The best camera phone: Google Pixel 2
While we generally prefer the Pixel 2 XL for its sleeker design and larger battery, lingering questions about the quality of its screen, combined with startling reports of QA mishaps, make the smaller Pixel 2 ($649) the safer bet. Thankfully, both phones share the same 12.2-megapixel main camera, and it's arguably the best smartphone shooter we've used all year. The sensor is only part of the equation, though: Google has lent its considerable computational power to the Pixels in the form of an HDR+ mode that we'd recommend you keep on all the time. Long story short: It makes for excellent colors, lots of detail and wide dynamic range, even in situations where light is scarce.
Frankly, we thought the Pixel 2's camera was great by itself, but Google had a surprise up its sleeve. Inside every Pixel 2 is a dedicated co-processor called the Pixel Visual Core, meant to make on-device image processing even faster. Designing a smartphone chip like this is uncharted territory for Google, but we're pleased that the company's first foray is all about making the Pixel 2's camera even more capable. More important, the Visual Core is also meant to bring the power of the HDR+ mode into third-party apps, so pretty soon you'll be able to shoot photos inside, say, Instagram that look just as good as the ones sitting in your camera roll.
Since 2017 has been such a banner year for smartphones, we felt it appropriate to shine some light on phones that, for one reason or another, didn't quite make the cut.
Apple's iPhone X ($999) represents the most radical change to the iPhone formula ever, and it's a very, very good phone. Its screen is excellent, as are its performance and camera. You probably don't need me to tell you it's perhaps the prettiest slab of hardware Apple has ever built either. Looks aside, its steep price and middle-of-the-road battery life mean there are better choices out there for most people.
Meanwhile, the Essential PH-1 ($499) deserves a nod because it's a well-made device crafted by a relative newcomer. Essential might be new to building smartphones, but it brings Android co-creator Andy Rubin's know-how and some undeniable industrial design chops to the table. Ultimately, the PH-1 is held back by its lackluster camera, but the startup deserves credit for proving that giants like Apple and Samsung haven't completely cornered the market on truly elegant hardware.
And let's not forget that 2017 isn't over yet, and we're looking forward to testing a few other devices that might have nabbed a spot on this list. The Razer Phone ($699) borrowed a design from another handset we enjoyed and modified it to cater to the company's core audience: gamers. We weren't thrilled with its camera in our recent hands-on demo, but the Razer Phone is one of the few smartphones in the world with a 120Hz refresh rate, making motion on screen appear impressively smooth. Throw in a Snapdragon 835 chipset, 6GB of RAM and a whopping 4,000mAh battery and we're left with a device that, while customized for mobile gamers, has plenty to offer mainstream users too.
There's also the OnePlus 5T, which is set to be officially unveiled at a press conference in mid-November. Based on a glut of leaks, the 5T will ditch its capacitive navigation keys to accommodate a screen that takes up more of the phone's face, a move that forced OnePlus to stick its fingerprint sensor on the back, beneath an upgraded dual camera. We're expecting it to be a solid update to an already powerful device, and it should stand as proof that you don't need to pay sometimes outrageous flagship prices for an extremely capable phone.