Best Smartphone Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best phones you can buy in 2020.
Want the best phone to play music and movies on? One with a kick-ass screen and inspiring sound quality? Of course you do. And you've come to the right place.
We know you can do a whole heap of things with even best cheap phones nowadays, but for our reviews we focus first and foremost on sound quality and picture performance. So while we of course test the battery, interface, usability, design and features, we will give extra weight to a smartphone that delivers great audio and video.
So no matter if you're an Android or iOS loyal, whether you're eyeing up a flagship phone such as the iPhone 11, Pixel 4 or Samsung Galaxy 10+ , or more affordable options like the OnePlus 7T and the Moto G6, we've got you covered with the very best smartphones on the market...
How we choose the best smartphones
Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year – a handful of which are smartphones from the likes of Apple, Samsung, Google, LG, OnePlus and Huawei. So how do we come to our review verdicts? And why can you trust them?
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Bath, where our team of expert reviewers do all our in-house testing. This gives us complete control over the review process, ensuring consistency.
We spend time with the phones; we live with them, testing every feature and spec exhaustively, from screens to cameras, sound quality to battery life. We focus particularly on audio and video performance, so if you spend a lot of time listening to music or watching videos, you should read on before making that all-important buying decision.
All products are tested in comparison with rival products in the same category, and all review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than a single reviewer, again helping to ensure consistency and avoid individual subjectivity.
The What Hi-Fi? team has more than 100 years experience of reviewing, testing and writing about consumer electronics.
From all of our reviews, we choose the products to feature in our Best Buys, such as this one. That's why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended below, or on any other Best Buy pages, you can rest assured you're getting a What Hi-Fi?-approved product.
It’s that old feeling of déjà vu. Apple’s 2019 iPhone launch has a lot in common with its previous ventures – two flagship models, joined by a more colourful model with a slightly inferior camera, but better battery life.
It's true that the iPhone 11 loses in some areas against the two 11 Pros, including screen technology, resolution, camera quality and battery life, but the iPhone 11 is, in its own right, a feature-rich phone at a markedly more affordable price. And after all, who doesn’t want a powerful, yet affordable iPhone?
The iPhone 11 delivers a great point-and-shoot camera (which is an improvement on the XR), runs off the same processor as the premium Pro and Pro Max and delivers solid battery life. Add the fact it produces a wonderfully rounded picture with sensational sound and the iPhone 11 is a superb all-rounder. If you want value for money combined with a good breadth of ability, it’s actually a bit of a no brainer.
Read the full iPhone 11 review
OnePlus may be slowly increasing the asking price of its handsets, but it’s packing in more tech too and rapidly closing the gap between mid-market phones and their flagship equivalents at twice the price.
Like the 7 Pro before (and here, below) it, the 7T is a great value mid-market marvel with a great camera and screen, plus features you wouldn't expect on a handset of this price such as ultra-fast charging and an in-screen fingerprint scanner – and it certainly deserves consideration. Sadly there's no 3.5mm headphone jack, but that's really the only bugbear we have with it.
This is another hugely accomplished mid-market Android phone from the in-form Chinese brand.
Read our full OnePlus 7T review
There is no denying that the iPhone 11 Pro is a brilliant phone – possibly the best, and definitely the most powerful, there has ever been. If you’re lucky enough to have the budget, we heartily recommend that you buy one, particularly if you’re a keen photographer and/or watch a lot of movies and TV shows on your phone.
But, while it’s absolutely a step up from the standard iPhone 11 in terms of picture and sound, it’s hard to justify the huge extra expense. The iPhone 11 will be the better, more sensible choice for most, but if you simply must have the best and you’re prepared to pay for it, the iPhone 11 Pro could be the one for you.
Read the full iPhone 11 Pro review
While significantly cheaper than both its XS and XS Max siblings, the XR delivers a huge chunk of what the pricier models offer. The user experience is virtually identical, as is the processing power on offer. No, the camera isn’t quite as good as its siblings and picture quality can be bettered, but you’ll need to pay more upfront.
Not only does the XR boast better battery life, you also have the option of a 128GB version, which should cater for most people, and it’s a size that isn’t available for the XS or XS Max. It not only stacks up well against its family members, it displays a level of musicality that rivals brands can only dream of. A smart choice for those who want a bite of the Apple for a relatively affordable price.
Read our full Apple iPhone XR review
The 10th anniversary of the Samsung Galaxy range has been marked with the launch of not one, but three, new Samsung Galaxy S10 phones. The Galaxy S10+ is the biggest, most powerful and the most expensive. It comes complete with a 6.4in screen, a new "Infinity-O" OLED display, HDR10+ video support, Dolby Atmos audio, an Ultrasonic Fingerprint sensor underneath the front of the screen, a triple rear camera lens, a hefty 4100 mAh battery, the option of a 1TB memory, a microSD card slot – and even a trusty 3.5mm headphone jack.
It’s not perfect – the biometric sensor, edge design and that Bixby button all need some fine-tuning – but if you’re in the market for a flagship Android phone with a slim but big-screen design, and value audio and video quality, this really should be at the top of your wishlist.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S10+ review
Got a bit more cash to splash? For anyone who uses a smartphone as a mobile cinema screen, the boast of having the ‘biggest display ever on an iPhone’, and of the OLED kind, immediately makes the iPhone XS Max a source of serious excitement.
The idea of a scaled-up iPhone X was always appealing and, with 2018 being one of Apple’s generally small-step ‘s’ years, it came as a pleasant surprise that the iPhone XS Max managed to deliver a serious step up in performance. Pictures on the OLED screen are impressively detailed, with subtle colours and excellent motion control. It’s a fabulous picture.
With music, the XS Max is just a little clearer, more dynamic and punchier than any rival out there, improving on the iPhone X, which was already a class-leader. All told, the iPhone XS Max is comfortably the best smartphone out there for movie and music lovers.
Read our full iPhone XS Max review
If you're an Android fan who can't afford to splash out four figures for a smartphone, OnePlus' 2019 7 Pro could be the phone for your pocket. Apart from a few minor issues, such as the absence of the 3.5mm headphone jack and the lack of waterproofing, the 7 Pro is a force to be reckoned with.
With an appealing screen, detailed, lively sound and a cracking camera, as well as a cool in-screen fingerprint scanner and pop-up selfie camera module, there's plenty to like here.
The 7 Pro has since been usurped by the slightly modified 7T Pro (OnePlus has a tendency to launch new phones every six months), but if you're on a tight budget this older phone is very attractively priced right now.
Read the full OnePlus 7 Pro review
A substantially improved camera and small upgrades across the board all add up to a better phone than Google has produced in previous years, albeit it one that won't necessarily cause Pixel 3 owners to rush out and upgrade.
A truly excellent, market-competitive camera carries it through, strengthening Google’s reputation for producing some of the best camera phones out there. And for some, the new air-based gestures will only enhance what’s always been a seamless, Android experience. Indeed, this is the phone fro Android purists. Just beware that it isn't hugely competitive in the audio or battery departments.
Read our full Google Pixel 4 review
Read our full Google Pixel 4 XL review
This is a low-cost phone with better-than-budget performance. Motorola’s G-series smartphones have always been good value for money - and the new G6 is no exception. Features aren't missing either, there’s a fingerprint scanner, a headphone jack and a USB-C port for charging the 3000mAh battery.
A Snapdragon 1.8GHz octa-core processor, combined with the Android Oreo 8.0 operating system, keeps this phone running pretty smoothly. A good picture and decent sound, considering the price, make this an ideal choice for anyone wanting a cheap phone that does the basics well.
Read the full Moto G6 review
It was always going to be hard to follow the launch of the original ‘X’, a phone that introduced new tech and features to an Apple smartphone for the first time, including an OLED display and Face ID. Yet the iPhone XS still manages to spring a few surprises, especially where its AV performance is concerned. More processing power, increased efficiency and improved camera quality are all positive points, but it’s the boost in both picture and sound quality that really cement this iPhone upgrade.
The iPhone XS is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished mobile phones out there.
Read our full iPhone XS review
While it's not the newest flagship Pixel anymore thanks to the arrival of the Pixel 4 series (above), this is still a great Android handset – especially for the now-reduced price.
The Pixel 3 XL isn’t revolutionary, nor does it offer a giant leap forward from its predecessor. But if you want a big-screen Android phone for taking photos, watching videos and everything else you can do with your phone, there might not be a better option. Our only gripe comes with the audio quality, which means if you do want the optimum music performance into the bargain, there are better options around.
Read our full Google Pixel 3 XL review
It won’t suit everyone, but the improved Note 9 is one of Samsung’s best. Bigger screen, bigger storage, bigger battery, bigger price tag. Though the Note borrows heavily from the excellent Galaxy S9+, it improves the experience by adding perks of its own beyond just size.
The screen delivers sharp, punchy colours, deep blacks and crisp edges. It's silky smooth in use, fast and has a clean interface. It can play hi-res audio and the sound quality overall is full-bodied and detailed. The S-Pen stylus now comes with Bluetooth, giving it some neat functions such as opening the camera app, and it feels more responsive. A huge battery and plenty of storage capacity is a bonus, too.
If you like big, powerful phones, you'll love the Note 9, even if the just-announced Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ has stolen some of its thunder.
Read the full Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review