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10 best smartphones: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 still trumps Apple iPhone X


Apple recently announced the new 2017 iPhone lineup, but even its best can’t knock off Samsung’s latest Galaxy Note. We will see some more movement in this best 10 list when the Huawei Mate 10 and next Google Pixel phones are announced in the next month or two.

We have hands-on experience with all of these phones, except for the new iPhones. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are incremental updates, really 7s models, but the iPhone X is new and we based our pick on the hands-on experiences posted by various press outlets after the launch event.

1. Samsung Galaxy Note 8

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was at the top of my list at the end of 2016, before the recall forced its removal. The Galaxy Note 8 regains the top spot as it is clearly the most advanced smartphone currently on the market.

CNET: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Phone review

Samsung’s Infinity Display earned the highest rating ever from DisplayMate and is 0.1 inch bigger than the S8 Plus. There is 6GB of RAM, the fastest Qualcomm mobile processor, advanced S Pen functionality, dual rear cameras with OIS, the ability to add inexpensive microSD cards, new Bixby assitant and a hardware button dedicated to its use, improved front facing camera, Samsung Pay payment technology, wireless and fast charging, IP68 dust and water resistance, a USB Type-C standard port, and traditional 3.5mm headset jack. There is nothing missing from the Galaxy Note 8 and it deserves the top spot.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is available now at a price ranging from $930 to $960. There are some launch specials from Samsung and carriers, including a Gear 360 camera or microSD card and fast wireless charger.

I spent a couple weeks with an evaluation device and my own Note 8 arrived last week.

Check out Jason Cipriani’s full Galaxy Note 8 review with a 9/10 rating. Jason is more conservative with his ratings than I am so a 9 from Jason is outstanding.

2. Apple iPhone X

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The Apple iPhone X was just announced, but it won’t be available until November. It is the highest price mass market phone to launch with a starting price of $999 for 64GB and $1,149 for 256GB.

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It’s the first unique iPhone design we have seen since the original iPhone launched 10 years ago. It has a large 5.8 inch front display with minimal bezels and no front home button. A Samsung OLED panel is used for the first time on an iPhone. There is a dual rear camera setup with specifications just a bit under the leading specs we see on the Galaxy Note 8.

Without buttons on the front, the iPhone X relies on advanced facial recognition to unlock and use Apple Pay. Apple finally includes wireless charging, but it is not the fast wireless charging technology seen on Samsung devices so it won’t be a way to top up quickly. However, Apple also finally includes fast charging via the Lightning port so you can get up to 50 percent charge in 30 minutes.

CNET: iPhone X hands-on

The iPhone X is powered by the new A11 bionic chip and M11 motion coprocessor so is sure to be responsive with iOS 11. It has an IP67 dust and water resistant rating. Glass is now used on the back to support wireless charging. The front facing camera is 7 megapixels and labeled TrueDepth so you can take portrait selfies.

The iPhone X is the most advanced iPhone to date and offers some new experiences with the front display. This includes extensive gesture support and new ways to access functions on the iPhone.

3. Samsung Galaxy S8/S8 Plus

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The Samsung Galaxy S8/S8 Plus was at the top of my list earlier this year, but the Note 8 bumped it down with a few additional features and advanced hardware.

CNET: Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review

Samsung’s Infinity Display looks fantastic and minimizes the top and bottom bezel while removing anything on the sides which roll down from the front to the back. Everything seen in the Note 8, except for the S Pen and dual rear camera, is present on the S8 and S8 Plus.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 launched at $750 and the S8 Plus at $850. Prices have dropped with the Note 8 release and the passage of time so you can now find it at a couple hundred less, making either the S8 or S8 Plus a fantastic deal.

The Galaxy S8 Plus earned a 9.6 rating in my full review.

4. Apple iPhone 8/8 Plus

The new Apple iPhone 8/8 Plus look like the iPhone 7/7 Plus, but have glass backs for wireless charging support. In addition the new iPhones have a slightly improved processor, improved camera, and improved LCD display.

CNET: iPhone 8 Plus hands-on

There are stereo speakers for good sound performance, but no standard 3.5mm headphone jack. These new iPhones do have fast charging support so they can gain up to 50 percent of battery capacity in 30 minutes.

There is no longer an 128GB capacity option with 64GB and 256GB models available. The iPhone 8 is priced at $699 and $849 while the iPhone 8 Plus is priced at $749 and $949.

5. LG V30

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We do not yet know the pricing or availability of the LG V30, but I have now spent a couple of weeks with a non-final unit and it is stunning. It is clearly the best V series phone and LG’s best released in years. It is a phone for content creators thanks to its dual rear camera setup and advanced software designed to help you take great still photos and videos.

CNET: LG V30 hands-on

The V30 feels wonderful in the hand and looks rather stunning in silver. It is loaded with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot, has an IP68 dust and water resistant rating, and built to survive military drop tests. You will find two cameras on the back, one 16 megapixel and the other 13 megapixel for a wide angle experience.

6. HTC U11

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For many years I was an HTC fan and purchased most of the One series. The HTC U11 was released in June and while it doesn’t have minimal bezels or a 3.5mm headphone jack, it is the most gorgeous phone ever and has a camera that may be the best available.

CNET: HTC U11 review

The HTC U11 is blazing fast and has a minimal HTC Sense software experience. It is similar to a Google Pixel, but has water resistance, much better audio, and a cool squeezable edge.

Like the HTC 10, the HTC U11 provides a fantastic audio experience with dual stereo speakers and an included USonic headset that maps the specifics of each of your ears.

The U11 has a 5.5 inch high resolution LCD display, Snapdrago 835, IP67 dust and water resistant rating, and a rear 12 megapixel camera.

The glass back is a looker and the Solar Red one I purchased turns heads. It appears red, gold, orange, and pink in different lighting conditions and stands out from the crowd. It is available for $649, although there are regular coupons available so you should be able to pick it up for just $599. That is a great deal for a high end smartphone.

I awarded the HTC U11 a 9.3/10 in my review, while CNET awarded the HTC U11 an 8.1/10.

7. LG G6

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LG was the first to get its flagship out to customers with the new 18:9 aspect ratio and after using one for several months I considered it as a possible top five contender. It is priced at a reasonable $500 and comes with a microSD card slot, incredible performing dual rear cameras, shock resistance, minimal bezels and a pocketable form factor, wireless charging, and dust and water resistance.

CNET: LG G6 review

The LG G6 has a dual rear camera setup and is one of the best camera phones available. I recommend the V30 over the G6 though as the V30 has everything that G6 does with better software and a Quad DAC for high end audio.

The LG G6 has a rather thick uniform body and doesn’t have anything that particularly makes it stand out from the crowd. The LG UX is OK and is not too intrusive, but LG doesn’t have a great track record with regular software updates and there is still something for LG to prove in 2017. The LG G6 is a wonderful device to use to show that LG is able to compete with Samsung and Apple.

Check out my full review (9.5 rating) of the LG G6.

8. BlackBerry KEYOne

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BlackBerry KEYone (Image: TCL)

It’s great to see BlackBerry devices appearing again on my best 10 lists. I’ve spent a few months with the BlackBerry KEYone and if I am going to spend a weekend away from a readily available power source, it is the phone to bring as it seems to last forever. The physical keyboard is fun to use and the device keeps getting the latest software updates before nearly every other smartphone.

CNET: BlackBerry KeyOne

The BlackBerry KEYone doesn’t have all of the highest flagship specs found in other phones, but it is a very capable device with an excellent camera. The KEYone has a 4.5 inch display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, massive 3505 mAh battery, 12 megapixel rear camera, and fingerprint sensor built into the keyboard spacebar.

TCL is now making BlackBerry hardware and as I saw on the DTEK60 it is doing a fantastic job at providing monthly Android security updates, which is not something many Android manufacturers can say.

The BlackBerry KEYone is priced at $549, which is a reasonable price for this unique BlackBerry device, and a cool all black model just launched on AT&T last week.

Check out the Jason Cipriani’s full review of the BlackBerry KEYone (7.0 rating).

9. Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL

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Image: CNET

The Google Pixel and Pixel XL are outstanding devices and for about a month I owned a Google Pixel XL. We are likely to see updates from Google in a month or two, so the current Pixel and Pixel XL are being outpaced by the competition.

CNET: Google Pixel review | Google Pixel XL review

The Pixel has a 5 inch display while the Pixel XL has a 5.5 inch display. Both are powered by a Qualcomm 821 processor. Other key specs include 4GB of RAM, 32 or 128GB of internal storage, 12.3 megapixel camera and 8 megapixel front facing camera, and Android 7.1 Nougat.

There is no water resistance or wireless charging capability, internal storage is locked to either 32GB or 128GB, and the bezels of the phone are quite large when you compare it to the new LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8.

Just like the iPhone, you will get updates to the Android software first on a Google Pixel or Pixel XL so if having the latest version of the software is important to you then you can’t beat a Pixel.

The camera helps you take wonderful photos and that was the one reason I almost kept mine. However, there are too many other compromises with the hardware that I was not willing to make. The Google Pixel is priced at $649 and $749. The Google Pixel XL is priced at $769 and $869.

Check out the Jason Cipriani’s full review of the Google Pixel XL (8.0 rating). CNET also has a review of the Google Pixel (8.8 rating).

10. Moto Z2 Force

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The new 360 Camera Moto Mod next to the Z2 Force Edition.


Motorola

Thankfully, Motorola continues to actively support the Moto Mods and the newest high end Moto is the Moto Z2 Force Edition, available now between $650 and $720 with some launch specials.

CNET: Moto Z2 Force review

The Z2 Force Edition brings the shatterproof display we saw last year on the Z Force Droid on Verizon. While the display will withstand drops, it also scratches very easily so if you buy this phone then you should immediately put on a screen protector.

The Z2 Force Edition has a Snapdragon 835, 4GB RAM, 64GB internal storage, dual rear 12 megapixel cameras, and a rather small 2,730 mAh battery. It supports Moto Mods, including the new 360 Camera Mod, which was a lot of fun to use on some mountain hikes.

Motorola has done a good job updating these latest Moto Z phones with the operating system and monthly Android security updates. You can also use the Moto Z2 Force Edition in a Google Daydream headset for a VR experience.

The Moto Mods snap on and off easily and are very functional. Motorola has spent time and money fostering the Moto Mods development and we are starting to see projects on Indiegogo and elsewhere.

Check out my full Moto Z2 Force Edition review (7.8/10) and the one from CNET (8/10).



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