If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, and you don’t want an iPhone, you’ve got a wealth of premium handsets to pick from – Google’s mobile OS has been adopted by dozens of manufacturers, which means plenty of variety in terms of designs and specs.
Here we’re not concerned with great value phones, or the most well-designed phones, or the phones that are rocking the catchiest ringtones. Our mission with this post is to lay out the very best Android smartphones that money can buy in 2018 – so let’s get started.
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
Samsung has been knocking it out of the park with its phones for several years now, and the 2018 Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is further evidence of what a good run of form the South Korean multinational is in.
It’s hard to pick a weak spot: Samsung’s latest flagship looks fantastic, is super smooth in operation, has a camera that can’t really be bettered, and offers up some cool softwarecustomisation tricks as well. It’s expensive, certainly, but that’s kind of unavoidable up at this end of the market.
If you pushed us to pick a highlight, it has to be that 6.2-inch Super AMOLED Infinity Display, with very little in the way of bezels and a sharp 1440 x 2960 pixel resolution. Samsung has really led the pack in terms of screens in recent years and it’s a display that’s hard to take your eyes off.
Everything is powered by a very capable Exynos 9810 or Snapdragon 845 chipset, depending on where in the world you live, and that’s coupled with up to 6GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage. You can add to that IP68 waterproofing, wireless charging, and an iris scanner… it even has a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Google Pixel 2 XL
Google develops and drives Android of course, so you would certainly hope that it knows what it’s doing when it comes to Android hardware. In many ways the Google Pixel 2 XL is Google’s ultimate vision of what an Android smartphone should be, with Google Assistant and AI technology playing a prominent role.
The Assistant is available on most Android phones, but here it’s integrated tightly into the OS itself, while extra AI smarts are added to the rear camera too – it’s a single-lens affair, but the intelligent image processing is so good that it can match anything that Samsung or Apple are able to offer.
Inside the phone, the specs include a Snapdragon 835 chipset and 4GB of RAM, while the 6-inch OLED screen offers a resolution of 1440 x 2880 pixels. Specs-wise it doesn’t quite hit the heights of the Galaxy S9 Plus, but it does have advantages in other areas, like the neat software touches scattered throughout.
Those touches include Google’s own take on Shazam, with the phone instantly recognisingsongs playing in the background, even while the phone is locked. This being Google, you’re also guaranteed to get the newest Android updates before anyone else, so it’s the ultimate Android handset for the ultimate Google fan.
Way back in 2014, OnePlus launched its first phone as a “flagship killer” – a phone intended to put a serious dent in the market share of high-priced Android flagships by offering comparable specs at a much more reasonable price.
On the whole, it’s succeeded very well in that mission over the last four years, right up to and including its latest offering, the OnePlus 6. The phone offers just about the best internal specs you’re going to get in a handset this year, and tops it all off with a gorgeous-looking, 6.28-inch, 1440 x 2880 pixel AMOLED display.
It runs very fast, it looks very good, and in its in-house OxygenOS take on Android, OnePlus might just have something to rival Google’s own stock Android. The changes OnePlus has made are clever and tasteful, and on some screens the mobile operating system actually looks better than what Google is doing.
There are some downsides, like a lack of wireless charging and full waterproofing, but the real beauty (and what OnePlus specialises in) is the low price – a good chunk of change below what you might expect to pay for a flagship phone from the likes of Samsung or Google.
LG G7 ThinQ
LG continues to try and keep pace with the big hitters of the Android world, and with this year’s LG G7 ThinQ it just about manages it. That rather odd “ThinQ” label appended to the name refers to the additional smarts that LG is putting into its devices now, by the way.
So, for example, there are some custom Google Assistant commands here for launching different actions for the phone, and indeed a dedicated physical button for getting the Assistant up on screen – not something you get with many handsets. The AI influence extends to the camera, which can recognise the type of scene you’re trying to shoot and adjust the settings accordingly.
We’d say this is one of the most attractive-looking Android phones on the market too, though your mileage may vary depending on your fondness for display notches. The bright, sharp 6.1-inch LCD screen comes with a resolution of 1440 x 3120 pixels.
HTC might not attract as many headlines as the likes of Samsung or Google, but it continues to push out some top-quality Android phones, and the HTC U12+ is its flagship smartphone for 2018 (don’t worry, you didn’t miss the U12 – HTC went straight to the Plus version).
The phone certainly competes with the best on the hardware front, and you get a Snapdragon 845 processor and 6GB of RAM under the hood here, together with up to 128GB of storage space (and a microSD slot to add more). The 6-inch, 1440 x 2880 pixel LCD display looks the part too, and HTC has decided to avoid the display notch by keeping a thin bezel all across the top of the screen.
Around the back of the phone there’s a dual-lens 12MP+16MP camera, and like several HTC phones before it, it’s capable of some very impressive snaps. You also get a host of unusual features you don’t get in many other handsets, like the advanced BoomSound speaker audio system, and the Edge Squeeze feature that lets you squeeze the sides of the phone to launch certain actions.
The glossy design won’t be to everyone’s tastes, the battery life isn’t as great as some of its rivals, and HTC’s take on Android isn’t one of the best either – but these are minor quibbles with what’s otherwise a very good Android flagship.
Huawei P20 Pro
For several years now Huawei has been trying to crack European and US markets with a combination of high-spec hardware and innovative features – it was the first major phone maker to introduce a dual-lens camera on the rear, something everyone else has since copied, and the P20 Pro goes a lens further.
As always with Huawei phones, the photos you can take with this phone are superb. As well as giving you great results in a point-and-shoot mode, you’ve also got a ton of advanced photographic effects to play around with. If you’re a serious mobile photographer, theHuawei P20 Pro should be on your shortlist, and not just because of the triple-lens rear camera.
The other specs are equally impressive: Huawei’s own Kirin 970 chipset, with dedicated AI component, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. It’s also fantastically designed – especially if you go for that cool-looking Twilight colour – and the battery life is among the best we’ve seen from a flagship lately.
If anything holds the Huawei P20 Pro back, it’s a few quirks in the software, and the lack of a few useful features such as wireless charging. Take the package as a whole though, and this deserves its place among the best Android phones of 2018.
Samsung Galaxy S9
Take a glance up the page at the blurb we wrote for the Galaxy S9 Plus, because theSamsung Galaxy S9 is pretty much the same phone in a smaller chassis. If you’ve got smallerhands, or a tighter budget, then you might want to go for this one instead of its larger sibling.
One key difference is that the Galaxy S9 sticks to a single-lens 12MP camera, but the phone is still capable of some top-quality results in the mobile photography department, and offers a dual aperture function that’s very useful in low light situations. Under the hoodthere’s an Exynos 9810 or Snapdragon 845 chipset depending on your region, while the RAM tops out at 4GB rather than the 6GB you’ll find on the Galaxy S9 Plus.
The specs aren’t quite as premium as the bigger S9 Plus then, but you still get the benefit of Samsung’s excellent design approach to the Galaxy series, with a 5.8-inch Super AMOLED Infinity Display running at a resolution of 1440 x 2960 pixels. It’s a stand-out display, with the bezels even smaller than last year.
Samsung doesn’t quite score maximum points for its take on Android – updates can take a while to arrive, while Bixby remains some way behind Google Assistant – but don’t let these minor points distract you from what’s an excellent Android flagship.
Google Pixel 2
The Google Pixel 2 is exactly the same phone as the Pixel 2 XL we’ve mentioned above, except it’s in a smaller frame, it has bigger bezels at the top and bottom of the screen on the front of the display, and it costs a bit less. That should be enough to help you decide whether you want this one or the bigger version.
Inside the phone you’ll find a Snapdragon 835 processor (the Snapdragon 845 will arrive with this year’s Pixel 3), as well as 4GB of RAM and your choice of 64GB or 128GB of storage. The display is a 5-inch, 1080 x 1920 pixel AMOLED affair, which doesn’t match the very highest resolution phones on the market, but is sharp enough for the size.
Like the Pixel 2 XL, it’s in the software and the camera where the Pixel 2 shines, which are after all two of the most important features on any smartphone. The single-lens 12.2MP camera is identical to the one in the XL version, and with the benefit of Google’s advanced image processing magic, it can take some fantastic snaps on the go.
Add in the clean, intuitive stock Android software that Google provides, with Google Assistant given a prominent role, and this deserves a place on the shortlist of anyone shopping for a new Android phone.
Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium
Considering Sony makes some excellent electronics in other product categories, and provides the camera lenses used by most other phone manufacturers, you’d think it would have more success with its smartphones – and the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium certainly deserves its place among the best handsets of 2018.
Inside the phone you’ll find a Snapdragon 845 chipset and 6GB of RAM, while photo-taking duties are handled by a dual-lens 19MP+12MP snapper on the rear of the device – it incorporates the brand new lens system that Sony’s been working on for some time, and by all accounts is capable of some very impressive low-light photographer.
As far as the design goes, the Xperia XZ2 Premium very much follows the pattern set by Sony phones of previous years, coming across as a little more boxy and angular than its rivals. This year the bezels have been shrunk up to a point though, and there are more curves in evidence than you might normally expect from Sony.
The 4K HDR screen, meanwhile, really is a market leader – measuring 5.8 inches, the LCD display packs in a massive 2160 x 3840 pixels. The only real downside is that availability might be a problem in the UK and US, which means you might have to settle for the standard Xperia XZ2.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
If you want a really big phone, and love using a stylus, and quite like the way that Samsung skins Android, then the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 could well be the phone for you – with the caveat that we’re expecting the Galaxy Note 9 to arrive in the very near future.
For now though, the Note 8 is the top of the tree as far as phablets go. Samsung has been producing Notes for many years now, and the stylus is more than a gimmicky extra: you can use it to scribble notes on the lock screen, and get instant translations on text, and so on. There’s plenty of room to use it on the spacious 6.3-inch Super AMOLED screen, running at a 1440 x 2960 pixel resolution.
In terms of internal components you get a Snapdragon 835 chipset and 6GB of RAM, together with up to 256GB of internal storage. Even in 2018 (the Note 8 came out last year), those are some very impressive specs. Meanwhile, the dual-lens 12MP+12MP camera can hold its own against the best in the business, with low-light performance particularly good.
It’s big, and it’s expensive, but it’s still well worth considering the Note 8 against the two Galaxy S9 phones that came out months afterwards. You might be best off waiting to seewhat the Note 9 has to offer before parting with your cash though.