The top five apps of the 2010s were all social media apps of some kind, and the fact that's not surprising to you says a lot. We may use them for other reasons here and there, but our phones are social media machines at their cores. The thing is, some make better machines than others.
Whether it's Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook, there's always some form of shareable photos, GIFs, or videos at the core of each social media platform. So one major factor is your phone's camera, but there are other things to consider, like how notifications are handled or what kind of OS features help with the social media experience. So we consolidated all these factors and created a comprehensive list of phones that provide the best experience for the current array of social media apps.
- Starting Price: The MSRP of the cheapest variant of the phone.
- Display Size: The size of the phone's screen. Because photos and videos are a large part of most social media apps, a bigger screen is objectively better. We're not looking for the most portable phone, we want the best one for social media.
- Rear Camera Lenses: The type of cameras used on the back of the phone. All phones have the standard wide-angle lens, but some have telephoto lenses for zoom and ultra-wide lenses to capture more in your shots.
- Rear Camera Aperture: The size of the aperture (opening) of each rear camera lens. Represented as f divided by (number), a lower number is preferred as it signifies a wider aperture. This results in a higher amount of light available to the camera, and thus, a greater amount of detail available for each image.
- Rear Camera OIS: Whether the rear camera has optical image stabilization, and if so, which lens(es). Optical Image Stabilization (or OIS) helps to counter shaky hands and the resulting motion blur.
- Rear Camera Flash Type: The type of flash available to the rear camera. Some phones have high CRI or True Tone LEDs that can change white balance to better fit a scene.
- Max Video Resolution (Rear): The highest resolution and frame rate available for video recording using the rear camera.
- Front Camera Aperture: The size of the aperture (opening) of each front camera lens. Represented as f divided by (number), a lower number is preferred as it signifies a wider aperture. This results in a higher amount of light available to the camera, and thus, a greater amount of detail available for each image.
- Max Video Resolution (Front): The highest resolution and frame rate available for video recording using the front-facing camera.
- Slow Motion Resolution: The highest frame rate (fps) and resolution of the phone's slow-motion video mode.
- Notification LED: Whether the phone includes an LED light that blinks for notifications. This is one of the fastest ways to detect new messages and posts.
- Battery Capacity: The size of the battery included with the phone.
- Always-On Display: This feature turns off all but a few pixels that display essential information like the clock, date, and most importantly, new notifications. With this, you can be sure to get alerts from your social media apps soon as they arrive on your phone, without having to turn on the screen first.
- Emoji Version: The current version of Emoji supported by the phone. The higher the version number, the more emojis available to use.
- Upload Directly from Cloud: The ability to access cloud storage within social media apps — for instance, uploading a picture stored on Google Photos from within the Facebook app. Android devices can do this, but iPhones make you open the cloud storage app first and share the content with the social media app from there.
- Post Directly From Camera: The ability to post images to a social media platform from within the camera app.
- Hands-Free Capture: The phone let you take photos and videos remotely either by detecting a gesture or using a remote shutter button in the included stylus.
- Use Multiple Accounts: Whether the phone can store multiple sandboxed copies of the social media app. With multiple copies, you can log in to two or more accounts simultaneously, allowing you to receive notifications for both accounts.
- Better Snapchat Filters: Whether your smartphone can use facial recognition and tracking hardware to improve Snapchat filters.
- Facebook Lite: Whether Facebook Lite is accessible to the device
- Twitter Live Audio Only: The ability to only output the audio of a Twitter Live stream instead of both video and audio. Exclusive to iOS, this feature saves battery life as the display can remain off while you're still enjoying the broadcast.
- DxOMark Photo Scores: A numeric score of the phone's photo capabilities from DxOMark. The higher the number, the better.
- DxOMark Video Scores: A numeric score of the phone's video capabilities from DxOMark. The higher the number, the better.
- Accessory Availability: A general indicator of the number of third-party accessories available to this phone, such as external flashes, lenses, cases, and selfie sticks.
First, all phones we considered for this list had to have excellent cameras on the front and rear. Since DxOMark is the industry standard for testing smartphone cameras, we started by focusing on their list of the top phones for photography and videography. To make this list, the phone had to have been tested by DxoMark and must have received an overall score of at least 99.
For the sake of future-proofing, we also limited this list to phones released within the last year. While we are aware of many excellent older options (which at this point are usually discounted), their performance will always pale in comparison to newer phones with the latest components.
And since we're a US-based site, we only considered phones available in the United States through a carrier or major retailer. This requirement eliminated great choices such as the Huawei Mate 30 Pro and Xiaomi CC9 Pro Premium Edition, which would have otherwise made our list. You can always import these devices, but the combination of no US warranty and limited LTE bands prevents us from recommending these options to our US customers.
Finally, because Apple, Google, and Samsung decided to maintain most (if not all) the specs between both the smaller and larger phone in their flagship lineups, we only listed one model of phone from each series. We went with the bigger-screen options over the smaller versions since the large display will allow you to view more content. However, we'll mention if a smaller option is available for any phone below.
The Samsung Galaxy Note series has topped our list once again. The Note 10+ upgraded nearly every category that made its predecessor excellent for social media, and it's Samsung's latest and greatest. And unlike previous years, there is a smaller variant for those who want all the power of the Note series without the larger footprint.
Let's start with the new rear camera array, which features some of the best hardware on the market. There are three camera sensors ranging from 12 to 16 MP behind a wide-angle lens, a telephoto lens, and an ultra-wide lens. There's a Time of Flight (ToF) sensor for better depth mapping in bokeh effects, and there's optical image stabilization (OIS) on all but the ultra-wide. The primary wide-angle camera carries over the dual aperture feature Samsung introduced a couple years back.
Besides the hardware specs, Samsung has some software features in the Camera app to help you share the best photos and videos on social media. For example, "Shot suggestions" uses machine learning to guide you to the shot that best illustrates the subject in the viewfinder.
To share faster, Samsung added an "Instagram mode" to the Camera app. As long as you have the Instagram app on your phone (and are logged in), you'll see an "Instagram" tab in the Camera app. When you take a picture while in this mode, you are automatically redirected to your Instagram story page where you can edit it and share.
For those who prefer video, the Note 10+ has you covered, regardless of whether you use the rear or front-facing camera. For the rear, you have access to the zoom-in mic, a feature which focuses the audio recording on the space you're filming. For action scenes, "Super Steady" AI will predict the movement of your hand and the subject and shift the lens accordingly for smoother video.
The selfie camera can record in 4K at 30 fps, a resolution only available to a handful of phones. You are also future-proof thanks HDR10+ video capture that provides rich detail and color to your videos. You can also edit videos on the phone without the need for a third-party app thanks to the pre-installed video editor that handles both standard and slow-motion video capture.
Even if sharing isn't your thing, the Note 10+ is still a fantastic phone for those who prefer to browse social media apps. With its large display and huge battery, you can get lost in your Twitter feed or Instagram all day. Thanks to the always-on display, you never have to worry about missing an alert either.
Unlike previous years, you have another option in the series. If the 6.8-inch display is too large for you, you can opt for the smaller (and cheaper) Galaxy Note 10. You'll be downgrading the battery, screen, and DepthVision camera (aka ToF sensor), but you'll get a smaller footprint and lower price tag while preserving most of the stellar social media experience.
As an Android enthusiast, one thing that frustrates me is how often great Android phones go unnoticed by the public. Anytime I get a chance to highlight a less popular phone, it makes me happy, which is why currently I am smiling ear to ear. At $549.99, the ASUS ZenFone 6 is a steal of a phone. But as I went through my testing, I learned it is fantastic for social media.
What makes the ZenFone 6 unique is the lack of a dedicated front-facing camera. Instead, its rear camera rotates (using a motorized hinge) to the front to become one of the most powerful front-facing cameras on any smartphone. This provides two great advantages: you have a clean, uninterrupted display and have access to much more capable cameras for selfies.
So for all your photos and video, you have access to dual cameras: a 48 MP Sony IMX586 sensor with a wide-angle lens and f/1.79 aperture, and a 13 MP sensor with an ultra-wide (125°) lens. The primary lens uses Quad Bayer technology to combine four adjacent pixels into one "super" pixel, reducing image to 12 MP but doubling the pixel size from 0.8 µm to 1.6 µm.
Besides the two cameras, the other component that rotates is the dual-LED flash. Unlike nearly every other phone on the market, the ZenFone 6 actually has a flashbulb for selfies. So you don't have to rely on a dim screen flash feature, because the LEDs will illuminate your face for a well-lit photo.
Another benefit of sharing the same camera is improved videography. With other phones, you either have to settle with the good but not great performance of the front-facing camera when live streaming, or turn the camera to the rear and record blindly. With the ZenFone 6, you can record in 4K at 60 fps with the powerful 48 MP rear camera (or 4K at 30 fps with the ultra-wide camera), in full view of your display so you can see exactly how you look during your recording.
ASUS also uses this motorized hinge for other features such as motion tracking, which moves the hinge based on the movement of the subject to keep them in the frame. It also improves panorama photography by rotating the hinge from the rear to the front to capture one half of the photo without the need to move the camera.
With the quality of the camera at the price ASUS is selling this phone for, it's a shame this phone isn't more popular. Hopefully, if this is your first time hearing of the phone, you will give it a hard look. As one of a few phones with no notch or punch hole, you can enjoy photos and videos without any obstructions. And with its powerful cameras that pull double duty, you get and one of the best selfie shooters on the market with the highest DxOMark video score at the time of this writing.
OnePlus is a small Android manufacturer, but their parent company is on the verge of becoming the largest smartphone maker in the world. The OnePlus brand has been the most successful one for BBK Group in the US, and that's largely because of the unique combination of flagship features and a reasonable price tag.
For years, OnePlus' major flaw was poor camera quality. However, the OnePlus 7 Pro changed the narrative thanks to top tier tech and improved image processing. Combine that with its amazing specs and performance, and you have a fantastic option for social media consumption.
The OnePlus 7 Pro currently has the fifth highest DxOMark overall score for rear cameras, even higher than the Google Pixel 4, which many consider the gold standard of smartphone cameras. From our testing, we found the Pixel 4 took better photos when using auto mode, but when we took advantage of the pro mode on the OnePlus 7 Pro (a mode the Pixel 4 doesn't have), the shots we got were amazing.
The 7 Pro was one of the first phones to jump on the triple camera trend, including both a telephoto lens and an ultra-wide lens in addition to the primary wide-angle lens. Unlike the other phones on our list, it has 3x optical zoom. There is a little bit of trickery to achieve this (they actually use cropping to obtain the 3x), but the process is still lossless, so images remain clear in the process. For low light photos, OnePlus has Nightscape 2.0. With this feature, you can take shareable night photos without the long processing time.
OnePlus has one of the best Android skins on the market, adding useful features while staying true to Google's vision for the platform. Because of the clean skin, they were able to push out the Android 10 update within days of its release, which gives it access to emoji version 12.0. It also is one of the few phones on our list which natively supports app cloning, a feature that lets you duplicate social media apps to log into two different accounts at the same time.
Finally, there is its rooting capability. This process gives you nearly infinite control of your Android smartphone. OnePlus has made all their device root-friendly, even as the market moved away from this. Rooting allows you to access specific apps that offer an additional level of control for even more possibilities, including enhancing the social media experience.
This phone was already a killer deal at its MSRP of $669, but at $499, you are practically stealing the phone from OnePlus. Not only does it have everything you need if you love Instagram and Facebook, but it is also good at everything else you do on your phone as well.
When you factor in the price, the OnePlus 7 Pro is one of the best smartphones currently available. Unlike previous years, there is a "smaller" (but not cheaper) option for those who can't handle the 7 Pro's 6.67-inch display. The OnePlus 7T has a slightly smaller 6.55-inch screen (and smaller footprint). While it is currently $599 (it was released a few months after the 7 Pro), expect its price to come down in a few months.
There is no way we could have a list like this and not include an iPhone. For most US-based social media addicts, this is the phone of choice. Frequently, social media apps work better on iOS since there are fewer phones to support. The same advantage is found in software integration, resulting in a phone where everything works together rather than a collection of parts.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max is the first "Pro" iPhone ever created. Apple made sure this new name meant something. To them, "Pro" means this phone meets the needs of professionals, which includes photographers and videographers. This is why Apple made it a point of emphasis to give its users flexibility in their cameras.
This change starts with the addition of the ultra-wide lens. Apple paired this with their already stellar dual-camera system, creating a similar triple array similar to what is found in Galaxy devices. However, they made it a point to keep image quality the same no matter which camera you are using. This is what helps set the 11 Pro Max's camera apart from other triple cameras, which often take worse photos with the ultra-wide lens.
And this attention to detail didn't go unnoticed. DxOMark gave the Pro Max the second-highest DxOMark rear camera photo score on our list at 124, and the highest video score for rear cameras. And thanks to its massive popularity, these cameras can be improved with third-party accessories, including Moment and Hitcase lenses, https://[www.amazon.com/dp/B0827BNG9P?tag=cm-sales-us-2019-20 portable flashes, and much more.
Snapchat is better optimized on iPhones. The disparity was so great that Snap had to deliver a major update to Android to come close to matching the iOS performance. Filters align with your face better thanks to the technology used in Face ID, and photos taken in the app are nearly identical to those taken with the camera app.
However, you do lose out on some features due to iOS. Picture-in-picture is not a feature, and iOS doesn't let you access cloud services (such as Google Photos) within other apps, forcing you to share the images from the cloud app to the social app instead of just uploading directly. There's no way to clone apps, so you'll only receive alerts from your primary social accounts.
That being said, there is absolutely no reason for you to switch from an older iPhone to an Android device if your primary usage is social media. The apps run better, the cameras are top tier, and there is more than enough accessories to bridge most of the gaps between the best Android offering. You will also likely lose 4K at 60 fps recording on the front-facing camera, a feature only a handful of Android phones enjoy.
If its high price is what's holding you back, understand that you have two less expensive options this year. The iPhone 11 Pro, for all intents and purposes, is the exact same phone as the 11 Pro Max, but with a smaller screen for $100 less. But if you want even more savings, you can instead opt for the iPhone 11. You lose the ultra-wide camera, but save $400.
Despite having only two cameras on the rear, general consensus still puts the Pixel 4 as the best smartphone camera. What Google accomplishes each year is nothing short of wizardry, taking middling hardware and delivering top-tier camera performance through software enhancements. And thanks to the addition of telephoto lenses, the rear camera has become even more capable.
The Google Pixel 4 XL adds a 2x optical zoom telephoto lens to its 12.2 MP wide-angle Sony IMX363 lens. With this new camera, portrait photos are much-improved thanks to additional depth data captured. In addition, while it is limited to 2x optical zoom, Google's Super Res Zoom is still on board to make the digital zoom usable.
With it being a Google-developed smartphone, it's first in line for any Android updates, which include new emoji versions and features to improve social media apps. With Android 10, one of the big changes is a system-wide dark mode. Apps like Instagram and Twitter already support this feature officially, but for the apps that don't, have no fear — Google lets you force them to comply. And with the beautiful OLED panel on the Pixel 4 XL, this mode makes apps feel as if the default design should have been a black background.
The biggest issue with the Pixel 4 XL is the limitations on the video side. While it manages the second-highest DxOMark video score on our list, it lacks some features common among its peers. For example, it is the only camera on our list to not support 4K at 60 fps. Apparently, this was to save space since internal storage is limited (it has a maximum internal storage of 128 GB). Another omission is the poor slow-motion video support. With phones on the market support 480 and 960 fps, it is a shame that the Pixel 4 XL is limited to 240 fps. What is even worse is the fact that while the iPhone 11 Pro Max supports this frame rate at 1080p, the Pixel is limited to 720p.
However, there is hope for the future. The Neural Core (which replaces the Visual Core) will likely expand support to third-party apps such as Snapchat and Instagram in the future, as the Visual Core did prior. This will help improve photos and videos captured within your social media app's interface.
The Camera app added the option "Social media depth features," allowing you to save the depth data of motion photos to be shared on social media (just waiting on apps to support it). And with Pixel 4 XL adding facial recognition hardware that rivals Apple's Face ID, there is a chance social media apps will be able to leverage this technology to improve filters the same way they did for iPhones with Face ID.
Another huge advantage of the Pixel 4 XL is the options available if you need a smaller or a cheaper phone. The Pixel 4 is the same phone as the 4 XL, but with a smaller screen and $100 cheaper. If you want to save a lot of money and don't mind losing the telephoto lens, another option is the Pixel 3a and 3a XL. We strongly recommend the 3a XL, which reduces the screen size to 6 inches and uses the same stellar image processing on the primary lens for $420 in savings.
This article was produced during Gadget Hacks' special coverage on becoming a social media expert on your phone. Check out the whole Social Media series.
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