Looking for a new smartphone? There are dozens upon dozens of great options on the market today, but finding the best of the best can be a bit difficult. We’ve seen some great launches through the year and more should be coming soon too, so let’s take a look at the best Android smartphones you can buy as of December 2017.
Since the holidays are here, you’re probably looking at this list to find the best phone as a gift for someone, so unlike our usual list, this month we’re going to give you a couple of top picks.
The best gifts for Android users
TOP PICK #1 – The Best Overall:
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
If you’re looking for the best overall smartphone on the market today for every aspect, the clear answer is the Galaxy Note 8. Samsung’s latest flagship is a killer device from the screen to the specs.
Up front, you’ve got a 6.3-inch AMOLED display at 2960×1440 which is actually the brightest display ever on a smartphone, according to DisplayMate. Around back there’s also Samsung’s new dual-camera system with its optical zoom and portrait mode effects, as well as a fingerprint sensor and heart rate sensor.
Under the hood, we’re looking at a Snapdragon 835 chipset, 6GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and Android Nougat out of the box. That also includes Samsung’s software skin which doesn’t really change all that much from the Galaxy S8. The notable difference here is the S-Pen.
Samsung’s infamous stylus returns in the Note 8 and it packs a few new features. It’s water-resistant and features the same levels of sensitivity found with the Note 7, and it also adds some new software features. Screen-off memos now support up to 100 pages, and Samsung has also added “Live Messages” which lets you create fun GIFs with the S-Pen for your friends.
Why is this our top pick? Simply put, there are no compromises here. There may be deal breakers for some, like the size or price, but for the majority of people, this is the best phone you can buy right now, in the Android world at least.
TOP PICK #2 – The Best Camera:
Google Pixel 2/Pixel 2 XL
Our second pick for December is actually two devices, the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. While we wanted this to be our first pick, the various issues surrounding the Pixel 2 XL, despite Google’s efforts to fix them, still keep it from the title of a no-compromise smartphone.
Regardless, the title both of these phones very much earn is the best camera on the market today. Google’s results here never fail to impress, and that goes for whichever phone you pick up. The 12MP f/1.8 sensor has OIS and EIS with even better software to back it up and a portrait mode that works on the front and the back.
Aside from the cameras, these two phones share a fair bit in common as well. Both Pixel 2 devices pack a Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64 or 128GB of storage without a microSD slot, and USB-C for charging and audio (sadly, there are no headphone jacks here). Along with that, there’s IP67 dust and water resistance, front-facing stereo speakers on both units, and Android 8.0 Oreo with a brand new launcher.
Now, for the differences. On the Pixel 2, we’re looking at a 5-inch, OLED display with pretty significant bezels up top and at the bottom. The smaller Pixel is also available in three colors — Just Black, Clearly White, and Kinda Blue.
As for the Pixel 2 XL, there’s a 6-inch 18:9 P-OLED display with slimmed down (but not totally removed) bezels all around. This one is available in two colors — Black and Black & White (aka Panda or Stormtrooper).
We won’t claim by any means that the Pixel 2 XL is no compromise, but it’s not a bad phone by any means, and the smaller Pixel 2 is actually quite stellar.
As far as pricing goes, the Pixel 2 starts at $649 for the 64GB model and $749 for the 128GB model. The Pixel 2 XL starts at $849 for the 64GB model and goes up to $949 for 128GB. Monthly financing is available on both phones and you can also use Google’s new trade-in program to put a few extra dollars towards it. Verizon Wireless is once again the exclusive carrier of the Pixel 2 and has orders open now as well.
NEW FOR DECEMBER:
Following up on the impressive OnePlus 5 from earlier this year, the company has refreshed its flagship, not with new specifications, but all new hardware. Under the hood, the OnePlus 5T packs the same Snapdragon 835 processor, 64/128GB of storage, and the crazy 6GB or 8GB of RAM. Needless to say, it’s a well-equipped device.
For the “T” refresh, OnePlus has further improved this device with a “bezel-light” design with a larger 6-inch 18:9 1080p display. The fingerprint sensor has also moved to the back.
The OnePlus 5T also gets a slightly revised dual-camera system, this time with a primary 16MP sensor, and a secondary 20MP which assists with low-light performance.
As you can see, you get a lot from the OnePlus 5T, and all in a pretty affordable package. Pricing for the 6GB/64GB variant of the 5T lands at $499, and you’ll go up to $559 for the top-tier 8GB/128GB model. Sales are available exclusively from OnePlus’ website.
FROM EARLIER THIS YEAR:
Andy Rubin’s startup Essential saw some big issues leading up to its launch, but there’s no denying this isn’t a fantastic phone. The Essential PH-1 uses premium, durable materials to create a bezel-less slab of pure Android goodness. Under the hood, it’s running on a Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage, all leading to pretty impressive performance with the stock Android build.
The Essential Phone doesn’t offer much in terms of features, but it does make an attempt in the camera game. There’s no hopping around the fact that the dual 12MP camera around back is disappointing, but things are continually getting better and the company’s 4K 360-degree camera mod is a pretty impressive addition to the phone.
What makes this phone an awesome deal, though, is the recent price cut. Essential slashed the price of this phone to just $499. For what you’re getting, that’s an insanely good deal.
Samsung Galaxy S8/Galaxy S8+
After going on sale late last month, Samsung’s latest pair of flagship phones, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ are off to a fantastic start. The new bezel-light phones usher in a new design language for Samsung with further revised software with new features like Bixby.
The Galaxy S8 is a 5.8-inch device where the S8+ is a 6.2-inch monster, or at least, it would be without this design. Thanks to the thin bezels all around, the S8 and S8+ are both very compact compared to devices with similar or even smaller screen sizes. It’s impressive both in pictures and in person.
Under the hood, the Galaxy S8 packs the Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a microSD card slot. There’s also USB-C for quick charging and data transfer, as well as video output via Samsung’s DeX dock which offers up a full desktop environment when plugged into the necessary peripherals. The S8 also packs Nougat out the box with a cleaner software build.
Pricing is for the Galaxy S8 starts at around $750, while the larger S8+ comes in at around $850. Both devices are available now via Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Best Buy, and Sprint. Unlocked units are also available now.
Another excellent option launching this fall is the LG V30. While it might not get as much attention as the Note, LG has a serious winner on its hands here. The V30 is powered by the Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage with Nougat on board and LG’s skin. Not much has changed with the software outside of the addition of a “floating bar” for shortcuts, but with these specs under the hood, this phone runs well.
The V30 also packs LG’s first mainstream OLED display and it’s excellent. The 6-inch panel is sharp, has vibrant colors, and is very bright as well. The bezel-less design keeps the phone compact in the hand as well.
One of LG’s most notable features on the V30, though, is the dual-camera system around back. While the company’s standard and super wide-angle sensors are nothing particularly new, the record-setting f/1.6 aperture on the standard 16MP sensor and f/1.9 aperture on the wide-angle 13MP sensor nearly perfect the formula.
Nearly a month after its initial announcement, the V30 is finally up for sale here in the United States. Pricing varies by carrier but lands between $27-$38 a month between the major 4. A more specific breakdown is available here.
After much speculation, Razer finally announced its first foray into the smartphone industry in November with the aptly named Razer Phone. This spec-heavy “phone for gamers” actually has a lot of promise, even if it’s not going to be the first choice for everyone.
The Razer Phone doesn’t pull its punches at all with the spec sheet on this device, and that starts with the display. You’ve got a 5.7-inch QHD IGZO panel here, but what’s impressive is the 120Hz refresh rate. That not only helps makes compatible games a smoother experience, but makes the entire phone buttery smooth.
Further, the Razer Phone has a Snapdragon 835 under the hood, 8GB of RAM, 64GB of UFS storage (with microSD, of course) and a massive 4,000 mAh battery to keep the phone going all day. Razer has also included THX-certified speakers on the front of the phone, but there’s no headphone jack here, just an included 24-bit adapter.
Razer also has Android 8.1 Nougat on this device with a promised upgrade to Oreo, a dual-camera system on the back with a 12MP f/1.7 primary sensor, and interesting added features such as Nova Launcher Prime pre-installed.
HTC hasn’t seen too much success in the past two years, but the company’s latest flagship, the HTC U11, looks like a winner as far as I’m concerned. The U11 offers up a design similar to that of the HTC U Ultra with a “liquid” glass finish and top of the line specifications. HTC has included the new “Edge Sense” pressure sensitivity tech for quick launching apps and shortcuts, and the device also features the latest version of Android Nougat out of the box.
Under the hood, the HTC U11 offers up the Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a 3,000 mAh battery. There’s no 3.5mm headphone jack, but the device does offer USB-C headphones in the box as well as an adapter for using traditional headphones. The phone is also IP67 rated for dust and water resistance.
One of the biggest attractions for the U11 is the camera. The 12MP f/1.7 sensor has a DxOMark rating of 90, beating out the original Google Pixel and staying well within the competition with newer flagships. The HTC U11 is available now in the US.
One of the more impressive debuts to come out of MWC 2017 was the LG G6 ─ the company’s new bezel-light flagship for the year. After the failure that was the LG G5, the company needs a win, and it might just have that in the G6.
Packed inside of the LG G6 is a Snapdragon 821 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, wireless charging, USB-C, Android Nougat, Google Assistant, and a 3,300 mAh battery. However, the biggest story here is what you can actually see. First of all, the LG G6 has super thin bezels on all sides, allowing that 5.7-inch display to fit into the footprint of a phone with a much smaller display. Then, there’s the removal of the modular components, making room for IP68 protection against dust and water.
The LG G6 is a pretty solid smartphone, but it’s not perfect. As we noted in our review, the device still lacks in certain areas such as performance. That said, it’s still a fantastic device. You can order now from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, B&HPhoto, and Best Buy.
This device is a return to the good ol’ days for BlackBerry, including that always-available full physical keyboard right below the display.
The KeyOne runs on top of a Snapdragon 625 chipset, 3GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and has a 4.5-inch display. That sounds small, but it’s due to the fact that the device has that keyboard below. The phone ships with Android 7.1.1 and the latest Android security patch. Further, it offers up BlackBerry’s special security enhancements and a surprisingly good 12MP camera on the rear.
Obviously, the Keyone isn’t the phone for everyone, especially at $549, but it is an excellent option nonetheless. Sales of the phone are available now with the GSM variant available via Best Buy and Amazon, and the Verizon-compatible CDMA option available at Amazon. Sales at Sprint are also available now.
Sony Xperia XZ1
Sony’s Android lineup doesn’t really change all that often, but the new Xperia XZ1 is easily the best we’ve seen from the company to date. It ships with a similar 5.2-inch 1080p display from the past few flagships from the company, and it also features IP68 water and dust resistance, as well as a headphone jack and front-facing speakers.
The Xperia XZ1 is also one of the first Android devices to ship with Android Oreo out of the box, and that’s great to see. It, of course, still includes Sony’s various apps and UI tweaks, but it’s a pretty fluid and solid experience regardless.
Under the hood, the phone runs on top-tier specs including the Snapdragon 835 and 4GB of RAM with 64GB of storage and a microSD slot, and a 2,700 mAh battery with USB-C and fast charging. It also offers a 19MP single camera around back which is a great shooter, but has a standout feature with 960fps ultra-slow-motion video recording.
Unfortunately, the Xperia XZ1 follows Sony’s pricing scheme here in the States, landing at a pretty ridiculous $699, although it’s already been discounted by $50 on Amazon. Keep in mind also that the fingerprint sensor is disabled in the United States.
Moto Z2 Force
Following up on the Moto Z and Moto Z Force from last year, Motorola is back with the Moto Z2 Force which packs improved specifications, a refined design, and the same modularity enabled by Moto Mods.
The Moto Z2 Force measures in at just 6mm thick, but offers top-notch specs under the metal exterior. That includes a Snapdragon 835 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and Android Nougat.
The phone also has an upgraded camera with dual-12MP sensors, one of which is used to pull more detail through a monochrome lens. Unfortunately, the thin profile means a reduced battery capacity, in this case landing at 2730 mAh compared to the 3500 mAh pack in last year’s Force.
Motorola has also kept features like TurboPower and the 5.5-inch QHD AMOLED display, which is also protected by the company’s ShatterShield tech which makes it impossible to actually shatter the display.
Unlike last year’s Moto Z, the Moto Z2 Force is available from all the major carriers and more. Pre-orders are live now with the phone going on sale August 10th starting at about $720. All pre-orders also come with a free projector Mod.
Google Pixel/Pixel XL
When talking about the best Android phones, there’s no way to avoid talking about the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, even though they’re a year old now. While not perfect, Google’s efforts with the Pixel have shown just how good Android can be, both in terms of stability, performance, and the overall experience for over a year.
The Pixel packs top-tier specs including the Snapdragon 821 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 32 or 128GB of storage, and the breathtaking 12.3MP camera on the back. Google’s services are pre-loaded out of the box, the latest version of Android is pushed immediately, and Google Assistant is showcased front and center. Other perks include the 24/7 support, unlimited full resolution photo and video backups, and support for Google’s Daydream VR experience.
A year after it’s debut, Google has cut the price of the original Pixel down by $100, giving it a new starting price of $549 for the base model 5-inch Pixel. That pricing maxes out at $769 for a 5.5-inch Pixel XL with 128GB of storage on board. Monthly financing is available through the Google Store on both models, and Verizon is still offering both as well.