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Phones

Best phones for holiday gifts 2018

There's a phone for everyone, no matter your budget.

James Martin/CNET

As the hub of a person's online life, a new phone is one of the most intimate gifts you can buy a loved one. The tricky part is picking the right one, 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. 

There are a few top things to keep in mind: 

1. The kind of phone you're looking for -- is it high-end or budget? Android or iPhone ($1,157 at Amazon Marketplace)? Something a kid can easily knock around without fear?

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).

Disclaimer: CNET may receive a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.

Best budget Android: Moto G6

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Budget phones don't get better than this.

Josh Miller/CNET

Price: $250

Budget phones don't get better than the An affordable phone with a huge battery. Worth far more than the sum of its parts, this 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.

See the Moto G6 on Amazon

Best budget iPhone: iPhone XR

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The iPhone XR isn't just Apple's cheapest iPhone, it's also the most colorful.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Price: $749 (64GB); $799 (128GB)

"Budget" might be a misnomer here, since a phone that starts at $749 is anything but cheap, but the iPhone XR is 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.

See the iPhone XR at Apple

Best midrange phone: OnePlus 6T

OnePlus 6T

This is the first phone sold through a US carrier to have a fingerprint reader baked into the display.

James Martin/CNET

Price: Starts at $549 (128GB)

With a remarkable number of high-end features, the OnePlus 6T redefines 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, Pie. 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.

See the OnePlus 6T

Best all-around Android camera: Pixel 3

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Price: Starts at $899 (64GB)

Put simply, the Pixel 3 has 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 it can deliver with one rear camera what other phones need two, three or even four lenses to accomplish.

Add to that Google's "pure" Android build and promise to update Pixel ($350 at Amazon) phones with new security patches and Android tools first, and you have an Android lover's dream phone.

See the Pixel 3 at Google

Best all-around iPhone camera: iPhone XS

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The iPhone XS also comes in a supersize variety, the iPhone XS Max, right.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Price: Starts at $999

The iPhone XS is the gold standard iPhone. It's the smallest in size, with a slight specs boost over the iPhone XR, but without the XS Max's ($1,252 at Amazon Marketplace) 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 read 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.

See the iPhone XS at Apple

Best kitchen-sink phone: Note 9

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The Note 9's stylus makes it unique.

Angela Lang/CNET

Price: Starts at $1,000

This is not a phone for wimps. The 6.4-inch Galaxy Note 9 ($923 at Amazon) 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 software extras, too

See the Galaxy Note 9 on Amazon

Phones for gamers and budding filmmakers: Razer Phone 2, Red Hydrogen One

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The Razer Phone 2 has some awesome tricks for gamers.

Josh Miller/CNET

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 Razer Phone 2. Its 120Hz screen has the highest refresh rate on the planet -- that's key for smooth gameplay -- and you can toss in a gamer controller accessory for that console feel. It's compatible with all four major US carriers.

Meanwhile, the Red Hydrogen One is 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 starting Nov. 2.

See the Razer Phone 2 on AmazonSee the Red Hydrogen One

Originally published Nov 5 and updated Nov 9.

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