iPhone, Huawei, Samsung and OnePlus compared and ranked
Need a new smartphone but don’t know which one is the very best? Here’s a guide comparing the current top-end smartphones from Apple, Samsung, Huawei, OnePlus and others to help you pick the best handset for you.
There has never been a better time to buy a new flagship smartphone with many quality handsets available at a wider range of prices than ever before. Whether your priority is two-day battery life, fantastic camera performance or a spectacular screen, there’s plenty to choose from.
This Guardian buyer’s guide to top-end smartphones was last updated on 10 June 2019, and represents the best available models at the time. As new models are released and tested, this guide will be updated to help you choose the right flagship phone for you.
Best overall: OnePlus 7 Pro
The latest superphone undercuts the competition on price while offering a better experience in almost every meaningful way. The OnePlus 7 Pro is the firm’s biggest yet with a monster 6.67in QHD+ AMOLED screen, which is arguably the best on any phone. It runs at a refresh rate of 90Hz – compared with 60Hz for the competition – which makes everything from scrolling through lists to smashing through games super slick.
The screen is edge-to-edge in every direction too, lacking any intrusions by the notches plaguing rivals as the selfie camera has been moved to a motorised module that pops out of the top of the phone when needed.
Speed is the name of the game. The OnePlus 7 Pro is the fastest-feeling smartphone by miles. Part of that is the firm’s excellent version of Android 9 Pie called OxygenOS, which is on-par with Google’s on the Pixels, and the other is the top-of-the-line hardware.
It has Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 855 iprosesa, at least 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. But that storage is also much faster than rivals using the new UFS3.0 standard, and the difference in day-to-day usage is palpable.
Even the optical in-display fingerprint scanner is the best in the business, beating that on the Huawei P30 Pro and matching traditional capacitive sensors for speed.
The triple camera system on the back matches rivals combining a 48MP main, a 16MP ultra-wide angle and an 8MP telephoto camera. It can’t beat the P30 Pro, but it matches or beats the rest on detail and utility.
Battery life is good, but not Huawei-beating. It charges really fast using OnePlus’s WarpCharge system, but there’s no wireless charging, which is a shame. It is water resistant to some extent, but doesn’t have an IP rating. It has dual-sim support in most markets too.
The OnePlus 7 Pro also comes in a 5G version too, which is single-sim only but is the same size, weight and performance as the 4G-only version and is available exclusively from EE in the UK starting at £170 with a 24-month £59/month plan.
Why should you buy it?
The unrivalled screen, sheer speed and in-display fingerprint scanner, combined with the slick OxygenOS, make even mundane tasks a joy. The massive OnePlus 7 Pro is most definitely a stretch to use, but it’s a stretch worth making
Buy if: you want the best and fastest superphone experience
Don’t buy if: you don’t want to stretch to such a big phone
- Full review: OnePlus 7 Pro review: an absolute beast in every way
Best iOS: Apple iPhone XS
The best iPhone is not the biggest or most expensive. The iPhone XS combines a stunning, good-size 5.8in screen, svelte body and top-notch performance into the most appealing package from Apple to date.
Apple’s Face ID is the best face recognition system in the business, the dual-camera system on the back is excellent, as is the performance of the A12 Bionic processor and the class-leading gesture navigation system of iOS, which has replaced the home button of iPhones of yore.
You’re also in line for about five years of software updates, which is likely at least two more than any other brand of phone. The iPhone XS is a metal and glass sandwich, and will smash just like the competition when dropped, but the stainless steel sides and glass back exude a luxury feel not matched by other phones. Sadly most will put it in a case.
The biggest downsides are the price, which at £1,000 is likely significantly more than the competition, and battery life, which only manages about a day of medium usage. The iPhone XS has wireless charging and supports fast charging via a USB-C to Lightning cable, but only ships with a slow charger in the box. Its cellular modem performance is also not as good as competitors, struggling more to keep a working 4G data connection in congested areas, particularly compared with the Mate 20 Pro.
Why should you buy it?
If you’re locked in to iOS, or want the longest software update coverage, then the iPhone XS is the best Apple smartphone you can buy (and not very far behind the Mate 20 Pro overall), thanks to its combination of size, camera, capability and luxurious feel.
Buy if: you want the best iPhone
Don’t buy if: you don’t want to spend £999 or want to use Android
Best smaller Android: Samsung Galaxy S10
If you want the sweet-spot between a big, stunning screen and smaller phone size that’s easier to handle and fit in a pocket, that’s the Galaxy S10.
The 6.1in QHD+ AMOLED screen with a small hole-punch notch in the top right is one of the very best on the market and is big enough to make the most of apps and movies look great.
Small bezels all round make the phone pretty compact compared to rivals, and it’s light too. It’s still a glass and metal sandwich, which means you might need a case to protect against falls.
The ultrasonic fingerprint sensor mounted under the display works well, although it’s no longer the fastest on the market.
Samsung’s new One UI software, based on Android 9 Pie, is a big leap in making large phone easier to use, putting things you have to touch toward the bottom of the screen and information towards the top. Samsung also gives you the choice of traditional navigation keys or swipe gestures.
You should see around three-years of software support from Samsung, although the company is often slow to deliver big Android version updates.
The rear triple camera is one of the best allowing you to zoom from 0.5 through 2x, and on to a 10x hybrid zoom. It won’t beat the Huawei P30 Pro, but it keeps up with rest. The selfie camera pokes straight though the screen and is one of the best on the market.
Performance is good, but battery life is the S10’s one weakness. It will last a day of usage but not much more. There’s both cable and fast wireless charging to top up during the day and the wireless power share feature turns the phone into an ad-hoc wireless charger for other devices.
Why should you buy it?
i enkulu, beautiful screen in a comparatively small phone is the main selling point, but the good camera, performance and looks help too
Buy if: you want the best balance of big screen and small phone
Don’t buy if: you want brilliant battery life
- Full review: Samsung Galaxy S10 review: the sweet spot
Best camera: Huawei P30 Pro
The best camera on a phone is the Huawei P30 Pro by some margin. No other phone provides as comprehensive a combination as Huawei’s new Leica quad camera.
The 20MP 0.6x ultra-wide angle camera is fun, the main 1x 40MP camera is terrific and it’s joined by a new periscopic 5x optical zoom camera that gets you closer than any other smartphone. If five times magnification wasn’t enough, there’s an excellent 10x hybrid zoom on top and then a digital zoom all the way up to 50x. A 3D depth-sensing time-of-flight sensor rounds out the modules on the back.
Remarkable levels of zoom aside, the P30 Pro also has game-changing low-light performance that instantly turns night into day without having to wait for a couple of seconds of capture.
The rest of the phone is excellent too with stunning colour options. The large 6.47in FHD+ OLED is one of the best, with a small notch in the top containing the selfie camera and slim bezels all-round. The curved edges keep the width of the phone to a narrow 73.4mm wide, meaning it’s still relatively manageable and easier to wield day-to-day particularly compared to the OnePlus 7 Pro or iPhone XS Max.
The in-screen optical fingerprint sensor is second only to the OnePlus 7 Pro’s. Huawei’s top-notch Kirin 980 iprosesa, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, provides great performance and a battery that’ll last around two days. Plus charges the fastest and has wireless charging and power sharing.
Huawei’s modified Android 9 Pie, EMUI 9.1, is highly customisable and has plenty of features but may not be to everyone’s tastes. Huawei is currently facing sanctions from the US as part of the US-China trade war, which makes its future uncertain. The P30 Pro should continue to receive updates as normal, however.
Why should you buy it?
The camera is game-changing in meaningful, not gimmick-filled ways, while the rest of the phone is excellent
Buy if: you want the best camera on a great phone
Don’t buy if: you want a smaller phone or are worried about US blockade of Huawei
Best value: OnePlus 6T
If you want a massive, top-spec phone, but don’t want to spend £900, then the OnePlus 6T is the one to buy.
It has a big and beautiful 6.41in full HD OLED screen, a tiny widows peak-like notch for the selfie camera, slim bezels all round and a good-feeling metal and glass construction matching the quality of most others.
It has a top-of-the-line processor, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and 30-hour battery life too. The Android experience on the OnePlus, Oxygen OS, is second only to Google’s on the Pixel; it is brutally quick and smooth in operation. OnePlus guarantees two years of software updates and an additional year of security updates from the release date of the phone.
It even has the cutting-edge in-display fingerprint scanner, which is almost as good as the best dedicated capacitive sensors, and dual-sim support for having two mobile phone network connections at the same time.
The downsides are a good, but not great, camera that doesn’t quite match the competition here, no formal water resistance rating and no wireless charging.
Why should you buy it?
A massive and great screen with tiny bezels, excellent software and performance, in-display fingerprint scanner and a good-but-not-great camera mean you have to spend significantly more to get a better phone than this.
Buy if: you want a top-notch phone but don’t want to spend more than £500
Don’t buy if: you want a really good camera
These are good phones still worth buying if none of the top four smartphones fit the bill.
Apple iPhone XR
Apple’s slightly cheaper iPhone XR offers most of the features of the iPhone XS. It has better battery life too, but has a worse camera, a slightly larger, but worse screen and is made of aluminium and glass, instead of stainless steel, losing its luxurious feel and the knowledge that it’s the best Apple can make.
The iPhone XR looks stunning in red, but it’s not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, costing as much or more as true flagship phones from competitors. The iPhone XS still the one to buy if you want an iPhone, but if you want to save money, switch to Android.
- Full review: iPhone XR review: Apple’s cheaper battery king
Apple iPhone XS Max
If you must have an iPhone and it must have a massive screen, then the iPhone XS Max is your only option. But it’s even more expensive and bigger and heavier, making it pretty difficult to handle day-to-day, meaning the smaller iPhone XS is the better option.
- Full review: iPhone XS Max review: Apple’s supersized smartphone
Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
The bigger version of the Galaxy S10 with a 6.4in QHD+ display has the best screen available on any device. The oval-shaped hole-punch notch is novel, containing two good selfie cameras. The triple rear camera is good, but not a patch on the Huawei P30 Pro. Performance is good, so is the software, but the battery life is slightly disappointing compared with the best.
- Full review: Samsung Galaxy S10+ review: a simply stunning screen
Samsung Galaxy Note 9
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 offers something a bit different, with long battery life, a massive screen and the all-important S Pen stylus. If you’re looking for a productivity powerhouse, the Note 9 is it. But it’s also huge with a slightly dated design.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro
The Mate 20 Pro has the big, attractive 6.39in QHD+ screen, svelte body, long battery life and great performance that made it the top phone of 2018. kunjalo, its excellent triple camera system with 3x optical zoom has been outdone by Huawei’s newer P30 Pro, which has a Leica quad camera with 5x optical zoom. It is worth looking out for deals, particularly if you want the 3D face unlock option.
- Full review: Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: cutting-edge brilliance
Huawei’s Honor brand has made a name for itself cut-price but good phones. The View20 is the best phone it has ever made and is cracking value at just £500.
It has a top-of-the-line Huawei Kirin 980 iprosesa (as seen in the Mate 20 Pro), a good-looking 6.4in FHD+ LCD screen, plenty of storage, 6 or 8GB of RAM, a super-quick fingerprint scanner on the back and it even still has a headphone socket. Standout features are a hole-punch notch in the screen, through which an excellent 25MP selfie camera pokes, and a really great 48MP camera on the back.
Fast charging, long battery life, great in-hand feel and a wild light-reflecting V-shaped pattern in the glass back round out the highlights. Honor’s Magic UI 2, based on Android 9 Pie, is not quite as good as OnePlus’s OxygenOS, but at least you get two to three years of updates.
Out of the two £500 top-end phones, buy the Honor View20 if you want a better camera; buy the OnePlus 6T if you want a better user experience and software.
Google pixel 3
The Pixel 3 is all about Google’s camera and software. The 5.5in OLED screen is small by 2019’s standards and has large bezels at the top and bottom, which make the phone bigger than it needs to be and give it a dated look.
But Google’s fantastic single rear camera, excellent software and fast updates are worth buying into. Performance is good but battery life is a bit weak. Buy if you want a smaller phone and the Samsung Galaxy S10 isn’t for you.
Google pixel 3 XL
The larger Google Pixel 3 XL has everything that makes the Pixel 3 a really great phone, but is bigger with a huge notch at the top of the screen. It’s more difficult to handle than its smaller sibling and is more expensive, but has slightly better battery life. If you like the Pixel 3 but want a bigger screen, this is the phone for you, but on the whole the smaller version is a better device for most people. The Mate 20 Pro is a better big-screen phone all round.
- Full review: Google pixel 3 XL review: big is still beautiful
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3
Xiaomi’s first slider phone offers more than most for the money, with top-flight specs for 2018 competing directly with the OnePlus 6T and Honor View20. It takes a different approach to the problem of where to put the selfie camera in an all-screen design, hiding it behind the screen on slide-out section.
Good, but quite as great as its competition, this huge phone is held back by a heavy weight and a software experience that just isn’t as good, despite solid gesture navigation options.
Nokia 8 Sirocco – Good software but average design and camera – £600
Razer Phone 2 – Gaming phone beast that falls down on camera performance – £500
Sony Xperia XZ3 – Good, but not great phone that misses the mark – £699
LG G7 – uninspiring design and software that’s not as good as rivals – £375
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