The Best Smartphones – The New York Times

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We’re currently testing and evaluating Apple’s new iPhone 14 lineup.
There’s no one smartphone that is best for everyone, but we’ve spent hundreds of hours testing scores of phones so that you can find the best one for you. The phone you buy will depend on your budget, your wireless carrier, and which of the major smartphone platforms—Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android—you’re already invested in. But whether you want a top-of-the-line phone or something more affordable, we have recommendations for iPhone and Android, and all of our picks are available for all the major US carriers.
The iPhone 13 has a fantastic two-lens camera that can use Night Mode for better low-light photos, a fast iPhone processor, long battery life, and a large edge-to-edge OLED screen.
Who it’s for: Someone who wants an iPhone and values getting the latest screen, camera, and processor so that it will look and feel good for years.
Why we like it: Apple’s iPhone 13 is as fast as any other iPhone, including the more-expensive Pro models, and the battery will get almost anyone through a full day on a single charge. The camera has two lenses and yields excellent photos, plus it offers better low-light performance than previous iPhone cameras thanks to Night Mode, a feature the iPhone SE lacks.
The iPhone 13 has the same 6.1-inch screen size as the iPhone 12, as well as the same body height and width. Much like the iPhone 4 and 5, the edges are squared off, and we find it a lot easier to grip the iPhone 13 even when the phone isn’t in a case. The greater water resistance—improved to 6 meters for this version—means it’s likely to survive without issue if you spill something on it or drop it in the sink, a welcome feature for those prone to accidents.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: If you already had trouble holding the iPhone 6-era design or fitting it into small pockets, the iPhone 13's large screen makes things a little worse, and you should probably wait for the iPhone 13 mini. We also don’t think you should buy this (or any) phone for the 5G cellular networking. While 5G is theoretically faster than 4G LTE in optimal situations, it’s still a nascent technology with plenty of caveats. Most people aren’t going to notice immediate speed boosts, and though 5G may become more valuable as carriers build up their networks, it’s not a necessary feature at this point.
To see if the iPhone 13 is right for you, read our full guide to which iPhone you should get.
The iPhone SE has a faster processor than you might expect in such a comparatively inexpensive phone, as well as a good camera—and it costs half the price of the iPhone 13. Its low price, small size, and Touch ID fingerprint reader make it an easy upgrade for people who have older iPhones or for anyone wanting to spend less, but its battery doesn’t last as long.
Who it’s for: Those who prefer smaller screens, want to spend less on a phone, or would rather have a fingerprint reader than Face ID.
Why we like it: The iPhone SE (2nd generation) brings modern features and hardware to Apple’s smallest and least expensive phone—it has a fast processor so apps feel snappy, as well as a good camera, water resistance, wireless charging, and other modern features. It costs less than half of what an iPhone 13 Pro does, and the 128 GB storage upgrade costs only $50 more than the base 64 GB model.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The iPhone SE’s smaller screen may feel cramped, especially if you’ve been using an edge-to-edge iPhone X–style phone. Low-light photos simply don’t look as good as those shot on the iPhone 13 because there’s no Night Mode. And the iPhone SE’s battery isn’t the longest lasting; if you’re not a heavy user, it should survive throughout the day without your having to recharge it, but otherwise you may want to keep a charger or wireless charging pad handy.
If the iPhone 13 or the iPhone SE doesn’t sound right for you, or if you’d just like to know more about the full range of iPhones that Apple currently sells, read our full guide to which iPhone you should get.
The best version of Android, with guaranteed updates through August 2024 (plus a fantastic camera), make the Pixel 5a 5G better than phones that cost several times as much.
Who it’s for: People who want a fast, secure Android phone with the best camera and guaranteed software updates, but don’t want to spend a thousand dollars.
Why we like it: The Google Pixel 5a 5G offers the high-quality software and cameras that have made all of Google’s Pixel phones great, and it costs just $450. This phone comes with Google’s clean, responsive version of Android 11, and it’s guaranteed to get updates through summer 2024. The Pixel 5a has a dual-camera setup that takes better photos than every non-Pixel phone we’ve tested, aside from the much more expensive Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G.
Though it has only two camera lenses, Google's amazing photo processing is borderline magical. The AI-powered digital zoom on the Pixel 5a is almost as good as the optical zoom on phones with dedicated telephoto lenses, too. There’s also Night Sight, which uses long exposures to take clear photos with very little light.
The Pixel 5a has a 6.34-inch 1080p OLED screen, and it’s much nicer than the screens you usually see on phones in this price range. It’s bright enough for outdoor use, and it offers excellent color accuracy. The Pixel 5a has almost no bezels around its display, and a “hole-punch” selfie camera sits in the upper-left corner of the screen, saving more space than the upper bezels or “notched out” cameras on other phones. The plastic-coated body is a bit drab and prone to showing oils from your skin, but it’s nothing a nice case can’t fix.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Pixel 5a supports only a 60 Hz refresh rate, meaning animations on its display are noticeably less smooth than on phones that support 120 Hz. It also doesn’t support wireless charging, though it can last two days on a single charge even with heavy usage, and probably up to three days with light use.
While the Pixel 5a is comfortable to hold, the soft-touch plastic back picks up oils from your hand and is harder to clean than glass. We also worry how it will hold up over time: The coating could easily chip when dropped.
To read more about the Pixel 5a and other Android phones we’ve tested, read our full guide to the best Android phones.
The 6.2-inch OLED screen offers vibrant colors, deep blacks, and a high refresh rate that makes animations smoother. The Galaxy S21 has one of the fastest processors available and will get four years of guaranteed OS updates, but Samsung’s Android software isn’t as good as Google’s version.
Who it’s for: People who want a huge phone that doesn’t cost $1,000 or more.
Why we like it: The Samsung Galaxy S21 is one of the fastest phones you can buy. Its big screen is a 1080p OLED panel capable of producing dark blacks that look good when you’re viewing photos and videos, and the display’s 120 Hz refresh rate makes scrolling and navigating apps exceptionally smooth. The phone also includes water resistance and wireless charging—features that even the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G don’t have.
On the back, the S21 has three cameras: a standard lens, a wide-angle lens, and a telephoto lens. Photos we took with the standard lens weren’t quite as good as pictures from the Google Pixel 4a or the more-expensive Galaxy S21 Ultra, and Samsung’s image processing is less impressive on low-light photography than what we’ve seen from some of our top picks. Wherever you buy the Galaxy S21, it will support every 5G technology in use across all US carriers (but keep in mind that buying from a carrier means your phone will be locked to that network for at least a few months).
Flaws but not dealbreakers:The Galaxy S21’s operating system, One UI, is more cluttered and less intuitive than Google’s Pixel version of Android or OnePlus’s Oxygen OS, and Samsung can be slow to release major OS updates.
For more information on the Samsung Galaxy S21, read our full guide to the best Android phones.
The Nord N200 5G looks and performs like a much more expensive phone, and it runs OnePlus’s excellent version of Android 11.
Who it’s for: People on a budget who still want a phone that does more than the bare minimum.
Why we like it: Although the OnePlus Nord N200 5G costs less than half the price of a modern high-end smartphone, it resembles a more expensive phone in its screen, performance, and long battery life. The Nord N200 includes a side-mounted fingerprint sensor and a modified version of Android, called Oxygen OS, that’s clean and easy to use. It also uses the Snapdragon 480, a new processor that provides smooth performance and enough graphical capability for casual gaming. Despite the phone’s responsiveness in other respects, the camera app is slow and prone to stuttering compared with the rest of the software.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Nord N200 is available with 4G LTE support through any carrier, but its 5G connectivity is limited to T-Mobile. Its camera is also mediocre, which is unsurprising for a phone at this price. In most lighting conditions it struggles to capture motion, and the quality drops tremendously the dimmer the conditions get. If you want a budget Android phone with a better camera, consider the Pixel 4a.
For more information on the OnePlus Nord N200 5G, read our full guide to the best budget Android phones.
The Samsung Galaxy A02s offers much better performance than other ultra-budget phones, and it works on all cellular networks.
May be out of stock
Why we like it: The Samsung Galaxy A02s is the best phone available right now for people on a strict budget. It offers acceptable performance, good software, and four years of security-update support. Although its 6.5-inch LCD screen provides a lot of viewable area without making the phone too wide or uncomfortable to hold, it has narrow viewing angles, so the picture can appear washed out if you’re not looking at the screen head-on. We like that the Galaxy A02s includes a USB-C port, rather than the older Micro-USB connection that many ultra-budget phones still use.
The Galaxy A02s is responsive enough in daily use, but it can’t run graphically intensive games or multitask smoothly. However, messaging, web browsing, and simple apps work fine, which is about as much as you can ask for at this price.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Because there’s just 2 GB of RAM on the Galaxy A02s, only a few apps can stay active in the background at once. This makes multitasking slower, since more apps have to restart when you return to them. The phone also lacks support for contactless payments, and its camera isn’t even worth using in dim light. You may be able to get some casual snapshots, but you wouldn’t want to keep any of the photos forever—in our tests, most came out grainy and blurry in all but the most perfect lighting.
For more information on the Samsung Galaxy A02s, read our full guide to the best budget Android phones.
We’re currently testing and evaluating Apple’s new iPhone 14 lineup, and should have more information soon about our recommendations. The iPhone 14 line consists of the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max. The iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro feature a 6.1-inch screen, while the iPhone 14 Plus and iPhone 14 Pro Max will have 6.7-inch screens. Apple claims these phones have longer battery lives, better low-light cameras, and the ability to connect to satellites via a new subscription service that will allow you to make emergency calls from anywhere without internet or cell service.
In early October, Google held an event revealing its new line of Pixel flagship phones, including the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, which start at $599 and $899 respectively, and include better processors, better selfie cams, and the promise of “extreme battery saver” modes. The Pixel 7 Pro also promises an even better main camera, with a widened field of view and a 48 megapixel telephoto camera. We’re currently tesxting these phones and will have more updates soon.
Andrew Cunningham
Andrew Cunningham is a former senior staff writer on Wirecutter's tech team. He has been writing about laptops, phones, routers, and other tech since 2011. Before that he spent five years in IT fixing computers and helping people buy the best tech for their needs. He also co-hosts the book podcast Overdue and the TV podcast Appointment Television.
Nick Guy
Nick Guy is a former senior staff writer covering Apple and accessories at Wirecutter. He has been reviewing iPhones, iPads, and related tech since 2011—and stopped counting after he tested his 1,000th case. It’s impossible for him not to mentally catalog any case he sees. He once had the bright idea to build and burn down a room to test fireproof safes.
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