Best smartphones in 2020 | Laptop Mag

If you feel like the number of new smartphones has been picking up in recent years you’d be correct.  And although the abundance of options can be a good thing for consumers, it can also make finding the best smartphones feel impossible. 

Our guide will walk you through our picks for the best smartphones available today and provide you advice on what to look for depending on your specific needs. Whether you primarily use your smartphone as a camera, gaming device, productivity tool, social media gateway or maybe even just to take calls, there is an ideal smartphone for you.

We took a look at every smartphone on the market with an eye for performance, cameras, build quality, battery life, display quality and value to determine our picks for the best smartphones.

What is the best smartphone? 

Currently, the iPhone 11 is the best smartphone on the market for most people. It delivers an excellent balance of features for the price starting of $699. Thanks to Apple’s reliable software updates, it could easily last you 3 to 5 years without a problem.

Apple’s A13 Bionic processor in the iPhone 11 is still more powerful than anything from the competition today and will help keep the smartphone running smoothly for years to come. The dual-cameras on the back of the iPhone 11 produce excellent photos and give you flexibility with a wide and ultrawide lens to make sure you can get everyone or everything into your photos.

If you prefer Android, you can check out one of the next two options on our list depending on your budget. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the pinnacle of Android hardware at the moment with a Snapdragon 865+ processor and a triple camera array that allows you to get fantastic photos near or far with up to a 50x zoom. The S-Pen provides a ton of unique functionality and Samsung’s desktop-like DeX interface can turn your smartphone into a laptop replacement in a pinch.

On the other end of the price spectrum is Google’s own Pixel 4a, which at $349, is a virtually unbeatable value. The specs won’t blow you away, but Google continues to prove its software chops with photos from the Pixel 4a beating the results from smartphones that cost hundreds more. Pixels are the one Android smartphone you can guarantee will receive updates immediately and Google has committed to 3 years of updates for the Pixel 4a.

That’s a quick look at some of our top picks, but here’s a rundown of all the best smartphones available today.

The best smartphones you can buy today 

(Image credit: Apple)1. iPhone 11

Best smartphone for most people

Display: 6.1-inch LCD (1792 x 828) | CPU: A13 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB,128GB, 256GB | Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4) / 12MP | Front camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/2.2)

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Apple iPhone 11 (64GB,…

Apple iPhone 11 (64GB, Green)…

Excellent photos and video

Fantastic value

Strong software support

Powerful A13 Bionic CPU

Base storage is too low

LCD display can’t match OLED

While the iPhone 12 may be right on the horizon, the iPhone 11 currently holds the title as the best overall smartphone for most users. While you obviously can spend more to get a little more functionality out of the iPhone 11 Pro models, the iPhone 11 gives you a very similar experience for hundreds less. 

We would recommend paying the extra $50 to get 128GB of storage, unless you don’t take many photos or videos. Otherwise, the 64GB base model is going to fill up fast, but at $749 for that middle option, it’s still an excellent value. While you lose out on the telephoto of the Pro models, the wide and ultra-wide lens on the iPhone 11 are identical to those featured on the Pros and produce excellent photos and the best video quality on any smartphone available today.

There’s simply no beating Apple’s software support with iOS as you’ll have consistent and reliable updates coming to the iPhone 11 for about five years. And if you care about the color of your smartphone, an added bonus with the iPhone 11 is that you get double the color choices of the iPhone 11 Pro and in a much more fun palette.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)2. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Best high-end Android smartphone

Display: 6.9-inch Super AMOLED (3088×1440), 120Hz | CPU: Snapdragon 865 Plus | RAM: 12GB | Storage: 128, 512GB | Rear camera: 108MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 12MP telephoto with 5x optical zoom (ƒ/3.0); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2) | Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2)

Today’s best Galaxy Note 20 Ultra deals

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra…

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra…

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra…

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra…

Powerful Snapdragon 865+ processor

Strong camera and video features

Long battery life

Unique S Pen

Beautiful Super AMOLED 120Hz display

Expensive

Let’s get this out of the way. $1,299 is a lot to spend on a smartphone, but to be fair, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a lot of smartphone. The 6.9-inch display isn’t just massive, it’s also almost inarguably the best on the market with a dynamic 120Hz refresh rate that makes navigating Android look so much smoother and the Super AMOLED 2x display makes HDR content pop off the screen.

The Snapdragon 865+ is the top of the line when it comes to Android processors and coupled with the gorgeous display, it makes the Note 20 Ultra unbeatable for mobile gaming. And for the more productivity minded, the large display and 12GB of RAM makes multitasking a breeze. If you need more than that, you can now use DeX mode wirelessly with any Miracast TV to give yourself a desktop experience powered by the Note 20 Ultra.

The S Pen that earns the Galaxy Note line its name got a big upgrade this year with a 9-millisecond response time that makes lag nearly imperceptible. New air gestures might not be for everyone, but triggering your camera remotely is neat and quite useful for group shots. Speaking of cameras, the 108MP primary sensor lets you capture an entire scene then crop into any detail later or you can use the up to 50x zoom to get up close.

Windows 10 users get to enjoy robust integration with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra thanks to Link to Windows, which will let you control your smartphone entirely from your laptop including apps, calls, texts, photos and easy drag and drop file transfers. And while the price is a bit shocking at first, the capabilities of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra manage to make it worth the cost of admission.

See our full Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review

(Image credit: Google)3. Google Pixel 4a

Best budget Android smartphone

Display: 5.8-inch OLED (2340×1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 730G | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB | Rear camera: 12.2MP (ƒ/1.7) | Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/2.0)

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Astounding value

Unmatched camera at this price

Solid OLED display

Weak battery life

Low-end CPU

While the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra may reflect the pinnacle of Android hardware achievement, the Pixel 4a is a strong contender for the pinnacle of Android software achievement. For $349, the Pixel 4a hardware is quite good; it features a 5.8-inch OLED display (something you won’t even find on the nearly $700 iPhone 11), a solid mid-range processor and a 12MP rear camera.

That description would easily fit dozens of budget Android devices, but Google manages to eke every bit of performance out of that hardware and put the Pixel 4a in a class of its own. The photos are easily the equal of numerous devices that cost twice as much. Now it doesn’t have multiple lenses, but Google’s Super Res Zoom does an impressive job of delivering digital zoom without sacrificing too much quality. And Night Sight is as impressive as ever on the Pixel 4a, turning barely-there lighting conditions into photos that you’d be happy to share.

The two complaints that can be levied against the Pixel 4a is that it has relatively weak battery life and it’s processor is well behind other mid-tier Android devices and its budget iOS competitor, the iPhone SE (2020). The battery life may be a problem for those that can’t easily top off their smartphone throughout the day, but unless you are looking to game on your smartphone, the processor isn’t an issue for day-to-day use.

(Image credit: OnePlus)4. OnePlus 8 Pro

Best flagship smartphone value

Display: 6.8-inch OLED (3168×1440), 120Hz | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 8GB, 12GB | Storage: 128GB, 256GB | Front camera: 48MP wide (ƒ/1.78); 48MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 8MP 3X telephoto (ƒ/2.4) | Rear camera: 16MP (ƒ/2.5)

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Strong battery life

Large vivid 120Hz OLED

Excellent value

Cameras are behind top options

Flagship specs without flagship prices? It’s hard to argue with that proposition and it’s exactly what OnePlus delivers with the OnePlus 8 Pro. From its Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor to its 6.8-inch OLED QHD+ display with 120Hz refresh rate, the $899 OnePlus 8 Pro matches up well against phones for $999 and beyond. 

If you are unfamiliar with OnePlus, the company is a longtime favorite of Android fans. It offers a relatively stock Android experience and a reliable history of rapid software updates often just days or weeks behind Google itself.

While it doesn’t reliably produce great photos, the triple camera array offers you an excellent range from ultra-wide to telephoto and it is capable of similar results as the Pixel or Galaxy if you take the time. Like the Galaxy S20 line, you can opt to drop that 120Hz display down to 60Hz if you want the full resolution and some extra battery life, but it looks so good in 120Hz that you probably won’t want to.

(Image credit: Apple)5. iPhone SE (2020)

Best budget iOS smartphone

Display: 4.7-inch LCD (1334×750) | CPU: A13 Bionic | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB | Rear camera: 12MP (ƒ/1.8) | Front camera: 7MP (ƒ/2.2)

Today’s best iPhone SE 2020 deals

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Flagship A13 Bionic CPU

Excellent value

Supports wireless charging

Stellar software support

Dated design

Weaker camera performance

When the iPhone SE (2020) was released this spring, it amazed reviewers as it offered the same A13 Bionic processor found in the iPhone 11 lineup but for  just $399. While there are obviously hardware tradeoffs that we’ll address, this means thes phone offers nearly identical performance to Apple’s flagships and will see updates right alongside them for the next five years. 

The single rear camera is fine, but not up to the standards of the iPhone 11 or Google’s cheaper Pixel 4a for that matter. Apple did give it some other traditionally premium specs though with support for wireless charging and water resistance ( only the flagship Pixel options enjoy waterproofing).

(Image credit: Samsung)6. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Best Android smartphone value

Display: 6.5-inch OLED (2400×1080), 120Hz | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB | Rear camera: 12MP main (ƒ/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2), 8MP telephoto with 3x zoom (ƒ/2.4) | Front camera: 32MP (ƒ/2.2)

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Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G |…

Incredible value

Large 120Hz OLED display

Excellent performance

Fantastic photo and video

Plastic build

One of the most recent smartphones on the block is the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE or Fan Edition. It’s an intriguing option for those who are looking to save some money without giving up too many high-end features. It takes most of the highlight features from the Galaxy S20 line back in March and rolls them into a new and cheaper package starting at $699 (although currently on sale for $599). 

Flagship specs like a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a 120Hz display, a triple camera array and 5G are all present in this affordable smartphone. And just like the iPhone 11, it comes in a much broader and more fun spectrum of colors than its pricier siblings. The 6.5-inch display is only 1080p, but 120Hz isn’t supported.

The cameras take a hit in terms of overall resolution. You don’t get the massive megapixel count on a primary lens for that 50-100x Space Zoom, but it offers you a wide, ultra-wide and 3x zoom that can deliver up to 30x zoom digitally. The other concession for the price point is a plastic back rather than glass or metal, but some actually prefer the feel and durability of a plastic back.

(Image credit: Apple)7. iPhone 11 Pro Max

Best high-end iOS smartphone

Display: 6.5-inch OLED (2688×1242) | CPU: A13 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB | Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4); 12MP 2X telephoto (ƒ/2.0) | Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2)

Today’s best iPhone 11 Pro Max deals

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Top-end A13 Bionic CPU

Fantastic battery life

Vivid and bright OLED display

Solid photos and unmatched video quality

Expensive

64GB base storage is ridiculous

Like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, this is a pricey phone that tries to justify its cost and comes up a little short at this stage in its life cycle now that the iPhone 12is  nearly here. The A13 Bionic processor is still the best available processor in a smartphone (for now) so you won’t find a faster option there.

The OLED display is bright and vibrant, but lacks the 120Hz refresh rate found in many of the Android flagships and Apple’s own iPad Pros, which is a bit disappointing at this price. Video quality on the iPhone 11 Pro Max is absolutely unsurpassed by anything Android has to offer and, while the top options on Android like the Pixel 4XL still have the edge in photos,  it’s by a much thinner margin than in previous years.

Battery life is fantastic and similar to the iPhone 11, the software support is unmatched with roughly 5 years of updates guaranteed to arrive the day and date of the launch for your phone. While it is about to be eclipsed by the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the iPhone 11 Pro Max remains an excellent smartphone and worth considering if you can find it at a discount. 

(Image credit: Motorola)8. Moto G Power

Best budget battery life smartphone

Display: 6.4-inch LCD (2300×1080) | CPU: Snapdragon 665 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Rear camera: 16MP (f/1.7) main, 2MP (f/2.2) macro, 8MP (f/2.2) ultra wide angle | Front camera: 16MP (ƒ/2.0)

Today’s best Motorola Moto G Power deals

Moto G Power | 3-Day Battery1…

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Unmatched battery life

Awesome sub $250 price

Better than average camera 

Large and bright display

Dull display

At $249 or less when it is on sale, the Moto G Power is firmly in the budget smartphone category. And while it won’t hold up to any of the other smartphones here in most specs, the battery life is incredible. 

Pairing a 5,000 mAh battery with a less powerful Snapdragon 665 processor and a 1080p display, the Moto G Power should last through even the longest days of work or play. Our sister site, Tom’s Guide, saw it achieve over 16 hours in its battery rundown test, 4 hours more than the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Nothing else on the Moto G Power is going to wow you, but it does offer a very competent camera experience with a wide, ultra-wide and macro lens available on the back and its 6.4-inch display is large and bright. If budget and battery life are the two top factors on your smartphone buying list then  the Moto G Power is an easy recommendation.

How to find the best smartphone 

There are dozens of smartphones released every year and it can be difficult to decide which is going to be the most suited to your needs. Here’s a good set of questions to ask yourself in order to find the best smartphone for you.

What’s your budget?

As you would probably expect, this is going to be a major deciding factor in your smartphone buying experience. There are three fairly distinct tiers in the smartphone market at the moment. Budget smartphones in the $250-$400 range can deliver a solid enough experience for many users, but will typically give up some camera quality and feature a weaker processor. Mid-tier smartphones in the $600-$750 range are enjoying a real resurgence at the moment with features that are just behind the flagships for hundreds less. True flagships start at around $999 and can go up to $1,400 and beyond, and as expected at this price, you should be getting a top of the line processor, the ability to capture near DSLR quality photos and a fantastic display.

Android or iOS?

This could certainly be the first question you ask and will certainly narrow your choices down considerably if you are set on one or the other. The truth is that the two operating systems are closer than ever in terms of overall functionality. Apple does still deliver faster software updates, superior privacy and generally a better app experience. Android offers more customizability, a superior voice assistant, a wider variety of hardware and more user control.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

How much battery life do you need?

All the rest of its features won’t matter much if your smartphone is constantly dying before the end of the day for you. We conduct our own battery tests to see how long they will last on a single charge. And while your mileage will of course vary depending on your tasks, it will give you a general idea of how they stack up to one another.

Do you prefer a larger screen?

While the big-screen trend has largely eliminated the truly small smartphones from the market, there is still a spectrum of more compact options. Smaller phones at this point come in at or below 5.8-inches and the largest options are between 6.5-6.8 inches. For productivity and content consumption, a larger screen is definitely better, but there is certainly a portability trade-off so consider what you can carry comfortably.

How much do you value the camera?

The camera is one of the biggest differentiators as you move up the smartphone tiers. There are budget options that can capture excellent photos. However, they’ll lack some of the advanced telephoto and often high-end video capture capabilities that you will find in pricier smartphones. If, like most people, your smartphone is your only camera, then it’s worth considering whether the added reach or resolution of a high-end smartphone will allow you to capture photos and moments you otherwise might have missed.



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About the Author: Chris Jenny

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