Memories of Hot Foldable Summer are fading, the back-to-school promotions are flying, and the smell of freshly sharpened number two pencils is in the air. To those of us who follow the mobile tech industry, that means just one thing: the new phones are coming. Updated iPhones and Pixels should be just around the corner, with all the technological advancements and trade-in carrier promotions that they bring. In short, now is generally a terrible time to buy a new phone.
Still, not everyone can wait. And if you’re shopping for something more unconventional that falls outside of the typical phone release cycle, then now’s as good a time as any. If you fall into either of those categories, then you’re in the right place. If you’re just thinking about upgrading your iPhone or Pixel, well, come see us again in a few weeks.
If you’re looking to spend a little less and still get the best smartphone on a budget, you can find something really good for under $500. For those recommendations, check out our guide to budget smartphones.
Best iPhone for most people
Screen: 6.1-inch 1170p resolution OLED, 60Hz refresh rate / Processor: A15 Bionic Cameras: 12-megapixel f/1.6 main with sensor-shift IS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel selfie / Battery: not advertised / Charging: wired, 15W wireless MagSafe, 7.5W Qi / Weather-resistance rating: IP68
The iPhone 14 seems like the obvious choice for anyone who needs a new iPhone but doesn’t want to step up to the 14 Pro. But hear me out: the iPhone 13 does almost everything that the 14 does, and it’s $100 cheaper.
Sure, if your carrier is offering you a good trade-in offer or dirt-cheap financing for the 14 or you want the (slight) year-over-year upgrades, then go ahead and get that one. It’s great! But if trade-in deal season is over or you’re paying out of pocket, we think the standard iPhone 13 is the better buy; the $799 14’s improvements are so minor that they’re not worth the extra money. In fact, I traded in my old iPhone 11 for a 13 mini rather than a 14 this year.
By opting for the 13, you don’t miss out on anything as far as the screen or processor is concerned. The iPhone 13 features a 6.1-inch screen with a standard refresh rate — no smooth-scrolling ProMotion here — as does the 14. There’s an A15 Bionic chipset in both phones, and although the 14’s is a slight upgrade with an extra GPU core, they both deliver excellent performance. They’re both MagSafe compatible for wireless charging and IP68-rated for robust water and dust resistance.
Upgrading to the 14 does get you a slightly better camera system, but the improvements are subtle. The ultrawide and front-facing cameras do better in low light compared to the 13, and the main camera features a bigger sensor that’s able to hold on to detail in dim conditions a little better. But for the most part, you have to go looking for these differences in fine details — most people viewing their images at web- and social-media-friendly sizes won’t see what’s changed.
You’ll miss out on a couple of emergency features, too. The 14 includes a new Crash Detection feature that uses specialized sensors to recognize when a car crash has happened and automatically call emergency services. There’s a satellite-based emergency messaging service, too, for when you’re out of cell range. For a small group of people, these services might be worth upgrading for, but they’re likely things that most of us can do without.
By opting for the 13, you don’t miss out on anything as far as the screen or processor is concerned
From the outside, the iPhone 14 and 13 look almost identical. There are some physical differences to note, though. The first is that you can’t just use an iPhone 13 case on the 14 because the camera bump is a bit bigger. And below the glass and aluminum surface of the iPhone 14, Apple made some changes that enable much easier repairs to the back panel. That means out-of-pocket repairs will likely cost less, and if you’re a DIYer, it’s a much less daunting task to take on yourself.
There are a handful of other interesting new iPhone features this time around, but they’re reserved for the Pro models. If you consider yourself an early adopter or you just want the very best iPhone you can buy right now, it’s worth stepping up to the Pro. But if you’re just looking for a reliable device to get you through your day, take great photos and video, and keep the blue-bubble chat a-flowin’, then the iPhone 13 will serve you just as well as the 14 — for a little less money.
Read our review of the Apple iPhone 13.
Best Android phone for most people
Screen: 6.6-inch 1080p 120Hz OLED / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy / Cameras: 50-megapixel F1.8 main with OIS, 10-megapixel 3x telephoto with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel selfie / Battery: 4,700mAh / Charging: 45W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IP68
The S23 Plus is a minor update to its predecessor, but the upgrades are good ones. It still has a large 6.6-inch display with a smooth-scrolling 120Hz top refresh rate, and it’s a lovely screen to use — not as high-res as the Google Pixel 7 Pro’s 1440p display, but it’s top-notch. Some tweaks to the display tech and a bigger 4,700mAh battery give the S23 Plus stronger battery performance than its predecessor, so you can get through a full day of heavy use with a little more wiggle room than the outgoing model afforded.
There’s also a new chipset, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. It’s included in all models sold across the globe, and that’s a good thing — it is whip-fast. It handles daily tasks without a problem and heavier tasks like gaming with remarkable ease. Otherwise, there’s a lot that’s familiar about the S23 Plus. It still starts at $999, though the base model now comes with 256GB of built-in storage.
The rear triple-camera system is also recycled from last year’s model, and for the most part, that’s fine. The 50-megapixel main sensor produces punchy, vibrant 12-megapixel photos by default. Portrait mode photos from either the main sensor or 3x telephoto camera are fantastic, with excellent subject isolation. Outside of portrait mode, the 3x camera looks a lot more average. It’s a shorter focal length than the 5x telephoto on the Pixel 7 Pro, so it’s a bit less useful for distant subjects.
Our least favorite part of a Samsung phone is the out-of-box software experience, as it comes with a lot of duplicate apps to replace or accompany Google’s stock apps like Messages, Google Calendar, and Google Assistant. Unless you’re a Bixby fan, you’ll need to take a little time to de-Samsung the S23 Plus. The Pixel 7 Pro offers a much more streamlined experience right out of the gate. But there’s good news: the phone ships with One UI 5.1 and is slated to receive four more OS platform upgrades and five years of security updates. That means you can keep using the phone safely well into the future and get the most out of your investment.
Read my full review of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus.
Best high-end iPhone
Screen: 6.1-inch (Pro) or 6.7-inch (Pro Max) OLED, 120Hz refresh rate / Processor: A16 Bionic Cameras: 48-megapixel f/1.8 with sensor-shift IS, 12-megapixel 3x telephoto with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel selfie / Battery: not advertised / Charging: wired, 15W MagSafe wireless, 7.5W Qi / Weather-resistance rating: IP68
For a lot of iPhone owners, this isn’t an upgrade year, especially if you’re coming from a 12 or a 13. But if you do need a new iPhone right now and you want the very best device, then Pro is the way to go. The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max usher in some new ideas from Apple that the standard 14 doesn’t get, like the “Dynamic Island,” a playful mash-up of hardware and software that turns the notch into a shape-shifting status indicator. It’s handy for system-level info, like whether your AirDrop went through, and it’s getting more useful as third-party app-makers start to use it. There’s also a new high-resolution camera and an always-on display.
The iPhone 14 Pro, which starts at $999, is the very best iPhone you can buy right now. But it’s a bit of an early adopter special. There’s plenty that’s good but a lot of room for Apple to fine-tune and improve these features over the coming years. If you’re not ready to spend a thousand dollars on the first iteration of a new design, then look at the previous-gen iPhone 13. The standard iPhone 14 is an incremental upgrade over the 13 and doesn’t get you that much more; the 13 is still available and starts at $699. That’s our choice for most people, but the 14 Pro does have a lot to offer.
The 14 Pro comes with a 6.1-inch screen, and the Pro Max has a 6.7-inch screen. They’re both ProMotion displays like the 13 models, with adaptive refresh rates that go up to 120Hz for smooth scrolling and animations. New to this generation is an always-on display: when you lock your phone, the screen dims and drops into a low-power mode, with frame rates as low as 1Hz, but the clock, widgets, and wallpaper all remain visible. This means you can check the time or see if you have notifications without having to wake the display.
The display’s other new trick is, of course, Dynamic Island. Apple took the notch — the area of the screen that houses the front-facing camera and Face ID sensors — and turned it into a pill-shaped cutout that appears to expand dynamically (get it?) to show system indicators and notifications. It’s a handy place to quickly see what your phone is doing, whether it’s playing back music, sending files via AirDrop, or using navigation. It’s nice, but it’s something Apple and third-party developers will keep making more useful over the next few years — definitely not something to upgrade for right now.
The 14 Pro also has a new 48-megapixel main camera, which uses pixel binning to maximize light sensitivity and produce 12-megapixel images. The real-world improvements are subtle, with more fine detail in shadows and in low light, but the differences compared to a standard 12-megapixel sensor in the iPhone 14 are hard to see unless you’re looking really closely. The higher-resolution sensor also enables a 2x telephoto mode that’s essentially a 12-megapixel crop from the middle of the sensor. It’s the new default view for portrait mode, and it’s one that feels like a happy medium between the wide and 3x telephoto that have been the only options on iPhones past.
Outside of the new stuff, there’s a lot that’s familiar. The phone’s battery gets through a moderate day of use, though it seems to run down a little faster than the 13 Pro. The camera may not be the leap forward in photography that Apple claims it is, but it’s still one of the best in the game and records stunning video clips. And the new A16 Bionic chipset handles intensive tasks like gaming without a problem.
Read our full Apple iPhone 14 Pro review.
Best high-end Android phone
Screen: 6.8-inch 1440p 120Hz OLED / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy / Cameras: 200-megapixel main with OIS, 10-megapixel 10x telephoto with OIS, 10-megapixel 3x telephoto with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel selfie / Battery: 5,000mAh / Charging: 45W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IP68
The S23 Ultra is Samsung’s kitchen sink flagship phone. It’s a maximalist experience with a built-in stylus, four rear cameras (including two telephotos), a massive 6.8-inch screen, and the top-shelf Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset. It’s hard to imagine what you could cram into this device without turning it into a foldable (please turn it into a foldable, Samsung).
All that hardware comes at a high starting price of $1,200, so it’s not our top pick for just anyone looking for a great Android phone. But if you’re looking for the best of the best — particularly if you live in the US where choice is limited — it’s at the very top of our list. The camera system is impressive; portrait mode photos are excellent, and it’s capable of very good images all the way to 30x zoom. There’s a new 200-megapixel main camera sensor at the heart of the rear camera array, and it does a good job of bringing out fine details in both good lighting and low light conditions.
The integrated S Pen isn’t new or updated for 2023, but it’s still a nice tool to have at the ready when you need to jot down a quick note. That massive screen is detailed, and scrolling is smooth, with a variable refresh rate up to 120Hz all the way down to 1Hz. The sizeable 5,000mAh battery powers it through a day of heavy use, but don’t count on getting a lot more than one day out of it.
Our usual gripes with Samsung software apply here, too, and if anything, they’re a little more glaring on such a pricey phone. The phone will happily download a bunch of extra apps you probably don’t want during setup, although you can opt out of a fair chunk of them and hide most of the ones you can’t uninstall. But Samsung’s healthy software support policy is fitting of a $1,200 phone: you’ll get four OS platform upgrades and five years of security updates. Not quite as good as Apple, but among the best on Android.
Read my full Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review.
Best small smartphone
Screen: 5.4-inch 1080p OLED, 60Hz refresh rate / Processor: A15 Bionic Cameras: 12-megapixel f/1.6 main with sensor-shift IS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel selfie / Battery: not advertised / Charging: wired, 15W MagSafe wireless, 7.5W Qi / Weather-resistance rating: IP68
The iPhone 13 Mini is one of very few small phones on the market with top-tier features and specs; you don’t have to compromise on performance, build quality, or cameras. Apple didn’t announce a new Mini with the 14 series, instead opting for a big-and-bigger approach with the 6.1-inch 14 and 6.7-inch 14 Plus. The 13 Mini is likely your last shot at a small, highly functional iPhone, so get it while you can.
Though it’s much smaller in size than pretty much every other modern smartphone, the Mini’s 5.4-inch screen is still big enough for text messaging, email, web browsing, apps, video, and games, and if you’re coming from an iPhone 6, 7, or 8, it will feel quite spacious. But it’s also small enough that most adults, even those with small hands, will be able to comfortably reach all of the screen with their thumb. You won’t need a PopSocket on this one.
One important downside to a smaller phone: the iPhone 13 Mini has a smaller battery that probably won’t last a power user through a whole day without a charge. It’s really designed for someone who isn’t glued to their phone all day. Otherwise, the Mini is the same phone as the iPhone 13: it has the same design, processor, cameras, 5G support, and build quality as the larger model. It’s just smaller and has a smaller price tag — about $100 less.
Read our full Apple iPhone 13 Mini review.
The best phone around $500
Screen: 6.1-inch, 1080p OLED, 90Hz / Processor: Tensor G2 Cameras: 64-megapixel f/1.89 with OIS, 13-megapixel ultrawide, 13-megapixel selfie / Battery: 4,385mAh / Charging: 18W wired, 7.5W wireless / Weather-resistance rating: IP67
At $499, the Pixel 7A is one of the pricier midrange phones you can buy, but the extra features it provides are well worth the money. It offers a nice 6.1-inch OLED with a 90Hz top refresh rate for smooth scrolling — not quite as nice as the Samsung Galaxy A54 5G’s 120Hz screen but a step up from the 6A’s 60Hz display.
Other new features this year include the latest Tensor G2 chipset from Google — the same on the flagship 7 and 7 Pro — with a healthy 8GB of RAM, an updated 64-megapixel main camera, and wireless charging. Factor in the 7A’s hearty IP67 dust and water resistance, its sturdy aluminum frame, and the fact that it continues to offer the best photo quality in the class, and that $499 price tag starts to look like a pretty sweet deal.
Battery life on the Pixel 7A is just average. It will get through a day of moderate use with a bit left in the tank, but if you add in a battery-draining activity like gaming or an extended video streaming session, you’ll probably need to top it off before the end of the day. Otherwise, the 7A is an easy pick if your budget is modest. It’s scheduled to get three OS upgrades and five years of security patches, so it’s well positioned to go the distance, too.
There are other phones under $500 worth considering, and they’re all covered in our guide to the best inexpensive phones. But if you’re looking for the absolute most you can get from a $500 phone, then look no further than the 7A.
Read my full review of the Google Pixel 7A.
Best flip phone
Screen: 6.7-inch 1080p 120Hz OLED inner screen, 3.4-inch 720p OLED cover screen / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 / Cameras: 12-megapixel F/1.8 main with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 10-megapixel selfie (inner screen) / Battery: 3,700mAh / Charging: 25W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IPX8
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 has two things that the Flip 4 didn’t: a large cover screen and a legitimate competitor. The Motorola Razr Plus is another worthy flip-style foldable, and there are good reasons to consider it, but for the same $999 price, the Flip 5 simply offers more for your money.
The Flip 5’s 3.4-inch cover screen provides a lot of useful ways to interact with your phone without having to open it up. There are widgets for checking your calendar and the weather, and a full QWERTY keyboard allows you to send quick messages and emails right from the cover screen. You can run any app you like if you’re adventurous, but Samsung makes you jump through quite a few hoops to do this. If you want to run apps more easily, then the Razr Plus is the better option.
On the inside, the Flip 5 continues to offer a good 6.7-inch display that’s ready to handle all of the usual stuff you do with your phone. There’s a capable camera system, too, and using the rear-facing cameras with the phone folded partway or with the cover screen is a lot of fun. Long-term durability is a bit uncertain as it is with all current foldable phones, but the Flip 5 is at least fully water-resistant with an IPX8 rating. That’s better than most foldables, including the merely splash-resistant Razr Plus.
Samsung promises four years of OS upgrades and five years of security updates for the Flip 5 — a year longer than Motorola plans to support the Razr Plus and one of the best software support policies on Android. That’s one of several good reasons to pick the Flip 5 over the Razr Plus, and it’s enough to keep Samsung’s flip phone ahead of the competition for now.
Read my full review of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5.
Best folding phone
Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5 looks a lot like its predecessor, but it now folds flat thanks to a new hinge with fewer moving parts. It maintains the 7.6-inch inner display and narrow 6.2-inch cover screen, but it now utilizes the same Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor found in Samsung’s Galaxy S23 phones.
Screen: 7.6-inch 2176p 120Hz OLED inner screen, 6.2-inch 2316p 120Hz OLED cover screen / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 / Cameras: 50-megapixel F/1.8 main with OIS, 10-megapixel 3x telephoto with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 10-megapixel selfie (cover screen), four-megapixel under-display selfie (inner screen) / Battery: 4,400mAh / Charging: 25W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IPX8
We’ve recommended Samsung’s Galaxy Fold as the best folding phone for several years now — partly because it’s really good, but partly because competition was practically non-existent. The latest edition in the series, the Fold 5, now has a worthy challenger: the Google Pixel Fold. We think that the Fold 5 is still the best folding phone for the money (and at $1,800, it’s a lot of money), even though Samsung still has some room for improvement.
For starters, the Fold 5’s tall and narrow aspect ratio isn’t our favorite. Using the phone’s 6.2-inch cover screen with the device closed still kind of feels like using a remote control. But the real action is on the massive 7.6-inch inner screen, where Samsung’s robust multitasking software sings. You can run up to four apps at once with a floating window on top — Google only allows you to run two apps in split-screen on the Pixel Fold. That kind of flexibility opens up a ton of possibilities for what you can do with the Fold 5.
On the downside, the Fold 5’s camera system isn’t quite as good as the Pixel Fold’s. In fact, Samsung’s own Galaxy S23 Ultra offers a much better camera system overall and is $600 cheaper than the Fold 5. As it stands, the Fold 5 is capable of good photos, but its processing is somewhat inconsistent and its 3x telephoto lens feels a bit limited.
The Fold 5 is rated IPX8 — as is the Pixel Fold. That means it’s fully water resistant but there’s no guarantee against dust intrusion. Dust is the enemy of a foldable phone, so that’s something to take into account if you’re a first-time foldable buyer. But Samsung has steadily improved the overall durability of its folding phones over the years, whereas the Pixel Fold is very much a first-gen product without a proven track record.
There are a lot of points in favor of the Fold 5, but there are plenty of people who would be happier with the Pixel Fold. If the Fold 5’s narrow aspect ratio will drive you bananas, you’re a fan of Pixel image processing, and turbo-charged multitasking isn’t a priority, then the Pixel Fold is a better choice. For everyone else, the Galaxy Fold still can’t be beat.
Read my full Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 review.
Best phone for something completely different
Screen: 6.7-inch 1080p 120Hz OLED / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 / Cameras: 50-megapixel F/1.9 main with OIS, 50-megapixel ultrawide, 32-megapixel selfie / Battery: 4,700mAh / Charging: 45W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IP54
The Nothing Phone 2 isn’t for everyone, but for the right kind of person, it’s a very good alternative to the Galaxies and Pixels of the world. It’s a style-driven device, from the dot-matrix-inspired UI to the flashing light strips on the back panel. Will its unique hardware and software features help you take back your attention span as Nothing claims? Eh, probably not. Mostly, it’s just a cool-looking gadget and a thoughtfully designed device.
The Phone 2 is equipped with a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset, which is a slightly older but still very capable processor. Its 6.7-inch 1080p screen supports a fast 120Hz top refresh rate, and its lowest 1Hz refresh rate allows it to offer an information-rich always-on display. The camera system is good, though not quite as consistent as the Pixel 7’s. There’s wireless charging, fast 45W wired charging, and an all-day battery.
That’s all of the good news. The bad news is that it’s only rated IP54, meaning it’s not fully dustproof, and it’s only resistant to splashes rather than full immersion in water. Most other phones at this price offer a full IP68 rating, and a couple of cheaper midrange phones like the Pixel 7A even include a more robust IP67 water resistance. The Phone 2 also lacks official support for Verizon’s network, which rules it out for a lot of people in the US.
There’s the glyph interface, too — those lights on the back of the phone. It’s a neat idea with some interesting applications if you invest a little time in tweaking it. You can flip it over to silence notifications when you need some time to focus and hand-pick certain “essential” alerts to light up the glyph. Personally, I find it less helpful than a traditional focus mode or even the Phone 2’s always-on display. But others might find it useful, and if nothing else, it looks neat.
The Phone 2 isn’t the best choice for sheer value — the Pixel 7A is a much better value proposition. It’s not the best choice for someone who just wants a phone to get them through their day with minimal hassle. But it’s undeniably different, and if you’re looking for something outside of the ordinary with a certain visual appeal, then it’s a worthy candidate.
Read my full Nothing Phone 2 review.
Other good phones
There are a few other devices that didn’t quite make the cut for any of the above categories but are still worth mentioning. The Samsung S23 Plus just edged out the Google Pixel 7 Pro as our pick for the best Android phone for most people. The Pixel 7 Pro is still a great device, and the $899 price tag is attractive (and often marked down). We like its software out-of-the-box better than Samsung’s, and its camera system sometimes outdoes the S23 Plus’ — especially with its longer 5x telephoto lens. But while its custom Tensor G2 chipset is capable, it’s unclear how it will hold up in the long run.
Pixel 6 and 7 owners have also reported their fair share of software bugs and unusual hardware problems. Google seems to be doing the right thing and repairing phones under warranty, and the Pixel series’ frequent updates mean that bugs are usually fixed in a timely manner. Samsung, on the other hand, is pretty much on cruise control with the S23 Plus.
The iPhone 14 Plus is worth considering if you prefer iOS and you like a bigger phone. If the 14 Pro feels like overkill but you want a big screen and a big battery, then the 14 Plus is a good alternative. It costs less than the $1,099 Pro Max, though its $899 price isn’t exactly cheap. But like the iPhone 14, the 14 Plus offers very few appreciable updates over the iPhone 13 and doesn’t quite lend itself to a broad recommendation.
The Asus Zenfone 10 is a delightful little phone that’s engineered with one-handed use in mind. It comes with a 5.9-inch screen, a highly capable Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, and a capable camera system with robust gimbal-like stabilization. It will only be sold unlocked in the US and won’t fully work on the Verizon network, but for a few dedicated small phone fans, it’s a winner.
Update August 22nd, 4:20PM ET: Replaced the Motorola Razr Plus with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5, replaced the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 with the Z Fold 5, and replaced the OnePlus 11 with the Nothing Phone 2.