The wide range of Android phones on the market is one of the platform's greatest strengths - there's something for everyone. However, with all the choices available, trying to find the best smartphone an be like looking for a needle in a haystack. To help you out, we've compiled a short list of the best Android phones you can buy, from low-end budget devices to expensive flagships.
Samsung Galaxy S9/S9+
Samsung still makes some of the best Android phones around. The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are the company's latest mainstream flagships, released earlier this year. Both devices have a Snapdragon 845 processor (international models have an Exynos CPU), 64-256GB of internal storage, Samsung Pay, wireless charging, fantastic Samsung-made AMOLED screens, IP68 waterproofing, and headphone jacks. You can't take headphone jacks for granted these days.
The main difference between the two models, as you can probably guess, is the screen size. The smaller S9 has a 5.8-inch display, while the larger S9+ has a 6.2-inch screen (both are the same 2960x1440 resolution). The smaller S9 also has less RAM (4GB vs. 6GB), a smaller battery (3,000 mAh vs. 3,500mAh), and only one rear camera instead of two.
In our review of the two phones, David wrote, "The S9 and S9+ are damn good, and I’m giving them our Most Wanted award. They may not be revolutionary, but when you’re at the top of your game, you don’t need to rewrite the rules every year."
The only major downside to Samsung's phones is that you'll be waiting a long time for major Android updates. The Galaxy S8/S8+ in the United States didn't get Android 8.0 Oreo until six months after it was released by Google. Granted, Samsung's flavor of Android has dozens of features not found in the stock version.
The carrier-unlocked Galaxy S9 currently goes for around $670, and the S9+ is around $800 (depending on the retailer). The unlocked phones will work on both GSM (AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.) and CDMA (Verizon, Sprint, etc.) networks.
If you're looking for a good mid-range phone, the Nokia 6.1 is probably the way to go. This is one of the many Nokia-branded Android phones released by HMD Global, and this particular model was released a few months ago in the United States.
For just $270, you get a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS screen, Android 8.1 Oreo (with a Pie update on the way), a Snapdragon 630 processor with 3GB RAM, 32GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot, and a headphone jack. Again, you can't take headphone jacks for granted these days.
The main competition in this segment is the Moto G6, which has a slightly better camera and support for more carriers. However, the G6 has a slower processor and a slippery glass design. Motorola is also much slower with Android updates than Nokia/HMD - last year's Moto G5 is still waiting on an Oreo update in some parts of the world.
In our review, Jordan wrote, "The Nokia 6.1 gets a lot of things right. Not only are its specifications top-notch for the price point, but it's also an Android One device, which really helps to mitigate the update anxiety present in most budget phones (even Motorola's, sadly). It's well-built and gorgeous, too, sporting a very attractive industrial design with just the right amount of flair to make it unique."
The only major downside to the Nokia 6.1 is the carrier support. It only works on GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile, so CDMA networks like Verizon and Sprint are out of the question.
Samsung Galaxy Note9
If you want a no-compromises smartphone with every imaginable feature, the Galaxy Note9 is for you. It has all the features of the Galaxy S9/S9+, but with beefier internals, a larger screen, and the S-Pen for stylus input. It has just about everything you could want in a smartphone, but that comes at a cost - around $1,000, to be exact.
The Note9 is powered by a Snapdragon 845 processor (or an Exynos chip outside North America), with 6GB RAM/128GB storage or 8GB RAM/512GB storage, depending on the model. The display is a 6.4-inch 1440x2960 AMOLED panel. You also get an S-Pen stylus for writing notes, drawing on the screen, and accessing shortcuts. Finally, the 4,000mAh battery should easily last you an entire day.
Other hardware features include Samsung Pay, wireless charging, a microSD card slot, a headphone jack, IP68 water and dust resistance, and dual rear cameras. The phone ships with Android 8.1 Oreo, and a Pie update will likely come in 2019. As with Samsung's other phones, you'll be waiting a while for major Android updates.
In our review, David wrote, "By doubling up on storage and boosting the battery capacity, Samsung has taken what was an attractive proposition with the Galaxy S9+ and made it far harder to resist. Of course, the price you pay is... the price. A thousand dollars is a lot of money. But the Note9 is the best smartphone you can buy right now, because I think that for most people it represents the best all-around smartphone experience."
The carrier-unlocked 128GB Galaxy Note9 currently goes for around $1,000, and the 512GB Note9 is around $1,249.99 (depending on the retailer). The unlocked phones will work on both GSM (AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.) and CDMA (Verizon, Sprint, etc.) networks.
Google Pixel 3/3 XL
After months of rumors, speculation, and a healthy dose of leaks, Google's 2018 flagships are finally out. Both phones have a clean build of Android, excellent cameras, and decent specifications. Unfortunately, they're pricer this year — the small Pixel 3 starts at $799, and the base 3 XL is $899.
Both phones have a Snapdragon 845 processor, 4GB RAM, a 12.2MP rear-facing camera, and dual 8MP front-facing cameras (one normal, one wide-angle). The Pixel XL has a 6.3-inch 2960x1440 screen, while the smaller Pixel is equipped with a 5.5-inch 2160x1080 display. The larger model has a 3,450mAh battery, and the smaller version has a 2,915mAh battery. Both phones work on both GSM and CDMA carriers.
In our review, Ryan wrote, "he build quality of these devices seems excellent with glass bodies that don't immediately become a greasy mess. Performance is solid with smooth, fluid animations and efficient use of memory. Yes, you only have 4GB of RAM, but that hasn't slowed me down. What some OEMs accomplish with brute force, Google accomplishes with finesse. The value of consistent monthly software updates cannot be overstated, either."
OnePlus phones aren't the fantastic value they once were, but they're still very good devices in their own right. For just $549, you get a Snapdragon 845 processor with 6GB RAM, 128GB of storage, a large 6.4-inch 1080p screen, and incredibly fast charging. If that's not enough for you, there are two additional options — 8GB RAM/128GB storage for $579, and 8GB RAM/256GB storage for $629.
The hardware is great on its own, but OnePlus phones are perhaps best-known for their software. The company's custom flavor of Android, OxygenOS, has plenty of added features but is still extremely fast. The OnePlus 6T ships with Android 9 Pie, making it one of the few phones available with that version.
OnePlus phones always have a few tradeoffs, and the 6T is no different. The headphone jack is gone, and there's no official IP rating for water resistance. Carrier compatibility might also be an issue for Sprint customers, but it works on Verizon (LTE only) and all GSM networks.
In our review, Ryne wrote, "OnePlus fans with devices older than, say, the OnePlus 5 might consider the new phone a worthy upgrade — though even older models like the OnePlus 3 are still great phones in 2018, and expected to see an update to Android 9 Pie. Other Android enthusiasts that were put off by the Pixel 3's slightly ridiculous pricing and laundry list of issues might be pleased with the 6T since it's both cheaper and free of all those various problems, even if you miss out on the Pixel's (many) benefits."
If your budget is extremely tight, and buying a used device is out of the question, the Nokia 3.1 might be for you. It's one of the least-expensive phones that Nokia produces, at just $160, but it still has all the hallmarks of the company's phones - good build quality, stock Android, and up-to-date software.
The Nokia 3.1 has average specifications for a budget phone, including a MediaTek 6750 processor with 2GB RAM, a 5.2-inch 720p screen, 16GB of internal storage (with a microSD card slot), and a 2,990mAh battery. There's a model with 3GB RAM and 32GB of storage, but it's not available in the United States.
Since this is a lower-end device, Nokia had to cut corners somewhere. There's no fingerprint sensor, the camera is mediocre, and it won't work on CDMA networks (like Verizon and Sprint). Still, if you're on a compatible carrier, the Nokia 3.1 is a solid phone for the price. You can see our full review here.