Apple or Android?
Whether you’re looking for a big or small phone, entry-level or top-of-the-line, Android offers options for everyone. And unlike Apple’s rigid release cycle, Google’s hardware partners unleash a seemingly endless stream of new devices year-round. But therein lies the problem: With so many options out there, how do you settle on the right one? Lucky for you, we test and review nearly every smartphone available on all the major US carriers.
Keep in mind that while the reviews above may not show your carrier of choice, most of the phones here are available for, or compatible with, multiple US carriers. Read on for what to look for when buying, as well as our top picks for Android phones.
When to Buy a New Android Phone
Now is a good time! With the appearance of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 lineup in August, most Android lineups are pretty set for the year. We will still see the Google Pixel 4 line and the OnePlus 7T, both probably in October. But there won’t be a real jump in performance until phones with the next generation of Qualcomm chipsets come out next year.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 line, the LG G8, the OnePlus 7 Pro, the Pixel 3a, and the Moto G7 line offer 2019 tech at prices from $ 200 to over $ 1,000. If you buy a phone now, you won’t have to worry about being current.
The first 5G phones have just started to hit the market, but we’d advise holding back for the moment unless you’re using Sprint. On other carriers, the first-generation phones have been overheating in hot weather, and the next round of phones won’t be able to use all of the different 5G frequencies the carriers intend to launch over the next months.
On Sprint, the LG V50 looks like the best bet. But even there, the mystery around the Sprint/T-Mobile merger, how the networks will combine, and how quickly Sprint will roll out its 5G network, makes us caution potential buyers to hold off for now.
This list has phones from $ 200 to $ 1,100. In terms of even less expensive models, we usually recommend the Moto E series, but we’re waiting for that lineup to be refreshed at the moment. One tip at the very low end: carrier-branded phones (which don’t mention the name of their manufacturer) often aren’t very good.
Most of the phones sold in the US cost $ 600 or more, because they’re sold on monthly payment plans that hide the cost over 24 or 30 months. This year we’re seeing some intriguing models between $ 200 and $ 300 though, most specifically the Moto G7 series and the Nokia 7.1. Those are great phones for people who don’t want to be yoked to a payment plan.
If you’re trying to balance payment and power, the OnePlus 7 Pro has the best bang for the buck on the market. It’s even faster than the Samsung Galaxy S10+, has just as big a screen, and costs $ 300 less.
What Size Phone Is Right for You?
There’s been a dramatic shift in Android phone shapes and sizes over the last few years. Many manufacturers have started to make their phones taller and narrower, resulting in one-hand-friendly models with improbably large screen sizes. We go into more detail on the new form factors in This Is How We Need to Measure Phone Screens Now.
You can find Android phones with stated screen sizes from 4.6 inches up to 6-plus inches. With the new form factors, though, it’s very important to look at the width of the phone as well as the width of the screen. That’s how the biggest screen in our list, the 6.8-inch panel on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+, doesn’t overwhelm.
Which Is the Best Android Version?
Not all Android is created equal. Device manufacturers like LG and Samsung have been applying their own visions to Android for some time now. If you want a pure Google experience, then you want to go for a Pixel device; they’re the developer models where Google makes sure to deploy upgrades first. Motorola and OnePlus also have very clean user interfaces, although they tend to add more invisible features to Android.
The next version of Android, “Q,” will come out this fall. For now, the newest version of Android is 9.0 Pie, which is available on almost all the phones on our list. Android 8.0 Oreo is also acceptable. Do not buy any phone with an earlier version, as the older the Android software version gets, the more likely it is to have serious security flaws. There are a lot of budget phones kicking around with Android 7 or even Android 6 or below, which you should absolutely avoid.
The Ongoing Trade War
We’ve frequently recommended phones from the Huawei, Honor, and ZTE brands in the past—they’re often high-quality products that are great value for the money. But over the past year, the US government has essentially gone to war with those companies, making their future on the US market unreliable. So for now, we’ve eased away from reviewing most Huawei, Honor, and ZTE products for US readers until their distribution in the US is clearer.
We also generally don’t include phones on this list that aren’t available in the US. However, we recently did a roundup of seven top Chinese phones to show the kind of innovation that’s happening overseas, which we don’t have access to.
Should You Buy Through a Carrier or Unlocked?
The US market is still dominated by carrier-sold phones, but buying your phone direct and unlocked gives you more freedom to switch carriers if you choose to do so.
Unlocked phones feature no carrier bloatware and no ongoing payment plan, so you can switch to another carrier or sell on eBay at will. It’s actually something you own. Every phone on this list can be bought direct, with no carrier involvement. But most people still buy their phones through carriers, which offer a single point for service and support, as well as monthly payment plans that dramatically lower the upfront prices of phones.
Of the bunch shown here, most of them work on all four US networks. The OnePlus 7 Pro doesn’t work on Sprint. The Nokia 7.1 only works on AT&T and T-Mobile.
Choosing Android as your mobile operating system is only half the battle. If you’re still on the fence, check out our list of The Best Smartphones, regardless of OS.
And for help choosing a carrier, see our test results for the Fastest Mobile Networks and The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans You’ve Never Heard Of.
The Best Android Phones Featured in This Roundup:
Pros: Compact. Fast performance. Beautiful OLED screen. Sharp front and rear camera with impressive low-light, zoom, and bokeh capabilities. Useful Google Assistant functionality. Highly optimized software with guaranteed updates.
Cons: No headphone jack or memory card slot.
Bottom Line: The Google Pixel 3 is the best small Android phone you can buy with the latest specs, impressive camera capabilities, and genuinely innovative AI features.
Pros: Best-in-class camera. Gorgeous OLED display. Solid performance. Excellent battery life.
Cons: Not waterproof. No microSD slot.
Bottom Line: Google’s well-rounded Pixel 3a is quite simply the best Android phone you can buy for $ 399.
Pros: Great value for money. Fastest Android phone available. Smooth software. Notchless screen. Lots of camera options.
Cons: Camera photos are slightly undersaturated. No 802.11ax Wi-Fi. Still no headphone jack.
Bottom Line: The OnePlus 7 Pro is by far the best value for a premium smartphone on the market today, giving you the features of a $ 1,000 phone for $ 300 less.
Pros: Big battery. Lots of storage. Excellent S Pen stylus. Class-leading processor and modem.
Cons: Expensive. Heavy.
Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is an attractive pen-enabled phablet with a fast processor, a terrific modem, and a huge battery.
Pros: Amazing screen color and clarity. Industry-leading processor and modem. Wide-angle camera. Headphone jack. Just the right size for most hands.
Cons: Low-light camera performance not as good as the Google Pixel 3. Fingerprint sensor could be more accurate.
Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy S10e has the best overall price, performance, and size for a flagship smartphone today.
Pros: Excellent battery life. Solid performance. Sleek design. Ships with Android 9.0 Pie.
Cons: Not waterproof. Mediocre camera. No NFC.
Bottom Line: The Motorola Moto G7 Power offers excellent performance, two-day battery life, and an attractive design for a budget-friendly price.
Pros: High-end design. Excellent performance for the price. Guaranteed software updates through Android One Program.
Cons: No wireless charging. Not waterproof.
Bottom Line: The Nokia 7.1 offers a winning combination of great performance, killer looks, and up-to-date Android software for a reasonable price.
Pros: Solid performance. Powerful audio. Gorgeous display.
Cons: Steep learning curve for Air Motion gestures. Unpredictable software update cycle. Relatively expensive.
Bottom Line: The LG G8 ThinQ is a top-notch Android flagship that faces stiff competition from less expensive alternatives like the Samsung Galaxy S10e.
Pros: Useful S Pen stylus. Top-notch performance. Long battery life.
Cons: Expensive. Huge. No headphone jack. Confusing 5G situation.
Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ is a big, powerful phone that’s good for artists and note-takers.
Pros: Great screen. Fastest possible processor and LTE. Triple cameras with 2x and wide-angle. Headphone jack and microSD card slot.
Cons: Expensive. In-display fingerprint sensor has no physical guide.
Bottom Line: The midsize Samsung Galaxy S10 has all the attractive features of the S10+ for less money, but we still think the smaller S10e is a better buy.