Update

Best Android phones 2018: What should you buy?

Find the best Android phone for photographers, budget-minders and more.

android phone hub Rob Schultz/IDG
Page 2 of 2

Processor and memory: Nearly every modern phone is “fast enough” for common tasks like web browsing and social media, and nearly every premium phone uses the same processor: the Snapdragon 845. But unless you plan to use your phone for more taxing activities like 3D gaming, VR, or video editing, you don’t always need a super-high-end processor and tons of RAM. Still, don’t settle for less than 2GB of RAM and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600-series processor or better.

Battery: Every time a new poll is taken about what users want out of their next smartphone, “better battery life” is at the top of the list. The capacity of a smartphone battery is measured in milliamp-hours (mAh), and ranges from just under 3,000 mAh to around 4,000 mAh. As a rule of thumb, more mAh is better. But phones with bigger, brighter displays and more powerful processors drain the battery more quickly, though, so a smaller and less expensive phone with a 2,500 mAh battery might actually last longer than a big high-end phone with a 3,300mAh one. AI and battery-saving modes are helping phones last longer and longer. You shouldn’t settle for one that doesn’t get you through a full day without needing to run for a outlet.

android m battery settings

You want a phone with a big battery. In general, the higher the mAh rating, the better.

Size and weight: Some people love big phones. Some love smaller phones. Some want a lightweight phone that disappears in the pocket, while others need to feel some heft. It’s a matter of personal preference. With shrinking bezels and changing ratios, even 6-inch phones can be help comfortable in most hands. So before you decide, head to your local carrier store or Best Buy and try on a few different models for size.

Software and Bloatware: If you want a phone that runs pure Android with no embellishments, you need to buy a Pixel phone or an Android One phone. Anything else you buy is going to have a custom build of Android—and that could be good or bad (or both at once).

Phone makers change the Android interface and icons to varying degree, and add features and software of their own. Sometimes this stuff is useful, sometimes it isn’t. Pre-installed apps that can’t be removed (usually called “bloatware”) can slow down your phone or, at the very least, take up valuable storage space. And if you buy a phone from a carrier instead of an unlocked carrier-neutral model, you’ll probably find a bunch of carrier apps you may not want. Know what you’re getting into before you buy.

Updates are also a concern. Pixel phones get the latest version of Android and security patches on day one, but most other phones take weeks to deliver patches and months to push out updates, if they get them at all. That’s true of premium phones such as the Galaxy S8 and budget phones alike. So consider that when committing to a new phone.

How we test Android phones

First and foremost, we spend at least several days with the phone under review, treating it as if it were our one and only. No number of lab tests or benchmarks will tell you as much about a phone as living with it for awhile. We’re concerned with real-world performance, stability, interface usability, camera quality, and whether proprietary features are useful or cumbersome. We use social media, check email, play games, take photos and videos in a variety of conditions, navigate around town, and do all the things most people do with their phones.

oneplus 3 benchmarks battery

We run a suite of benchmarks, but what matters most is the overall experience.

Of course, we also run extensive benchmarks: 3DMark (both Ice Storm Unlimited and Sling Shot), PCMark, GFXBench, AnTuTu, Geekbench, and Vellamo. We run all our tests with the phone set up the way it would be out of the box, without disabling any pre-installed apps or services. We do, however, make efforts to ensure benchmarks are not interrupted by notifications, and that background downloads aren’t taking place. We may not report results from all of these tests (real-world everyday performance is far more important than benchmarks), but we do share the most interesting results.

Before running each benchmark, we make sure the phone is charged to 100 percent, plugged in, and left to cool off. Phones can sometimes run slower as their batteries get low, and charging the phone can make it hot and cause the SoC to slow down. So we do our best to make sure every test starts with the phone topped off and at room temperature.

When we run battery benchmarks (PCMark and Geekbench), we calibrate the display to 200 nits and disable all auto-brightness and screen-dimming features. Display brightness plays a major role in draining your battery, and we want to create a level playing field. Of course, we also keep a close eye on how long the battery lasts in our everyday use, including screen-on time, standby time, and even how fast the battery charges with the included charger.

The best phones that aren’t the best

Is there a phone you’re interested in, but don’t see it recommended as one of our top picks? That’s fine—different users have different needs and preferences. Maybe another model is the best one for you. Take a look at our latest top reviews to see what else is out there.

At a Glance
  • Nokia 6.1

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon