We compare the price, performance, cameras, and display quality of flagship smartphones from Apple, Samsung, and Google to help you find your next device.
Best Smartphones of 2023
We compared smartphones in terms of price, performance, cameras, operating system, and user experience, and we came up with a list of eight of the best smartphones to meet the needs of every kind of user and budget.
- Best smartphone performance: If you want the best of the best (and you’re willing to pay for it), the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 5G is the smartphone for you. It has everything you could want, from a best-in-class camera to an absolutely unbeatable display.
- Best overall smartphone value: The iPhone 14 is a solid, reliable, and highly functional device that will seamlessly perform every task. It’s cheaper than the S21 Ultra smartphone, but still packs a punch (and it looks good, too).
- Best budget Android smartphone: Many people don’t want to pay more than $500 for a new phone. Luckily, there’s the Google Pixel 4a. This device sells for about $350, but it still offers some serious premium-level features.
- Best budget iPhone: The iPhone SE marries the processing power of far more expensive iPhones with a smaller form factor and a much smaller price. The latest iPhone SE model came out in 2022, and will continue to receive support from Apple for years to come, so it's a perfect smartphone for those who want their device investment to last.
- Best smartphone with stylus: The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the perfect smartphone for artists, writers, gamers, and anyone who wants a big powerhouse of a phone. This huge phone has it all, including a beautifully designed and highly functional S Pen.
How to choose a smartphone
Before we jump into our review of the best smartphones, let’s talk about the fundamentals:
There are a few criteria that you might want to consider.
Android vs. iPhone: Both operating systems have their advantages. Android gives you more options for customization and more devices support the operating system. Meanwhile, iPhones offer unparalleled quality and design, and will pair seamlessly with any other Apple devices you have. If you’re worried about changing between the two operating systems, don’t be. Switching is easier than ever.
Camera: Pretty much every phone on the market has a camera these days, but the quality ranges from very low to basically professional grade. If you’re an aspiring influencer or a serious birder who likes to capture wildlife in all its glory, then you might want to opt for the better (and pricier) cameras.
Carrier and service: Most phones (with the exception of T-Mobile’s TCL lineup) are compatible with every phone carrier. Make sure to pair your phone with a carrier that provides reliable coverage and service or your phone won't be of much use. Also, carriers regularly offer deals on some of the best smartphones, so be sure to check out the best new deals before you make your decision.
Size, stylus, and other features: Smartphones just seem to get bigger and bigger. You’ll want to think about whether you want to lug around a 7-inch brick all day or if you’d prefer to opt for something smaller. You may also want to consider other features, like flip technology and stylus pens.
Price: Last, but not least, you’ll want to think about your wallet. Some phones cost well over a grand. But the difference between a $500 phone and an $1,100 phone may be less important than you think.
- : Best performance
- : Best overall value
- : Best budget Android smartphone
- : Best budget iPhone
- : Best smartphone with a stylus
Best performance: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 5G
- Powerful 200MP camera
- 6.8-inch 120 Hz QHD display
- 5G capable
- Good battery life
- Price starts at $1,199
- Clunky design
What we like about the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 5G
Last year when the Samsung Galaxy S22 dropped we were pretty impressed. But somehow this year’s S23 model raises the bar even further. It’s got a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen processor, an incredible display, top-notch cameras, and more.
If you rely on your phone for work, serious gaming, or professional photography, then this is the device for you. Let’s get into the details.
5 powerful cameras
When camera phones first hit the market they were a fun novelty, but nothing that a real photographer would ever use. You could take a grainy selfie that made you look as pixelated as the Super Nintendo version of Mario and that was about it.
But these days some of the most powerful innovations in camera technology are being driven by phone manufacturers, like Samsung. And the Galaxy S23 Ultra has taken things to the next level. It sports five (yes, five!) cameras:
- One 200 MP wide-angle camera: This incredible camera offers unparalleled colors, pristine night mode tech, 8K video capture, and so much more.
- One 12 MP ultra wide camera: You’ll get a 120° field of view with this camera which is perfect for epic-looking photographs of the natural world (or your fancy dinner).
- Two 10 MP telephoto cameras: These two telephoto lenses will give you zoom capabilities all the way up to 100x (it does get a bit grainy at that point)!
- One 40 MP selfie camera: This high-end selfie camera is more advanced than other phones’ main cameras. So you can show off without worrying about bad lighting.
6.8-inch 120Hz QHD display
This display is pushing the edge of existing technology. It’s equipped with 120Hz quad HD Dynamic AMOLED 2X technology. What does that mean in plain English?
It means that you’ll basically have a mini-IMAX screen in your pocket. It means you’ll have better image quality than most computers and televisions, allowing you to take your gaming or watching to the next level.
A 120 Hz refresh rate means that even the most action-packed images will look as seamless and beautiful as real life. This display is, in short, as good as it gets.
Good battery life
What good is a pricey, premium device if it dies after just a couple hours of use? That’s right, it’s no good at all.
Luckily, the S23 Ultra has a huge 5,000 mAh battery that you can charge wirelessly. That’s the same battery that the S20 had, but this one should last even longer because the processor inside of it is more efficient. Exactly how long your battery lasts will depend on how you use your S21, but even the heaviest users should get pretty far with a full charge.
When your battery does start to creep into the single digits, you’ll be able to juice back up quickly. Samsung claims that you can get a 50% charge in 30 minutes.
There’s been a lot of hype about 5G technology for years now. But it’s finally here for real. Well, at least in some places. But in order to get access to super-fast 5G speeds you’ll need a 5G capable device, like the S21 Ultra.
What we don't like about the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 5G
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra doesn’t have any major flaws, except maybe one: the price. That, and the somewhat clunky design, may be deal breakers for some customers. Let’s take a closer look.
If you want to buy the S21 Ultra straight up from the factory it will cost you at least $1,199! That’s a serious amount of cash for most people, especially during a time of economic uncertainty.
But you may be able to get a cheaper price tag or some financing if you sign up for a new plan from AT&T, T-Mobile, or another carrier. In fact, we expect to see some deals drop on the S21 in the next few months. So be sure to keep an eye on our best deals of the week page.
The S21 Ultra has definitely improved on the blocky design of the S20 Ultra. The corners have been smoothed out a little bit and the camera module has been flattened for an overall more sleek look. But, still, this thing is just huge.
At 6.8 inches, the S21 Ultra won’t easily fit inside your pocket. It’s so large that it’s verging on tablet sized. If you want a similar phone that’s smaller check out the standard S21, or maybe even consider the iPhone 12 Mini.
Runner-up: iPhone 14 Pro Max
Speaking of the iPhone: we’re declaring the iPhone 14 Pro Max as the runner up in the Best Performance category. Like the S23 Ultra, this phone ticks off all the boxes: gorgeous display, super-fast processor, top-shelf camera technology, and, of course, a pretty hefty price tag.
In fact, one of the main reasons that this phone is in the runner up category is that it actually costs more than the S23 Ultra.
Speaking of the iPhone: we’re declaring the iPhone 14 Pro Max as the runner up in the “Best Performance” category. Like the S23 Ultra, this phone ticks off all the boxes: gorgeous display, super-fast processor, top-shelf camera technology, and, of course, a pretty hefty price tag.
In fact, one of the main reasons that this phone is in the runner up category is that it actually costs more than the S23 Ultra. Of course, the standard iPhone 14 is much more affordable (more on that below).
Last year's best performance: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
- Super-fast performance
- 120 Hz display
- 5G capable
- Good camera
- Blocky design
What we like about the Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus
The Galaxy S22 Ultra was a really strong entry in the Galaxy family, and it's still really good a year later. You can still count on performance with its 120-hertz display, incredibly fast processing speeds, and nice trio of camera lenses for different kinds of photos.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is the ideal phone for gamers, influencers, photographers, and everyone who relies on their phone for essential tasks. With its Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor and 8 GB of RAM, this phone can still easily run any app you throw at it.
You won't have any issues with lag or latency in the middle of a PUBG Mobile game, and you won't have to worry about losing your work from an app shutting down unexpectedly (unless the app itself has issues). Teamed up with AT&T's or Verizon's super fast data speeds, this phone is unstoppable.
120 Hz display
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus's 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED display is about as good as it gets. With 3200x1440 resolution and a 20:9 aspect ratio, it's kind of like having a mini-IMAX screen in your hand.
Let's talk about those numbers a bit more: your laptop probably has a resolution of 1280x1024 or less, meaning that this phone packs twice the image quality into a 6.7-inch display. You'll have no issues watching videos in HD, 4K, or any other fancy high definition resolutions that come out.
While some might prefer a slightly smaller device, the S22 Ultra shouldn't feel clunky for most people. It's definitely more nimble than the gargantuan S21 Ultra model.
While the standard Galaxy S22 is technically "5G capable," it won't actually connect to every form of 5G, leaving many users stuck with 4G speeds. But the S22 Ultra can connect to both the broad-coverage sub-6 GHz 5G signal and the mmWave network as well.
While the S22 Ultra's phone doesn't quite match the iPhone 13 Pro's, it shouldn't be dismissed. Its three cameras (two 10 megapixel and one 108-megapixel cameras) can take photos with wide and ultra-wide angles for stellar selfies and panoramic shots.
What we don't like about the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
The S22 Ultra is a superbly well-rounded phone that will please most every user. But there are a couple of drawbacks to consider before purchasing it.
Not the latest and greatest hardware (anymore)
While the S22 Ultra still has a lot in common with the S23 Ultra (display, battery), it does fall behind when it comes to camera megapixels and processing power. The S23 boasts an incredible 200-megapixel camera, while the S22 maxes out at a 108-megapixel camera. Also, the processor is a year older, which means that apps won't run quite as smoothly on the S22 Ultra versus the S23 Ultra.
That being said, these are pretty minor differences that would likely only be noticed by avid photographers and mobile gamers. It's not like it's a huge drop off between the S22 and S23 Ultra smartphones.
Best overall value: Apple iPhone 14
- Pay less for premium features
- Gorgeous design
- Long battery life
- 5G capable
- Only 128 GB of storage on base model
- Lacks basic accessories
What we like about the Apple iPhone 14
Apple releases a new iPhone every year. So what’s the big deal? Could the iPhone 14 really be much better than the iPhone 13. Well, yes. While the phone isn’t significantly different than its predecessor, a few small tweaks and upgrades (and a couple of cosmetic changes) have really rounded out Apple’s flagship offering.
Let’s discuss the main features of the device that offers the best overall value on the market.
Pay less for premium features
The iPhone 14 has so many powerful features that it can be hard to keep track of. But here are a few of the most important ones:
- A super-fast and efficient A16 Bionic chip means seamless performance on any app.
- A beautiful OLED display gives you a perfect picture whether you’re streaming, gaming, or taking photos.
- The phone is more durable with Apple’s new Ceramic Shield installed.
- 48-megapixel cameras main lens: Extremely high-quality photos that look like a professional took them.
You’ll get all of that and more on the iPhone 14 for about $800. While that’s certainly not the cheapest phone on the market, it’s significantly cheaper than the S23 Ultra or iPhone 14 Pro Max while still offering tons of premium features.
Let’s be honest: one of the reasons we all love Apple products is that they look like Apple products. Those signature colors, the sleek yet understated designs. There’s a certain Apple Je ne sais quoi that’s just impossible to replicate.
The new iPhone design doesn’t fail to deliver, even if it does rock the boat a bit. The main thing you’ll probably notice when looking at this device is that the edges are flat, rather than curved. The phone looks classier than its competitors, while still looking (and feeling) durable.
Of course if you really want a phone that will wow your buddies, you should probably be the first to pick up one of Samsung’s new flip phones …
Long battery life
Apple keeps the exact size of its batteries under wraps. But the company claims that the iPhone 14 can handle a whopping 20 hours of video playback on a full charge. That means you can binge a whole season of Stranger Things in one sitting, without having to plug in (we won’t judge).
Yep, you’ll get that sweet, sweet 5G speed with this phone (where available).
What we don't like about the Apple iPhone 14
The iPhone 12 is a well-balanced phone overall, but here are the ways in which the iPhone 12 falls a bit short.
Only 64 GB of storage on base model
Like its predecessors, the iPhone 12’s baseline model (the cheapest version) comes with just 64 GB of local storage. A decade ago that might have been a lot for a phone. But these days the standard is usually closer to 128 GB.
What’s going on here Apple? Upping the local storage isn’t an issue of physical space in the device. It also wouldn’t cost the company much to do. It’s hard to feel like this is anything but a plan to get people to buy the more expensive models.
Lacks basic accessories
iPhones used to come with a full charger and a pair of headphones. It was like getting relish and ketchup with your hotdog. You just came to expect these essential accessories with your purchase. But not anymore.
The new iPhone 12 is shipping out with just a single Lightning-to-USB-C cable. You have to provide your own iPhone accessories like a USB-C wall charger to plug it into (or your own MagSafe charger). While most folks will have one of these lying around somewhere, it may be a big inconvenience for some.
Apple’s excuse for cutting the charger and headphones is that it saves on packaging and is more green. While we commend this thinking, it’s hard to fully believe that their heart is in the right place, given Apple’s history of charging tons of money for extra cables and accessories.
Runner-up: OnePlus 10T 5G
You may not have heard of OnePlus, but it is quickly becoming one of the major phone manufacturers in the industry. The OnePlus 10T 5G is a powerful device that is ready for the fastest networks. It has a fantastic display, camera, processor, and plenty of local storage. It's also much cheaper than the latest iPhone and Galaxy devices. The main drawback is lower quality cameras (50 megapixel main camera).
If you’re looking to make a break with Apple, but still want a quality, well-rounded device, then we suggest you check out the OnePlus 10T 5G.
Best budget Android smartphone: Google Pixel 7a
- Great camera
- Good performance and OLED display
- Less-than-stellar battery life
- No water resistance
What we like about the Google Pixel 7a
There’s a lot to like about the Google Pixel 7a. That’s because it’s an entry-level phone with flagship-level features.
Here are the things we love most about the Pixel 7a.
Smartphones are smarter than ever before. They’re basically mini personal computers. Unfortunately, many of them cost as much as a laptop, too. But not the Google Pixel 7a. You can easily find a deal to buy this phone outright for under $400.
Of course, you may be able to find a better deal on the Pixel 7a if you sign up for a new cell phone plan. For example, you can get the phone for free when you sign up for an unlimited plan from Google Fi.
Google’s phones are known for their impeccable cameras. These cameras rival those on the much more expensive iPhone 14 and Galaxy S23.
The 7a comes equipped with a 64-megapixel camera, which is an even higher resolution that what you find on the Pixel 7.
It might be easier to imagine shelling out a few hundred bucks for a new phone if you weren’t already paying so much for your monthly phone plan. But there might be a better deal out there. Check out these cheap plans to see if one of them is right for you.
Good performance and display
While the 7a’s processor might not be as powerful as Apple’s or Samsung’s latest processors, it does the trick. You shouldn’t experience any major issues when running your favorite apps.
When it comes to the display on the 7a, you’ll get more than you’d expect for the price.
What we don't like about the Google Pixel 7a
You don’t get a phone that’s this cheap without cutting a few corners. So, what has been left out of the Pixel 7a?
The Pixel A series phones have always struggled with battery life, and though the 7a is an improvement, it's battery life can't compete with the latest flagships phones. The Google Pixel 7a comes with a 4,385 mAh battery. That’s about standard for a mid-range phone, but we’d still like to see more. With a battery of this size, you should get around 10 hours of continuous use on a charge. That will be enough for most people, but heavy users will be disappointed.
Best budget iPhone: Apple iPhone SE (2022)
- Seamless overall performance
- Great price
- Good camera
- Battery is a bit weak
What we like about the Apple iPhone SE
Ever since it hit the market in 2007 the iPhone has set the bar for smartphone performance. But the phones have never been particularly affordable. Until now.
The iPhone SE gives you all of the great design, functionality, and features of an iPhone for less than $400. It's a great gift to go along with your teenager's phone plan.
Let's get into the details.
Seamless overall performance
At the heart of the iPhone SE is the same processing technology as the iPhone 11 Pro. The A13 Bionic chip will keep everything running smoothly, from your games to your video recording. It's a powerful system for a budget device.
The SE has a 4.8-inch LCD liquid retina display that is a step down from the iPhone 11 Pro's OLED Super Retina XDR display, but most users will hardly notice the difference in the quality. Meanwhile, the re-introduction of the home button (and touch ID) will be a welcome change for many.
Aluminum casing and custom glass make this phone durable for everyday use and resistant to water.
It's hard to overemphasize the importance of having a truly affordable, brand new iPhone on the market. This phone sells for less than a new iPhone 13, which was released in 2021 and runs on less advanced hardware. In many cases, it's also cheaper than alternative midtier phones from Samsung and OnePlus.
This Apple device rocks a 12-megapixel camera plus a 7-megapixel front-facing camera. While that's pretty impressive in its own right, these cameras are also equipped with some advanced image processing that's similar to the iPhone 11 Pro's.
Most people will have a hard time seeing any difference between pictures taken on this phone and those taken by phones that cost three times as much. The major exceptions are shots taken at night. The SE does not come with Apple's great Night Mode feature. It also lacks the amazing wide-angle lens of the iPhone 11 Pro.
What we don't like about the Apple iPhone SE
No phone this cheap can have everything. The iPhone SE has had to cut some corners to make a product this affordable. In most cases, they cut fat in places that won't bother most casual phone users. However, there are a couple of issues that are harder to swallow.
Battery isn't the best
The iPhone SE has fine battery life. Most people will be able to get through the day without needing a charge. But a few hours of heavy use or a night without a charge will definitely leave you battery starved.
Thankfully, you can charge this phone wirelessly, so it shouldn't be too much trouble to give it a power boost in the middle of the day.
Best phone with stylus: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
- 6.9-inch 120 Hz display
- Incredible camera
- Smooth S Pen performance
- Stream Xbox games
- Costs over $1,200
- Large and blocky design
What we like about the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
The stylus pens were all the rage back at the turn of the century. Many popular devices incorporate the pens for a few years. Then they seemed to go away. But the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is still keeping the stylus alive, and with good reason.
These pens are great for those who like to make art, take notes, or play games on their phones. They also tend to come along with large devices (and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is nothing if not large). So if you want a big, powerful device to help fuel your creativity, this is it.
6.9-inch 120 Hz display
With a 6.9-inch display, this is the biggest phone on our list (and one of the biggest phones on the market). Some even call it a phablet. “It’s a beast of a machine,” as our reviewer Tshaka says. And it’s a high-quality beast.
With quad HD Plus technology and a 120 Hz refresh rate, you’ll see every art project, game, or streaming video in its full glory.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra actually comes with 4 incredible cameras: a 108-megapixel wide lens, two 12-megapixel lenses, and a front facing selfie camera. We won’t go much into the details of these cameras because they’re similar to the S21 Ultra cameras that we talked about above.
Smooth S Pen performance
You want a phone with a stylus so that you can draw, write, and game with it. But a poorly functioning stylus is worse than using the pad of your finger. So it’s good that the Note 20 Ultra’s S Pen feels as natural and seamless and putting pen to paper.
Play Xbox games
Yes, you can play over 50 different XBox games on your Note 20 Ultra. Purchase a MOGA XP5-X Plus Bluetooth Controller, hook it up to your phone, and you’re good to go. The incredible processing power of the Note 20 Ultra will keep you in the game as if you were playing on your regular set up.
Here's what you need to know about Xbox Game Pass on your phone.
What we don't like about the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
The Samsung Galaxy Note S20 Ultra is like a huge expensive SUV. It’s powerful, but it’s not right for everyone. Here are a few of the things that might be deal breakers for some customers.
Large and blocky design
The last negative feature we’ll mention about this phone is the size. While some people may love the “phablet” vibe of the Note 20 Ultra, others will find it far too large and blocky for everyday use.
Recap: What's the best smartphone for you?
That was a lot of information. So, let’s run through the highlights of the best smartphones one more time.
- Best performance: If you want the best, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 5G is the phone for you. It has everything you could want, from a best-in-class camera to an absolutely unbeatable display.
- Best overall value: The iPhone 14 is a solid, well-designed device that will perform pretty much any task. It’s cheaper than the S23 Ultra, but still packs a punch (and it looks good, too).
- Best budget Android phone: If you don’t want to pay more than $500 for a new phone, check out the Google Pixel 7a. This device sells for about $350, but it still manages to provide premium-level features.
- Best budget iPhone: The iPhone SE is a truly affordable phone from Apple that doesn't skimp on the important stuff. It runs on the same processor as the iPhone 11 Pro but costs less than half as much.
- Best phone with a stylus: The Samsung Note 20 Ultra is the perfect machine for creatives and anybody else who covets a powerhouse of a phone. This big phone has it all, including a beautifully designed and highly functional S Pen.
These are the best phones on the market right now. For the best deals on these and other devices be sure to check our weekly deals page.
We compared over 200 flagship mobile phones from major brands like Apple, Samsung, and Google to determine the best smartphones available. We limited our selections to smartphones that are currently available with cellular carriers.
We considered six main categories to decide the best smartphones:
- Price: Considering the diverse range of consumer budgets, we prioritize smartphones that offer a compelling combination of features and affordability.
- Internal Storage: Recognizing the growing demand for storage space, we assess the available internal storage options provided by each smartphone, ensuring it meets the needs of modern users.
- Processor: We evaluate the performance of each smartphone's processor to identify devices that offer powerful and efficient processing capabilities, ensuring a smooth user experience.
- Display: The quality and characteristics of the display significantly impact user satisfaction. We consider factors such as resolution, size, brightness, color accuracy, and screen-to-body ratio when evaluating smartphones.
- Battery Life: Assessing the battery life is crucial for users who require long-lasting performance. We consider battery capacity, efficiency, and charging options to identify smartphones that offer exceptional endurance.
- Cameras: Given the importance of photography in smartphone usage, we evaluate the camera capabilities, including megapixel count, aperture size, image stabilization, low-light performance, and additional features such as optical zoom or wide-angle lenses.
Our team of experts used these categories to narrow down the best smartphones for various lifestyles. This research, combined with Tshaka Armstrong’s hands-on testing, helped us determine the winners of each category.