You might have an idea of which smartphone you want to buy next. But there are more options than ever before that are solid — plenty of companies are making stellar handsets nowadays, at similar prices, all with comparable feature sets. That said, the choice isn’t always cut-and-dry. If you know you want an iPhone, your decision-making process is a bit easier. If you’re an Android person, you have even more options to choose from and more questions to answer before you spend any money. At Engadget, we review phones regularly and have tested dozens over the years; so far for 2024, our top picks remain the same as they were last year, with Apple's iPhone 15 Pro and Google's Pixel 8 handsets sitting at the top of the list. Whether you’ve had your eye on them, one of Samsung's new Galaxy S24 phones or another device, we’re here to help you decide which is the best phone to buy this year.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro
Best iOS smartphone
Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro
Best Android smartphone
Google Pixel 7a
Best midrange Android phone
Apple iPhone SE
Best midrange iPhone
Google Pixel 8 Pro
Best camera on a smartphone
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5
Best foldable for multitasking
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5
Best foldable for selfies
Android or iOS?
When you're searching for the best smartphone, it becomes clear that each OS has its pros and cons. Apple’s tight-knit ecosystem makes it super easy to share data between iPhones, iPads and Macs or seamlessly hand-off phone calls or music from one device to another. At the same time, you’re effectively locked in, as services like Apple Messages aren’t available on other platforms.
As for Android, there’s a much wider range of handsets from companies like Google, Samsung, Sony and more. However, Android phones don’t enjoy that same length of software support and often have lower trade-in values. In short, there’s no wrong answer. However, you will want to consider how your phone will fit in with the rest of your devices. So unless you’re really fed up with one OS and willing to learn another, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to switch from an iPhone to an Android phone (or vice versa) – especially if everyone else in your household is using the same platform.
Since your cell phone often pulls double duty as your primary camera, figuring out what kind of photo tools you want is key. Nowadays, practically every mobile phone can take a great picture in bright light. But if you want a long optical zoom, you’ll probably have to upgrade to a more expensive device.
Mid-range phones often only have two rear cameras (a primary wide-angle lens and a secondary ultra-wide camera) and can sometimes struggle in low-light situations. Each phone maker also has various features that might be a better fit for your style, with Apple offering four different color presets on the latest iPhones, while Google’s Pixel 8 comes with neat tools like dedicated long exposure and Action Pan modes.
Will you get mmWave 5G or Wi-Fi 7?
The good news is that in 2024, most phones have at least Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6e and support for some kind of 5G connectivity. However, if you want the fastest wireless speeds possible, it’s going to cost you a little extra. For example, on certain networks, mmWave 5G offers up to gigabit download speeds, less latency and better bandwidth. But mmWave 5G also requires more sophisticated (and pricier) modems, which means support for it is often missing on less expensive devices, even those like the unlocked version of the Pixel 8.
On the bright side, mmWave 5G isn’t as widely available as other versions of 5G, so depending on where you live and what network you’re on, you may not be missing out on much right now if you buy a phone that doesn’t support it. It’s a similar situation for Wi-Fi 7, which is available on some high-end handsets like the Galaxy S24, but harder to find on cheaper devices. Wi-Fi 7 also requires you to have a compatible router, so unless you know you need it or have a specific use case in mind, the lack of support for mmWave 5G or Wi-Fi 7 shouldn’t be a dealbreaker when looking for a new phone.
Other features to consider
Because not everyone agrees on what makes the best phone, you should think about any other specs that might be extra important for you. Mobile gamers will almost certainly appreciate the 120Hz refresh rates you get on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S23 or the Apple iPhone 15 Pro. Alternatively, if long battery life is important, you’ll probably want to go with a larger iPhone or an Android phone with a battery that’s between 4,000 and 5,000 mAh in size. Meanwhile, if you find yourself juggling a lot of devices, it can be really nice to have a phone that supports reverse wireless charging, which on Samsung phones even lets you recharge the company’s Galaxy Watches.
Other smartphones we've tested
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
For its latest super-premium phone, Samsung gave the S24 Ultra a more durable titanium frame, faster performance thanks to a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip and a much longer battery life. The company also tweaked its longest telephoto lens with a 5x optical zoom so it's more usable in a wider range of situations. But the biggest upgrade is a new full suite of AI tools, which includes the ability to proofread texts, edit images and transcribe recordings. And when you tack on the best display available on a phone today and a built-in stylus, you have a very compelling flagship handset. Unfortunately, starting at $1,300, the S24 Ultra is a bit too expensive to recommend to anyone without deep pockets.
How do I know which smartphone is the best for me?
While choosing the best smartphone can be challenging, it mostly comes down to how you plan on using the device. All of the best phones available now get the basics right — you’ll be able to make calls, text and access the internet without many hiccups. If your smartphone is your most used gadget, you may want to consider paying for a device on the higher end of the price spectrum. That will get you better overall performance, higher-quality cameras and a phone that will last for many years. If you don’t use your phone for everything, you may be able to compromise on performance and extra perks and spend less on a still-capable handset.
How much is a smartphone?
Smartphones range in price from $300 to over $1,500. The best budget phones available now will usually compromise on overall performance, design, camera prowess and extra features to keep costs down. On the flip side, the most expensive phones will have powerful processors, triple-camera arrays and even flip or fold designs. Most people will find a phone that fits their needs somewhere in the middle of that wide price range — we’ve found that most of the best smartphones available right now cost between $500 and $1,000.
What can you do on a smartphone?
Smartphones are essentially small, portable computers that let you do things like check email, browse social media, follow map directions, make contactless payments and more. This is all on top of the basics like making phone calls and texting, which we’ve come to expect in all modern cell phones. Smartphones have also mostly replaced compact cameras thanks to their high-quality, built-in shooters, and the fact that most smartphones today as just as portable, if not more so, as compact cameras.
How long do smartphones last?
Smartphones can last years and people are holding on to their phones longer now than ever before. Software updates and battery life are two of the biggest factors that can affect phone longevity. Apple promises five years worth of software updates for its latest iPhones, and Google promises the same for its Pixel phones. Samsung phones will get four years worth of Android updates from the time they launch. As for charging speeds and battery life, your phone can deteriorate over time as you use and recharge your phone on a regular basis.