Whether you want a cutting-edge phone or a more affordable option, we tested the best from Apple, Samsung, Google and more.
Updated Nov. 11, 2023 2:35 a.m. PT
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
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Andrew LanxonEditor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
From the brand-new iPhone 15 lineup to the foldable Galaxy Z Flip 5, there's no shortage of options available for smartphone shoppers.
While the phones included in this list vary when it comes to size, price and features, there are a few things they share in common. The best phones of 2023 have fast processors and vibrant screens to make your Netflix shows look great. The best phones also have high-quality rear cameras that allow you to take gorgeous images you'll return to look back on for years to come. Budget-friendly phones like the Pixel 7A also offer smooth all-around performance at a more cost-conscious price.
But with so many options, figuring out which one is actually best for your own needs can be tough.
To simplify the decision, we've rounded up our top picks. Each phone on this list meets the requirements for what CNET considers to be the best smartphones. From high-end phones packed with cutting-edge tech to budget devices under $500 and everything in between, there are plenty of worthwhile options for everyone.
Every phone on this list has been thoroughly reviewed and tested, and you'll find options across iPhone and Android that fit different needs and different budgets.
What is the best phone for most people?
The best phone for iPhone fans is the $799 iPhone 15. It has one of Apple's most recent processors, the A16 Bionic chip found in last year's iPhone 14 Pro, meaning it should support new software features for years to come. The iPhone 15 has the best balance of camera performance and features (like the Dynamic Island) that will feel new to those coming from older iPhones to satisfy most people.
Our favorite Android pick is currently the Google Pixel 7 Pro, typically priced at $899. Note that the Pixel 8 Pro is out and we are currently testing it. It has some of the best cameras found on any phone sold today at a more affordable price than Samsung's top-of-the-line phone. The Pixel 7 Pro also packs a number of convenient features that are unique to Google's devices, such as the ability to sharpen out-of-focus photos to make the subject look clearer. But keep in mind that Google is expected to announce the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro next month.
With the Dynamic Island, a USB-C port for more convenient charging and an upgraded camera with a higher resolution and a crisper zoom, the iPhone 15 is a significant upgrade for those with older iPhones. It feels like a scaled back version of the iPhone 14 Pro, making Apple's entry-level iPhone 15 feel like a bigger leap forward than last year's.
The iPhone 15 is available in two size options: the 6.1-inch iPhone 15 and the 6.7-inch iPhone 15 Plus. They run on the same chip as the iPhone 14 Pro, the A16 Bionic, which should bring notable performance upgrades to those who've had an iPhone that's now several years old. These phones also have Apple's second-generation ultra-wideband chip, enabling a new feature that makes it easier to find friends or family members in a crowd.
Last year's iPhone 14 Pro may be a better choice if you can still find it through third-party retailers at a discount, particularly because it has a dedicated telephoto lens. But the iPhone 15 is the most exciting upgrade Apple's standard iPhone has seen in years. Read our iPhone 15 and 15 Plus review.
USB-C port for more convenient charging
Colorful matte design
Improved camera that can automatically take people and pet portraits
Dynamic Island brings better multitasking
No always-on display
Find My Friends feature only works with other iPhone 15 phones
Apple gave its Pro models a glow-up with a refreshed lighter build, a new shortcut button and the world's smallest processor. And it did all this while managing to keep that tried-and-true iPhone aesthetic front and center. They also made more of a differentiation between the Pro and Pro Max model. The 15 Pro also still has the same familiar 3x telephoto camera found on previous models.
The brain behind the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max is the A17 Pro chip, which has the performance chops to handle console tier video games like Resident Evil Village. If the A17 Pro chip is the brains, then iOS 17 is the 15 Pro and Pro Max's soul. The new OS is filled with lots of quality-of-life improvements throughout like StandBy mode, Check-In, Stickers in Messages and better autocorrect for the keyboard. The iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max are some of the best phones released by Apple or any phone maker this year. Read our Apple iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max review.
Lighter and more comfortable to hold
A17 Pro for console video games
Being able to change the focus in Portrait photos is welcome
With its stellar triple camera, refined design and spacious 6.7-inch screen, there's a lot to love about the Pixel 7 Pro. Although it's not very different from the previous Pixel 6 Pro, it will feel like a big change to those upgrading from a phone that's more than two years old. Google has improved the zoom capabilities on the Pixel 7 Pro, giving it a 30x digital zoom compared to the 6 Pro's 20x range for capturing tighter shots. Both the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro have some new features powered by Google's Tensor G2 chip, such as the ability to sharpen old photos. You'll also get free access to Google's VPN on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro.
Regularly priced at $899, the Pixel 7 Pro is cheaper than both the $1,000 Galaxy S23 Plus and $1,200 Galaxy S23 Ultra at their typical starting prices, making it a solid choice for those who want a giant screen and an excellent camera for less. But keep in mind, Google is getting ready to announce the Pixel 8 soon enough, so it may be worth waiting. Read our Google Pixel 7 Pro review.
The Galaxy S23 is a lot, but in a good way. It's more than most people need in a phone, but that doesn't make it any less impressive. Samsung made improvements to the camera's resolution (200 megapixels compared to 108 megapixels), color tones and dynamic range, while retaining the same edgy design and massive 6.8-inch screen as its predecessor. There's also a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor that's been optimized specifically for Samsung's phones, which brings faster performance compared to the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Starting at $1,200, it may be an understatement to call this phone expensive. But those willing to pay more for a giant screen and a high-quality, versatile camera won't be disappointed. Read our Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review.
Excellent main camera, especially in low light
Double the storage in the base model
Four years of Android OS updates
Photos don't always look natural, especially selfies
Android fans looking for a petite phone don't have much to choose from. But the 6.1-inch Galaxy S23 provides a compelling option for those who want a phone that feels compact but still provides enough screen space.
The Galaxy S23 comes with routine upgrades like a fresh processor (a version of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 that's been optimized for Samsung's phones), a slightly new design and a higher-resolution selfie camera. But it's the Galaxy S23's larger battery that makes it worth recommending. Read our Samsung Galaxy S23 review.
The Galaxy Z Flip 5 is the biggest leap forward Samsug's flip phone has seen in years. Samsung has significantly expanded the size of the cover screen located on the outside of the device, meaning you can look up directions, take photos and send messages without opening the phone. It's this combined with the Z Flip's solid battery life and sturdy design that makes it a top pick.
The Z Flip 5 may be our favorite flip phone, but there are still some drawbacks to be aware of. At $1,000, it's still expensive for a phone without a telephoto camera. And not all apps work natively on the front screen as they do on the Motorola Razr Plus. Read our Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 review.
Big cover screen is fun to use
New hinge eliminates the gap when closed
Solid battery life
More storage in base model
Not all apps work on the cover screen natively
Apps don't transition from main screen to cover screen
The Motorola Razr Plus raised the bar for what a flip phone should be in 2023. Its 3.6-inch cover screen allows you to use almost any app without opening the phone, plus battery life is long enough to get you through a busy day. It's also thinner than the Galaxy Z Flip 5, which could make it the ideal choice for those who prioritize portability in a phone.
While I recommend the Galaxy Z Flip 5 as the best flip phone overall, the Razr Plus is worth considering if you prefer a thinner design and want to use more apps on the phone's front screen without much extra fuss. The Razr Plus felt more fragile than the Z Flip 5 during my testing, but it's certainly thinner, making it a great choice for those who care about compactness above all else. Read our Motorola Razr Plus review.
The Lenovo ThinkPhone by Motorola has a lot going for it, from its palatable regular $700 price to its unique aesthetic, easy compatibility with PCs and smooth 6.6-inch screen. But it's the ThinkPhone's incredibly fast charging that truly makes it stand out. It supports 68-watt fast charging and notably comes with a compatible power adapter in the box, making it one of the fastest-charging phones you can buy in the US. In CNET's testing, the ThinkPhone's battery went from empty to 92% in 30 minutes.
Every phone has its drawbacks. The cameras on the ThinkPhone struggle in low light, which means it may not take the best photos in dim restaurants and bars. And even though it's a great value at $700, there are some cheaper alternatives that are also compelling, such as Google's Pixel 7A. Read our Lenovo ThinkPhone review.
The Nothing Phone 2 stands out for its unconventional design that incorporates flashing LED lights, relatively low price and fast performance. And unlike the Nothing Phone 1, you can actually buy the Nothing Phone 2 in the US, for $700. It's best suited for those who want a phone with a large, bright screen, powerful processor and a design that makes a statement, all for well below $1,000.
That said, it's important to remember that Nothing has a lot of competition in this price range. If camera quality is your top priority, you can get the Pixel 7A at a lower price of $449. Read our Nothing Phone 2 review.
Google's budget phone took a leap forward in 2023 with the Pixel 7A, which offers many of the same benefits as the Pixel 7 but at a cheaper price. Like the Pixel 7, the Pixel 7A runs on Google's Tensor G2 processor, meaning it has many of the same photo editing and language translation features as its pricier sibling. The Pixel 7A's 64-megapixel camera also takes excellent photos that rival the Pixel 7's in quality.
While we still like the Pixel 7, the Pixel 7A's lower price makes it a better deal for most people. Only opt for the Pixel 7 if you really want a slightly larger screen and are willing to pay the extra $100 for it. Otherwise, the main differences between the Pixel 7 and 7A come down to the former's more durable build, slightly faster charging and its ability to wirelessly charge compatible accessories. The Pixel 7 also has a larger camera sensor that's more sensitive to light, according to Google, but CNET's Lisa Eadicicco didn't notice much of a difference. Read our Pixel 7A review.
Many of the same features as the Pixel 7 at a cheaper price
Gains wireless charging, face unlock and high refresh rate
Screen still looks dim outdoors
Higher price compared with Pixel 6A at launch
Only three generations of Android OS updates compared with Samsung's four
Google no longer sells the Pixel 6 Pro through its website, but you can still find it through some third-party retailers at a significant discount for now. The Pixel 6 Pro's unique design, great software additions, superb camera quality and solid all-around performance earned the phone an excellent rating when CNET reviewed it in 2021.
It's almost two years old, but many of our initial impressions still hold true. All told, it's a worthwhile choice for those who want a spacious screen and a top-notch camera on a budget. Read our Pixel 6 Pro review.
The $599 iPhone 13 is still an excellent phone. If you're considering buying an older iPhone to save money, the iPhone 13 is the best choice for most people.
It has a lot in common with the iPhone 14, considering both phones run on the same A15 Bionic processor and have a 12-megapixel camera system. The iPhone 14's processor has an extra GPU core, but those who primarily use their phone for casual gaming, social media, checking email and watching video likely won't mind.
The iPhone 13, like the 12 before it, is defined by its square-sided design. It supports 5G, MagSafe charging and has cameras on par with the ones from 2020's top-of-the-line iPhone 12 Pro Max.
But the iPhone 13's best feature is its larger battery that, in our tests, lasted 4.5 hours more on a single charge than the iPhone 12, and nearly 3 hours longer than the more recent iPhone 14.
The 13 also has Cinematic mode, which is basically a video version of Portrait mode, and iOS 17. The iPhone 13 earned a 2021 CNET Editors' Choice Award. Just remember the iPhone 13 lacks satellite connectivity for contacting emergency services without a cell service and car crash detection, both of which are available on the iPhone 14 and 15 series. Such features may be important to consider if you're purchasing a phone for your child. Read our Apple iPhone 13 review.
Solid battery life
Cinematic mode is fun
Affordable price compared to other iPhones
Notch is noticeable
Cinematic mode is more of a novelty than a pro feature
The $700 OnePlus 11 is a powerful phone that's well equipped to handle gaming, video streaming and other common tasks. In typical OnePlus fashion, this phone is also cheaper than the $800 Galaxy S23 and $900 Pixel 7 Pro. The cameras aren't the best, but they're fine for casual photographers that just want to capture their next vacation or a night out. What sets the OnePlus 11 apart from many of its rivals is its blazing fast 100-watt fast charging, which can replenish the battery in just 25 minutes. (The US version only supports 80-watt charging, but that's still an improvement over the Galaxy S23 Ultra's 45-watt charging).
Overall, the OnePlus 11 is ideal for those who want a powerful phone that charges quickly and won't break the bank. Read our OnePlus 11 review.
At $429, you might think the only appeal of the iPhone SE (2022) is its price. And admittedly that's a big factor. But now that iPhone has stopped selling the iPhone 13 Mini, it's also a solid option for those who prefer smaller phones.
On the outside, the iPhone SE has the same body as the iPhone 8, which makes it the only iPhone on this list that still has Touch ID. On the inside, the SE has the same A15 processor as the iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 14 and 14 Plus which takes the 2017 camera hardware and gives it an injection of Apple's computational photography magic.
The SE represents the classic iPhone design but with the added ability to run the latest version of iOS and apps. One of the quieter updates in 2022 was that the SE's back was upgraded to the back glass used on the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini. It's also your most affordable way into all of Apple services like FaceTime, iMessage and iCloud. Read our Apple iPhone SE (2022) review.
The Pixel 6A impressed CNET's Lisa Eadicicco last year with its attractive design and Tensor processor, which enabled it to inherit many of the same features as the Pixel 6 but at a cheaper price. Now, Google has knocked the price down to $349, making it an even better value.
The Pixel 6A has a 6.1-inch screen, making it the same size as the Pixel 7A and slightly smaller than the Pixel 7. While it's missing out on certain newer features that require the Tensor G2, it still has a lot to offer for the price. With the Pixel 6A, you get Google-specific features like Face Unblur, which sharpens a subject's face in blurry photos, and Real Tone, which renders skin tones more accurately in photos. Read our Pixel 6A review.
Premium design for a midtier phone
Among the first to get new Android updates
Somewhat dim display
Not a great value alongside discounted Pixel 6
Not as many years of guaranteed Android updates as Samsung
Video quality isn't as good as still photos
Show expert takeShow less
Other phones we tested
The $450 Samsung Galaxy A54 5G proves, you can get a phone with solid performance for a very reasonable price. It packs a 6.4-inch display, an octa-core processor that offers enough power for daily essentials (including light gaming) and a camera that does a decent job of handling your out-and-about snaps. Its 128GB of storage will be enough for most people, and those who need more space can expand it with microSD cards up to 1TB in size.
The $1,400 Sony Xperia 1 V retains all the best features of previous Xperia 1 phones, like a 4K high refresh rate display, expandable storage, cutting-edge cameras with eye-tracking autofocus, a 5,000-mAh battery, a dedicated hardware shutter button and a headphone jack, all wrapped in Sony's lovely, mundane utilitarian design. The phone brims with numerous quality of life improvements for its target audience of creative types like photographers, filmmakers, musicians and gamers who want nuanced control over the content they make. But its $1,400 price tag keeps this phone squarely aimed beyond most consumers.
The $1,000 Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate is a gaming phone that takes nearly every feature to the extreme. It has a 6,000-mAh battery, a 6.7-inch AMOLED with high refresh rate and touch sampling rate, 65W wired charging and even a door on the back for a detachable fan to keep the phone's Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip as cool as possible. The software is optimized and easily customized for gaming including touch sensitive areas on the sides of the phone that double as shoulder buttons for games.
How to buy a new phone
Pick the most important feature: Is it screen size? Camera quality? Battery life? This will help narrow down your choices. Phones like the iPhone 15 Pro Max or Galaxy S23 Ultra cost well over $1,000, for example, but pack large batteries that will last most people a day and a half to two days on a single charge.
Don't dismiss $500 to $700 phones: You can get a great phone that does almost everything that a more expensive flagship model can do for a fraction of the price. Google's Pixel 8, which starts at $699, packs a great camera, a bright screen and unique AI features. But the $499 Pixel 7A has most of the same key specs and comes at a more reasonable price.
Shop Black Friday: Look for sales and deals close to holidays, especially Amazon's Prime Day and Black Friday. Consider last year's models: When a new phone gets launched, stores and carriers discount their older phones to sell off existing stock.
See the phone in person: It's worth going to a store and trying out a potential phone. You may love or hate the way it looks and feels.
Decide on Android or iPhone: Do you have a lot of iPhone apps and Apple subscriptions? Stick with an iPhone. Likewise, if you've invested in loads of Android apps, you'll want to stay on that side of the fence. Otherwise, it's simple enough to switch platforms.
Budget for a case and screen protector: Phones sold today are more durable than phones from even a few years ago, But it still might be a good idea to protect your phone with a case to keep it in tip-top shape.
How we test phones
We test every phone in real-world scenarios, focusing on its features, design, performance, cameras, battery life and overall value. We document our findings in an initial review that is periodically updated when there are new software updates, or to compare it against new phones from competitors such as Apple, Samsung, Google and OnePlus.
Photography is a major focus for most phones these days, so we take pictures and videos of various subjects in a variety of settings and lighting scenarios. We try out any new camera modes, such as Action mode that debuted with the iPhone 14 line, or the Unblur photo tool that launched with the Google Pixel 7 series.
Battery testing is conducted in a variety of ways. We assess how long a phone lasts during a typical day of use and note how it performs during more focused sessions of video calls, media streaming and gaming. We also conduct a video playback test, as a simple, replicable measure of pure battery life, which isn't always included in the initial review but sometimes added later in an update.
We use benchmarking apps to measure each phone's performance, alongside our own anecdotal experiences using the phone for our review. Of note are how graphics and animations look. Are they smooth? Or do they lag or stutter? We also look at how quickly the phone switches between horizontal and vertical orientations, and how fast the camera app opens and is ready to take a photo.
We perform processor-heavy tasks like editing photos, exporting videos and playing games. We evaluate whether a newer version of a particular phone includes enough features to make it worth upgrading from older models.
All of today's phones pack some kind of camera setup on the back, with most packing multiple ones like ultrawides or telephoto zooms. More expensive phones, like the iPhone 15 Pro, use larger image sensors, better-quality lenses and image stabilization that let in more light, capturing detailed images with beautiful colors -- in daylight and at night. Typically, the more you pay, the better quality you'll get, with the most advanced features being reserved for the most expensive flagships.
What is the best phone case?
There's a vast array of case options for almost every phone on the market, so which one is best really comes down to what you need it for. Many cases are simply there for the style. And while these cases will certainly help keep light scratches and scuffs off your phone, you should look toward more specialized rugged cases if you want to take your smartphone on a rough-and-tumble adventure into the outdoors.
How long should a phone battery last?
Most smartphones -- even those at the top end -- should be able to deliver a full day of mixed use out of a single charge. That means you should have a bit of juice left at the end of your day, but you should expect to give it a full charge when you plug it in next to your bed at night.
How much storage should my phone have?
Most phones tend to come with a minimum of 128GB of storage, which is a good amount for apps, games and locally stored music. But it's important to think about what you'll be doing with your phone. If you want to download and play a lot of games, then consider opting for a higher-capacity version.
What makes a phone a smartphone?
Smartphones let you do more than just make calls; they connect to the internet for web browsing, you can download apps and games, and they typically have cameras capable of taking -- and displaying -- photos and videos. In short, they're just what we know of today as a "phone," and everything on this list qualifies as a smartphone.