In our series of best product guides, here’s the latest update to our recommended Android Smartphone list. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing (August 11th).
It’s past the middle of the year now, and every Android vendor has had the opportunity to release their devices. It’s been a few months now since the flagship refresh cycle started and we’ve reviewed the ups and down of this generation, even giving vendors enough opportunity to refine their software and fix any issues that may have plagued the phones in the first few months. It’s this time of the year that’s also the best time to actually dive into getting a new phone – the new generation has already gotten sizeable price reductions, but the phones are still new enough that one wouldn’t suffer any buyer’s remorse in getting in on the bandwagon, with still plenty of time left in the product cycle.
|AnandTech Android Smartphone Recommendations: Q3 2019|
|Segment||Option #1||Option #2|
|High-End||Samsung Galaxy S10/S10+||OnePlus 7 Pro|
|Upper Mid-Range||Xiaomi Mi9||Galaxy S10e|
|Best Value||Huawei P Smart (2019) / Honor 8X|
Samsung’s Galaxy S10 continued to impress months after its launch and the company is still largely able to deliver the very best package to date. Early concerns about the Exynos camera situation have somewhat been alleviated with continuous firmware updates and revised post-processing.
Meanwhile OnePlus with the 7 Pro has offered a very interesting alternative at the high end for users who are looking for uncompromising performance, and one of the rare 90Hz displays on the market.
Best Flagship Devices: Samsung Galaxy S10/S10+ & OnePlus 7 Pro
The Galaxy S10/S10+ remain the top recommendation for the best Android flagship devices on the market right now. What differentiates the S10s from other flagship devices this year is the fact that they really have no weaknesses in any particular area. Samsung this year has been able to minimize discrepancies between the Snapdragon and Exynos variants to the point that I can actually recommend the phone to users in European markets- whereas I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing this for last year’s SoC. The phone retains excellent performance, battery life, while offering essentially no compromises when it comes to the phone’s features, a successful formula Samsung unfortunately decided to seemingly abandon in the newer phones such as the recently announced Note10.
Samsung’s cameras currently in my opinion remain the best on the market, offering the best dynamic range and processing amongst current generation devices. When we first reviewed the S10 back in March one thing we noted is that the low-light ability had been a bit lack-lustre compared to Huawei and Google. Fortunately, Samsung was able to address this point later on in May by introducing a new dedicated “Night Mode” that uses full-blown computational photography, besting Google’s Night Sight processing, and at least still being competitive with Huawei even though the latter has a clear hardware advantage.
The phone has also seen larger price reduction since its release, and particularly it’s easy to get the phones at a good discount in the global markets, such as 653€ for the S10 and 749€ for the S10+ in Europe.
There’s been many contenders in the high-end, but the one that came closest to being the most competitive is OnePlus’ 7 Pro. The phone distinguishes itself from the rest by virtue of its 90Hz screen which essentially surpasses Samsung’s own devices. The performance of the phone is very much impressive and provides an excellent user experience.
The negatives about the OnePlus 7 Pro is that it has lesser battery life and worse cameras than the S10+. It’s a bigger phone, and lacks features such as a 3.5mm headphone jack or wireless charging. It’s a good alternative to Samsung, however buyers should pay attention that they’re manage to get a good deal as the original MSRP of the device still isn’t competitive.
Best Upper-Mid Range Smartphones: Xiaomi Mi9, Samsung Galaxy S10e
In terms of mid-range phones, one device that now consistently stands out beyond everything else is Xiaomi’s Mi9. This is a Snapdragon 855 flagship phone, yet one can get it now for the astounding price of 376€, a price at which the phone essentially just destroys every other contender in terms of value.
The phone offers a competitive triple-camera system, a good quality OLED screen, and just a sleek design. The only negative I have to mention about it is that it lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack, and only has a mono-speaker setup – both compromises I’d be willing to make for the price. We’ll be posting our full review of the Mi9 in a few weeks’ time.
The issue about this recommendation is that the Mi9 isn’t officially available in North America. One can still easily get the phone on Amazon via resellers, but this will be the global variant and thus will be lacking compatibility with carriers such as Verizon, plus it won’t have any warranty. The real kicker here is that even like this I think the phone is just better value than some other alternatives that are officially available; the Pixel 3a comes in at $399 (3a XL at $479) while the Mi9 as of writing was available for $390. Google’s software might be better and naturally you’re getting official support & warranty – but one would have to chose for themselves if that enough to bridge the enormous hardware differences.
The Galaxy S10e isn’t quite in the upper mid-range as much as it’s on the lower high-end segment. Buyers in the US might have a bit less luck on the pricing as the phone can still be a bit expensive, but in Europe it’s available for new at 550€ which is still a reasonable price. For the premium above the Mi9’s price, you get a better camera and better speakers, a 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s a bit of a steep price for just those features, however it still represents a better package than other phones in the same price-range.
Best Budget Smartphones: Huawei P Smart (2019), Honor 8X – Wait for the 9X
This category of devices is very hard for me to write about due to the sheer size of the market and particular regional segmentation. In particular the US market is absolutely barren of viable options due to the fact that many OEMs don’t officially release their products in this region. This is incredibly frustrating as it’s in this budget segment where we see the vast majority of competition from Asian vendors, providing some of the more incredible value propositions.
Users who are on CDMA carriers (Verizon, Sprint) are just pure out of luck. It’s a tough situation and unfortunately due to the geopolitical as well as bad US carrier situation I think the best sub-$200 phones are probably refurbished previous generation flagship devices.
That being said, for other regions as well as if you’re willing to live with the more limited frequency band support in the US, the one clear winner in this price segment is Huawei’s P Smart 2019 or its almost identical sibling, the Honor 8X.
Huawei & Honor employ surprisingly high quality screens in their low-end devices which punch far above their weight. The full-screen design with a dew-drop notch also doesn’t make it immediately obvious that we’re talking about a budget smartphone.
The phone’s Kirin 710 chipset comes in a 12nm manufacturing node with 4x 2.2Ghz A73 cores and 4x 1.7GHz A53 cores which is in line with performance of a flagship SoC 2 years ago. Together with a 3400mAh battery this results in some great battery life. Overall for £189 or 199€, the P Smart (2019) just seems to offer incredible value.
It’s to be noted that I’d highly recommend a few more weeks in this segment to see what Honor has in store with the Honor 9X – the new Kirin 810 looks to be punching above its weight in this segment and likely devices with the SoC are likely to offer better value than what’s currently available.