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What makes a phone look 'sexy'?

Phones have been black, rectangular slabs for a long time because neutral tones sell best. While vendors have thrown out wild card colors over the years, a recent trend toward eye-catching finishes is stirring up shelf appeal and making phones more craveable -- that is, until you put them in a case.

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Huawei Honor View 20

Take the Huawei Honor View 20, a midprice Android 9 phone with an arresting finish that stands out just as much for what's on the inside.

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Huawei Honor View 20

Boring black or rippling blue: It's easy to see which jumps off the shelf.

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Oppo Find X

We called the Oppo Find X "sexier and more innovative than the Galaxy S9," and it's true. 

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Oppo Find X

This gorgeous phone has a pop-up camera mechanism that helped maintain an all-screen design: The camera lens rises out of the housing when you need to take a photo instead of taking up space on the display.

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Oppo Find X

Limited to Asian markets, it was a creative and eye-catching alternative to the hated notch.

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Huawei P20 Pro

The Huawei P20 and P20 Pro's Twilight finish boggled our minds when we first saw it in 2018.

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Huawei P20 Pro

The gradient shifts from purple to blue on this finish, and there's another white-blush gradient for those who prefer a more subtle phone.

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Huawei Mate 20 Pro

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro one-ups the P20 with a rectangular camera array on the back and a pattern of fine lines.

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Huawei Mate 20 Pro

The colors come to life as they catch the light.

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OnePlus 6T in Thunder Purple

We already loved the OnePlus 6T, our best-value phone of 2018. But the OnePlus 6T in Thunder Purple has much more oomph than the black or white editions.

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OnePlus 6T in Thunder Purple

In the light, the purple streak forms an S-shaped curve.

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Xiaomi Mi Mix 3

The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 is another one of those phones that brings "sexy" back for its slim shape, shavings-thin bezel and all-screen design.

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Xiaomi Mi Mix 3

The slide-out screen puts two camera sensors on the front and two on the back, on a midrange, midprice handset.

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Xiaomi Mi Mix 3

It's definitely a more unusual-looking device the moment you start snapping photos.

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Palm

With a diminutive 3.3-inch screen, the Palm looks like the smallest iPhone X you've ever seen. It relies completely on gesture controls and this fresh take on Android to get things done.

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Palm

In the US, it's not so much a phone as it is an accessory, but elsewhere, you could technically pop in your own SIM and use it as a standalone model. 

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Palm

The Palm never failed to turn heads in the office or out on the street, and the finish and feel are remarkably upscale for such a tiny little thing.

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Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition

Take one look and it's easy to see how the Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition stands out.

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Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition

When it first arrived on the scene in 2018, it was in the first wave of phones to use an in-screen fingerprint reader, gesture controls, and face unlock.

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Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition

Its back casing also had a see-through effect that, while not a "real" window into the internal components, nevertheless made a statement.

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HTC U12 Plus

The HTC U12 Plus also made people stand to attention with its translucent backing to the workings within.

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Huawei Honor Magic 2

Another slider phone with some eye-catching finishes, the Honor Magic 2 packs in a total of six cameras.

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Huawei Honor Magic 2

It's slider camera once again attempted to circumvent the need for a notch screen by hiding the camera inside the phone.

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Sony Xperia XZ3

Super glossy, with curved screens and a liquid finish, the Sony Xperia XZ3 has surprising depth in forest green and Bordeaux red.

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Sony Xperia XZ3

We called it "supersize, superpowered, superpricy", fit to challenge the Galaxy S9 that reigned last year.

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HTC U Ultra

The HTC U Ultra of 2017 was an important precursor to gradient finishes because of the astounding depth that HTC added to each color. The white, for example, had pearlescent qualities that photos can't quite capture.

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HTC U Ultra

HTC achieved the feeling of deep color by the use of colored glass. The two main drawbacks of any finish like this: fierce reflections and fingerprints.

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Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

We're so used to Samsung's dual-curved sides that it's easy to forget how novel they were on 2016's Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.

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Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

Compared to the straight-sided Galaxy S6, the Edge here felt like a completely new phone that drew you into its center.

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Motorola Pebl U6

We're really reaching into the archives for this, but CNET editor Kent German won't let history forget the Motorola Pebl U6.

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Motorola Pebl U6

The Pebl had a "sexy design and comes with Bluetooth, a speakerphone, world phone support, and solid call quality," German wrote in his 2006 review.

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Motorola U9

The Motorola U9 from 2008 had similarly rounded edges and a shiny finish whose "curvaceous shape and smooth, glossy skin would look at home in a fast-flowing stream." 

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Motorola V70

Flip phones in 2003 sure didn't look like the Motorola V70, which earned CNET's approval for its innovative design. More than a flip phone, you rotated the face to reveal the keyboard and position the phone's microphone.

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