The best smartphones in 2018
Smartphone buyer’s guide: Android or iOS?
The first question to tackle is which platform to buy into. Now that Microsoft has all but left the phone game, you’re left with a binary choice: iOS or 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. That said, for anyone looking to buy a high-end handset, Apple’s iPhones deserve a place on the shortlist.
If you definitely don’t want an iPhone, then Android handsets are available in a number of shapes, sizes and prices. Most phones use it – and, nowadays, it offers a good balance of apps, games and general performance. Aside from the iPhone, pretty much everything else out there uses Android from the £739 Samsung Galaxy S9 all the way down to $10 (yes, around £6) phones.
Smartphone buyer’s guide: 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 £250 or more, there’s quite a range available to you.
Most of the higher-end phones are quite large these days; if you’re not used to a bigger phone, we recommend trying one out in a high-street shop before buying. Most people can generally get accustomed to phones up to 5.2in in screen size, but anything larger than that becomes a bit of a struggle for people with smaller hands.
Have huge hands? Want a big screen? In the past couple of years, the phone-tablet hybrid market has exploded, and there are several phones that offer 6-6.8in screens – truly huge displays for a phone.
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 – unless you really want to use them for virtual reality, in which case the more pixels per inch the better.
Even around the £200 mark it’s possible to get hold of handsets with super-sharp screens, such as the Motorola Moto G6. Whatever you decide, we recommend opting for screen quality over whether it has wireless technology extras such as NFC or an IR transmitter.
Smartphone buyer’s guide: The camera
The one other bit of hardware that’s important to consider is the camera. If you’re looking at a phone costing £350 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 sometimes leave out 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 as a minimum. 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. More fancy phones – such as the Samsung iPhone X and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 – have dual cameras, adding better zoom with less detail loss, wide-angle shooting, or monochrome shots. The Huawei P20 Pro has three lenses – it’s an arms race that’s great for shutterbugs.
More fundamentally, be on the lookout for a larger aperture, which helps produce better photography in difficult conditions. 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.
Smartphone buyer’s guide: How much do you want to spend?
How much do you need to spend to get a good phone? Despite rapid inflation over the last few years, you can still get a perfectly good handset for under £100: the Vodafone N8, for example, can be had for just £85. It’s currently about as cheap a phone as you can get without having to give up too much in the way of looks or build quality.
From there, things get steeper, and fast. Mid-range smartphones phones start at around £300, with slightly older flagships providing most of what you get from a more expensive phone at a less scary price. E.g: rather than buying this year’s latest midrange Samsung phone, you may find that the S8 has had a price cut as shops try and sell the S9. Shop around, and you may be able to grab yourself a bargain.
If nothing but the best will do, the very latest flagship phones from companies such as Samsung, LG, Sony and Apple cost between £600-1,000. On a contract, that normally equates to at least £40+ per month, but check third party retailers like Mobiles.co.uk and Smartphone Company – both of which often undercut the networks by some distance, even on the latest models.