Your buying guide for the best phones in 2018
When choosing a phone you probably have a mixture of these factors on your list: build quality and design, ease of use, features, performance and value.
Generally speaking a flagship phone will cost between £600- and £800 but can be over £1,000 in some cases (the iPhone X). On contract you’re looking at between £30- and £50 per month on average but can spend a lot more.
We think buying a phone outright is the best value, but you’ll obviously need a SIM to go in it. If you don’t already have one, check out our best SIM-only deals.
If the latest phones are too expensive, consider and older-generation phone. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is better value than many of the phones in this chart because it’s now available under £400 SIM-free.
The Galaxy S8 is already very cheap and we’ll add it to the mid-range chart once it drops below the threshold.
Should you buy a phone running Android, iOS or Windows?
There’s more than one mobile phone operating system, but really only two worth talking about: Android and iOS. Windows phones account for around one percent of all phones sold, so it makes more sense to go with Android or an iPhone.
The vast majority of phones today run Android; Oreo is the latest version. While Apple’s iOS platform has a much lower market share, developers almost always release their apps on iOS so it has one of the best app stores you’ll find.
If you have an Android phone or and iPhone and want to move to the other type of phone, it’s fairly easy move your contacts and other data from one to the other. What you can’t move is paid-for apps, so keep this in mind if you’re considering a change of platform.
Why you should buy an unlocked phone
An unlocked phone is one which is not tied to any particular mobile operator, such as Vodafone or EE. Buying unlocked usually means buying the phone outright without a SIM.
The most important point is that an unlocked phone is almost always a better deal than buying a phone on contract.
The only real exception to this are Apple’s iPhones – because of their traditional popularity, operators do often subsidise the cost of buying an iPhone in order to lock you into a lucrative long-term deal.
Generally speaking, however, if you can afford the upfront cost of the handset, you will pay less over the life of your phone by buying unlocked.
More importantly, you are not locked in. If you want a new handset at any time, you can buy one without having to up-purchase your way out of a contract, or commit to another two years.
SIM-free vs unlocked
One thing to be sure of when purchasing an unlocked or ‘SIM-free’ phone is that not all SIM-free handsets are unlocked.
The excellent Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 is a classic example of this. It is SIM-free, but if you want to use it for any network other than Vodafone you have to first use it for a month with a Vodafone SIM, and then pay £20 to get it unlocked.
EE’s own branded phones are similar. In both cases it may well still be better to buy network branded phones and go through the pain of getting them unlocked, than to buy on contract.
The right SIM
One other thing to consider is the size and shape of the SIM required for your phone. Make sure you get a nano-SIM if a nano-SIM is what your phone requires.
If you get that wrong it is easily solvable – every network will gladly send over a different-sized SIM. SIM cards tend to come in all three sizes – you simply pop out the one you need.
But that’s assuming you are getting a new SIM, and if you’re looking for a SIM-free phone or unlocked phone you probably already have one.
You can buy adaptors that let you fit a Nano-SIM or Micro-SIM in a Micro-SIM or full-size SIM slot for a very small charge.
More important is to make sure that if you want 4G you get a 4G-enabled phone and SIM.
Looking for a larger phone specifically? We’ve got a separate chart especially for larger devices, aka phablets, so you can see them ranked here.
There’s no doubt that the Galaxy S9 is the best phone of the year so far (our S9+ review is on the way soon). It offers an excellent all-round experience with Samsung expertly blending design, hardware and software to make a phone that will appeal to all kinds of users.
However, we can’t avoid the fact that the improvements – namely the camera and biometrics – are minor and in many ways the S9 is the same as the S8 but with a higher price tag. Those on last year’s model will unlikely be able to justify the upgrade and those on an S7 or earlier might want to grab the S8 at a now much lower price.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S9 review.
2. Huawei P20
The Huawei P20 is a phone we can recommend with hardly any reservations. It lacks a headphone jack and waterproofing, but aside from that is one of the best phones of 2018.
It holds its own thanks to outstanding cameras, excellent battery life and the most premium design on a Huawei phone ever. It has a notch, but you can hide it in the software settings, making it no issue.
At £599, we can recommend it alongside the Samsung Galaxy S9, though you might want to spend more on the S9 for the OLED display, waterproofing and headphone jack.
Read our Huawei P20 review.
The Galaxy Note 8 is expensive, but the finest things in life don’t come cheap. If you can stomach the price, we are really taken by the Note 8. Until you see it you’ll find yourself wondering why anyone would choose it over the cheaper Galaxy S8+, but the S Pen alone justifies this price difference.
Performance is bang-on, the screen is amazing, and photography is difficult to fault. Even Bixby has shown itself to be anything but the over-hyped, unnecessary feature we feared it could be.
Potential downsides are the expensive price tag, a slightly awkward fingerprint scanner and a very tall glass body that is more fragile than metal-body phones.
Read our Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review.
4. OnePlus 5T
The OnePlus 5T isn’t a surprise, both in its existence and the fact it’s very similar to the OnePlus 5. It stands as a reminder that 2017 was the year every company quickly produced a phone with an 18:9 display to make sure its bezels didn’t look outdated on the store shelf.
But OnePlus isn’t on many store shelves given its online retail approach, and its many vocal core fans who bought the 5 will be annoyed by the 5T. OnePlus needed to update its design language quickly to keep up with the wider market where it is yet to make a dent, and the 5T is overall a better device than the 5.
And let’s not forget that for £449, the OnePlus 5T is an exceptionally well rounded smartphone. It is at least £100 cheaper than similar handsets, and sometimes close to £300 less.
If you buy into the design (without waterproofing and wireless charging) and price but can accept that the camera isn’t top draw and it’ll probably be superseded in six months, then it’s a great choice.
Read our OnePlus 5T review.
The Pixel 2 is a boring phone until you turn it on. The uninspiring hardware melts away to present you with a bleeding edge vision of the Android future, with machine learning fully integrated. It’s not quite there yet, but this is where we are heading.
The camera, one lens down on some competitors, is better than all of them in most situations thanks to the superior software onboard. You only get that benefit when you buy Google hardware, and the company is finally realising the end to end product that Apple has been making for a decade.
If you want a smartphone to fawn over and make your friends jealous with, you won’t want the Pixel 2. But it’s faster than the Galaxy S8 and takes better photos. It delivers the best overall camera and software experience on any Android smartphone to date.
Read our Google Pixel 2 review.
6. LG V30
There’s a lot to like about the V30 becuase it’s like LG has taken the G6 and upgraded it in key areas and even refined the already sleek design. Now the price is a more reasonable £599 we can highly recommend this phone which offers excellent design, screen, cameras and audio.
Read our LG V30 review.
The iPhone X comes with a number of quirks, but there’s nothing you can’t simply get used to and we’re sure Apple will bring fixes and improvements to iron things out.
When compared with the other new iPhones, the X wins hands-down despite only having a few exclusive features. And while you can get Android phones on the same premium level at a lower price, that doesn’t stop the iPhone X being an awesome device in all areas.
The big question here is whether you can or should spend the undoubtedly tricky price tag. We can only answer the latter and luckily for Apple, the iPhone X is so good that why shouldn’t you spend this amount on the piece of technology you use the most?
Read our Apple iPhone X review.
The Mate 10 Pro is the best phone from Huawei yet and although the cameras aren’t as good as the Pixel 2 XL’s, it has a better screen, better battery life and just as much processing power.
In fact, with the AI processor there’s arguably more on board, but there’s no guarantee that apps will appear to make use of it.
Even if they don’t, this is still an outstanding phone.
Read our Huawei Mate 10 Pro review.
The Pixel 2 XL is a fantastic phone. It’s well designed, well built and looks great. The screen issues could put you off, and don’t forget there’s no headphone socket or microSD slot.
This is where the Galaxy S8 Plus comes in: it’s slightly cheaper and has both of those features and matches the Pixel in just about every area.
The Pixel does win out on camera quality – just – but has the advantage of quick updates to future Android releases and unlimited photo and video storage for three years.
Read our Google Pixel 2 XL review.
10. Apple iPhone 8
There are some great things about the iPhone 8 including the addition of wireless charging, 64GB storage as standard and a fast A11 Bionic processor. However, this all comes at a higher price and everything else is largely the same so we can’t imagine or recommend iPhone 7 users upgrading. Those on an older device like an iPhone 6 or older will experience a much bigger change.
Comparing the iPhone to Android rivals is difficult as many users will be on one side of the fence already. Forgetting about software, the iPhone 8 simply doesn’t excite like flagship rivals including the Galaxy S8 and LG G6.
Read our Apple iPhone 8 review.