One of my favorite perks of this job is the opportunity to try out all the big flagship phones each year. Whether it's rating their suitability for a particular use-case or just entering their specs into our comparison tool, we have to get our hands on all major phones released in the US. We pride ourselves on being fair in our reviews and roundups, but that doesn't mean we don't have preferences.
So we thought it would be fun for each of our writers and editors to share with you their favorite smartphone of 2019. We all have different needs and we use our phones in unique ways that gravitate us toward one device over another. There is no best phone on this list, only which we like the most. We hope this helps you pull the trigger on the phone you been eyeing this year and get to know us a bit more.
For the most part, iOS keeps me locked into iPhones since it's easier to use, faster with updates, and more secure than most Android options. And the newest iOS version, iOS 13, compliments the new hardware in the iPhone 11 Pro nicely.
When shooting photos and videos, there's better HDR, more editing tools, an ultra-wide-angle lens, and slo-mo and 4K stabilized recordings for the front. The rear camera has Night mode, which drastically improves shooting in low lighting, and audio zoom, which beats out the Note10's ability to focus on far-away sounds. Its display is double the contrast and brighter overall that the XS, so photos and videos appear more natural, more color-accurate, and have more depth.
The speakers are Apple's best yet and support Dolby Atmos and 3D audio. There's an ultra-wideband chip (a first for smartphones) that improves "Find My" and AirDrop, and it can survive submersion in 13 feet of water (another first). The 11 is missing some of these features, and the larger Max option is still too big for me, making the 11 Pro the best option to go with if you're conflicted over the other two models.
I'm not a Samsung fan by any stretch of the imagination. But I'm also not a hater, so I always give them an honest shot when they put out an attractive phone. Problem is, they haven't done that for a while.
To me, the Galaxy's aesthetic is reminiscent of AutoZone hubcaps. It looks shiny and cool on first glance, but the more you see it, the more you start to realize how garish it actually is. A big reason for that is those infernal curved edges.
Enter the Galaxy S10e. A Samsung flagship ... with a flat screen. Not only that, but symmetrical bezels (well, three out of four ain't bad) and a screen-to-body ratio that's just out of this world. All of this, and it's one of the only phones on the market that's compact enough for most people to use one-handed.
It's all about hardware design here. You put this phone next to its contemporaries like the iPhone XS, Pixel 3, and even the regular Galaxy S10, and your eyes will just be drawn to the S10e — simple as that.
I have had a Google phone since the early days of Android and owned every device from them after that. From the T-Mobile G1 to the Nexus line and now the new Pixel generation, I have rocked each one with pride over the years. Having a first-party phone directly from Google is something I still could not do without today in 2019.
So with that in mind, after using the Pixel 4 XL for some time now, it quickly became my favorite smartphone of 2019. The Pixel 4 XL is super optimized with Android 10, which makes it one of the fastest Android phones right now, even if it has slightly lower specs on paper when compared to other flagship phones. Most people often overlook the power of software optimizations — they seem to focus only on the core specs and aesthetics of a device instead. It's very possible to have a poor user experience on the absolute best hardware available, so it's essential to keep that in mind.
I also enjoyed the fantastic Pixel camera as expected, the smooth 90Hz display, and the new on-device Google Assistant for instant rapid-fire commands. The other big thing that really wowed me was the brand new Soli radar chip. Being able to walk away, have the ambient display turn off automatically when I'm not around, then turn back on when I get within range is incredible. Reaching for the phone fires up the screen and face unlock sensors, too, which helps to create a more seamless experience. It makes me wish all phones had a radar chip for sensing motion, so Google's onto something here.
Every time a new iPhone is announced, we tend to collectively gush over the same features: the better camera, longer battery life, and bigger screen — but these features alone shouldn't be the reason we decide on a new smartphone. Don't get me wrong, I love my iPhone 11 Pro for every popular feature it has (I can't say enough about the camera), it's just that I appreciate it even more for the details that don't get a ton of love.
The iPhone 11 Pro features the "toughest glass in a smartphone," according to Apple, but we may overlook just how important this is. As someone who doesn't use a phone case (I know, not smart), it's comforting to know that my screen has a better chance of survival than other phones, especially when it constantly slides off my lap and onto the sidewalk when I get out of my car. It also has an IP68 rating (the highest rating you'll find), which means a lot of things, but most importantly that accidents with water (rain, spilled coffee, etc.) won't break your phone, and smaller drops (under 6 ft.) shouldn't do too much damage to the screen.
Another underappreciated feature is the fast charging capability. The iPhone 11 Pro comes with an 18-watt charger needed to use fast charging, and boy is it fast. In just half an hour I can get more than 50% charge (or a full charge in just over an hour and a half), which means that instead of charging my iPhone overnight (which is what I've always done) I can easily get an adequate charge during a quick break or when I'm on-the-go.
Let me reiterate, I love the ultra-wide camera, outstanding battery life, and other flagship features on my iPhone 11 Pro, and they're the reasons that I initially wanted the smartphone — but it's the overlooked features that make me stay.
LG G8 ThinQ was one of the more interesting handsets that I got my hands on this year. And despite it not being my daily driver, I often found myself playing around with the flagship and experimenting with its interesting hands-free features like Air Motion and Hand ID, not to mention the flagship's nifty Crystal Sound OLED which turns the upper half of the screen into one giant earpiece. While far from perfect, I admired that LG was willing to innovate and implement new functions, and there's lots of potential -- LG has shown that screens that also double as speakers are viable and having a Phone devoid of traditional speaks aren't far from the horizon.
That said, whenever I wanted to get away from the kids and listen to my favorite tunes in private using a headphone, the G8 ThinQ was my go-to device thanks to its tried-and-true headphone jack and Quad-DAC for phenomenal audio. In fact, the sounds were so immersive that soon enough, I also made excellent use of its excellent 6.1" OLED display and made this pocket stereo system my phone of choice for gaming and watching videos, much to my family's chagrin.
Design-wise, the G8 is as sleek as it gets and features a dual rear camera system that sits flush inside the rear Gorilla Glass 6 panel, making it one of only a handful of flagships out that doesn't have a camera hump for a totally smooth, minimalist, appearance. The G8 ThinQ has top of the line spaces that you'd expect from a flagship, like the Snapdragon 855 and 6 GB of RAM that made it as snappy as the S10. In all, I hope LG will continue to think outside the box and push the boundaries with regards to smartphone capabilities and improve upon the G8's novel features and make them more reliable. But given LG's track record for rolling out updates, however, I wouldn't hold my breath.
Look, I want a bezel-less iPhone as much as anyone. So sure, the iPhone 11 Pro's form factor feels a bit dated at this point. That said, the phone does so much right that I simply don't care about that gigantic notch.
There are two factors that completely won me over this year. The first is obviously the new camera system. My god, are these cameras good. While I love shooting with a pro camera app like Halide, it's really not necessary to achieve some crispy, dynamic shots. And don't get me started on night mode. I know Android phones have had this feature for some time now, but my dad and I had a blast taking photos at nighttime, constantly impressed by how much detail the 11 Pro managed to capture in the darkest of environments.
The second factor is much less publicized, however. This thing has a massive battery. Seriously. I switch between a lot of phones for work, so sometimes I don't need to charge the 11 Pro for days. Even under heavy use, it takes forever to drain this battery. This level of battery life was previously reserved for LCD iPhones only, like the iPhone XR, so the fact that a power user like myself can push an OLED iPhone all day is quite the feat. If you're concerned about your iPhone's battery life, don't be afraid to go Pro.
First off, I have not been a fan of Samsung for most of the Galaxy S series and Note series. I felt like there were as good or better options available at a lower price point, and its only clear advantage was the camera, which I didn't care for. I am also an Android purist and remember the distaste I felt when I felt spent extensive time using TouchWiz.
The thing is the Samsung Galaxy S10+ is different. Personally, it is one of the sexiest phones I ever lay my hands on. As much as I have despised the UI in the past, One UI 1.0 is not terrible and has a lot more customization than the standard skin. While I wish Samsung had included a better fast-charging system (and not that is basically QC 2.0 speed), they more than makeup for it with a display that makes you want to watch videos. For me, it was a hard choice between Galaxy S10+ and Galaxy Note10+, and although I love the fast charging system in the latter, I would be disingenuous if I said that I didn't prefer the former which still contain the headphone jack. And to top it all off, it already on Android 10 in some countries and coming soon to the US models. This is my favorite Samsung smartphone and the phone I went back to the most this year.
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