Whether you're on the hunt for a budget, mid-range or premium handset, we've selected a smartphone for you.
Reviews in this Group Test
It's always hard to know when to jump on the technology treadmill, and harder still with smartphones. They’re upgraded every year, and assuming you go with the standard two-year contract lifespan, you're likely to spend at least half of that time looking enviously on at the latest phones and wondering why your pride-and-joy from 12 months ago isn't as magical as it seemed then.
The upside is when you’re ready for your next upgrade – when your contract is expiring or if you’re outright buyer – then there’s always a great choice available.
But which one to choose? To help you buy your next handset, we’ve selected the best premium, mid-range and budget smartphones currently available, complete with links to full reviews and a buyer’s guide on what the specifications mean and what to look for.
First, here’s a comparison table with pricing and key specs. We’ve also include the key performance and battery life results from our testing and, where available, the widely recognised DxOMark score of the rear camera.
Best smartphones at a glance
|Pricing (outright; best price 2GB+ plan)||Screen||Storage||Geekbench 4 multi-core benchmark score||Video-rundown battery life test||DxOMark score||Operating system|
|Samsung Galaxy S8||$999; $64 per month (Virgin)||5.8in 2560 x 1440 pixels||64GB, microSD||6629||16hrs 45mins||88||Android 7.0|
|Samsung Galaxy S8+||$1,149; $70 per month (Virgin)||6.2in 2560 x 1440||64GB, microSD||6598||20hrs 33mins||-||Android 7.0|
|Samsung Galaxy Note 8||$1,399; $80 per month (Virgin)||6.3in 2960 x 1440||64GB, microSD||6,614||13hrs 38mins||94||Android 7.1|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge||$700; $59 per month (Virgin)||5.5in 2560 x 1440||32GB, microSD||5295||18hrs 42mins||88||Android 7.0|
|Apple iPhone X||From $1,579; $92 per month (Virgin)||5.8in 2436 x 1125||64GB or 256GB, no microSD||10,390||9hrs 22mins||97||iOS 11|
|Apple iPhone 8 Plus||From $1,229; $75 per month (Virgin)||5.5in 1920 x 1080||64GB or 256GB, no microSD||10,517||13hrs 54mins||94||iOS 11|
|Apple iPhone 8||From $1,079; $69 per month (Virgin)||4.7in 1334 x 750||64GB or 256GB, no microSD||10,118||-||92||iOS 11|
|Apple iPhone 7||From $849; $64 per month (Virgin)||4.7in 1334 x 750||32GB or 128GB, no microSD||5652||13hrs 2mins||85||iOS 10|
|Google Pixel 2||From $1,079; $79 per month (Telstra)||5.0in 1920 x 1080||64GB or 128GB, no microSD||6,303||14hrs 17mins||98||Android 8.0|
|Google Pixel 2 XL||From $1,399; $101 per month (Telstra)||6.0in 2880 x 1440||64GB or 128GB, no microSD||6,263||16hrs 23mins||-||Android 8.0|
|HTC U11||$999; $65 per month (Optus)||5.5in 2560 x 1440||64GB, microSD||6481||13hrs 18mins||90||Android 7.0|
|Apple iPhone SE||From $549; $40 per month (Virgin)||4in 640 x 1,136||32GB or 128GB, no microSD||4444||16hrs 46mins||-||iOS 10|
|Nokia 8||$899; $59.47 per month (Vodafone)||5.3in 2560 x 1440||64GB, microSD||6540||18hrs 46mins||68||Android 7.0|
|Sony Xperia XZ||$700; $80 per month (Telstra)||5.2in 1920 × 1080||32GB, microSD||3326||14hrs 32mins||n/a||Android 7.0|
|Motorola Moto Z2 Play||$699||5.5in 1920 x 1080||64GB, microSD||4620||19hrs 33mins||-||Android 7.0|
|Samsung A5||$599; $40 per month (Virgin)||5.2in 1920 x 1080||32GB; microSD||4054||22hrs 5mins||-||Android 6.0.1|
|Motorola G5S Plus||$429||5.5in 1920 x 1080||32GB; microSD||4265||14hrs 51mins||-||Android 7.1|
|Motorola G5S||$349||5.2in 1920 x 1080||32GB; microSD||2303||12hrs 12mins||-||Android 7.1|
Higher is better with all the scores.
Next: Best flagship smartphones
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
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
The Galaxy S7 Edge is no longer Samsung’s top dog, but with a retail price of around $700 now, it could be your chance to pick up what’s undeniably still a premium smartphone.
The S7 Edge is still a great looking phone and a top performer. The camera module is essentially the same as the Galaxy S8, too, and although snaps look a little better in the new model, the S7 Edge still has one of the better phone cameras around.
It represents a big upgrade from the S6 Edge, too – its camera, performance and battery life are superior, and the return of storage expansion and water-proofing are a big bonus.
The Galaxy S7 Edge is still available on contract, from $59 per month for 2GB of data (from Virgin). But at its discounted outright price, it’s now feasible to buy a premium phone up-front and enjoy a cheaper (and more flexible) BYO plan.
The standard Galaxy S7 is cheaper again, at around $650 outright or $50 per month on Virgin’s 2GB plan. But the S7 Edge’s larger (5.5in) curved-edge screen, longer battery life and better styling are worth the extra $50 in our view.
Apple iPhone 7
Buying a previous-generation model can be a good way to pick up a premium smartphone at a discount, and Apple now makes this possible with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.
The key is to ensure the compromises involved with buying the older model don’t outweigh the cost savings. And for many people, that won’t be the case with the iPhone 7, which is now selling for $849 (with 32GB of storage) or on contract from $64 per month for 2GB of data (from Virgin).
We’ve covered the iPhone 8’s enhancements on the previous page, but essentially, the iPhone 7 is not far off matching the latest model – and it's certainly a significant upgrade from an iPhone 6s or earlier, offering better performance, battery life and camera (though remember, this was Apple’s first smartphone without a headphone jack).
If a 4.7in screen is too small for you, the 5.5in iPhone 7 Plus still costs over $1,000 unfortunately, making it harder to justify the compromises from the iPhone 8 Plus.
The Nokia brand made a comeback last year, with a range of new Android smartphones now made by HMD Global, a relatively new Finnish company. The Nokia 8 is the company’s premium handset, but priced at $899, it squeezes in at the upper end of the mid-range market.
That’s good value for the hardware on offer – including Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 835 processor, 64GB storage (with microSD), and 5.3in, Quad High Definition screen.
None of this is all that new or exciting, but the Nokia 8 does nothing badly and, indeed, some things extremely well. It’s very nearly as quick as the mighty Galaxy S8, for example, and boasts even better battery life.
If there’s a weakness, low-light photos aren’t up with the very best smartphones, although you certainly couldn’t call the 13MP dual-sensor camera deficient. And on the upside, the Nokia 8 runs stock Android, and it has an appealing simplicity to its styling.
If you can’t stretch to $899 for an outright purchase, the Nokia 8 is available from Vodafone from $59.47 per month (which includes a month-to-month 6GB plan plus handset repayments for 36 months).
Motorola Moto Z2 Play
The ability to add components to a smartphone seems logical but the fact is no-one has done it with any great success – apart from Motorola with its Moto Z series. Its snap-on attachments are far more user-friendly than previous attempts at modular smartphones, and there’s a good selection of ‘Moto Mods’, ranging from a DSLR camera module with 10x optical zoom to a power pack for extra battery life.
The latest in the range, the Moto Z2 Play, is a great mid-range phone in own right, with super stamina, solid performance, 64GB of storage, a 5.5in Full HD screen, plenty of features and a good camera. Throw in its expandability with its Moto Mods, and you have very versatile device.
Unfortunately, like all Motorola phones, you can’t get the Moto Z2 Play on a plan in Australia. It’s only available as an outright purchase for $699 (although Officeworks currently has it discounted for under $600).
Still, buying outright has its advantages, such as cheaper monthly mobile bills and shorter BYO contracts. And while you may be tempted to buy a cheaper phone outright, the Moto Z2 Play is great value, offering a lot of phone for the money.
Apple iPhone SE
If you're one of the many people still walking around with a battered old iPhone – or one of the many standing strong against the tyranny of giant-sized phones – then the iPhone SE could be just what you need. Apple has delivered your pint-sized saviour by taking the shell of an iPhone 5s and filling it with all the best bits of an iPhone 6s.
That puts it two generations behind the latest iPhone, but you’re still getting a high-quality smartphone for just $549 (for the 32GB version) – or $40 per month for a 2GB plan (from Virgin). For that money, you get a fast handset that will fit in the tightest of jeans pockets, and which snaps great-quality 12-megapixel photos.
Of course, the 4in screen is tiny by today’s standards, which means web pages and the like are far more cramped than on larger handsets – but it’s a sharp, high-quality display and many people will be willing to suffer such minor inconveniences in the name of compactness.
There are some downgrades compared to the larger iPhones, but despite its age, the iPhone SE remains one of the best compact smartphones out there. Oh, and did we mention that the battery life is great? Well, it is.
Samsung Galaxy A5
Samsung’s 2017 version of the Galaxy A5 has a distinctly premium design, look and feel – yet it costs under $600 outright or from $40 per month for a 3GB plan (from Virgin).
The A5 offers some high-end features, including IP68-rated water resistance. It’s also relatively quick – in fact, it came in not far behind the LG G6 in our tests – and its battery life is outstanding.
The one fly in the ointment is that the phone doesn’t come with Android 7 Nougat out of the box, which is mildly disappointing, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that the Samsung Galaxy A5 is a great mid-range phone.
Next: Best budget smartphones
Moto G5S and G5S Plus
Motorola’s Moto G series has been the gold standard for budget phones for a number of years, and after a blip last year with the Moto G5, the company is back on top with the Moto G5S and G5S Plus.
The screens of both handsets are bigger and better than their predecessors, and the stylish new unibody casing makes them look and feel like premium smartphones. The cameras have been improved, and they have some quite high-end features such as fingerprint reader, fast charging and NFC for contactless payments via Android Pay.
The Moto G5S is more affordable at $349, but the $429 G5S Plus is worth the extra in our opinion. It offers a 5.5in Full HD screen (compared to the G5S’s 5.2in), along with a significantly faster processor and larger battery.
Indeed, the 5S Plus’ only real weakness is its slightly uneven and laggy camera. Otherwise, it’s the most desirable Moto G handset we’ve seen in a long time. Of course, performance, battery life and display quality aren’t up there with the best smartphones, but they’re good enough that we’d be happy to own this phone.
It’s certainly a big step up from the cheap, plasticky handsets that occupy the bottom end of the Android market.
Other budget phones
If you’re looking for something even cheaper – well, we’d recommend stretching to at least a Motorola Moto G5S if you can, but if you can’t, there are some other reasonable options.
Nokia 3: If you want a budget Android smartphone that doesn’t look cheap, the Nokia 3 could be for you. Don’t expect miracles from its performance, battery life and camera – but for $249 (or under $200 if you shop around), you won’t find much better. See full review.
Samsung Galaxy J3: It’s getting a bit old now, so again, don’t expect miracles from the Galaxy J3. But now selling for under $200, the J3 is still one of better-value entry-level phones available, with a very good screen for the price. See full review.
Nokia 3310: Nokia’s blast from the past adds some mod cons – such as a 2MP camera and full-colour display – to its original design. As long as you remember it’s a feature phone – without the smartphone features we now take for granted – it’s very good value for under $90. See full review.
Next: Smartphone buyer’s guide
Smartphone buyer's guide
The first question to tackle is which platform to buy into. Now that BlackBerry left the phone game, and Windows Phone is winding down, your choice comes down to Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android.
iOS means iPhones, and you probably already know whether or not you want an iPhone. They’re great devices, with a wealth of apps and games on offer, but they're not exactly cheap – although the $549 iPhone SE is pretty affordable compared to most flagship phones. That said, for anyone looking to buy a high-end handset, Apple's iPhones deserve a place on the shortlist.
If you don’t want an iPhone, then Android handsets are available in a number of shapes, sizes and prices. Most phones use Android now and – and these days it offers a good balance of apps, games and general performance.
One downside with Android is that you’re not guaranteed of getting the latest version when buying a new phone. In fact, budget phones often come with an older version. In some cases, the phone manufacturer will upgrade the OS later, but that’s very hit-or-miss.
Google’s OS constantly improving, so it’s well worth checking that the phone has the latest version (currently Android 8.0 or “Oreo”) or else that there’s at least a scheduled timeframe for an upgrade.
What size phone is best?
Once you’ve made your choice of platform, you need to pick a size. In part this will be determined by how much you want to spend, but as long as you’re willing to fork out more than $300, there's quite a range available to you.
Most of mid-range or high-end phones are quite large these days – and 5.5in screens are now commonplace. If you’re not used to a bigger phone, we recommend trying one out in a shop before buying. Most people can generally get accustomed to phones up to 5in in screen size, but anything larger may a bit of a struggle for people with smaller hands.
That said, Samsung and LG have changed the game to some extent, by adding height, rather than width to the screen size, and reducing the surrounding bezels of their latest flagship phones. This ensures they remain easy to hold in one hand. The Samsung Galaxy S8, for example, has a stunning 5.8in display yet it’s only 3g heavier than the S7.
On the other hand, smaller phones like the 4in iPhone SE still have their benefits – they’re more lightweight and ‘pocketable’, and the smaller screens don’t drain the battery as quickly.
For any phones of 5in or larger, we recommend a 1080p screen, which will get you sharp images. Many manufacturers are squeezing Quad HD screens with 1,440 x 2,560 pixels into their larger-screened phones, and some are beginning to move into the realms of 4K – but despite the hype, you'll likely struggle to tell the difference between 1080p and Quad HD at these sorts of screen sizes.
Processor, RAM and storage
You need to look beyond the face value of phone specs when looking at a smartphone’s processor too. A great many phones are “quad-core” these days, even ones that cost well under $300. A closer look is needed to find out how powerful they really are.
The most common processor type in current phones are Qualcomm’s Snapdragon models, and they come in several families. There are the Snapdragon 800, 600, 400 and 200 models.
Generally speaking, the larger the number, the more powerful the chip in question – the Snapdragon 200 is the low-end chip, while the 400 and 600 series cover the budget to mid-range, and the 800 is reserved for the high-end devices.
For less-hardcore users, the only real sacrifices are seen in opting for a true low-end processor, as mid-range chipsets such as the Snapdragon 400 and 600 are capable of doing just about anything Android has to offer. You might lose out for gaming performance and overall slickness, but you're still going to get a usable phone.
There are other processor families too, notably Apple’s A-series, Samsung’s Exynos processors and Huawei’s Kirin chips. The latest versions of these chips – Apple’s A11, the Exynos 8895 and Kirin 960 – are all excellent performers.
RAM can be just as important as the processor. This is the memory that keeps the operating system running smoothly, and a lack of it is the most common cause of lag – particularly with Android. We recommend phones with at least 2GB of RAM. Some phones still use 1GB, but it’s not generally enough to keep a phone running smoothly. In most cases, the more RAM, the better.
Similarly, you can never have too much built-in storage – it comes down to how much you’re willing to pay. That said, most Android phones have an advantage over the iPhone in that they offer expandable storage via a microSD slot.
The one other bit of hardware that’s important to consider is the camera. If you’re looking at a phone costing $500 or more, you’re almost guaranteed a reasonably good camera, but if you’re a budget buyer then you'll find there are compromises with most models.
Low-end phones often leave out the front camera and the flash. Some don’t even have autofocus. If a phone leaves out any such features, it cuts hugely into the photographic flexibility of a smartphone.
At the higher end of the scale, look out for optical image stabilisation. This moves the lens and/or sensor to compensate for the effect of shaky hands. It allows the phone to use longer exposures, enabling more light onto the sensor, which leads to cleaner, less noisy photos when shooting in low light.
Another thing that will help you capture better photographs in difficult conditions is a larger aperture. This is the ‘F-number’ you'll see on the spec sheet; the lower the number, the better.
It's also worth looking out for advanced, secondary-focus systems. Samsung, Apple and LG all use phase-detect systems that allow faster, more accurate focusing than most phones, which rely on contrast detect autofocus.
Features and budget
Beyond the rear camera, there are several features that are worth looking for. There’s the selfie camera too, of course, as well as water resistance (look for an IP67 rating or higher), NFC connectivity (for contactless payments with Apple Pay or Android Pay), fast (battery) charging technology, and software extras such as intelligent assistants.
Finally, there’s the price. Decent smartphones start at around $300, but if you can extend it to $400 you can get a good one like the Motorola Moto G5S Plus.
There’s a very good case for phones in the ‘sweet spot’ between $500 and $900 outright. These mid-range phones offer most of the benefits of a high-end handset, while being affordable enough to buy outright and enjoy a lower-priced monthly BYO plan. Alternatively, these are the phones you’ll typically get on sub-$50 per month contract.
If you want a no-compromise phone, however, you’ll have to pay $1,000 or more outright – or at least $60 per month for a contract.
This feature includes content from the best smartphones of 2017 article that originally appeared at alphr.com.