Over the past few years, smartphones have stopped evolving at a rapid pace and settled into iterative, yawn-inducing update cycles. Just like how a desktop PC from eight years ago can still handle basic productivity tasks in 2020, a flagship smartphone from two or three years ago isn't radically different from what you can buy today, and there’s only so much room for innovation in the flat glass slab form factor. This has sent some manufacturers to go back to the drawing board in search of something more radical and exciting. Samsung has released severalfoldablephones, LG is developing a dual-screen device, and now Microsoft has the Surface Duo.
I've been using the Pixel 5 for the better part of a week now, and it's the first Google phone in years I'm getting a very particular feeling about. It takes great photos, I think the physical design is muted in a very charmingly Google way, and the software is exactly the unfettered Android experience I've come to know and love. But I'm just not sure how long I'm going to keep using it now that this review has gone up.
The Pixel 5 is by its nature an exercise in compromise. A slower chipset, the lack of face unlock, a missing telephoto camera lens, and cost cuts on components like haptics make it a bizarre case of this year's phone being worse in very material ways than last year's.
Xiaomi’s been busy this year. In addition to launching a plethora of Xiaomi and Redmi-branded phones, the company’s turned Poco into its own sub-brand, starting with the Poco X2 in February, followed by the Poco F2 Pro in May, Poco M2 Pro in July, plus the Poco X3 NFC and Poco M2 in September. What started off as a single, $300 handset with flagship specs in 2018 — the Poco F1 (or Pocophone F1) — is now an entire product line.
Granted, Xiaomi’s mostly re-branding Redmi devices here, with Poco handsets getting a few hardware and software tweaks like unique memory and storage configurations, and a bespoke launcher.
The processing power common to flagship phones means you can expect mobile games to run smoothly on them, but for most devices, that gaming prowess is an afterthought or an added bonus. The ROG Phone 3, launching soon in the US, pairs top-shelf internals with custom hardware and software tailored to creating an excellent gaming experience — and that laser focus on performance means it's great at other things we all use our phones for, too. But nagging flaws more expected from budget phones make it hard to recommend to any but the most ardent mobile gamer.
If it wasn't for the Pixel 3a, the Asus Zenfone 6 probably could've been a surprise hit in 2019. It packed an almost stock-like Android experience, the best processor on the market (back then), and a unique flip camera. We worried that Asus' creation could turn out to be a flash in the pan, but after spending two weeks with the Zenfone 7 Pro, I can confirm that it is an improvement over that already great phone. It comes with a higher price, though.
I started out as a folding phone critic. In fact, I bought the Z Flip we reviewed this spring with the full intention of pointing out how dumb the idea was, except I was dead wrong. I fell in love with my little flip phone, and the last week spent with the Galaxy Z Fold2 has further cemented my change of heart. Folding phones are undeniably the future, and for the right folks, the Z Fold2 is a must-buy game-changer — though probably not for you.
In the last year or so, Samsung has started splitting up its flagship experience with new "Ultra" devices. At first, it seemed like these new, higher-end phones simply had more and better stuff to elevate them further, but with the new Note20 series, I think it's clear Samsung is intentionally making its base phones worse. However, the world of smartphones is lacking in absolutes, and I still think Samsung did a whole lot right with the Note20. Somehow the company managed to fit a huge and flat 6.7" screen in a phone without making it unwieldy or awkward to use. Battery life is also ridiculously good, and I even honestly like the matte plastic back now that I've used it.
Samsung's top-end phones are getting more and more expensive at an alarming rate, as evidenced by the fact that very few people bought an S20 during the series's launch window. Seeing the gap to fill between bargain-bin budget phones and outright luxury devices, this week, Samsung launched the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition. It costs $700 (currently $600 on sale), and it packs a ton of features we're used to seeing in flagships with very few compromises. This might just be the best phone of the year.
Almost exactly two years ago, Xiaomi pulled a page from OnePlus’ playbook and stunned everyone with the Poco F1 (or Pocophone F1), a phone with proper flagship specs that cost just $300. While the F1 cut some corners to achieve this feat (plastic build, no NFC), it still delivered amazing performance and battery life. Then in 2019, it was followed up by… crickets?
While Redmi’s excellent K20 Pro was technically the Poco F1’s successor, Xiaomi didn’t release a Poco-branded device last year. That changed back in February 2020, when the company announced it was spinning Poco off as a sub-brand.
Samsung's one of the biggest smartphone players around, and while we drool over cutting-edge devices like the Note20 or Fold2, these luxury handsets are hardly its primary business. When it comes to sheer numbers, the company's more conservative phones drive the lion's share of sales, and for good reason — these models strike a balance between flagship-level features and budget-friendly pricing. Even here, phones run the gamut from the super-cheap A21 to what we're looking at today, the beefiest of Samsung's mid-rangers, the Galaxy A71 5G. With a big 6.7-inch screen, 5G connectivity, and a 64MP-headlining quad-camera array, is this the A-series phone to finally get you asking, "who needs a flagship?"