Best phones for Christmas gifts 2018: iPhone XR, Pixel 3, Note 9, Moto G6 for $200 and more

iPhone XR, XS, Pixel 3, Note 9. Moto G6 and more. There's a phone for everyone, no matter your budget.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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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).

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

The 15 best 2018 phones to give as gifts

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Best budget Android: Moto G6


Budget phones don't get better than this.

Josh Miller/CNET

Price: $199

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.

Best budget iPhone: iPhone XR


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.

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.

Best all-around Android camera: Pixel 3

Sarah Tew/CNET

Price: Starts at $799 (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 its low light performance is beyond compare and 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 phones with new security patches and Android tools first, and you have an Android lover's dream phone.

Best all-around iPhone camera: iPhone XS


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 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.

Best kitchen-sink phone: Note 9


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 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

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


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 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, 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.

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Originally published Nov. 5, 2018 and updated most recently on Dec. 12.

CNET's 2018 Holiday Gift Guide: Gift recommendations at all price points