The 10 best smartphones of 2020: 5G powers the top contenders 2020
1. Samsung Galaxy S20/S20 Plus/S20 Ultra
Samsung announced the Galaxy S20 series a month ago and phones are now available for consumers. After spending a couple of weeks with the S20 Ultra 5G, it is clear the phone is built for business and captures the crown for the best 5G device available today.
The focus on the S20 line this year is universal 5G and improved camera experiences. There are some focus issues Samsung is currently dealing with on the S20 Ultra and while you may not want to pay $1,400+ for that phone right now, the S20 Plus may be more appropriate.
Samsung’s S20 series are powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, AMOLED 120Hz refresh rate displays ranging from 6.2 to 6.9 inches, 12GB RAM (with 16GB option), 128GB to 512GB storage options with a microSD for even more capacity, three rear cameras (the Ultra has unique camera specifications), IP68 rating, WiFi 6, and Bluetooth 5. Battery capacity ranges from 4,000 to 5,000mAh. The S20 does not support high band (mmWave) faster 5G networks so make sure you pick the device that will fit your network needs.
An argument can be made that the S20 series isn’t the best smartphone available today, but in terms of 5G and the latest technology, they are tough to beat. The price makes them a bit tougher to justify, but when you realize how this tool is used constantly the price for the value is easier to comprehend.
2. LG V60 ThinQ 5G
The LG V60 ThinQ 5G recently launched on T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon. It’s only available in the US from one of these wireless carriers, but it may appear as an unlocked model on Amazon in the future.
This latest LG V series device continues to focus on video creation with a triple rear camera system, 8K video recording, four microphones, ASMR and Voice Bokeh audio technology, and advanced camera software. It’s also powered by a massive 5,000 mAh battery with a 1080p display so it is sure to help you capture hours of video content.
The LG V60 ThinQ 5G is composed of two pieces of Gorilla Glass 5 with a metal frame and is certified for shock resistance to MIL-STD 810G. LG’s new phone has a 6.8-inch OLED panel, Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage with a microSD card, and 5G. A Dual Screen cover is included for the $900 price and gives you a large platform for serious productivity.
Along with 5G and a focus on video capture, the LG V60 continues LG’s tradition of audio excellence with a 3.5mm audio port with quad DAC support and stereo speakers. It sounds great through the speakers, but the wired headphone experience is even better. It’s one of the last phones remaining with a 3.5mm audio port so audiophiles are sure to be pleased.
3. OnePlus 8/8 Pro
OnePlus rolled out its new 2020 phones with the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro, both compatible with 5G networks. T-Mobile will carry the OnePlus 8 while Verizon will also get a unique version with 5G mmWave support.
This latest OnePlus flagship offers extremely responsive performance with its 90Hz and 120Hz displays, fast UFS 3.0 internal storage, generous RAM, and the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor.
The phones are lovely with Interstellar Glow, Glacial Green, and other color options available. There are is a couple of different RAM and internal storage options for each phone. With the size and battery capacity differences between the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro, we also find some differences in cameras, display refresh rate, and wireless charging functionality.
4. Samsung Galaxy Note 10/10 Plus
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 sat on top of our 10 best smartphone list for much of the past year and was at the top of this list earlier this year. While the headphone jack is gone, everything else has been improved on the 2019 version of the Galaxy Note. The Note 10 is now offered in two variants, with the presence of a microSD card slot, display size, and battery capacity being the prime differentiators.
The Galaxy Note 10 Plus is an excellent enterprise smartphone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, massive amounts of RAM, fast internal storage, microSD card expansion, capable rear quad-camera system, and much more.
Check out our Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus review.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 has a Link to the Windows button in the quick controls area along with support for the latest version of DeX. Extending it to an external monitor with Samsung DeX is quick and easy, while also providing a full functioning desktop experience. The additional capability to charge up other devices and gear, such as the Galaxy Buds, via wireless technology on the back of the Note 10 is convenient for road warriors.
Note 10, starting with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage, starts at $949.99 while the Note 10 Plus with 12GB of RAM and 256GB internal storage starts at $1,099.99. There are also increased RAM and storage options for both devices, but the default base models offer ample RAM and storage for most users. The Note 10 Plus is available now from Samsung and all carriers. T-Mobile also just rolled out a 5G variant, priced at $1,299.99.
5. Apple iPhone 11 Pro/Pro Max
My full review of the Apple iPhone 11 Pro led me to almost rank it with my first perfect 10. I held back from that since Apple launched it with just 64GB of internal storage capacity, which I find unacceptable for a $1,000+ flagship phone with a triple camera system — the best video capture system on a phone. Apple has also been struggling with iOS 13 performance issues, which is why it doesn’t remain at the top of this list.
The only differences between the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max are the display size and battery capacity. After going full circle, it’s clear that the 5.8-inch model works best for me. There’s a lot to be said for a phone that is easily pocketable and capable of satisfying people with smaller hands. It’s usable with one hand.
Apple has once again shown it bests all other phones in benchmarking testing with the Apple A13 Bionic chipset. It has a fabulous OLED screen, good-sized battery with a rating of four hours more than last year’s iPhone, and new camera hardware (with improved software) to make it a very compelling flagship. It continues to get regular updates (one coming within the first week of release) and iOS apps are still better than comparable Android apps, despite the improvements in Android phones.
Face ID continues to be one of the fastest and most secure methods of maintaining security on your phone, and the version in the iPhone 11 Pro has been improved for better performance. Google may release an alternative with the upcoming Pixel 4, but current ultrasonic fingerprint scanners are not proving very reliable for consistent performance.
The iPhone 11 Pro starts at $999 while the iPhone 11 Max starts $1,099 for a minimal storage 64GB model. There are some attractive colors for enterprise users and compared to the iPhone 11, the Pro version is more focused on business users.
Check out our Apple iPhone 11 Pro review.
6. Apple iPhone 11
(Image: James Martin/CNET)
While this list starts with the most powerful, and expensive, phones available, ZDNet’s Jason Cipriani was right in stating that the Apple iPhone 11 is probably the best phone for most people. We typically see Apple keep prices the same, or increase them, each year, but with the iPhone 11, we actually saw a price drop of $50.
Unlike the terrible decision to launch the iPhone 11 Pro/Pro Max with 64GB and then charge a massive premium to upgrade to the next level of 256GB, Apple lets iPhone 11 buyers go from 64GB to 128GB for just $50. Thus, the iPhone 11 with 128GB is an excellent option for most people.
The iPhone 11 has a size between the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max with long battery life, capable processor, several color options, and rear dual camera setup. The iPhone 11 has an ultra-wide angle and standard rear cameras but doesn’t have the 2x telephoto zoom lens found on the other new iPhone 11 models.
The iPhone 11 starts at $699 for 64GB with the 128GB model priced at $749. Six colors are available so there is one to appeal to everyone.
7. Samsung Galaxy S10/S10 Plus
Samsung’s current mass-market flagship is a winner in almost every respect, remaining a more affordable and pocketable option compared to the new Note 10 series. Prices have dropped over the past six months too so you can get this phone at a great price.
Last year’s S9 Plus was a solid Android smartphone, but the S10 Plus improves upon that device with an ultra-wide camera, much longer battery life, better software with One UI, and the ability to wirelessly charge up other devices.
Samsung’s S10 and S10 Plus have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, Super AMOLED Infinity-O display, 8GB RAM (with 12GB option), 128GB to 1TB storage options with a microSD for even more capacity, five cameras, IP68 rating, WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5, ANT+, and a stunning design with gorgeous Prism color options.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus continues to have all of the excellent Galaxy Foundation aspects such as a high level of water resistance, fast wireless charging, a stunning Super AMOLED screen, expandable microSD storage, a 3.5mm headset jack, and much more. In addition, extending it to an external monitor with Samsung DeX is quick and easy, while also providing a full functioning desktop experience. The additional capability to charge up other devices and gear, such as the new Galaxy Buds, via wireless technology on the back of the S10 Plus is convenient for road warriors.
The Galaxy S10 Plus has now been available for six months, which means you can often find special offers from your preferred carrier. Amazon regularly has unlocked models at even more affordable pricing than Samsung or the carriers. The Galaxy S10 started at $899.99 while the S10 Plus started at $999.99 for the 8GB/128GB model. With the release of the S20 series, Samsung dropped the price $150 across the board on the S10 series.
Check out our Galaxy S10 Plus review (9.5/10).
8. Google Pixel 4 XL and Pixel 4
(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)
If you want an Android phone that will always have the latest firmware and security updates, while also offering a fairly stock experience, then nothing beats the Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL. These two phones are the same except for the overall size and battery capacity.
The Google Pixel 4 XL has a large 6.3-inch 18:9 display, Snapdragon 855 processor, 6GB of RAM, 64GB, and 128GB integrated storage, dual rear 16MP and 12.2MP cameras, 8MP front-facing camera, IP68 dust and water resistance, a 3,700mAh battery, and dual front stereo speakers. The smaller Pixel 4 has a 5.7-inch display and a smaller 2,800mAh battery while the rest of the specs are the same as the XL model.
It’s too bad we see storage start at just 64GB, especially with Google no longer providing a free unlimited full-resolution backup of your photos. Battery life is a concern for both the Pixel 4 and 4 XL, especially when compared to other flagships in this price range that will power you through at least a day of use.
In addition to the software being a focus for Google, the camera is another reason to buy the Pixel 4 or 4 XL over other better smartphone hardware. However, while others have phones with three or four rear cameras, Google added just one and went with telephoto over an ultra-wide-angle so the utility of the Pixel 4 cameras may not be as great as what you get on other smartphones in this list.
The smaller Pixel 4 starts at $799 while the Pixel 4 XL starts at $899 for the 64GB model. They are both powered by Android 10 and will receive OS upgrades for three years. Monthly Android security updates are the most important software support for the enterprise since major firmware updates tend to break things and be less stable immediately after release.
9. Apple iPhone SE (2020)
Apple isn’t known for making affordable phones, but the iPhone SE is a perfect option for those who want an iPhone experience without paying high prices. As a person who primarily uses Android phones, it is also a great option as a second phone for those times you want to use iOS.
The iPhone SE is smaller than nearly all other modern phones and looks like an iPhone 8 on the outside. However, it is the inside that matters here with the Apple Bionic A13 processor, high IP67 dust/water resistant rating, and very capable 12-megapixel camera. You won’t find a budget Android phone with all of these features at this price and it’s wonderful to see Apple offering up such a solid affordable option at this time.
Apple iPhone fans will still likely want an iPhone 11 or something greater, but this is a great option for a first iPhone and one for those who just don’t want to give up on a Touch ID button.
10. Google Pixel 3A XL and Pixel 3A
(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)
Google launched a couple of mid-level phones that are much more affordable and still include Google’s industry-leading camera solution. The Pixel 3A and 3A XL are the same phones with just the screen size and battery capacity being different from each other. An $80 price difference differentiates between the two sizes with the same color options also being available.
The Pixel 3A and 3A XL is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor with 5.6 or 6-inch OLED displays, 12MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, stereo speakers, and 3,000/3,700mAh battery options. This is targeted to the masses with limited internal storage and US carrier availability at Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, as well as unlocked directly from Google.
The smaller Pixel 3A is priced at just $399 while the Pixel 3A XL costs $479. The only option, other than size, is the color of the phone. Available colors include Just Black, Purple-ish, and Clearly White. They are both powered by Android 9.0 Pie and will receive OS upgrades for three years. Google’s newest Assistant features are present along with some other Google software advances. Rumors indicate we may see a Pixel 4a variant in the first half of 2020.