The best phones you can buy in 2023 have various features in common. Lightning-fast processors offer smooth gaming experiences, vibrant, high-resolution screens make your Netflix shows look great, and top-end rear cameras let you take beautiful images you’ll want to look back on in years to come. Other phones are more cost-conscious, offering decent all-round performance at more approachable prices. But with so many phones on sale from a plethora of manufacturers — all promising to offer the best smartphone experience — it can be difficult to work out which one is actually best for your own needs.
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To simplify the decision, we’ve rounded up our top picks. Each phone on this list meets the requirements for what CNET considers to be the best smartphones. From high-end phones packed with cutting-edge tech to budget devices under $500 and everything in between, there are plenty of worthwhile options for everyone.
Every phone on this list has been thoroughly reviewed and tested, and you’ll find options across iPhone and Android that fit different needs and different budgets.
What is the best phone for most people?
The Apple iPhone 14 impressed us with its excellent processor performance and cameras. It’s an ideal phone for most people. While its largely a repackaged iPhone 13 with the 13 Pro’s processor, its still more than capable and one of the fastest phones we’ve tested this year. The iPhone 14 takes excellent photos and videos, but its iOS and all it’s features that really shine like iMessage, Apple Pay, FaceTime and Apple Music.
Most of the phones below are available unlocked and should be compatible with the big four US wireless carriers, unless otherwise specified. Many of the best phones of 2022 remain available and some are included below, but we review and update this list regularly and will keep you posted as we continue to test new models throughout 2023. For more info, read our guide to help find the best phone for your needs and take a look at our tips on how to buy a new Apple iPhone or Android phone and where to snag the best phone deals.
Best phones of 2023
While the base iPhone 14 doesn’t have the same triple camera array or new Dynamic Island notch as its pricier 14 Pro sibling, it still offers a lot to be excited about and comes with a more affordable price. CNET editor Patrick Holland describes it as “a good upgrade for most people” thanks to its solid performance, updated main camera and various other tweaks including a more repairable glass back in case it takes a tumble.
Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max introduce sweeping changes like the Dynamic Island, a new 48-megapixel camera system and Apple’s new A16 Bionic processor. All of these upgrades come together to make for an experience that feels fresh and fast. The upgrades to the main camera allow it to take some truly stunning photos, making the phone a solid option if you’re into mobile photography.
With its stellar triple camera, refined design and spacious 6.7-inch screen, there’s a lot to love about the Pixel 7 Pro. Although it’s not very different from the previous Pixel 6 Pro, it will feel like a big change to those upgrading from a phone that’s more than two years old. Google has improved the zoom capabilities on the Pixel 7 Pro, giving it a 30x digital zoom compared to the 6 Pro’s 20x range for capturing tighter shots. Both the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro have some new features powered by Google’s Tensor G2 chip, such as the ability to sharpen old photos. You’ll also get free access to Google’s VPN on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro.
The Galaxy S23 is a lot, but in a good way. It’s more than most people need in a phone, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Samsung made improvements to the camera’s resolution (200 megapixels compared to 108 megapixels), color tones and dynamic range, while retaining the same edgy design and massive 6.8-inch screen as its predecessor. There’s also a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor that’s been optimized specifically for Samsung’s phones, which brings faster performance compared to the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Android fans looking for a petite phone don’t have much to choose from. But the 6.1-inch Galaxy S23 provides a compelling option for those who want a phone that feels compact but still provides enough screen space. The Galaxy S23 comes with routine upgrades like a fresh processor (a version of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 that’s been optimized for Samsung’s phones), a slightly new design and a higher-resolution selfie camera. But it’s the Galaxy S23’s larger battery that makes it worth recommending. Read our Samsung Galaxy S23 review.
Google’s budget phone took a leap forward in 2023 with the Pixel 7A, which offers many of the same benefits as the Pixel 7 but at a cheaper price. Like the Pixel 7, the Pixel 7A runs on Google’s Tensor G2 processor, meaning it has many of the same photo editing and language translation features as its pricier sibling. The Pixel 7A’s 64-megapixel camera also takes excellent photos that rival the Pixel 7’s in quality.
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Google no longer sells the Pixel 6 Pro through its website, but you can still find it through some third-party retailers at a significant discount for now. The Pixel 6 Pro’s unique design, great software additions, superb camera quality and solid all-around performance earned the phone an excellent rating when CNET reviewed it in 2021. It’s more than a year old, but many of our initial impressions still hold true. All told, it’s a worthwhile choice for those who want a spacious screen and a top-notch camera on a budget.
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While Apple’s new iPhone 14 and 14 Pro might be the more exciting options with their upgraded cameras and the Pro’s new Dynamic Island notch, Apple is still selling the base iPhone 13.
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The $700 OnePlus 11 is a powerful phone that’s well equipped to handle gaming, video streaming and other common tasks. In typical OnePlus fashion, this phone is also cheaper than the $800 Galaxy S23 and $900 Pixel 7 Pro. The cameras aren’t the best, but they’re fine for casual photographers that just want to capture their next vacation or a night out. What sets the OnePlus 11 apart from many of its rivals is its blazing fast 100-watt fast charging, which can replenish the battery in just 25 minutes. (The US version only supports 80-watt charging, but that’s still an improvement over the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 45-watt charging). Overall, the OnePlus 11 is ideal for those who want a powerful phone that charges quickly and won’t break the bank. Read our OnePlus 11 review.
Apple’s 2022 iPhone SE may not have the incredible multiple cameras of the top-end iPhone 13 Pro, but the iPhone SE has a lot to offer if you’re looking for a great experience without spending flagship levels of cash. It’s 5G-enabled, for one, it runs the latest iOS 15 software and it packs the same A15 Bionic processor found in Apple’s top phones. As a result, performance is lightning-fast.
The Pixel 6A impressed CNET’s Lisa Eadicicco last year with its attractive design and Tensor processor, which enabled it to inherit many of the same features as the Pixel 6 but at a cheaper price. Now, Google has knocked the price down to $349, making it an even better value.
If you’re someone who prefers smaller, pocket-friendly devices, this is the phone for you. The 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Mini is easy to use with one hand and even fits into tight jean pockets. Starting at $599, this is the cheapest model in Apple’s iPhone 13 lineup. While battery life isn’t as long as on the iPhone 13, this petite Apple iPhone doesn’t sacrifice on camera capabilities or processing power.
How to buy a new phone
Know what you care about most: Is it screen size? Camera quality? Battery life? This will help narrow down your choices. Phones like the iPhone 14 Pro or Pixel 7 Pro, for example, pack incredible cameras that almost rival the quality you’d get from a DSLR. If you’re a photographer, then spending money here is a good idea. If not, you can likely save yourself a bundle.
Don’t discount the midrange: Features of last year’s flagships always trickle down to this year’s midrange handsets.You can get a great phone that does almost everything that a premium phone can do for a fraction of the price. Google’s Pixel 7 Pro packs a great zoom camera, but the base Pixel 7 has most of the same key specs and comes at a more reasonable price.
Shop the sales: Look for deep discounts and promo deals around major holidays, especially Amazon’s Prime Day and Black Friday. And find out what your grace period is in case you need a quick return or exchange.
Last year’s phones: They can often be a great deal, too. Wait for this year’s launch to get last year’s phone for less, when stores and carriers may be trying to offload their existing stock.
Hold the phone at a store first: You may love or hate the way it looks and feels in person.
Check if you’re already invested: Have you already bought a lot of iPhone apps and iTunes movies? Stick with an iPhone if you still want access to them. Likewise, if you’ve invested in loads of Android apps, you’ll want to stay on that side of the fence. Otherwise, it’s simple enough to switch platforms.
Buy a case and screen protector: You’ll protect your phone from costly damage, and will increase the phone’s resale or trade-in value for when you’re ready to move on.
How we test phones
We test every phone in real-world scenarios, focusing on its features, design, performance, cameras, battery life and overall value. We document our findings in an initial review that is periodically updated when there are new software updates, or to compare it against new phones from competitors such as Apple, Samsung, Google and OnePlus.
Photography is a major focus for most phones these days, so we take pictures and videos of various subjects in a variety of settings and lighting scenarios. We try out any new camera modes, such as Action mode that debuted with the iPhone 14 line, or the Unblur photo tool that launched with the Google Pixel 7 series.
Battery testing is conducted in a variety of ways. We assess how long a phone lasts during a typical day of use and note how it performs during more focused sessions of video calls, media streaming and gaming. We also conduct a video playback test, as a simple, replicable measure of pure battery life, which isn’t always included in the initial review but sometimes added later in an update.
We use benchmarking apps to measure each phone’s performance, alongside our own anecdotal experiences using the phone for our review. Of note are how graphics and animations look. Are they smooth? Or do they lag or stutter? We also look at how quickly the phone switches between horizontal and vertical orientations, and how fast the camera app opens and is ready to take a photo.
We perform processor-heavy tasks like editing photos, exporting videos and playing games. We evaluate whether a newer version of a particular phone includes enough features to make it worth upgrading from older models.
Readmore: How We Test Phones
What makes a good phone camera?
All of today’s phones pack some kind of camera setup on the back, with most packing multiple ones like ultrawides or telephoto zooms. More expensive phones, like the iPhone 14 Pro, use larger image sensors, better-quality lenses and image stabilization that let in more light, capturing detailed images with beautiful colors — in daylight and at night. Typically, the more you pay, the better quality you’ll get, with the most advanced features being reserved for the most expensive flagships.
What is the best phone case?
There’s a vast array of case options for almost every phone on the market, so which one is best really comes down to what you need it for. Many cases are simply there for the style. And while these cases will certainly help keep light scratches and scuffs off your phone, you should look toward more specialized rugged cases if you want to take your smartphone on a rough-and-tumble adventure into the outdoors.
How long should a phone battery last?
Most smartphones — even those at the top end — should be able to deliver a full day of mixed use out of a single charge. That means you should have a bit of juice left at the end of your day, but you should expect to give it a full charge when you plug it in next to your bed at night.
How much storage should my phone have?
Most phones tend to come with a minimum of 128GB of storage, which is a good amount for apps, games and locally stored music. But it’s important to think about what you’ll be doing with your phone. If you want to download and play a lot of games, then consider opting for a higher-capacity version.
What makes a phone a smartphone?
Smartphones let you do more than just make calls; they connect to the internet for web browsing, you can download apps and games, and they typically have cameras capable of taking — and displaying — photos and videos. In short, they’re just what we know of today as a “phone,” and everything on this list qualifies as a smartphone.