The AI phones are here, but that doesn’t mean they’ve really arrived. 2023’s biggest tech trend is trickling down to mobile tech, but the results so far are a mixed bag, to say the least. (Never forget AI Pillow Arm.) AI really could be the start of helpful new ways to interact with our phones! But we’re definitely not there yet. In the meantime, be prepared to hear a lot more about AI on 2024’s new mobile devices — and temper your expectations.
High-end phones are pricey as ever this year, and the highest of the high end got a little more expensive, too. Both Apple’s and Samsung’s top-end devices cost an extra $100 this time around. The good news is that the standard iPhones and Galaxies cost the same as they did last year, and as always, your wireless carrier is happy to help subsidize your purchase — as long as you stay subscribed to whatever unlimited 5G plan they’re pushing these days.
No judgment here if a carrier deal is how you buy your phone — it’s how I bought mine. Just be sure you know what you’re getting into and how many years you’ll need to stay on that Super 5G Everything Unlimited Plus plan to keep the monthly device reimbursements coming.
If you’re looking to spend a little less and still get the best smartphone on a budget, you can find something really good for under $500. For those recommendations, check out our guide to budget smartphones.
Best iPhone for most people
Screen: 6.1-inch 2556 x 1179 OLED, 60Hz refresh rate / Processor: A16 Bionic Cameras: 48-megapixel f/1.6 main with sensor-shift IS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel selfie / Battery: not advertised / Charging: 27W wired, 15W wireless MagSafe, 7.5W Qi / Weather-resistance rating: IP68
Last year, we recommended buying a new iPhone 13 rather than the 14 — the minor updates on the standard 14 just weren’t worth it with the 13 available for $100 less. This year is a different story. The iPhone 15 levels up in several important ways, starting with the adoption of the new Dynamic Island. That’s the free-floating, pill-shaped notch at the top of the screen that expands to show important status and time-sensitive information. There’s still much more it could do, but it’s a useful addition and one that app developers will consider as they design future updates.
There’s also that new port: Lightning is out, and USB-C is in. That might be a bit of a pain at first since you’ll need to swap out old Lightning cables and accessories you were using with your last iPhone, but in the long run, it’s going to be a positive change. You’ll be able to use the same cable that you use to charge your laptop, iPad, and many of your other gadgets, which is awfully handy when you’re packing for a trip. Plus, you can finally share charging cables with the Android phone owners in your life — and that’s sweet, sweet charging harmony.
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge
There are some useful camera upgrades, too, starting with a new high-resolution 48-megapixel main camera sensor. With more pixels available than the previous 12-megapixel chip, it can use the middle of the sensor to offer a lossless 2x crop. That’s especially handy on the standard iPhone 15, which lacks a dedicated telephoto lens.
And this generation of iPhones offers a handy new feature for fans of Portrait Mode — the ability to add the portrait effect after capture. When the phone detects a face in the scene, it will automatically save the depth information needed to create the soft-focus background effect when you’re editing your photo. It’s especially useful for those moments when taking a second to switch to portrait mode would mean missing a cute shot of your kid or pet.
Read our review of the Apple iPhone 15.
Best Android phone for most people
Screen: 6.7-inch 1440p 120Hz OLED / Processor: Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 / Cameras: 50-megapixel F1.8 main with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 10-megapixel 3x telephoto with OIS, 12-megapixel selfie / Battery: 4,900mAh / Charging: 45W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IP68
The Galaxy S24 Plus isn’t wildly different from the S23 Plus — Samsung has even promised that the new device’s AI features will be ported to the S23 series in the future. Still, the S24 Plus is just a little nicer than the phone that came before it in a few important ways.
The 6.7-inch screen is a little bigger than the 6.6-inch panel on the S23 Plus, even though the overall phone dimensions are about the same. It’s also a 1440p panel now, which is great because 1080p was just barely enough resolution to cover such a large screen. The screen gets a little brighter, there’s more RAM, and the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 keeps everything chugging along smoothly.
Samsung has borrowed a few ideas from Apple here, and I think they’re good ones. The device edges are now flat rather than curved, making it feel a little more secure in my hand. The always-on display now shows a dimmed version of your lock screen wallpaper, and you can also add widgets. Samsung’s overall software experience still leaves something to be desired, but once the phone is set up and de-Samsunged, it’s fine. The better news: the S24 Plus now comes with seven years of OS upgrades, so you can get some serious ROI out of it.
The star of the show is, of course, Galaxy AI, and while I think a handful of these features are useful, they probably shouldn’t be a major factor in your decision to buy an S24 Plus. There’s a real-time translator for phone calls, which is good for simple requests like making a reservation. Note and voice recording summaries are also surprisingly good, and using AI to turn any video into slow motion is a neat trick. But there’s nothing that feels essential — just a series of interesting tech demos that Samsung might charge you for in a couple of years.
We generally caution against buying any tech on the promise of what it will do in the future, not what it does right now. But in the S24 Plus’ case, you can put all the AI stuff aside and still have a really good device, right here and right now.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus review.
Best high-end iPhone
Screen: 6.1-inch OLED, 120Hz refresh rate / Processor: A17 Pro Cameras: 48-megapixel f/1.8 with sensor-shift IS, 12-megapixel 3x telephoto with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel selfie / Battery: not advertised / Charging: 27W wired, 15W MagSafe wireless, 7.5W Qi / Weather-resistance rating: IP68
The iPhone 15 Pro manages to do something rare in the premium class: it actually got a little smaller year over year. It’s just a millimeter less on the width and height, but it makes the phone a little more comfortable to hold. The new titanium build that you’ve surely heard so much about by now in Apple’s ads makes a significant difference, too: the 15 Pro is 19 grams lighter than the 14 Pro. That’s a welcome change because the 14 Pro was awfully heavy.
There’s the new Action Button on the side of the phone replacing the mute switch, and it’s incredibly useful if you have the patience to program a shortcut for it. Otherwise, you can map it to one of a few preprogrammed functions like jumping straight into the camera app in video mode or turning on the flashlight. It’s also easier to reach on the 15 Pro than the bigger Pro Max, where it’s more of a stretch on the taller frame.
The regular 15 Pro misses out on the longer 5x lens on the Pro Max; you get the familiar 3x zoom lens instead. That’s something to consider if you’re a photographer who’s fond of longer telephoto shots. But you do get access to two new digital “lenses”: a 28mm and a 35mm equivalent. They’re available by tapping the 1x icon in the camera app, and they’re not the result of simple up-rezzing or cropping, so the quality is a bit better than you’d get just cropping your shot after the fact. If the phone’s native 24mm equiv. lens feels too wide to you, then you have a couple of great alternatives now.
The 15 Pro comes with Apple’s newest mobile chipset, the A17 Pro, enabling console-quality gaming. That’s not a feature everyone will use, but it’s there if you want it, and the A17 Pro is a powerful processor on the whole. The phone inherits the always-on display introduced in last year’s Pro models, and we’re really liking it with iOS 17’s new StandBy mode feature — just set the phone to charge in landscape orientation, and you’ll get a handy bedside clock.
None of this comes cheap at $999, but if you can splurge, then the Pro model really does get you some worthwhile upgrades over the standard 15.
Read our full Apple iPhone 15 Pro review.
Best high-end Android phone
Screen: 6.8-inch 1440p 120Hz OLED / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 / Cameras: 200-megapixel main with OIS, 50-megapixel 5x telephoto with OIS, 10-megapixel 3x telephoto with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel selfie / Battery: 5,000mAh / Charging: 45W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IP68
Samsung’s maximalist S-series Ultra phone sort of exists in its own stratosphere. Where else are you going to find a phone with four rear cameras and a built-in stylus? The S24 Ultra remains an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink phone, and even though it’s every bit as feature-packed as last year’s model, it feels just a little less special than the S23 Ultra did.
The aforementioned Galaxy AI features are here, of course, but they’re nothing to write home about just yet, and they’ll be coming to the S23 series, too. The S24 Ultra’s starting price went up, too — now $1,299 rather than $1,199. And the optical 10x zoom lens is gone, replaced by a 5x zoom with more megapixels and in-sensor cropping to get to 10x. It’s mostly fine, but man, there was something cool about a true 10x zoom on a phone.
All that said, the S24 Ultra can’t be beat if you’re looking for the very best Android phone — cost and size be damned. The 6.8-inch display now comes with anti-glare treatment that does a fantastic job of cutting reflections and keeping the screen comfortable to use outdoors. The phone handles heavy processing tasks without a problem, and the camera system is usually good and occasionally brilliant, especially with 3x portrait mode photos. And there’s an S Pen! Have you ever seen a fancier way to make a to-do list?
Ultra devotees likely won’t have a problem stomaching the price hike this year thanks in no small part to Samsung’s generous trade-in deals. For everyone else, it’s best to think of the S24 Ultra like any other pricey gadget — a beautiful, splurge-worthy device if nothing but the absolute best will make you happy.
Read my full Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review.
The best phone around $500
Screen: 6.1-inch 1080p 90Hz OLED / Processor: Tensor G2 Cameras: 64-megapixel f/1.89 with OIS, 13-megapixel ultrawide, 13-megapixel selfie / Battery: 4,385mAh / Charging: 18W wired, 7.5W wireless / Weather-resistance rating: IP67
At $499, the Pixel 7A is one of the pricier midrange phones you can buy, but the extra features it provides are well worth the money. It offers a nice 6.1-inch OLED with a 90Hz top refresh rate for smooth scrolling — not quite as nice as the Samsung Galaxy A54 5G’s 120Hz screen but a step up from the 6A’s 60Hz display.
Other new features this year include the Tensor G2 chipset from Google — the same on 2022’s flagship 7 and 7 Pro — with a healthy 8GB of RAM, an updated 64-megapixel main camera, and wireless charging. Factor in the 7A’s hearty IP67 dust and water resistance, its sturdy aluminum frame, and the fact that it continues to offer the best photo quality in the class, and that $499 price tag starts to look like a pretty sweet deal.
Battery life on the Pixel 7A is just average. It will get through a day of moderate use with a bit left in the tank, but if you add in a battery-draining activity like gaming or an extended video streaming session, you’ll probably need to top it off before the end of the day. Otherwise, the 7A is an easy pick if your budget is modest. It’s scheduled to get three OS upgrades and five years of security patches, so it’s well positioned to go the distance, too.
There are other phones under $500 worth considering, and they’re all covered in our guide to the best inexpensive phones. But if you’re looking for the absolute most you can get from a $500 phone, then look no further than the 7A.
Read my full review of the Google Pixel 7A.
Best flip phone
Screen: 6.7-inch 1080p 120Hz OLED inner screen, 3.4-inch 720p OLED cover screen / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 / Cameras: 12-megapixel F/1.8 main with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 10-megapixel selfie (inner screen) / Battery: 3,700mAh / Charging: 25W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IPX8
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 has two things that the Flip 4 didn’t: a large cover screen and a legitimate competitor. The Motorola Razr Plus is another worthy flip-style foldable, and there are good reasons to consider it, but for the same $999 price, the Flip 5 simply offers more for your money.
The Flip 5’s 3.4-inch cover screen provides a lot of useful ways to interact with your phone without having to open it up. There are widgets for checking your calendar and the weather, and a full QWERTY keyboard allows you to send quick messages and emails right from the cover screen. You can run any app you like if you’re adventurous, but Samsung makes you jump through quite a few hoops to do this. If you want to run apps more easily, then the Razr Plus is the better option.
On the inside, the Flip 5 continues to offer a good 6.7-inch display that’s ready to handle all of the usual stuff you do with your phone. There’s a capable camera system, too, and using the rear-facing cameras with the phone folded partway or with the cover screen is a lot of fun. Long-term durability is a bit uncertain as it is with all current foldable phones, but the Flip 5 is at least fully water-resistant with an IPX8 rating. That’s better than most foldables, including the merely splash-resistant Razr Plus.
Samsung promises four years of OS upgrades and five years of security updates for the Flip 5 — a year longer than Motorola plans to support the Razr Plus and one of the best software support policies on Android. That’s one of several good reasons to pick the Flip 5 over the Razr Plus, and it’s enough to keep Samsung’s flip phone ahead of the competition for now.
Read my full review of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5.
Best folding phone
Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5 looks a lot like its predecessor, but it now folds flat thanks to a new hinge with fewer moving parts. It maintains the 7.6-inch inner display and narrow 6.2-inch cover screen, but it now utilizes the same Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor found in Samsung’s Galaxy S23 phones.
Screen: 7.6-inch 2176p 120Hz OLED inner screen, 6.2-inch 2316p 120Hz OLED cover screen / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 / Cameras: 50-megapixel F/1.8 main with OIS, 10-megapixel 3x telephoto with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 10-megapixel selfie (cover screen), four-megapixel under-display selfie (inner screen) / Battery: 4,400mAh / Charging: 25W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IPX8
We’ve recommended Samsung’s Galaxy Fold as the best folding phone for several years now — partly because it’s really good, but partly because competition was practically non-existent. The latest edition in the series, the Fold 5, now has a worthy challenger: the Google Pixel Fold. We think that the Fold 5 is still the best folding phone for the money (and at $1,800, it’s a lot of money), even though Samsung still has some room for improvement.
For starters, the Fold 5’s tall and narrow aspect ratio isn’t our favorite. Using the phone’s 6.2-inch cover screen with the device closed still kind of feels like using a remote control. But the real action is on the massive 7.6-inch inner screen, where Samsung’s robust multitasking software sings. You can run up to four apps at once with a floating window on top — Google only allows you to run two apps in split-screen on the Pixel Fold. That kind of flexibility opens up a ton of possibilities for what you can do with the Fold 5.
On the downside, the Fold 5’s camera system isn’t quite as good as the Pixel Fold’s. In fact, Samsung’s own Galaxy S23 Ultra offers a much better camera system overall and is $600 cheaper than the Fold 5. As it stands, the Fold 5 is capable of good photos, but its processing is somewhat inconsistent, and its 3x telephoto lens feels a bit limited.
The Fold 5 is rated IPX8 — as is the Pixel Fold. That means it’s fully water resistant, but there’s no guarantee against dust intrusion. Dust is the enemy of a foldable phone, so that’s something to take into account if you’re a first-time foldable buyer. But Samsung has steadily improved the overall durability of its folding phones over the years, whereas the Pixel Fold is very much a first-gen product without a proven track record.
There are a lot of points in favor of the Fold 5, but there are plenty of people who would be happier with the Pixel Fold. If the Fold 5’s narrow aspect ratio will drive you bananas, you’re a fan of Pixel image processing, and turbo-charged multitasking isn’t a priority, then the Pixel Fold is a better choice. For everyone else, the Galaxy Fold still can’t be beat.
Read my full Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 review.
Best phone for something completely different
The Nothing Phone 2 embraces a certain retro-infused aesthetic that’s unlike anything else you’ll find on the market. It’s not certified to work on Verizon, and its rear-panel LED light strips are more stylish than functional, but it’s a good alternative to the big Android brands. Read our review.
Screen: 6.7-inch 1080p 120Hz OLED / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 / Cameras: 50-megapixel F/1.9 main with OIS, 50-megapixel ultrawide, 32-megapixel selfie / Battery: 4,700mAh / Charging: 45W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IP54
The Nothing Phone 2 isn’t for everyone, but for the right kind of person, it’s a very good alternative to the Galaxies and Pixels of the world. It’s a style-driven device, from the dot-matrix-inspired UI to the flashing light strips on the back panel. Will its unique hardware and software features help you take back your attention span as Nothing claims? Eh, probably not. Mostly, it’s just a cool-looking gadget and a thoughtfully designed device.
The Phone 2 is equipped with a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset, which is a slightly older but still very capable processor. Its 6.7-inch 1080p screen supports a fast 120Hz top refresh rate, and its lowest 1Hz refresh rate allows it to offer an information-rich always-on display. The camera system is good, though not quite as consistent as the Pixel 7’s. There’s wireless charging, fast 45W wired charging, and an all-day battery.
That’s all of the good news. The bad news is that it’s only rated IP54, meaning it’s not fully dustproof, and it’s only resistant to splashes rather than full immersion in water. Most other phones at this price offer a full IP68 rating, and a couple of cheaper midrange phones, like the Pixel 7A, even include a more robust IP67 water resistance. The Phone 2 also lacks official support for Verizon’s network, which rules it out for a lot of people in the US.
There’s the glyph interface, too — those lights on the back of the phone. It’s a neat idea with some interesting applications if you invest a little time in tweaking it. You can flip it over to silence notifications when you need some time to focus and hand-pick certain “essential” alerts to light up the glyph. Personally, I find it less helpful than a traditional focus mode or even the Phone 2’s always-on display. But others might find it useful, and if nothing else, it looks neat.
The Phone 2 isn’t the best choice for sheer value — the Pixel 7A is a much better value proposition. It’s not the best choice for someone who just wants a phone to get them through their day with minimal hassle. But it’s undeniably different, and if you’re looking for something outside of the ordinary with a certain visual appeal, then it’s a worthy candidate.
Read my full Nothing Phone 2 review.
Other good phones
Samsung’s S24 Plus pushed the Google Pixel 8 off this list as the best Android phone for most people, but it’s still worth an honorable mention. Some of the Pixel’s AI photo editing features are more compelling, and it’s particularly worth considering if you prefer a more turnkey UI than Samsung’s. Just know that it can run hot if you push it too hard, and the Pixel series (still) seems more prone than others to unusual bugs.
The iPhone 15 Plus is worth considering if you prefer iOS and you like a bigger phone. Its $899 price isn’t exactly cheap, but the entry price of Apple’s other big phone — the 15 Pro Max — went up to $1,199 this year. The 15 Plus also offers outstanding battery performance; even a heavy user can manage to squeeze two full days out of a single charge.
The Asus Zenfone 10 is a delightful little phone that’s engineered with one-handed use in mind. It comes with a 5.9-inch screen, a highly capable Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, and a capable camera system with robust gimbal-like stabilization. It will only be sold unlocked in the US and won’t fully work on the Verizon network, but for a few dedicated small phone fans, it’s a winner.
Update February 8th, 4:15PM ET: Replaced the Google Pixel 8 with the Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus as the best Android phone for most people and the Galaxy S23 Ultra with the S24 Ultra as the best high-end Android phone.