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It’s 2023 and quality smartphones are in abundance. Consumers have their pick of a wide variety of phones with fast processors, vibrant displays and powerful cameras. But with so many options, deciding which one’s right for you isn’t always easy. To simplify the decision, we’ve rounded up our top picks — each phone on this list meets the requirements for what CNET considers to be the best smartphones. From flagship phones to budget phones under $500 and everything in between, there are plenty of worthwhile options for everyone.
Every phone on this list has been thoroughly reviewed and tested, and you’ll find options across iPhone and Android that fit different needs.
What is the best phone for most people?
The Apple iPhone 14 and 14 Pro impressed us with excellent performance from their processors and the cameras. But if you aren’t after the best iPhone around, you still have plenty of smartphone choices, including the Pixel 7 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. They both offer everything you could want, from high-end performance to superb cameras.
There are a number of other great smartphones with eye-catching features, such as Samsung’s new Galaxy Z Fold 4, which has a foldable screen. These can be quite expensive, but if your cash doesn’t stretch that far, worry not. More and more affordable phones, such as the new Pixel 6A, pack great specs, high-speed 5G connectivity and more-approachable prices.
Most of the phones below are available unlocked and should be compatible with the big four US wireless carriers, unless otherwise specified. Many of the best phones of 2022 remain available below, but we review and update this list regularly and will keep you posted as we test new models in the year ahead. For more info, read our guide to help find the best phone for your needs and take a look at our tips on how to buy a new Apple iPhone or Android phone and where to snag the best phone deals.
Best phones in 2023
How we test phones
Every phone that appears on this list has been thoroughly tested by CNET’s expert reviews team. That means actually using the phone, testing the features, playing games on them and taking photos with them. No marketing promises are taken at face value, and if we find something we don’t like, be it battery life or build quality, we’ll tell you all about it.
Testing a phone means testing every element of the device. Is the display bright, sharp, vibrant? Does the design feel good to hold, is it heavy, does it feel well made and is it water resistant? We test the processor performance using both standardized benchmark tools like GeekBench and 3DMark, along with our own anecdotal observations while navigating the interface or when playing demanding games.
All the cameras (both front and back) are tested in a variety of conditions from bright sunlight through to dark scenes (for any available night modes), and we compare our findings against similarly priced models. We run battery tests, running them down from full to see how long they’re likely to keep going out there in the real world.
We take into account additional features like 5G, fingerprint or face scanners, styluses, fast charging, flexible displays or other extras that can be useful. And we of course balance all of this against the price to give you the verdict on whether that phone, whatever price it is, actually represents good value.
What makes a good phone camera?
All of today’s phones pack some kind of camera setup on the back, with most packing multiple ones offering things like ultra-wide views or telephoto zooms. Even a budget-focused phone should be able to take a well-exposed image in good light, using HDR techniques to balance bright skies and shadowy areas.
More expensive phones like the iPhone 14 Pro will use larger image sensors, better-quality lenses and image stabilization that let in more light, capturing highly detailed images with beautiful colors — in daylight and at night. Then there are phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra, which packs a huge 10x optical zoom lens that lets you zoom in close on far-away details without sacrificing image quality.
Typically, the more you pay, the better quality you’ll get, with the most advanced features being reserved for the most expensive flagships. But unless you’re a committed photographer, then most recent smartphones will be able to take good-enough shots of your kids at the beach to share with family and friends, so don’t think you need to spend a fortune to get a usable camera.
You can see our roundup of the best camera phones, with options at different prices, including budget phone cameras like the Google Pixel 6A.
What is the best phone case?
There’s a vast array of case options for almost every phone on the market, so which one is best really comes down to what you need it for. Many cases are simply there for the style. They might be made of luxury materials like leather or fabric, or simply come with some fancy design that you’ll enjoy having in your pocket all the time.
And while these cases will certainly help keep light scratches and scuffs off your phone, you should look toward more specialized rugged cases if you want to take your smartphone on a rough-and-tumble adventure into the outdoors.
How long should a phone battery last?
Battery life has always been a difficult topic in smartphones. As phones get more powerful they get more power-hungry, but keeping them slim enough to slide into a pocket means little room for a battery. Long gone are the days of getting a month out of a single charge.
Most of today’s smartphones — even those at the top end — should usually be able to deliver a full day of mixed use out of a charge. That means you should have a bit of juice left at the end of your day, but you should expect to give it a full charge when you plug it in next to your bed at night.
Mixed use is subjective, of course, but typically it would involve some general messaging and email, web browsing and listening to streaming music or podcasts for a couple of hours. Throw in some photos on your walk home from work, too. More demanding tasks like playing vibrant, 3D games like Asphalt 9: Legends will drain your battery much faster. If you plan on playing a lot of games, then make sure you’re within reach of a plug or carry a mobile battery pack with you.
How much storage should my phone have?
Phone storage has increased over time as our phones have to store much more data-heavy things these days. Apps and games use higher-resolution graphics or other modern features that mean they have to take up more room on your phone. It’s common for graphically intense games to take up several gigabytes of space, which is huge when you consider the first-generation iPhone came with a base 4GB of storage.
Most phones tend to come with a minimum of 128GB of storage, which is a good amount for apps, games and locally stored music. But it’s important to think about what you’ll be doing with your phone. If you want to download and play a lot of games, then consider opting for a higher-capacity version.
If you’re into photography and expect to take a lot of high-resolution photos, 4K video or DNG raw images, then again you’ll benefit from having more storage so you don’t have to keep deleting older files before you can take new ones. Having extra storage can be great peace of mind that you’ll be able to shoot away at your kid’s birthday party without worrying about missing that crucial moment because you ran out of space.
But you’ll pay more for that storage, with the iPhone 14 Pro’s top 1TB of space costing half as much again as the base 128GB model. Whether that’s a worthwhile investment is up to you.
What makes a phone a smartphone?
Pretty much every phone you can buy today is a smartphone. Smartphones let you do more than just make calls; they connect to the internet for web browsing, you can download apps and games, and they typically have cameras capable of taking — and displaying — photos and videos. In short, they’re just what we know of today as a “phone,” and everything on this list qualifies as a smartphone.
They’re worlds apart from the older-style “feature” phones like the original Nokia 3210, although even those have been updated with “smart” functions. And it is still possible to buy extremely basic feature phones, with physical buttons and no internet connectivity, although these are much more niche and far fewer companies still make them.