Reviews in this Group Test
Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is quite simply the best phone we’ve ever used. It’s fast, looks great, has a fantastic camera and impressive battery life.
Its stunning 5.8in screen is substantially bigger than the S7’s, but the new model is only 3g heavier than its predecessor, while still being easy to hold in one hand. It’s done this by adding extra height rather than width to the display and virtually eliminating the bezels.
The S8 has a couple of missteps – the fingerprint scanner is in a silly place that will lead to many a smudged lens, and Bixby feels underdeveloped – but overall, it’s outstanding.
And best of all, Samsung has dropped the price to $999, which is very good value for everything that’s on offer here. There’s plenty of competition among carriers too, with the best 5GB plan a reasonable $64 per month (from Virgin).
The main question many will ask is whether to go the S8 or its larger sibling? The Samsung Galaxy S8+ is essentially the same as the S8, apart from a larger screen and battery. We feel that for many people, the 6.2in Galaxy S8+ is a step too far in terms of size, and it’s more expensive at $1,149 or from $70 for 5GB per month (Virgin).
However, if you value screen size over ‘pocketability’ – and want even longer battery life – the S8+ is a great choice.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus
The iPhone 8 offers a number of improvements over the iPhone 7: The 12MP rear camera now comes with a faster and larger sensor, and it has some great new features in common with its larger siblings – including wireless charging and lightning-quick new A11 Bionic processor.
But while the display has been improved with Apple’s True Tone technology, it’s still only 4.7in. If prefer a compact handset, and you’re upgrading from an iPhone 6s or earlier, it’s certainly your best option. But overall, we’d have to say the iPhone 8 is not a compelling upgrade from an iPhone 7.
Our pick of the new models is the iPhone 8 Plus, which has a number of advantages over the standard iPhone 8 – including a bigger 5.5in screen, excellent dual cameras and better battery life.
Again, it isn’t a big step forward from the iPhone 7 Plus – and there are better smartphones available if you’re prepared to step into the Android world. But if you prefer to stay with iOS, the iPhone 8 Plus is the best option in our view.
Priced from $1,229 (for 64GB, or $1,479 for 256GB), the iPhone 8 Plus isn’t cheap, but it’s more palatable than the very pricey iPhone X. Contracts are more affordable too, starting from $75 per month for 2GB of data (from Virgin).
The iPhone 8 is cheaper again, starting from $1,079 (for 64GB, or $1,329 for 256GB), or $69 per month for the same Virgin plan. However, the iPhone 8 Plus’s advantages make it worth the extra cost in our view.
Apple iPhone X
The iPhone X is unlike anything Apple has released before. In fact, the high-end smartphone doesn’t feel like an iPhone at all, and that’s not a criticism. It feels luxurious, sturdy and as expensive as its high price tag.
In some ways it’s very similar to the Samsung Galaxy S8 – but the iPhone X subtly adds some of the better Android-style features without compromising the less cluttered iOS environment.
The iPhone X also offers a superb edge-to-edge 5.8in screen, incredible performance, an outstanding camera and innovative facial recognition. Overall, there are certainly enough new features and enhancements here to make a buyer seriously consider upgrading from the iPhone 7 or earlier – or there would be if it weren’t for two things.
Firstly, its battery life fell well short of the iPhone 8 Plus in our tests. And secondly, there’s the price. Starting at $1,579 for the 64GB model or $1,829 with 256GB, the iPhone X is almost as expensive as a MacBook. It’s pricey on a plan too, with the cheapest 2GB two-year contract (from Virgin) costing $92 per month.
If money is no object and you want Apple’s best ever smartphone, by all means, go for the iPhone X. But for everyone else keen to buy a new iPhone, check out the iPhone 8 Plus first – you’ll be saving plenty of cash and still getting a great handset.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
After the disaster that was the Note 7, Samsung has bounced back in impressive style with the Galaxy Note 8. It’s largely aimed at business users, with powerful multi-tasking capabilities, support for Samsung's robust device management plans, S Pen stylus and useful note-taking features.
These professional-grade capabilities come a decidedly professional-grade price, although Samsung has dropped the price to $1,399 – or from $80 per month for 2GB contact (from Virgin).
Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ are both cheaper, and overall, we feel that most people will be better off with one of those handsets. In most ways, the Note 8 is indistinguishable from the Galaxy S8+. The design is near-identical, the performance is neck-and-neck, and the screen is just as impressive. The Galaxy S8 is also much the same, apart from the display – which is still a generous 5.8in.
Then there’s the Note 8’s battery life, which is reasonable and likely to last more than a full day for most users – but it falls well short of the S8 and S8+.
On the upside, the Note 8 has a few things you don’t get with its siblings, including its S Pen and professional-grade capabilities, along with a dual-lens camera – a first for Samsung, and one that has paid off with a truly excellent snapper.
HTC has spent the last couple of years in the smartphone doldrums, but this year's flagship – the HTC U11 – is a triumph. The new, curvaceous glass design and two-tone colour finishes look sublime, and it couples its supermodel looks with incredibly fast performance, a camera that very nearly matches the Google Pixel phones for quality in all conditions, and solid battery life that will comfortably get you through a day of use ... and a little bit more.
If you prefer your smartphones to have the shorter squatter profile of a 16:9 screen instead of the tall, thin Samsung Galaxy S8, this is the phone for you.
The HTC U11 has a unique feature too: you can squeeze the bottom half of the phone to launch apps and carry out actions, even from the lockscreen. HTC calls this Edge Sense and, although we feel it’s something of a gimmick, it’s potentially useful – or you can choose to ignore it.
The other good news about the U11 is its price. At $999 and with 1GB plans starting at $59 (from Optus), it’s the cheapest of the latest flagship phones.
Google Pixel 2
Google’s original Pixels set a new standard in the Android smartphones when they launched in 2016 – and while its second-generation handsets aren’t as ground-breaking, they’re still very good smartphones.
The Pixel 2 XL is one of the best pure Android phones on the market, with a smarter Google Assistant and a larger (6in) curved screen. Unfortunately, the display of our review unit was a disappointment, with poor viewing angles and dull colours. Hopefully Google has fixed this problem, but we’d recommend closely inspecting the screen of the handset that you intend to buy.
The 5in Google Pixel 2, on the other hand, is an outstanding device. It has the best camera we've seen on any smartphone and is capable of taking phenomenal snaps even in tricky light conditions. We also love its simple interface.
Unlike many of its competitors, it's not loaded with bloatware, and everything is easy to find and just feels right. You’ll also get software updates and the latest versions of Android before anyone else.
However, you’ll pay a premium too – $1,079 with 64GB or $1,229 with 128GB. The Pixel 2 XL is even pricier at $1,399 (64GB) or $1,549 (128GB). Both are Telstra exclusives, with plans starting at $79 per month (for 2GB) for the Pixel 2 or $101 for the Pixel 2 XL.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium
Sony is back with another 4K screen handset, and this one is very good indeed. The problem is that its brilliance is despite the 4K screen rather than because of it.
You don't need a 3,840 x 2,160-pixel resolution on a 5.5in display – your eyes can't tell the difference and it affects battery life, falling well short of the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8 in our tests.
However, the XZ Premium is not quite as silly as the last time Sony pulled this stunt: it's actually an improvement on the regular XZ, whereas the Z5 Premium was not compared to the cheaper Z5. As a result, the XZ Premium offers performance that’s comparable with the best Android handsets, along with an excellent camera.
And best of all, it’s quite reasonably priced for all the hardware on offer – at $999 outright, or on contract from $54 for 2GB of data (from Virgin).
Next: Best mid-range smartphones