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OnePlus’s journey from a small upstart selling mid-range Android phones to one of the biggest brands in all of tech has truly been something to behold, and this year’s evolution from the OnePlus 7 to the OnePlus 8 is another staggering step in the company’s legacy. While many of the company’s previous phones, especially the OnePlus 5, OnePlus 6, and last year’s OnePlus 7, have competed against flagship devices from Samsung and Google, they always undercut their rivals on price, dropping one or two “essential”features like waterproofing or wireless charging in exchange for a lower cost for the end consumer. That changes this year, in both directions. The OnePlus 8 Pro starts at $899, a far higher price tag than anything offered from the company before, but it also finally gives power users almost every single thing they could want in a 2020 device: a massive 6.78” 1440p AMOLED display offering nearly no bezels along the top, sides, or bottom; an improved camera, one better than anything OnePlus has shipped before; a Snapdragon 865 complete with support for 5G on qualifying networks. Even wireless charging has shown up here, offering one of the fastest implementations we’ve seen of the technology yet. Really, the only thing still missing from the phone is certified waterproofing on unlocked models, but even then, OnePlus has stepped up, finally certifying the OnePlus 8 Pro as long as you buy your phone through a carrier. At their core, the OnePlus 8 Pro is what the OnePlus series was always destined to become: a flagship phone with flagship pricing, that still manages to undercut the competition by a couple hundred dollars. And as long as you can meet the 8 Pro on that level, this is truly an incredible smartphone. We’ve already mentioned the flagship specs, complete with 8GB or 12GB of RAM depending on the model you choose, and up to 256GB of ultra-fast storage. All of that is stored in a premium glass build that is just as nice as what Samsung has offered on their phones for years. Along with the curved display on the sides, it still offers some signature OnePlus additions: namely, that three-tier switch for adjusting your ringer settings, something no one outside of Apple has adopted for their phones. And what a display that is, by the way. OnePlus has kept the high-refresh rate of their last generation Pro model, bringing 120Hz to the phone. Everything feels fast and smooth here, perhaps faster and smoother than any other phone on the market today. It’s an incredible display, and while Samsung’s AMOLED screens can handle the same refresh rates, Samsung blocks 1440p when running the phone at 120Hz, giving OnePlus an easy win on tech specs alone. Realistically, the two phones both feature fantastic screens, but for power users everywhere, OnePlus’s phone takes the win. Unfortunately, the phone really falls apart in the two areas we haven’t talked about: battery life and camera quality. Don’t get us wrong—neither are outright terrible, nor are they deal breakers. The battery life is merely fine. Despite the massive 4510mAh battery squeezed into the phone, the refresh rate and display size makes it tough to get the phone out of the “single day use” area. It’s easy to see why Samsung did limit the resolution on the Galaxy S20 when running the phone at higher refresh rates; it really takes a hit out on the battery. If you’re looking to bump your battery life a bit, you can switch to a 1080p output resolution, just like on Samsung’s phones, which gives you a much better chance of making it through the day without needing to top up. Then there’s the camera, which is absolutely the best camera OnePlus has shipped on a phone to date. That doesn’t mean it can stand up with the iPhone 11 or Google’s Pixel 4 just yet, but it won’t embarrass itself in a camera shootout. That said, low-light is still a rough area for OnePlus’s camera, despite the triple-lens setup on the back. The combination of wide, ultrawide, and telephoto lenses helps it compete against both the Galaxy S20 and the iPhone 11 Pro, but some software bugs have made for oversoftened faces and blurry night shots. It’s nothing that some patience and fiddling with the settings can’t fix, but it’s not quite the same snappy shooter that we’ve come to expect from Google or Apple. All in all, the OnePlus 8 Pro is the first time the so-called “flagship killer” has truly been a flagship phone, and that includes a price tag that, just a few years ago, many of us would’ve balked at. But it’s 2020, and every single phone is getting more expensive. At its core, the 8 Pro most competes with Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Plus, or maybe even the Galaxy S20 Ultra, and both of those phones are closer to $1,500 than $1,000. It’s worth considering whether OnePlus is leaving their core audience behind to chase after a much more crowded market.
For many people around the world, Samsung and Android are ubiquitous, working hand in hand to create some of the most powerful devices on the market today. There are millions of users who look forward to upgrading to the newest Samsung phone every year, whether it’s a dramatic redesign or a simple spec bump. If you were to ask Samsung, the Galaxy S20 series represents a major evolution in their flagship series—thus the need to leap from the S10 name to the S20. Upon closer inspection, however, things aren’t nearly so simple. The S20 series is one of our top picks for anyone looking to pick up a new phone in 2020, but with some serious caveats along the way. Like last year, Samsung offers the Galaxy S20 in three different tiers: the vanilla S20, the S20 Plus, and the S20 Ultra. The latter two phones are relatively similar, with the primary difference in devices being two different screen sizes. The S20 Ultra also includes a larger screen, but adds in additional camera modules, including the ability to take 108MP photos and a 100X zoom option. The Ultra is its own beast, however, so we’ll just be focusing on the S20 and the S20 Plus. Generally speaking, the S20 Ultra’s massive $1,399 price tag makes it difficult to consider, even next to the relatively expensive S20 and S20 Plus. Despite the leap in numbers in the name, the S20 actually looks a lot like the S10 before it, while also drawing design trends from the Galaxy Note 10 released last summer. The S20 moves the hole punch in the screen from the corner into the middle of the display, as it previously did on last year’s Note, while keeping the fingerprint sensor under the front of the screen. It’s actually the screen that represents the largest change in design from 2019 to 2020: with a new refresh rate of 120Hz, high-refresh screens have finally hit the big time. This is a feature we’ve seen roll out on devices like the OnePlus 7 Pro and the Google Pixel 4 but with its inclusion in the S20, more people than ever before are going to experience smoother scrolling and a full evolution in how snappy the S20 feels. Outside of the 120Hz refresh rate, Samsung continues to offer the best screens on the market today. They’re sharp and vivid, with options to scale back the oversaturated colors Samsung has become known for. The “smaller” S20 still uses a 6.2″ display, while the S20 Plus bumps the real estate to 6.7″, with both screens offering a 1440p resolution. Make no mistake—these are big phones, regardless of which model you get. Unfortunately, there is one other design trend Samsung brought to this phone from the Note 10: the removal of the headphone jack. Fans of wired headphones, your number is officially up. Outside of budget phones and a few spare Android manufacturers, it seems like the future truly is wireless, whether we like it or not. Inside the phone, the S20 line features all the standard 2020 specs most expect. Powered by the new 5G-equipped Snapdragon 865, the phone is a performance beast, without any slowdown or lag in regular use. That’s backed up with a base storage of 128GB (expandable by microSD cards), 12GB of RAM, IP68 water resistance, and improved fast wireless charging. These are powerful phones, but thankfully, those specs don’t manage to make a huge dent in battery drain. Even with the faster refresh rate, both models offer strong battery life, largely thanks to the 4000mAh and 4500mAh batteries found in the S20 and S20 Plus, respectively. Samsung is heavily promoting the camera on all three S20 models, but as always, they don’t quite measure up to the competition in day-to-day performance. Both the S20 and S20+ include a 12MP ultrawide sensor, a 12MP wide-angle sensor, and a 64MP telephoto sensor, while the S20 Plus throws in an additional DepthVision lens for assisting with portrait mode. Since its launch, the primary critique surrounding the camera has been its tendency to oversoften faces, leading to photos that look blurry and unrealistic, lacking the tactile feel of photos you’d expect from the iPhone 11 or Google’s Pixel series. Some quirks aside, these cameras aren’t bad. If you switch to Pro mode, you can get some fantastic shots that go toe-to-toe with any other smartphone camera on the market today, but leaving the camera in Auto mode restrains your phone from taking the best photos it can. Like most Samsung devices, there’s plenty of features and software tweaks to uncover when using the phone. The devices run Samsung’s latest software, One UI, on top of Android 10. One UI is designed to make it easier to use large displays on phones by offering large headers and pushing content down the display. It looks great, and it’s easily Samsung’s best software experience yet. Unfortunately, while Samsung has gotten much better at pushing out security updates on time, they have yet to match the software support supplied by Apple and Google. Ultimately, the Galaxy S20 represents a fairly minor upgrade cycle, no matter what Samsung chooses to market about the phone. 5G’s rollout will be slow and filled with many of the same issues as 4G’s rollout nearly a decade ago, and while the S20 series is clearly the nicest hardware Samsung has ever designed, at the end of the day, they’re very similar to last year’s S10 series. For the asking price, it’s a tough buy, especially if you’re still on an S10 or even an S9. But if you’re on an older phone and you’re looking to stick or switch to Samsung, it’s hard to beat the S20 right now.
What began as a passion project for Samsung back in the early 2010s with the original Galaxy Note has evolved into one of their most beloved products. After an infamously-failed launch in 2016 for the Note 7 and a return to form in 2017 with the Note 8, Samsung has continued their lineup of the device earlier this year with the launch of the Note 10 and Note 10+, and more than ever, this device is a complete beast of a product, satisfying diehard Note fans and those who waited to update their devices til this year. First things first: this is the first time the Note is coming in two different sizes, but we’ll be looking at the larger model, the Note 10+. Not only is the larger Note the more “traditional” device with its large 6.8″ display, but it also has a microSD card slot that the smaller model is missing. Powering that gorgeous edge-to-edge display is a Snapdragon 855, along with a whopping 12GB of RAM and a massive 4300mAh battery. This is still a power user’s phone through and through, but you’ll probably notice one missing: the headphone jack. Yes, after resisting for years, Samsung has finally removed the headphone jack from their flagship Note devices, with the Galaxy S11 likely to follow suit. It’s a bummer, but we can’t say we’re too surprised. The market has followed Apple towards wireless headphone dominance, and Samsung conveniently sells their own earbuds you can pick up for a cool $139. The cameras are virtually identical to what we saw on the Galaxy S10+ last year, with a primary dual-aperture 12-megapixel camera and an ultra-wide 16-megapixel camera on the back of the device. There’s also a 12-megapixel telephoto lens for assisting with zooming in on subjects, as well as a bunch of software tweaks that help you take more creative shots. It’s a good camera, though it can’t quite stand up to what we’ve seen on the Pixel 4. That said, the Note 10+ trumps the Pixel in video, which is stable and looks great, even when shooting in 4K. The microphones are pretty great as well, and one of our favorite features is the ability to “zoom-in” on your subjects with the microphone, which should help at lectures or concerts when you’re way in the back of the room. Ultimately, whether the Note 10+ is a good buy is really up to your preferences as a user. The Galaxy S10+ isn’t much smaller, still has a headphone jack, and though it’s been replaced the prices on the devices have dropped significantly. The Note 10+, meanwhile, starts at $1099 for 256GB, with the 512GB model going for $1199. We haven’t seen the same This isn’t the most expensive phone on the market—the Samsung Galaxy Fold takes that award—but it’s still expensive for anyone who doesn’t need the S Pen with their device. Ultimately, the Note 10+ is a great phone for power users and stylus diehards. Just make sure the extra features are worth the price increase before grabbing it over the S10+.
While we await the imminent launch of the Pixel 4a, we still recommend last year’s Pixel 3a as solid, affordable phones you can grab today. Of course, if you can wait for the Pixel 4a, we suggest you do that. Released six months after their older brother devices, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL are cheaper versions of Google’s flagship device. Starting at just $400 for the smaller model and $479 for the larger device, the Pixel 3a line is a great bang-for-your-buck offering, taking what’s great about Google’s flagship phones and just lowering the price enough to make it a better buy. The camera on the back of the device is nearly identical to what we’ve seen from the Pixel 3, albeit lacking the Pixel Visual Core that allows for dedicated photo processing. Still, despite slightly slower rendering times when taking HDR photos, the Pixel 3a is easily the best camera you can get on a smartphone for under $500—and possibly under $700. The rest of the phone is great too, switching the glass build of the original Pixel 3 to plastic but keeping the general design language the same. The phone does take a few hits in terms of specs and other areas. Powered by a Snapdragon 675, it’s clear that the phone does run slower than flagships using Snapdragon 845s or 855s. And while 4GB of RAM is the same amount offered in the higher-tier Pixel 3 line, it’s starting to become long in the tooth in terms of speed. The phone also dumps the options for both wireless charging and water resistance, and while wireless charging seems like an obvious feature to leave behind (especially considering the plastic build), it’s really unfortunate that the phone doesn’t offer any kind of resistance to rain or an accidental drop in the tub. Of course, in terms of software, this is a Pixel device through and through, complete with the clean build one can expect from Google. Fast updates are also guaranteed, coming months before other flagship devices are granted new versions of Android (and possibly years in the budget space). If there’s one major bummer on the software side of things, it’s the lack of free original resolution photo backups on Google Photos, something Google has included with all three generations of Pixel devices prior. Still, at just $400, the device is great for anyone looking for a reliable mid-range Android phone, basically guaranteed to get them through two or more years of use—all while including a headphone jack.
We have long been big fans of the Pixel series, with every single Pixel generation landing somewhere in our top picks since 2017. Unfortunately, while we still give the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL recommendations, enough flaws have risen to the surface for the device to no longer take the crown. For the first time since Google started taking phones seriously, the Pixel 4 has failed to impress us in any meaningful scale. Let’s explain what went wrong with the Pixel 4—and what’s still great about Google’s flagship series. Let’s start on a high note. Some may disagree, but in our eyes, this is the best looking Pixel phone to date. It’s finally left the dual-tone design of the first three generations behind, with a cleaner build and matte black side panels. That said, the glossy back on the black model picks up fingerprints too easily. Stick with the matte glass on the white or limited edition orange editions of the phone. The display technology is decent as well, offering a quality 1080p panel on the smaller phone and a 1440p panel on the XL. Display quality control has never been Google’s strong suit, so it’s great to see them finally get it right on the Pixel 4. That display also offers a 90Hz refresh rate, just like this year’s OnePlus devices, though that’s worth coming back to in just a moment. The rest of the hardware is great too, with stereo speaker support and a solid haptics engine. Google’s implementation of Face Unlock is the best we’ve seen from Android, replacing the fingerprint sensor for unlocking the phone. Of course, being a Pixel device, the phone really shines in two areas: software and camera. On the software side, the Pixel 4 ships with Android 10, along with support for Google’s new version of Assistant, car crash detection for auto-dialing 911, and a new Recorder app that auto-transcribes speech right on the phone, making your memos searchable. On the camera side, Google’s AI camera tricks continue to impress, with support for dual exposure, astrology shots, an improved Night Sight mode over last year’s, and the inclusion of a telephoto lens for better shots with zoom. So far, so great. As we said, the Pixel 4 isn’t a bad phone—it still earns a recommendation on this list, after all. But the shortcomings are obvious once you take a step back. The display is sharp and color accurate, but it’s not very bright, falling short at max brightness of 500 nits. Despite being a 90Hz display, it switches back to 60Hz any time the phone is below 75 percent brightness, which means you’ll lose out on the smooth scrolling animations in dark rooms (Google says a fix for this is arriving in the coming weeks). Face Unlock doesn’t look for eye detection like FaceID, making it less secure than its Apple competition (once again, Google says a fix for this is arriving in the coming months), and the included Motion Sense gestures, which track your hand movements for hands-free control, are limited in use and come off as a gimmick more than anything else. The problems don’t stop there. Google has finally put two lenses on the back of their phones, but the iPhone 11 series now includes an ultra-wide camera on all three devices, with the Pro series including both a telephoto and an ultra-wide lens. During the launch of the Pixel 4, Google stated unequivocally that they thing ultra-wide isn’t useful, but when your direct competition is offering both telephoto and ultra-wide lenses, it’s harder to sell the phone. Perhaps the biggest issue, though, comes in the battery department. While the Pixel 4 XL’s 3700mAh battery manages to keep up with the Android competition, it’s 4-5 hour screen-on time is a far cry from the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Meanwhile, the Pixel 4’s 2800mAh battery is criminally small—expect to top your phone up once a day if you get the smaller device. The Pixel 4 series isn’t bad, but in comparison to competition from the likes of Samsung, OnePlus and, of course, Apple, it just doesn’t measure up. There’s too many small problems for us to recommend the Pixel 4 as the phone for every Android user, when both Samsung and OnePlus have filled that placement much better. Instead, the Pixel 4 exists for Android enthusiasts who love having the latest software from Google, along with shutterbugs who want the best camera on a phone today (ignoring, of course, that pesky missing ultra-wide). We hate to say it, but this year, the Pixel just misses the mark for a top pick. Better luck this fall, Google.
While we think you should definitely consider the OnePlus 8 Pro if you’re looking to get a new OnePlus phone this year, the basic 8 model is still a fantastic phone, giving you most of the same features as its bigger brother while coming in at a cheaper price. Unlike last year, OnePlus is offering both the standard OnePlus 8 and the 8 Pro in the United States at the same time, so you’ll actually have to make the choice as to which you want to pick up. Starting at $699, we hesitate to call the OnePlus 8 a cheap phone. That said, it’s $200 less than the Pro model, which should make it much more enticing to long-time fans of the company. You still get the same core flagship specs as the Pro, including a Snapdragon 865, 8GB or 12GB of RAM, and either 128 or 256GB of storage. The Pro does use faster LPDDR5 RAM, which gives the phone some major advantages, but regardless, you shouldn’t see a major performance decrease between the phones in day to day usage. Otherwise, the specs are virtually identical, so if what you’re after is a powerhouse before all, quit reading this review, save your $200, and grab a OnePlus 8. The design is similar as well, with the OnePlus 8 featuring the same metal and glass build as the Pro. Both phones feel great in the hand, so if you’re worried about not getting a premium-feeling phone for your $700, you can rest assured that won’t be the case. If you’re looking for something with a smaller footprint than the Pro, the 8 is also the phone for you, with a slimmer chassis and a thinner, shorter build. Of course, that brings us to the biggest difference between the phones: the displays. At 6.55″ the OnePlus 8’s screen is smaller than the 8 Pro, but it’s nothing we would call “small.” You still get a higher refresh rate than standard smartphone screens, but only up to 90Hz, as opposed to the 120Hz setting on the larger phone. The OnePlus 8 is also limited to 1080p on its display, as opposed to the sharp 1440p screen on the Pro. There are a couple of other smaller changes, including the loss of the 5MP color filter lens on the back of the camera. Still, it doesn’t really matter. Some small cost-cutting changes aside, these two phones are the closest the standard and Pro models OnePlus has ever made for its customers, and no one who opts to save $200 over the OnePlus 8 Pro should feel like they’re missing out on a quality phone. There are plenty of rumors about a cheaper mid-range phone from OnePlus, the OnePlus Z, arriving later this year. But if you want to stay true to OnePlus’ “flagship killer” branding, the OnePlus 8 is the phone for you.
Nearly every year since its inception, we’ve praised Motorola’s G-series, a budget line of devices best known for their affordability and clean build of Android. Last year’s Moto G7 featured a premium glass build, a modern display, and solid specs, all capable of handling almost anything you would throw at it through day to day usage. Even in 2020, the G7 continues to be a solid option, but this year, Motorola has opted to drop the numbered branding in the US with two unique models: the Moto G Power and the Moto G Stylus. Both phones are nearly identical, though most people will likely be more interested in the G Power. Starting at $249 Motorola’s mid-range phone for 2020, featuring a Snapdragon 665, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage. The front of the phone is adorned with a large 6.4″ 1080p display that looks great for this price range, though not everyone will fall in love with the hole-punch camera in the top left corner. The real star of the show here is the 5000mAh battery, which Motorola claims is enough to keep you powered for up to three days without a charge. That’s by far the longest lifespan we’ve seen on any phone here, and it makes it hard to pass over in favor of the G Stylus. That isn’t to say the G Stylus won’t win over fans, of course. Though it’s a bit more expensive at $299, the G Stylus includes a few additional features that may make it a bit more appealing to some consumers. For one, it comes with the included stylus implied by the name, and although the stylus isn’t quite as advanced as the S Pen Samsung includes with the Note line of devices—you can’t use it as a shutter button, for example—it’s a nice addition for capturing notes. The battery shrinks down to 4000mAh, which is still pretty large all things considered, and the whole package feels a bit slimmer and lighter. The G Stylus also adds an additional “Action Camera” lens, and improves camera quality overall. Still, these are very similar phones, and which you buy comes down to personal choice. Both offer decent cameras that make large improvements over what was offered on the G7, and both still miss out on NFC, something that is really starting to feel lacking on Motorola’s part. But for $300, it’s hard to beat these phones as the best budget offerings on the market today. Cheaper phones exist, but they just aren’t nearly as good as the G-series for 2020.
If you’re a classic Android power user, you’ve probably been a bit disappointed in the smartphone market. Everything seems to follow in the steps of the iPhone, becoming sleeker and more premium in exchange for niche features like quad DAC support or extra-long battery life. Even the Galaxy Note, long the “power user” phone of choice, has lost the headphone jack and, on the smaller model, even the microSD card slot. With the ROG Phone 2 from Asus, you can finally have all the power user features you want in a big, bulky package that isn’t afraid of being “too big” or “too extreme.” If you’re on AT&T and you don’t mind buying unlocked, the ROG Phone 2 is perfect for both mobile gamers and anyone who demands nothing but pure performance from their smartphone. The ROG Phone 2 is big and bulky, dwarfing even the Note 10+ or iPhone 11 Pro Max in size, but what it lacks in subtlety, it more than makes up for in sheer performance. This is easily one of the most powerful phones on the market today, featuring a 6.59″ 1080p AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate for buttery smooth animations, backed by a Snapdragon 855 Plus, 12GB of RAM, and an overclocked Adreno 640 GPU. The bulky size of the device is explained away once you see the battery: 6000mAh, one of the largest capacities on a phone in 2019, which helps to provide upwards of two days of regular use. And of course, you can’t have a gaming phone without a massive storage drive to house your apps and games, with the ROG Phone 2 providing up to a terabyte of UFS 3.0 storage. Looking around the phone, the ROG Phone 2 is most reminiscient of a desktop gaming PC, complete with RGB lighting on the back of the phone. In addition to the headphone jack (!), there are two USB ports around the phone: one on the bottom of the device and one along the side, to allow for charging and docking while gaming in landscape mode. Unfortunately, the air vents on the side of the phone means the device isn’t waterproof, but for anyone seriously looking at the ROG Phone 2, it probably won’t matter. Asus also offers a number of accessories with the phone, including Switch-like gamepads, a dock, and even a dual-screen display. For the right person, the ROG Phone 2 is an unbeatable phone in 2019. Outside of the missing microSD card, this device is a power user’s dream. From gamers to explorers, this is the perfect phone for multi-day use. Just be prepared to pay for it: the phone starts at $899 and only works with full support on AT&T in the United States.
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