10 best smartphones in the US

Update: The best phone in the US for 2017 is a lot like the list from 2016, because we're expecting a lot of new handsets over the next 12 months. Here are our current picks.

Knowing the best smartphone you can buy at the end of 2016 is more than just a hunch for us. We test out the latest and – sometimes – greatest phones in comprehensive mobile phone reviews.

To drill down to a list of our 10 favorites in the US this year, we based today's updated rankings on a lot of geeked-out factors: design, performance, battery life, camera quality and software updates.

Sure, your personal preference among iOS 10, Android Nougat and Windows Mobile 10 could sway you to another device besides our top-ranked phone. Likewise, your contract with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile is a personal preference. The best phone for AT&T may not be available on-contract on Verizon, and vice-versa.

But that's why we have more than just a No. 1 pick, which, spoiler alert, isn't just Apple's iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus. We're not that predictable. Before you lock into a binding contract or spring for an expensive unlocked, SIM-free smartphone, consult our best phone guide, updated regularly.

After the success of the HTC One M8, the world wondered if time was up for HTC after it didn’t really ignite the smartphone game with the One M9.

Well, that’s not the case as the brand went away, made a beautiful phone that’s ‘sculpted by light’, added in a genuinely impressive camera and improved the battery life.

But that’s not the best bit – that comes when you plug headphones into this thing. It’s sensational – can this thing pump beautiful, Hi-Res Audio into your ears or what? It’s sensational.

For that reason alone it’s worth a place in the top ten, and the myriad other improvements impress equally.

Read the full review: HTC 10

  • What's next? We're expecting to hear about the HTC 11 in a matter of days, and it may go by the name HTC U or HTC U Ultra.

Also consider: We’d suggest having a gander at the LG G5 if you fancy an ‘underdog’ brand that can still make it big… great camera and some fancy innovation on offer there. The HTC Bolt is a more budget-friendly alternative in the US, too, at least if you’re a Sprint customer.

The OnePlus 3T was a surprising upgrade, offering a slight change in the specs designed to 'listen to the fans' that want more power – and given this is a small brand, it's experimenting with a mid-season change.

It's still got the same beautiful all-metal design, the same 5.5-inch AMOLED display that's bright and vibrant and the fingerprint scanner is still lightning fast – all the main specs are there, and it's only the upgraded chipset and battery that make the biggest difference.

The lack of a microSD card, and a battery which only lasts around a day may put some off, but considering the price you're paying the OnePlus is good value for money, despite a price hike over the OnePlus 3.

If you're desperate for a high-end phone, but don't have the money to stretch that far, the OnePlus 3T will make you rather happy.

Read the full review: OnePlus 3T

Also consider: If OnePlus isn't doing it for you, then check out the Moto G4 Plus which has slightly less power, but a still very strong feature set.

best smartphones in the US

The most surprising smartphone on our best phones list is the ZTE Axon 7, which blends a sophisticated metal design with an equally attractive price. It’s also feature-packed with awesome-sounding front-facing speakers, generous 64GB of internal storage and the same Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM chipset used by its pricier rivals.

You’re going to be hard-pressed with find a better value for a mid-range phone. The OnePlus 3 comes close, but lacks a microSD card slot and the screen is 1080p. The Huawei Honor 8 has the microSD card slot, but its screen is 1080p and smaller at 5.2 inches.

The Axon 7 really shines with its Samsung-challenging AMOLED display. Be warned, at 5.5 inches and with a full metal body around it, this phone is slippery. It also doesn’t work with Verizon and Sprint just yet, despite having all of the necessary GSM and CDMA bands ready to go.

Full review: ZTE Axon 7

Also consider: Moto Z Play isn’t nearly as stylish as the ZTE Axon 7, but it has killer two-day battery life for the same exact price. It trades in dual front-facing speakers for MotoMods, which are accessories that attach to the back of the phone with magnets. Who doesn’t need an instant boom box speaker or pico projector on the go? 

best smartphones in the US

The Moto Z is an incredibly thin smartphone that sets a new record at 5.19 in so-called “thickness,” but you shouldn’t want it to stay that thin. This is a modular smartphone, allowing you to clip on game-changing accessories onto its back thanks to built-in magnets.

All of sudden, your otherwise flat Motorola phone doubles as a mini boom box, a real camera or even a pico projector. It can also double in battery life with a stylish juice pack. MotoMods really transform the design and functionality of your phone, and there are more to come. We also like Moto Z’s intelligent fingerprint sensor. It not only turns on and unlocks the screen, it also puts it to sleep and locks it up with a second press. What’s not here is a 3.5mm headphone jack that requires you to use an included adapter for hardwired audio, and that’s a dealbreaker for some people.

Full review: Moto Z

Also consider: The Moto Z Force is a US-only Verizon exclusive that has extra thickness, but a shatter-resistant screen and extra battery life. Both phones work with all of the same MotoMods, too.

Google Pixel XL is the Android maker’s new phablet-sized phone, and it ditched the old Nexus branding for two reasons: it’s debuts specs instead of using six-month-old parts like the previous Nexus phones, and it’s far more expensive.

This top-of-the-line Android Nougat phone has a 5.5-inch Quad HD display, fast Snapdragon 821 chipset and support for Google Daydream View. Google’s VR headset makes this phone’s high-resolution screen the primary reason to opt for the bigger sized phone over the smaller 1080p Google Pixel.

Google’s latest Android software is a joy to use, with smooth, slick performance and a clutter free design. Fire up the camera app and the 12MP rear shooter is one of the best around, while a fingerprint scanner keep yours phone secure.

Minor weak points are no always-on display, not having a waterproof design and a lack of front-facing stereo speakers. But they don’t stop the Pixel XL from being an excellent flagship phablet.

Read the full review: Google Pixel XL

Also consider: How about the smaller Google Pixel? The 5-inch handset also features in our top ten, and if a smaller screen (and smaller price tag) takes your fancy then you’re in luck. It retains the excellent power, camera and Android interface from the XL, in a more palm-friendly package.

The Google Pixel is an excellent flagship phone that’s only let down by mediocre battery life and the still-developing Assistant. If you can stomach the price point, the Pixel is a breath of fresh Google air in a world of Android over-complication. 

The 12MP camera on the back is one of the best on the market, while the clean, fresh Android Nougat interface is a joy to use.

There’s heaps of power under the hood making it perfect for gaming and multi-tasking, while the bright, colorful screen provides an excellent viewing experience for your movies and TV shows.

It may not be the most attractive handset on the market, and it’s far from ugly. What you can be sure of is a lot of bang for your buck.

Read the full review: Google Pixel review

Also consider: Like what you see, but need more screen real estate? You you’ll want the Google Pixel XL – the 5.5-inch brother of the Pixel which boasts an eye-popping QHD (that’s 2K) resolution. But, warning, it’s more expensive.

best smartphones in the US

The new iPhone isn’t the phone that many will have been waiting for, as it comes with a similar look and feel to previous models.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad phone, far from it in fact with a power boost under the hood, water resistant and a decent camera upgrade making a difference.

There’s no point upgrading from the 6S to 7, but if you’re currently using an iPhone 6 or older then the jump to the 7 is a good one.

Read the full review: iPhone 7

Also consider: If you want to save yourself a bit of money then the iPhone 6S is still an excellent smartphone. It looks identical to the 7, also runs iOS 10 and has the benefit of still having a headphone jack. Those wanting something a bit bigger should look at the iPhone 7 Plus – the best iPhone currently around.

best smartphones in the US

The iPhone 7 Plus is the best iPhone available right now, giving you a whole heap of power, water resistant body, not one, but two cameras on the back and super slick performance.

It does use the same design as previous handsets, and Apple’s removed the headphone jack and upped the price – but if your pockets are deep and headphones wireless you’ll love the 7 Plus.

The camera is a big improvement on the 6S Plus, and it’ll only get better once Apple rolls out its depth-of-field feature later this year.

Full review: iPhone 7 Plus

Also consider: The standard iPhone 7 is very good too, with a more manageable form factor and lower price point it’s the phone that’s likely to appeal to a wider audience – but for those looking for Apple perfection it has to be the 7 Plus.

Also consider: The standard iPhone 7 is very good too, with a more manageable form factor and lower price point it’s the phone that’s likely to appeal to a wider audience – but for those looking for Apple perfection it has to be the 7 Plus.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 is a phone that initially looks just like the S6 from last year – but pick it up and you’ll see there’s a world of difference.

Firstly, the rear of the phone feels much nicer thanks to a curved back (through a process called 3D Thermo Forming), it’s now water resistant and a microSD slot is a welcome feature to return, after it was dropped last year.

The camera is just brilliant – it’s lower in megapixels but improved in quality. You’ll get brilliant pictures time and again, and you’ll want to keep trying it in different scenarios. It’s a great phone that you’ll be happy to pull out of your pocket.

Full review: Samsung Galaxy S7

Also consider: An easy one: go for the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge if you can afford it. It’s a compact phone with the screen size of a phablet, and offers all the same features with a more attractive design.

Last year’s Galaxy S6 Edge was a good phone, but not brilliant. It was the same as the Samsung Galaxy S6, but had a curved screen – and that was it. It was the same size, power and camera, and that wasn’t enough.

Fast forward to today and the S7 Edge takes all the great looks of the S6 Edge, makes the phone even curvier and combines it with the superb power and feature set of the S7.

The camera is just brilliant, the mix of metal and glass is really nice to hold, and even the Touchwiz overlay is turning into something more usable than before. 

Battery life improvements are hugely welcomed, and while the price is higher, it’s now affixed to a phone that offers simply the best in nearly every department, so many will be happy with the outlay.

Full review: Samsung Galaxy S7

Also consider: Like the phone above, this is an easy decision: go for the Samsung Galaxy S7 if you’re not feeling the cost and price of the Edge. It’s got all the power, but it’s more compact and costs a little less. The LG G5 is nearly here too though – that could be a dark horse in the mix.

Apple’s iPhone SE ranks at Number 10 mainly because there are so many other top-notch phones, but also because it has a tired design, screen that’s several years old and a display size that’s too small to get sucked into apps and movies on the move.

That said, it’s one of very few high-end smartphones you can use one-handed and its iOS 9.3 operating system remains slick and easy to use. It won’t be for everyone, but for those who dislike the supersized phones of today the iPhone SE is a top performer on a miniature scale.

Remember, the SE has the same power, same camera and same software as Apple’s best iPhone, the iPhone 6S. It just happens to be in a size you can easily pocket and at a reasonable (for an iPhone) price: $400 unlocked and $50 on contract among US carriers.

Read the full review: iPhone SE

Also consider: Want a cheaper iPhone but find the iPhone SE just too small? Apple’s still selling the original iPhone 6, with a 4.7-inch display, sleeker metal body and the same version of iOS. It’s a bit more expensive, but you do get a bigger screen.

best smartphones in the US

Best Phones in the US

Nexus 6P

Google goes again for a phablet, and it’s a corker

OS: Android 6 | Screen size: 5.7-inch | Resolution: 2560 x 1440 | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 32GB/64GB/128GB | Battery: 3,450mAh | Rear camera: 12.3MP | Front camera: 8MP

Google and Huawei teamed up to make the Nexus 6P, and it’s really the best smartphone from either company and a relief over Motorola’s Nexus 6 from a year prior.

It has a vivid quad HD 5.7-inch display that’s much more manageable in two hands and sometimes one. And yet while the Nexus 6P is easier to hold, it remains tall and just enough for watching movies and browsing the web.

You won’t be hungry for Android updates with this phone either. It’s currently running the latest version ofAndroid Marshmallow and can beta test Android N Developer Preview. You’ll also be more secure thanks to its well-placed fingerprint scanner on the back – which is both quick and accurate.

What keeps the Nexus 6P on the list and also from ranking higher is its price. It’s a steal at $499 in the US for an unlocked phone. Problem is, you won’t find it subsidized by any carriers. We also found the camera to be fantastic for a Nexus phone, but not as sharp as photos taken by Samsung handsets.

Full review: Nexus 6P

Also consider: If you’re after a Nexus phone, you’re thinking about getting the latest version of Android in a smartphone – and you can get that in the Nexus 5X too. It’s cheaper, and not as powerful in some ways, but it’s cheaper and more palm-friendly.


Nexus 5X

Mods are best innovation in a smartphone we’ve seen

OS: Android 6 | Screen size: 5.3-inch | Resolution: 2560 x 1440 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32GB | Battery: removable 2,800mAh | Rear camera: 16MP | Front camera: 8MP

LG’s back, and with an innovative bang. This is a phone that’s designed to fall apart – well, come apart at least. You see, in addition to the clever dual camera, there’s a clip at the bottom that lets you remove and swap out the battery – like old times (i.e. 2014 for Samsung fans).

That’s good news because many new phones lack a removable power pack, and this one actually goes beyond that with new modules. Attach an Hi-Fi audio module for better speakers or a battery-infused camera grip to take almost as many vacation photos as you want.

We’re still waiting for the B&O audio module to make it to the US, but there’s promise that it’ll come along with additional LG G5 modules. It’s another ‘alternative’ phone from LG, and we’re big fans, especially at $99 on contract if you shop well enough.

Also consider: Last year’s LG G4 isn’t a million miles away from this phone in terms of spec, and it’s a darn sight cheaper now. It’s not got the attractive metal body, but if you can rustle up the leather variant you’re getting an absolute steal of a smartphone.

Nokia Lumia 930

Microsoft Lumia 950

The beginning of a smartphone revolution?

OS: Windows Phone | Screen size: 5-inch | Resolution: 1920 x 1080 | RAM: 2GB | Storage: 32GB | Battery: 2,420mAh | Rear camera: 20MP | Front camera: 1.2MP

Maybe you’re bored of the iPhone. Perhaps Android just doesn’t do it for you. Maybe you’re just wondering if there’s something different out there? Well, Windows Phone 10 on the Lumia 950 will intrigue you. It can offer a PC-like experience by extending out to a larger monitor, and the camera is pretty strong.

However, there’s one issue: apps. Or the lack thereof – and when combined with the slightly plastic design, it fails to trouble the top 10. However, it’s a legitimate choice and easily one of the most impressive Windows Phones ever.

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