandwich design that is popular with most phones today, the OnePlus 5T has an unibody aluminum shell with a comfortable form factor and high quality construction.

The OnePlus 5T is available with 6GB RAM and 64GB internal storage for just $499. Unlike some other flagships from Samsung and LG, the OnePlus line has a history of regular updates and also an active community of users and developers so you can spend time customizing it to your heart’s desire.

I’ve spent a month with the phone and it is a great device, but it is no longer available as OnePlus gears up to launch the OnePlus 6. I enjoyed using Android 8 in beta form while also enabling gesture support that we now see is coming in Android P.

Sandra Vogel posted a full review of the OnePlus 5T on ZDNet and awarded it a 9/10 rating.

10. Sony Xperia XZ2

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CNET

It has been a while since I have had a Sony Xperia phone on my 10 best list, but after moving the fingerprint scanner to the rear and refreshing the design a bit it is tough to pass up on the latest Sony Xperia XZ2.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 launched with the newest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, Android 8.0 Oreo, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage with microSD card support, IP68 water and dust resistance, a 5.7 inch Triluminos display, 19 megapixel rear camera with super slow motion 960 fps support, and stereo speakers. The price is $799.99, which pits it against the other highest priced Android flagships.

Sandra Vogel posted a full review of the Xperia XZ2 on ZDNet and awarded it a 7.5/10 rating. The battery life and camera were two of her cons, which isn’t surprising since Sony hasn’t been able to get the camera competitive with others for years.

In the next few weeks we will see the OnePlus 6 and an HTC phone announced so it is likely that these two will enter this top 10 list of smartphones. That should be it for several months when Apple and Google then announce new phones at the end of the summer.

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