Editor's Choice Awards - Best Smartphones 2018
A smartphone for everyone
Smartphone guru David Phelan rounds up the best on offer in 2018The Editor’s Choice Awards celebrate the best products of the year. They are the items we think stand head and shoulders above the rest. The criteria for being eligible are simple. It must be a product that has been reviewed by AVForums in the last 12 months and it must currently be available as part of the official product range from a manufacturer and not discontinued before the end of 2018.
This year we present the awards for TVs & Projectors, Home AV, Hi-Fi and Mobile. In this article, we select our favourite products of the year in Smartphones.
Best Cameraphone 2018 – Huawei P20 Pro
This phone has three completely different photographic sensors, all crafted in conjunction with Leica, the brilliant camera manufacturer. So, no surprise that the Huawei P20 Pro can take amazing photographs.
There are two colour sensors and one monochrome. The 20MP monochrome is not there just for the purest black-and-white images, though it's great for that. It mostly grabs light quickly to ensure sharpness, with the main colour sensor, which has a 40MP resolution, used to provide colour fidelity.
The third sensor is lower-resolution (8MP) but has a different focal length, providing an effective 3x optical zoom.
Plus, Huawei's advanced artificial intelligence can spot what you're shooting, so if you're taking a picture of plants it makes the greens more vivid, photograph a dog and its fur will be fluffed, while a cat's eyes will be enhanced. And, of course, if you really must photograph your food, it can make that look its best. Other features also impress: night mode, for example, is particularly impressive, revealing detail in an almost pitch-dark environment.
Many smartphones have great cameras but this one edges them all. Actually, there is another that's as strong, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, which matches it.
Best Smartphone For Innovation 2018 – Huawei Mate 20 Pro
The camera, by the way, is similar to the P20 Pro above, and the main 40MP sensor is the same on both, and the 8MP longer lens, 3x zoom compared to the main one, is also comparable. But Huawei has swapped the black-and-white sensor for a colour one with a 20MP wide-angle lens that offers an effective optical zoom in the other direction. It's 0.6x the zoom of the main lens. Together, they add up to a superbly easy to use camera.
But there are two real ground-breakers on this phone. The fingerprint sensor is buried in the OLED display itself, and though it's not quite as fast as Apple's Face ID or more traditional fingerprint sensors, it's very cool and works well.
The other is the two-way wireless charging. Not only can the phone receive a charge wirelessly from a compatible wireless charging pad, it can also send the charge out as well. Press any wireless charging-compatible phone against the back of the Mate 20 Pro and the other phone starts charging.
Both these innovations work well and feel slightly magical.
Best Smartphone Over 6 Inches 2018 – Apple iPhone XS Max
Like last year's iPhone X, this handset features Apple's facial recognition system, Face ID. Other phones have facial unlock but aren't deemed secure enough to work for financial transactions, where fingerprints are still required. Rival systems are also not as reliable: this second-generation Face ID is fast and works almost every time.
Incidentally, the design of the iPhone XS Max is pretty much identical to the iPhone X. If you liked the look of that, you'll like this and if not, er, not.
The rear cameras on the iPhone XS Max are also tremendous, with new additions to the portrait capabilities, including a neat sliding scale which allows you to adjust how much of the image is in sharp focus after the event.
The new processor is remarkably fast - the latest-gen iPhones and the Mate 20 Pro are the only ones with a super-compact 7nm processor - and powerful, helping with photography and augmented reality features.
Battery life is also extremely good on this larger iPhone, though not as good as on the less expensive iPhone XR...
Best Smartphone Under £750 2018 – Apple iPhone XR
Although there's only one rear camera, software enhancements mean that the XR is capable of portrait mode effects - but only for people. Those depth-of-field portraits of your cat or an inanimate object won't be recognised as being suitable for the iPhone XR.
Apple's use of colours has always been stylish and spot-on. Here, there are six shades to choose from, including a gorgeous coral, optimistic-looking yellow and vivid red.
Best Smartphone Under £500 2018 – OnePlus 6T
It lacks the wireless charging of the Huawei, and it has two rear cameras rather than three, but this is a fearsomely good handset with a lot going for it, including the cool fingerprint-sensor-in-display feature of the Mate 20 Pro. In fact, its version sits nearer the base of the screen which is arguably more convenient.
It also has strong battery life, an attractive OLED screen (even if it's not as hi-res as the Mate 20 Pro) and a slick, if carefully customised version of Android as its operating system.
The camera really is no match for the Huawei, but, then again, this phone is almost £400 cheaper, and the camera is still more than decent. Although it lacks, as mentioned, wireless charging, OnePlus's fast-charge features are great.
Best Smartphone Under £400 2018 – Nokia 7.1
The display is rich and detailed, offering HDR capabilities for, again, a lower price than many rivals. Although the display doesn't cover the whole of the front of the phone as it does on some winners here, it's expansive and attractive. Nokia uses an almost completely pure version of Android, which means updates come quickly.
And the Zeiss lenses on the dual rear cameras take good shots.
Solid build quality and excellent battery life round out an effective, affordable handset.
Best Smartphone For Productivity 2018 – Samsung Galaxy Note9
The fingerprint sensor, like on recent other Samsung phones, sits just below the rear cameras but has been carefully relocated to minimise the chance of smudging the lens as you fumble to unlock the phone.
The 6.4in OLED display is terrific, very high-resolution and delivering strong contrasts and black levels. The twin rear cameras improve on the already excellent snappers on the Galaxy S9+ released earlier in 2018. Samsung's use of AI means the camera can warn you when someone is blinking so you don't end up with photos of closed eyes.
It's attractively designed, has a fast processor and extremely good battery life. It even comes in a version with 512GB of storage, as does the iPhone XS. But here, there's the option to add another 512GB in the form of a microSD card.
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