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We spend hundreds of hours each year testing the latest Android smartphones in everyday use, and we think the 5-inch Google Pixel 2 is the best Android phone for most people. It has the fastest performance of any Android phone we’ve tested, a best-in-class 12.2-megapixel camera, and impressive build quality. And unlike last year’s Pixel, it’s water-resistant.
The Pixel 2 has the smoothest and fastest performance we’ve ever seen in an Android phone. The 12.2-megapixel camera is even better than the one in the Samsung Galaxy S9, and the phone offers more than a day of battery life, even with heavy use. It also features IP67 water resistance, excellent build quality, and a good screen, but it lacks a microSD card slot and headphone jack.
Google sells two versions of the Pixel 2: the regular one with a 5-inch screen (made by HTC) and the 6-inch Pixel 2 XL (made by LG). We’re not recommending the Pixel 2 XL due to screen quality issues that don’t affect the 5-inch Pixel 2.
The Galaxy S9 and S9+ offer a sleeker, more refined design than the Pixel 2 along with extras like a microSD card slot and a headphone jack. These phones have the latest curved OLED screens from Samsung, and they’re the best we’ve ever seen on a phone, and the bezel surrounding the screen is tiny thanks to the taller aspect ratio. The phones are both IP68 water-resistant, so they can survive in deeper water than the IP67-rated Pixel 2. The Galaxy S9’s camera has an adjustable aperture – that means it can take brighter low light shots while also getting sharper photos in brighter light. We still like the Pixel 2’s camera more. The version of Android 8.0 Oreo on the Galaxy S9 is better than on older Samsung phones, but it’s still more cluttered with unnecessary features, and it’s slower than the Pixel’s highly optimised version.
We also like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 for people who want a huge phone with a stylus, but we don’t think that most people need to spend the extra money.
How we picked and tested
We’ve tested dozens of Android phones over the past few years, and most have poor software, sluggish performance, terrible design choices, or some combination of all three. Here are the criteria we use to decide which phones are worth buying:
· Software: A clunky version of Android can ruin the experience, and even the most powerful hardware won’t matter if the maker didn’t optimise it well. We favour phones that have fewer manufacturer and carrier modifications because they run better and are easier to use. Your smartphone will also end up containing a lot of personal data, so security is important. A phone that ships with outdated software, doesn’t get security patches, or has a documented history of security flaws is not a good purchase no matter the price.
· Display: Most people spend several hours every day looking at their smartphone screen. It’s important that the screen looks sharp and is easy to read outdoors.
· Camera: The best camera is the one you have with you. A good smartphone camera means you can take fantastic photos at a moment’s notice, but the difference between a top-tier cell phone camera and an average one can be huge. To get our recommendation, a smartphone needs take better photos than other devices in its price range.
· Battery life: If a phone can’t make it through a full day of heavy use, it’s not worth buying. Some phones offer multi-day battery life, but that’s not a requirement for most people. As long as the phone lasts until bedtime, it’s good enough.
· Build quality: Android smartphones are getting more expensive; some cost as much as $1,000 (around Rs 72,000) or more. A phone with bad build quality could break before you even finish paying it off through a carrier. Phones should use high-quality materials like aluminum, ceramic, and Gorilla Glass, and the device shouldn’t bend or creak when stressed.
Should you upgrade?
Wirecutter’s philosophy on upgrading any product is that you should spend money on the things you use all the time and are important to you, and that you shouldn’t spend a lot on the rest.
If you’re happy with your current cell phone, don’t get a new one yet. The phones that will be available later will be better than the models available today. On the other hand, if you use your phone constantly throughout the day and your old one isn’t serving you well anymore, get a new one.
Another reason to consider an upgrade is if your current phone isn’t receiving software updates anymore. Without updates, your phone will get less secure over time – all software has bugs, which lead to security vulnerabilities, and if your phone isn’t getting updates, it isn’t getting fixes, either. And without updates, the phone won’t be able to take advantage of apps that require features present only in the latest OS. (Of course, newer apps may also require more power than an older phone’s hardware can supply.)
If your phone is more than a year or two old and your biggest complaint is that the battery life sucks, consider replacing the battery before replacing the phone. Most recent phones use sealed-in batteries, but you can usually ask the manufacturer or a third-party service to replace the battery. It’s a hassle, but not as much as replacing the phone, and it costs a lot less. If such an option isn’t feasible for you, any of our picks should get you through a day without issues.
When it’s time to buy a new phone, we recommend getting the best-rated, most recently released phone you can afford. In the US, on the major carriers, that usually means paying $20 to $30 per month for two years on a finance plan. The carriers offer inexpensive phones as well, but those often have some combination of substandard specs, poor build quality, bad interfaces, and outdated, crufty versions of Android, never to be updated again. Chances are, you’ll feel the difference in quality and usability every day. And they’re often already a year or two old, so they’ll be three or four years old by the time you pay them off – long past the last software update they’ll get. You’re almost always better off paying a bit more to get a newer and better phone that you’ll enjoy using for at least two years.
Our pick: Google Pixel 2
The Google Pixel 2 is the best Android phone for most people. It’s noticeably faster than every other Android phone we’ve tested, and it runs the newest, best version of Android, unencumbered by heavy skins or redundant features. Its 12-megapixel camera also takes the best photos of any Android phone. The hardware is as good as or better than what you get in phones like the Galaxy S9 in the same price range, but Google’s software and update support blows everyone else away.
The Pixel 2 comes in 5-inch and 6-inch (XL) variants, but we’re recommending only the 5-inch phone because of screen-quality problems with the 6-inch Pixel 2 XL. You don’t have to compromise on speed, RAM, or storage with the smaller device, and the phone is also water-resistant with an IP67 rating – it’s not quite as good as the IP68 rating of the Samsung Galaxy S9 series, but it can still survive a fall into a toilet if not the deep end of a swimming pool. The main drawback of the Pixel is that it lacks a headphone jack or a microSD slot, but it comes with either 64 GB or 128 GB of built-in storage, so the lack of microSD, at least, won’t be a dealbreaker for most people. The 5-inch version starts at Rs 47,990 with 64 GB of storage, and the 128 GB version costs Rs 52,990.
The Pixel’s 12.2-megapixel camera is lower-resolution than the ones offered by phones like the LG V30, but the image quality is unmatched. Photos have accurate colours and perfect exposure in even the most challenging conditions. It’s also one of the fastest cameras we’ve ever used – there’s no lag when you open the camera app, so you can start snapping instantly. Google’s HDR (high dynamic range) photo captures are faster and include more detail than Samsung or any other Android maker. As I said in the Android Police review, “When other phones might need two or three tries to get a shot, the Pixel nails it the first time.” Google offers free, unlimited full-resolution backups to Google Photos of pictures and videos you take on the Pixel for three years. (For anyone who doesn’t own a Pixel, Google Photos’ unlimited free backup option compresses photos and videos; uncompressed files count toward your storage quota.)
The Pixel 2 runs Android 9 Pie, which is still not available on phones from Samsung (or from most Android phone makers, for that matter). Pie includes features like gesture navigation, AI-optimised battery conservation, and digital wellness tools to help you spend less time staring at your phone. You won’t get these features if your current phone hasn’t been updated.
Google guarantees that the Pixel 2 will receive OS updates and security patches for at least three years from the phone’s release date. The Pixel 2 has already gotten the Android 9 Pie update, and it should get Q in 2019 and R in 2020. Google is also the only device maker that pushes out monthly security patches; most other phones are lucky to get one major system update. (Samsung tries to release monthly security patches for its most popular phones.) Full Android version updates are also available on Pixels sooner than on any other phones – Samsung and other Android phone makers usually take between three and six months, at best, to update their phones to the latest version.
The Pixel 2 is mostly made of aluminum with a grippy rubberised coating, which we like more than the Galaxy S9’s glass back. Not only do glass-backed phones pick up fingerprints, they’re slippery and easy to break when dropped. The Pixel 2, like last year’s Pixel, does have a small strip of glass on the back at the top to let wireless signals through, but the rest of its back is aluminum.
As with almost all modern phones, the battery is not removable, but as Ron Amadeo at Ars Technica says, “The battery life of both devices is fantastic, with both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL making big strides over last year’s versions.” The Pixel 2 has a modest 2,700 mAh battery, but it still gets more than a day of battery life, easily better than the Galaxy S9.
The 5-inch Pixel 2 has a 1920×1080 OLED screen. It gets bright enough to use outside (and works with polarised sunglasses), but the colors are more muted than the Galaxy S9’s. Google says both Pixels are calibrated to have more natural colours (using the sRGB colour gamut), which some people won’t like as much as the bright, saturated colours that Samsung and other Android phone makers usually use. Apps can also use the DCI-P3 colour space, which can display a wider range of greens and reds, but this is a new feature that most developers haven’t started using. Droid-Life says the display will be “perfectly fine for most people,” and we agree with that.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
This will be a dealbreaker for some people: The Pixel 2 doesn’t have a headphone jack, which is steadily becoming a common omission (Apple and Motorola removed the jacks from their phones last year). The phone includes a USB-C–to–3.5 mm adapter, or you can get a pair of USB Type-C headphones. I’ve tested the Libratone headphones from the Google Store, and they work well – thanks to the USB-C connection, they can do active noise cancellation without a battery in the headphones. Another omission: The Pixel 2 doesn’t offer a microSD card slot, so you have to buy the 128 GB version if 64 GB isn’t enough storage for you, and that costs more.
Should you get a Pixel 2 XL?
The Pixel 2 XL is very similar to the Pixel 2. It has the same guts, cameras, and other specs, but it’s made by LG instead of HTC and has a different screen, larger battery capacity (3,520 mAh vs. 2,700 mAh), and slightly different physical design. The most obvious difference is the 6-inch 2880×1440 OLED screen. Its 18:9 aspect ratio is taller than the 16:9 screen on the 5-inch Pixel, and it fills most of the XL 2’s front, like the screen on the Galaxy S9. Some early reviews of this phone called out several issues with the LG-made OLED panel, which Google has investigated. (The Pixel 2’s OLED display is made by Samsung and isn’t affected).
According to reports, there is a noticeable blue colour shift when viewing the screen from an angle, and some buyers have reported an excessive grainy appearance as well as burn-in after just a few days of use. My review unit doesn’t have any glaring issues, but a Wirecutter editor’s did. Because of these issues, we’re not going to recommend the Pixel 2 XL, but we’ll test Google’s next XL Pixel phone to see if the display improves.
Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+
If the Pixel 2 doesn’t have the features you want, the Samsung Galaxy S9 or S9+ are your best bet. Samsung’s latest phones do most things nearly as well as the Pixel 2, and they offer a few advantages, including a headphone jack, microSD card slot, wireless charging, and larger screens that don’t make the phones gigantic. The camera is very nearly as good as the Pixel 2, and the S9+ adds a second rear camera for 2x zoom shots. These phones ship with Android 8.0 Oreo, which offers most of the same features as the Pixel 2, but Samsung’s software is slower and more cluttered, and updates will take longer. The S9 costs around Rs 52,000, while S9+ costs about Rs 7,000 more.
Both the 5.8-inch S9 and 6.2-inch S9+ have a taller 18.5:9 screen aspect ratios and slim bezels that fit more screen area into a typical phone footprint. The Pixel 2 has a smaller 5-inch 16:9 display in a body that’s the same size as the Galaxy S9. These curved OLED screens are the brightest and sharpest we’ve ever tested. DisplayMate agrees, pointing out these screens are 20% brighter than the Galaxy S8 for improved outdoor readability.
Both the Galaxy S9 and S9+ have a 12-megapixel main camera sensor featuring an adjustable aperture – f/1.5 and f/2.4. This means the camera lens can physically adjust to let in more or less light, just like a standalone camera. The Galaxy S9 can take impressively bright low-light shots and crisp outdoor images, giving it more range than other phone cameras. “The S9 manages to pull a good photo out of a less-than-ideal situation better than any Galaxy device before it,” according to Android Authority. However, Samsung’s HDR processing still doesn’t cope with dark and light areas in the same photo as well as the Pixel 2, and shutter speeds tend to be too long. That leads to blurriness when your subject is moving, even with the help of above-average optical stabilisation. The addition of a secondary zoom camera on the Galaxy S9+ doesn’t change the equation – the Pixel 2 takes better pictures overall, but the GS9 bests everything that isn’t a Pixel.
The metal and glass body of the Galaxy S9 is solid and curves in the right places to fit comfortably in your hand. The phone looks beautiful, but it picks up fingerprints as soon as you handle it. It’s also slippery and fragile with all that glass. We do like Samsung’s pressure-sensitive home button – it’s like Apple’s 3D touch but just on the bottom part of the screen. You can hard-press this spot to trigger the home button at all times, even if the navigation buttons are hidden by full-screen content or the phone is asleep.
The Galaxy S9 is IP68-rated for dust and water-resistance, which means it’ll keep working even after being fully submerged in 1.5 metre (about 5 feet) of water for half an hour. The Pixel 2 is only certified to dive up to 1 metre deep for 30 minutes.
The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are the first phones to come with the new Snapdragon 845 chip, offering less lag and better battery life than the Galaxy S8. The Galaxy S9 isn’t slow, but Samsung’s software makes it less smooth and consistent than the Pixel 2 when multitasking or installing apps. Battery life is about the same for both the GS9 with its 3,000 mAh battery and the GS9+ with its 3,500 mAh battery (the larger display on the Plus consumes more power). Depending on how you’re using it, the Pixel 2 will give you several more hours of standby or an extra hour or so of usage per charge than the Galaxy S9. The Galaxy S9 does include fast wireless charging, but its wired fast charging tops out at 15 W, which is slower than the Pixel 2, LG V30, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and many other phones that can manage between 18 and 22 W.
Samsung ships the Galaxy S9 with Android 8.0 Oreo – the most recent Android version is 9.0 Pie – with its Samsung Experience UI layer on top. Samsung’s version of Android has improved over the years to the point that it gets most things right. However, there are still a lot of unnecessary features hiding in the software, and Samsung loads phones up with unnecessary and duplicate apps. Samsung’s home screen is also clunky compared to what you get on the Pixel 2, and the Bixby voice assistant is given a prominent position. Android Police calls Bixby “nearly useless”; you’re better off disabling it and sticking to Google Assistant. The physical Bixby button on the phone can be disabled but not remapped, which is annoying. Samsung did put the fingerprint sensor in a better location than it did on the Galaxy S8 (below the camera instead of next to it). It’s still not as fast or accurate as the one on the Pixel 2, though.
Samsung aims for monthly security updates like the Pixel gets, but it rarely manages that. You do get more updates than most phones, but major feature updates take significantly longer to show up than they do on the Pixel 2. The Galaxy S8 only got the Oreo update as the Galaxy S9 started shipping, about six months after Google updated the Pixels. The Pixel 2 will get the new version of Android immediately when it’s released, and it will be up-to-date longer.
A huge phone with a stylus: Samsung Galaxy Note 9
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is a bigger, better Galaxy S9+ with a stylus. The 6.4-inch OLED display is the best we’ve ever seen, and the camera performance is almost a match for that of the Pixel 2. Like Samsung’s other phones, the Note 9 has a sleek glass-and-aluminum body with IP68 water resistance. It also has a Bluetooth stylus, called the S Pen, making the Note 9 great for taking notes or doodling. The button on the stylus can control the camera, browser, and more. However, Samsung’s version of Android Oreo can be sluggish and confusing. The Note 9 is also very expensive: the 128 GB version is Rs 67,900, and the 512 GB version costs another Rs 17,000. Though the Note 9 has a nicer screen than the Galaxy S9, both the Pixel 2 and Galaxy S9 offer a better value.
This model’s 6.4-inch OLED screen is just 0.2 inch larger than that of the Galaxy S9+, but it has higher maximum brightness for improved outdoor visibility, and its colour accuracy is “visually indistinguishable from perfect”, according to the experts at DisplayMate.
The Note 9 has the same dual 12-megapixel cameras, with the same image quality, as the Galaxy S9+. The main sensor has an adjustable aperture to allow more or less light to reach the sensor, and the secondary camera has a 2x telephoto lens for taking photos of more-distant objects. The image quality is almost as good as that of the Pixel 2, but Samsung tends to overexpose some photos even with HDR enabled, and the camera app itself is more confusing to use than Google’s.
The Note 9 stylus, the S Pen, has a battery (technically a supercapacitor) to support its Bluetooth functionality, but it still works unpowered with the Note 9 screen for pressure-sensitive, precise input. You can use the S Pen to capture perfectly cropped screenshots, jot down notes without waking up the phone, and use handwriting recognition in almost any text field. The Bluetooth connection also lets you use the S Pen’s button to control the camera, Chrome, slideshows, and more. The stylus lasts around 30 minutes before you need to insert it into the phone to recharge, a process that takes less than 20 seconds for a full charge.
Samsung ships the Note 9 with a customised version of Android 8.1 Oreo. Though Android 9 Pie came out several weeks ago on Pixel phones, it will take at least several months to reach the Note. The “Samsung Experience” version of Android isn’t as bad as TouchWiz was on older Samsung phones, but it’s still slower than stock Android with a lot of unnecessary features that you’ll just end up disabling.
The Note 9 is a very good phone, but it’s not the best value; that honour still goes to the Pixel 2, which feels faster, gets quick updates, has a slightly superior camera, and costs considerably less. We recommend the Note 9 only if you really need the bigger, better screen and the integrated stylus.
What to look forward to
Google is expected to launch new Pixel phones on October 9. We don’t know much about the Pixel 3 except that it will have a taller 18:9 screen ratio like the Pixel 2 XL. The Pixel 3 XL, however, has leaked repeatedly and in great detail. The larger 2018 Pixel will have a display notch similar to that of the iPhone X, to house its dual front-facing cameras; both Pixels still have just one camera on the back.
Pixel phones have been good options in the past thanks to their phenomenal cameras, solid hardware, and guaranteed updates. We’ll test the new Pixel phones as soon as they launch.
OnePlus 6: The hardware of the OnePlus 6 sounds like a great deal. For Rs 35,000, you get something that appears well-built and has the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon processor – first found in the more expensive Samsung Galaxy S9. Unfortunately, OnePlus’s past phones have had multiple problems that have undermined the hardware. The OnePlus 5T was unable to stream HD video when it was launched. The OnePlus 5 had an unfixable hardware problem that affected scrolling. Beyond this, OnePlus and its phones have had multiple security issues in the last year. The phones collected data from people without their permission. And as many as 40,000 credit card numbers were stolen between November 2017 and January 2018 when OnePlus’s online store was breached. Because of all of this, and because OnePlus tends to discontinue its flagship phones quickly before releasing new models, we don’t think saving a few hundred dollars is worth getting the OnePlus 6 instead of a Pixel or Samsung Galaxy.
Razer Phone: The first smartphone from Razer is aimed at gamers, but it has features that could appeal to any smartphone buyer. The 1440p 6-inch LCD has a 120 Hz refresh rate, which makes the UI look incredibly smooth. It also performs well thanks to the clean build of Android, custom Nova Launcher home screen, and the Snapdragon 835 processor. The front-facing speakers are also loud and clear. Unfortunately, the battery life is below average even with a 4,000 mAh battery (you can blame the 120 Hz screen), and the display brightness is much lower than the Pixel 2 or Galaxy S9. The dual 12-megapixel cameras take disappointing, noisy photos, too. This phone still runs Android 7.1 Nougat, and Razer hasn’t said how long the Oreo update will take. In India, Razer wants Rs 97,999 for this phone, which is just too much when the Pixel 2 costs substantially less.
Huawei Mate 10 Pro: The Mate 10 Pro has a stunning glass and metal chassis with build quality on par with Samsung. The 18:9 OLED display has narrow bezels for a comfortable feel in the hand, and the fingerprint sensor on the back is lightning fast. Huawei’s custom Kirin 970 processor is fast and efficient – this phone doesn’t slow down even with heavy multitasking, and it gets better battery life than the Pixel 2. It comes with Android 8.0 Oreo, but Huawei’s EMUI software layer is still awkward compared to Google’s Pixel software and even the Samsung Experience. Otherwise, the Mate 10 Pro is a very good phone, but we can’t recommend it because of the price. The Pixel 2 is a better overall phone, and the Honor View 10 is almost the same phone as the Mate 10 Pro for several hundred dollars less.
LG G7 Thinq: The LG G7 Thinq is competent, but that’s not enough reason to get it over the Pixel 2 or Galaxy S9. The G7 has a large 6.1-inch screen with a notch at the top (like the iPhone X or OnePlus 6), but the LCD isn’t as vibrant as OLED panels. LG’s cameras, battery life, and Android software are all average, too. Besides, the G7 costs nearly as much as Samsung and Google phones at Rs 39,990.
BlackBerry Key2: The BlackBerry Key2 is the only current-generation Android phone with a physical keyboard, but you pay for that with a smaller screen and a chunky overall design. The Key2 has a midrange Snapdragon 660 processor and middle-of-the-road camera performance, but the price is Rs 42,990, not a lot more than the Pixel 2 (and Rs 11,000 more than last year’s KeyOne). This phone isn’t worth the price unless having a keyboard is all you care about.
HTC U12+: The HTC U12+, which is expected to launch in India later this year, has high-end specs and camera performance that almost rivals Samsung’s, but everything else about this phone is a mess. The LCD display suffers from extreme backlight bleed, and HTC’s Sense version of Android Oreo is dated and clunky. This phone doesn’t even have physical buttons– there are pressure-sensitive “nubs” where the power and volume buttons should be, and they work poorly. Simply turning on your phone should not be so frustrating.
Essential Phone: The Essential Phone is the first phone from Essential, a startup founded by Android co-creator Andy Rubin. This phone includes a striking edge-to-edge LCD with almost zero bezel on the top, but there’s a distracting cutout in the middle for the front-facing camera (similar to the iPhone X, but not as large). The phone has a titanium frame and the rear panel is highly durable ceramic, whereas most other phones are aluminum and glass. The build of Android 7.1.1 Nougat is clean and free of bloatware, but it’s also buggy and prone to random lag. The biggest issue is the camera, which produces worse images than the Pixel 2 or Galaxy S9, and is often no better than budget phones like the Moto G5 Plus. The price for this phone is Rs 54,999, but it’s still not a safe purchase.
LG V30: LG’s latest flagship phone is impressively thin and light with water-resistant design and a headphone jack. LG’s 16-megapixel camera and 13-megapixel wide-angle secondary lens also take above-average photos, but not as good as the photos of the Samsungs or the LG-made Pixel 2 XL. It has a large 6-inch 18:9 OLED display similar to the one on the Pixel 2 XL, but the quality of the panel is substantially worse than the Google phone. There’s very obvious grain and uneven illumination visible even at higher brightness settings. This OLED is bad enough to be a dealbreaker. LG’s mediocre version of Android 7.1 isn’t doing it any favours, either.