A new phone is one of the most personal gifts you can buy a loved one: You do everything on this thing. The tricky part is picking the right handset, especially if you don't plan to also pay the monthly phone bill. Luckily, we're here to help you narrow down the list, even if you're on a budget.
Some important things to keep in mind:
1. The kind of phone you're looking for -- is it high-end or budget? Android or iPhone? Something a kid can knock around without fear of being grounded for a month?
2. What kind of carrier support your recipient needs -- a specific carrier, or are you buying the phone unlocked? If there's a problem, is your loved one comfortable reaching out for customer support or will you need to intervene?
3. Your final budget -- are you also buying a case and other accessories, or just the phone itself? If you're also buying yourself a new phone in the process, you'll want to keep a sharp eye on deals like BOGO promotions (buy-one, get-one).
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Best budget Android: Moto G6
Budget phones don't get better than the Motorola handset does the basics well. This is an attractive handset that doesn't sacrifice too much when it comes to comfort, speed, battery life and photo quality. Your loved one won't be winning many photo contests with the G6, but its a likable, extremely competent budget buy that's perfect as a tween's starter phone, or for someone who isn't interested in a whole lot of whistles and bells.. Worth far more than the sum of its parts, this
Best budget iPhone: iPhone XR
Price: $749 (64GB); $799 (128GB)
"Budget" might be a misnomer here, since a phone that starts at $749 is anything but cheap, but theis without a doubt the best iPhone for the money. We also recommend you splurge for the $799 model with 128GB of storage space -- it'll fill up faster than you think. (There's also a 256GB variety for $899.) That said, iPhone fans can save hundreds by going for the iPhone XR versus the iPhone XS, which starts at $999.
You miss out on optical zoom and all the portrait mode tricks, and the iPhone XR's LCD screen isn't quite as vibrant as the iPhone XS's OLED display. But you get a large, 6.1-inch screen, pretty terrific camera, wireless charging, secure face unlock -- aka Face ID -- and speedy performance. As a bonus, the iPhone XR splashes out with bright colors: yellow, coral, blue and red in addition to basic white and black.
Best midrange phone: OnePlus 6T
Price: Starts at $549 (128GB)
With a remarkable number of high-end features, theredefines what it means to be a top-tier phone. There's an in-screen fingerprint reader, a great dual camera, fast up-to-date processor and the latest version of Android, . Bottom line: it does 99 percent of everything a more expensive phone can do, at a significant savings.
Most importantly, the OnePlus 6T sells through T-Mobile -- a first for OnePlus. The unlocked model works with AT&T and Verizon networks, too.
Best all-around Android camera: Pixel 3
Price: Starts at $799 (64GB)
Put simply, thehas the best overall camera of any Android phone. In a phone market is positively choked with excellent camera phones, that means something. Yes, the Pixel 3 lacks some of the more advanced portrait lighting tricks you see on the iPhone XS, but its is beyond compare and it can deliver with one rear camera what other phones need two, three to accomplish.
Best all-around iPhone camera: iPhone XS
Price: Starts at $999
The XS Max's hulking build. It's the easy, and obvious, choice for iPhone owners ready for an upgrade. The iPhone XS and XS Max share an excellent dual rear camera, which has extras like dramatic portrait lighting to make photos of people and places pop. If you want a larger screen than this 5.8-inch OLED beauty, you'll want the cheaper iPhone XR or even pricier iPhone XS Max.is the gold standard iPhone. It's the smallest in size, with a slight specs boost over the iPhone XR, but without the
Best kitchen-sink phone: Note 9
Price: Starts at $1,000
This is not a phone for wimps. The 6.4-inch Galaxy Note 9 has the beauty and brawn to attract power Android users and Samsung fans alike. This is the only phone with a stylus, called the S Pen, that you can use to navigate around, write and even control the camera to take photos from afar. Samsung throws in a fair number of .
Phones for gamers and budding filmmakers: Razer Phone 2, Red Hydrogen One
Price: $800 (Razer Phone 2); and $1,295 starting price (Red Hydrogen One)
Two phones take Android to the next level. The gamer in your life will love you forever if they unbox the. Its 120-Hz screen has the highest refresh rate on the planet -- which delivers smoother gameplay than normal -- and you can toss in a gamer controller accessory for that console feel. It's compatible with all four major US carriers.
Meanwhile, theis a high-end phone designed for creatives. It's built like a camera from the acclaimed company that makes professional cinema cameras. Think deep Hollywood connections, here. While there are some drawbacks with this phone at the start, it'd still make an interesting money-is-no-object curiosity gift for cinema fans -- but do read our rated review before laying down some serious cash. It sells with Verizon and AT&T.
More holiday gift picks
- Best gifts under $25
- Best gifts under $50
- Best gifts under $100
- Best gifts under $250
- Best gifts under $500
Originally published Nov. 5, 2018 and updated most recently on Dec. 12.
CNET's 2018 Holiday Gift Guide: Gift recommendations at all price points