With 2018 coming to an end, now is perhaps the best time to look back at some of the best phones released this year and appreciate the new features they brought to the table. With the smartphone market saturating in terms of innovation, we are now seeing phones come with very modest upgrades compared to their predecessor.
This does not mean that we did not see some impressive phone launches this year. Far from it actually. 2018 saw more smartphone launches than the year before it and amidst the hundreds of models announced, these were the 10 phones that set a benchmark for others to follow.
10. Mi A2/Nokia 6.1/Redmi Note 5 Pro
Depending on which part of the world you live, you will find at least one of the three phones I have mentioned here — the Mi A2, the Nokia 6.1, and the Redmi Note 5 Pro on sale.
These are budget Android devices, with the Mi A2 and Nokia 6.1 being an Android One device and the Redmi Note 5 Pro running MIUI. The Mi A2 and Nokia 6.1 are aimed at the European and U.S. smartphone market, while Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 5 Pro is well suited for Indian and Chinese customers.
Despite their budget design and internals, these phones offer excellent battery life, performance, and camera performance. Sure, they are not the ‘best’ in their category but if you really don’t care much about having the best display or camera and don’t mind waiting a few milliseconds extra for your apps to load, these phones are going to going to serve you just fine. It is really impressive how far budget Android devices have come in terms of performance and build quality.
9. Pocophone F1
The Pocophone F1 has disrupted the performance-to-value ratio this year. Despite coming with a Snapdragon 845 chipset, oodles of RAM and storage, the device is stupidly cheap ($~350). If all you care about is gaming and performance, the Pocophone F1 is going to fulfill your needs. Its performance easily beats other flagship devices in this list, with its all-day battery life thanks to a 4,000mAh battery acting as a cherry on top.
The Pocophone is definitely rough around the edges — the display can clearly be improved and its build quality is not that premium. But when you look at its price, you’d be willing to look past these issues.
8. Samsung Galaxy S9
Just like the iPhone XS, the Galaxy S9 also builds on its predecessor in only some key areas and keeps a lot of other things unchanged. This means better performance, improved rear camera performance, and some new software features.
The usual strengths of a Samsung device all apply to the Galaxy S9 as well. This means a beautiful OLED display, IP68 certification, fast wireless charging, headphone jack, and expandable storage. But the usual caveats also apply — relatively poor user experience, performance hiccups, sub-par battery life, and slow software updates.
There’s a silver lining here though. With the Galaxy S9 now being over 9 months old, one can easily purchase it for around $500 which makes for quite a steal.
7. iPhone XS
The iPhone X was rightfully ahead of its time. So, for 2018, Apple only improved a few aspects of the device like its camera, battery life, and performance and launched it as the iPhone XS. The iPhone X was the highest selling premium smartphone across the world ever since it launched in November 2017 so it makes sense that Apple did not try to change a formula that is working so well for them.
The iPhone XS fixes whatever minor gripes users had about with the iPhone X, though the biggest issue — its $999 price tag still remains. And that’s also the reason why it sits below the likes of the OnePlus 6/6T, Galaxy Note 9, and iPhone XR in this list.
6. Huawei Mate 20 Pro
A big, beautiful display, next-generation 7nm Kirin 980 chipset, impressive triple camera setup at the rear, in-display fingerprint scanner, Face ID-like face unlock, beefy battery, wireless and reverse wireless charging, IP68 certification, and a beefy 4200mAh battery. Phew! The Mate 20 Pro has the perfect ingredients of becoming the best smartphone released this year. But it fails in one department. Badly.
The software experience on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is simply not good enough for a device launched in this day and age. While Huawei has made improvements with Emotion UI 9.0, the Mate 20 Pro’s UI still feels bloated and a blatant rip-off of iOS. Huawei really needs to go back to the drawing board and rethink Emotion UI if it wants its devices to do well in the Western market.
It’s a shame that Huawei’s sub-par software is holding back a device like the Mate 20 Pro which has so much potential. Then there’s also the fact that the Mate 20 Pro is not sold officially in the United States.
5. Google Pixel 3 XL
The Pixel 3 XL is not the best smartphone for everyone out there. It has plenty of bugs and performance issues due to insufficient RAM, poor value for money, average battery life, a less than stellar design, and more. However, if you can look past its issues, the Pixel 3 XL absolutely excels in the user experience and camera department.
Running a stock build of Android 9.0 Pie, it is not surprising that user experience is Pixel 3 XL’s strong suit. The level of smoothness offered by the phone is far ahead of any other device in this list including the iPhone XR and iPhone XS. The same can be said about the camera. Despite a single rear camera setup, its imaging performance is notably ahead of what the iPhone XS Max and Galaxy Note 9 can manage. With a few improvements, the
4. Samsung Galaxy Note 9
The Galaxy Note 9 is the best ‘big’ smartphone and the best Samsung phone to launch this year as well. It takes the best aspect of all the flagship devices launched by Samsung over the last couple of years to make one complete package.
With the Galaxy Note 9, you are getting a massive and beautiful OLED panel, oodles of storage with room for expansion on the cheap, dual-SIM connectivity, IP68 certification, excellent performance, wireless charging, a great pair of cameras, some nice software features, and an all-day battery life thanks to a beefy 4,000mAh battery. Heck, it is also the only smartphone to come with a 3.5mm headphone jack making it the only device among our top 5 phones to feature one.
As a daily driver, the Galaxy Note 9 ticks almost all the boxes. It could have easily been the best smartphone to launch this year if only Samsung got around to solving its poor software update track record and fixed the performance woes with the Exynos model.
Apple should take note of how Samsung bumped the base storage on its Note lineup to 128GB this year.
3. iPhone XS Max
When Apple launched the iPhone X last year, many people complained about its small display. Apple fulfilled their wishes with the iPhone XS Max this year. Featuring a gigantic 6.5-inch OLED panel, the iPhone XS Max is an exact copy of the iPhone XS with just a bigger display and battery capacity. The bigger display makes the device a perfect content consumption device which is further complemented by its great battery life.
It is not the best ‘big’ smartphone though since Apple has done little in iOS 12 to take advantage of such a big display. And that’s a shame. Maybe with iOS 13 next year, the company will have a change of heart.
2. OnePlus 6T
Over in the Android world, the OnePlus 6/6T is the best phone to be released in 2018. It is not a perfect phone by any means. It lacks a headphone jack, its camera performance is strictly okay, and while the OLED panel is good, it pales in comparison to what Samsung uses on its flagship devices. The in-display fingerprint scanner is also strictly okay and there’s clear room for improvement in unlock times.
But the OnePlus 6T ranks higher than other devices because it gets a lot of other more important things right. It offers a great user experience, an all-day battery life, an extremely fast (wired) charging solution, quick software updates, and oodles of RAM and storage. More importantly, it gets the value for money ratio just right.
The Galaxy S9 might offer better battery life, display, and camera experience but it pales in key departments like user experience and battery life which plays a more vital role in daily life.
1. iPhone XR
The iPhone XR was the best phone to launch in 2018, especially for someone who is heavily invested in the iOS ecosystem. The phone does not really bring anything new to the table but it does get a lot of things right which other more expensive smartphones fail to do.
Starting at $749, the iPhone XR is the cheapest iPhone launched by Apple this year. Yet it offers a display bigger than the $999 iPhone XS. It also offers better battery life than the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max and its storage upgrade options offer more value for money than the other two iPhones. And despite costing $249 less than the iPhone XS, the iPhone XR offers the same set of features like it including Face ID and the same primary 12MP primary camera
While the 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display is not going to win any awards for its resolution, it is the most accurate LCD panel in the market right now. Plus, Apple has nailed the design right which includes a mix of glass and aluminum and a set of bold colors.
Despite being the best smartphone of the year, the iPhone XR is not for everyone. It is the ‘best’ smartphone for the masses, not the ‘best’ smartphone to release this year.
Disagree with the list? If so, why? Which is your phone of the year? Drop a comment and let us know!