The Best T-Mobile Android Phones – November 2017
We’ve reached the end of 2017, an all-around fantastic year for smartphones and technology in general. This year brought forth some real advancements in the world of smartphones, most notably with the advancement of longer, taller screens that allow users to take advantage of the size of their phones without growing too large. Design has continued to be as important of a feature as specs and cameras, and premium materials like glass and aluminum are now expected as the de facto base of a phone, rather than a feature to be paraded by the manufacturer or skirted around as a limitation of the device. Budget and mid-range phones have improved over time, with phones like the Moto G5 Plus delivering premium experiences at less than half the price of the high-end competition. Basically, Android devices have gotten really good lately, and it’s tough to pick up a phone that isn’t an excellent device.
That said, with every phone being a solid offering for consumers, it’s more important than ever that every device a consumer purchases meets the standards expected by flagship devices. There are simply too many great devices on the market today to settle for one that merely qualifies as “good,” or even “adequate.” You don’t need to pay a lot to get a great phone, but you do need to make sure that you’re purchasing devices that meet your personal needs. Whether you’re looking for a gorgeous display, long-lasting battery life, incredible performance, or a great camera, there’s a phone for you. Unfortunately, it can be tough to find devices that manage to bring all of that to the table along with a solid software effort, but for the most part, phones in 2017 have finally begun to hit every asking point we have of them.
Now that all of the 2017 flagships have been launched and are readily available for the holiday season, it’s time to take a look at which phones you should purchase on T-Mobile. As one of the more consumer-friendly carriers available for use today, T-Mobile has a huge selection of fans and users that love the benefits of using the “Uncarrier.” T-Mobile allows you to bring your own GSM-capable unlocked device, grab Netflix as an included part of your monthly bill, and keeps their phone plans relatively cheap. If you’re looking to buy a new phone on or for T-Mobile this winter, here’s the definitive list of our favorite Android smartphones.
The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are no longer the newest phones on the market. In fact, they aren't even Samsung's newest flagship phones on the market—the Galaxy Note 8 happens to own that title. But for most consumers, they're still the best Android devices money can buy right now, offering a great user experience and a better value over the more expensive Note 8. With the new, lower prices and deals available for the S8 family, there's never been a better time to jump on the S8 train. Even better: after a few months on the market, we've seen the S8 prove time and time again that it's an impressive device. While newer devices have come and gone since the S8 was released in April, Samsung's flagship phone still offers the same Snapdragon 835 processor we've seen in newer phones, so there's no sacrifice in performance over another device. This might not be the perfect phone for everyone, but for any users looking for a well-rounded package, you need look no further.
The S8 and S8+ represent the culmination of every design choice Samsung has made since the launch of the Galaxy Note Edge in 2014 and the Galaxy S6 in 2015. Samsung perfected its edge design with the ill-fated Galaxy Note7, and the edge design carries over to this device in an impressive fashion, displaying a phone that is nearly bezel-less from the front of the device. This new display, a curved design called "Infinity Display," is absolutely stunning. Gone are the large top and bottom bezels, along with the home button featured on the Galaxy line since the launch of the first Galaxy S phone back in 2010. Instead, virtual buttons—used on nearly every Android phone outside of Samsung's previous lineup—have arrived in the Galaxy series, complete with an always-on home button you can hard-press on any screen to return home. In a post-iPhone X world, it's easy to see Samsung made the right move switching to a permanent always-on software button, instead of decided to move to a complicated gesture system.
Samsung's Infinity Display is, by most accounts, the best display we've seen on a smartphone yet. Both the S8 and the S8+ feature the curved displays we've seen on specific Samsung phones since 2015. On the smaller S8, the display measures 5.8 inches across diagonally—a larger display than even the Note7 from 2016. The S8+, meanwhile, measures in at a massive 6.2 inches, one of the largest displays we've ever seen on any smartphone. However, don't let these sizes fool you into thinking these phones are outrageously big. While the S8+ is reserved for users with larger hands (or those okay with using a smartphone with two hands), the smaller S8 is actually a millimeter more narrow than last year's S7, making it easy to hold in the hand despite the half-inch gain in screen diameter. All of Samsung's flagship devices for 2017 use an aspect ratio of 18.5:9 instead of the usual 16:9 screen ratio we've seen on most devices released prior to this year. This makes typing on the S8 and S8+ possible without having to stretch your thumb across a massive display; that said, because of the increase in height, you may find reaching to open the notification drawer more difficult than previous Samsung devices.
Beyond the display, the rest of Samsung's hardware has been cleaned up and refined, an improvement over the S7 and S7 edge. The metal frame around the device of the phone has been made glossy and polished, helping to give the display its infinity namesake. The back of the phone remains glass, available in three different colors: midnight black, orchid gray, and arctic silver. Best Buy also carries a fourth blue tint as an exclusive product. Regardless which back color you pick (orchid gray, with its muted purple hue, gains our official recommendation), the front bezels of the phone remain black, once again helping the display to appear edge-to-edge. Beyond the display, you'll find the standard setup of buttons and sensors: a 12MP camera on the back, an 8MP camera on the front, and a fingerprint sensor and heart rate monitor surrounding the camera on the back. On the sides, a power button on the right, volume rocker (no longer separate buttons, as previously seen on the Galaxy S7) on the left, and a dedicated hardware key for Bixby, a personal assistant feature from Samsung that we'll cover in further detail in one moment. As for ports, you'll find a USB-C port for charging, a microSD card slot for storage expansion, and yes, a headphone jack on the bottom of the device. Finally, the S8 and S8+ continue Samsung's trend of waterproofing their devices, so you don't have to worry about using the device in the rain or dropping it in your pool.
On the software side, the S8 is rocking Android 7.0 Nougat, complete with all the features offered by the 2016 version of Google's operating system. Samsung has begun testing an Oreo update for their devices, but we don't expect to see that roll out before the new year. Split-screen multitasking, a feature offered on Samsung's software for the past several years, has been expanded and simplified thanks to Google's work on Nougat, and it feels great on the S8 lineup. The taller screen means you can have a video playing at the top of your device and check your email on the bottom portion of the display without facing the difficulties seen in smaller-screened devices. Samsung's own software, now called Samsung Experience, has been simplified and slimmed down. It retains a bit of Samsung's own flavor, with bright, saturated colors and a custom settings menu, but the launcher is well-designed and, if you're looking for something a bit closer to stock Android, Samsung has again included a theming engine similar to what was previously offered on the S7 and S7 edge. The app drawer has been changed to a Pixel-like swipe up from the home screen, and a long press on any app allows you to manage their settings. As far as new software features, there's only one big change: the launch of Bixby, Samsung's new virtual assistant.
In terms of gambles, Bixby is a big one. For the most part, most people use the standard virtual assistant that comes with their phone—and in the case of Android, Google Assistant has, in the form of Google Now, been around since the Android 4.x days. Samsung feels so strongly that Bixby should be your main virtual assistant, they placed a physical key to launch Bixby below the volume rocker that, unfortunately, can't be remapped without jumping through a considerable number of hoops (though, as of September, the button can, at the very least, be disabled in settings). So what can Bixby do? Not much—at least, not right now. Bixby has a home screen launched by tapping the Bixby button twice, which functions like a Samsung-branded Google Now, displaying contextual information. Bixby's also built into the camera, and can be used to provide information on landmarks, translate text using Google Translate, and allow you to shop online for items around you. Bixby's voice assistant finally launched in the US back in July, and while it's nice to see Samsung finally finishing the product they had shipped months prior, tests with Bixby were mixed at best. Samsung is committed to upgrading the service, but until we see some real improvements, it's probably best
CAMERA, PERFORMANCE, AND BATTERY LIFE
Bixby might feel like a mistake, but it's also one of the only missed opportunities on this phone. The phone's powered by a Snapdragon 835, still Qualcomm's top-end processor, and 4GB of RAM. Even months into the life of the S8, we haven't noticed any significant slowdowns with the phone. Battery life is respectable, though nothing amazing—unsurprisingly, Samsung decided to play it safe this year on batteries. The camera hardware is largely untouched compared to the Galaxy S7, but the processing and software has been overhauled to theoretically produced better images. Either way, it's a great camera, competing against both Apple and Google for the top position. Besides Bixby, the only real flaw in the phone comes from an odd design choice: the fingerprint sensor has been moved to the back-right side of the phone, next to the camera. On the smaller S8, reaching the sensor isn't too much of a chore, but it's easy to mistake the fingerprint sensor and camera module for each other, inevitably leading to a smudgy camera lens and a poor unlocking experience. On the larger S8 Plus, reaching the fingerprint sensor is far more difficult, requiring the user to strain their finger across the fairly-large device. Left-handed users don't get much better of an experience: the fingerprint sensor being placed on the right-side of the back of the phone means you have to contort your hand in a strange, claw-like grip to hit the sensor with your left hand.
Overall, however, these slight shortcomings do nothing to eliminate Samsung from once again being crowned the top Android smartphone on the market. The design language is excellent, the Infinity Display is a true marvel to use, and the phone's performance—which we didn't even mention among everything else with this phone—is as fast as you'd expect. Bixby and the fingerprint sensor location might be disappointments, but they're small flaws on an excellent device. Of course, if you want a phone as great as the S8, you're going to have to pay for it—and it isn't exactly the cheapest phone on the market. Though the unlocked price has dropped since the launch of the Note 8, T-Mobile still charges the same price as the day one release of the phones. The smaller S8 will run you a $30 down payment for the phone, followed by 24 monthly payments of $30 for a total of $750. Meanwhile, the S8+ has been knocked down in price from $850 to $820. It's a relatively small discount, but at only a $100 down payment and the same 24 monthly payments of $30 as the S8, it makes it easy to choose to upgrade to the bigger device. Undoubtedly, for some folks, these prices are deal-breakers. That's understandable—with phone makers like OnePlus and Motorola offering great devices for under $500, it's quite a premium to step up to Samsung's latest flagship. But those looking for the very best in smartphones, without compromise (and who don't want to step up to the expensive Note 8), the S8 is a near-perfect smartphone, and you won't be disappointed with your purchase.
- Gorgeous design language
- Infinity Display lives up to the hype
- Software's been refined and redesigned
- Poor fingerprint sensor placement
- Bixby's largely useless...
- ...and the button can't be remapped
Don't get us wrong—for plenty of users, the Galaxy Note 8 will represent the pinnacle of mobile phones, especially if users are looking for a more premium, more productive device than the S8 and S8+. With its larger screen—one of the largest phones you can purchase on the market today, in fact—and the included S Pen, it's obvious that the phone is designed with creation in mind. But the screen isn't actually that much bigger than the Plus model of the S8, and the only major design change between the two devices comes in the form of squared-off edges and the inclusion of a dual-lens camera. Some readers may be a bit surprised to see the Note 8 hasn't taken the place of the S8 family in our top recommendation for T-Mobile customers. Unfortunately, handling issues and an exorbitant price tag have prevented the Note 8 from grabbing the throne, but anyone looking for a large phone with some near included features will absolutely want to take Samsung's newest into consideration.
If you've held a Galaxy S8+, you'll know what you're getting into with Samsung's newest hardware. The two devices are incredibly similar in size, if not in shape: the Note 8 measures a few millimeters larger in every dimension, featuring a .1" larger display and those squared-off corners. Some folks will find those corners to look a lot better than the "pebble" shape offered by the S8+, but we should mention that, when holding the device in one hand, the sharper corner may dig into your palm. You'll want to hold the device in your hand before committing to your purchase, especially considering the size of the phone. Though it doesn't seem much larger than the 6.2" S8+, that extra screen real estate is truly felt in the height of the phone, and even the simplest of gestures, including reaching to the top of the device to view notifications or access the shortcuts panel, will require two hands to do.
But since most Note users already consider the device a two-handed phone anyway, this is unlikely to scare anyone off altogether. And indeed, the Note is an incredibly enjoyable phone to both use and hold, especially since the legion of Note fans were forced to wait an entire additional year for a true follow up to 2015's Note 5 following the Note7 debacle last September. A review of the Note 8 hardware wouldn't be complete without mentioning that the phone has, so far, managed to avoid any explosive qualities, something also accomplished by the S8 and S8+ earlier this year. Samsung has gotten pretty serious about their battery testing in the past year, attempting to demonstrate to journalists and consumers alike that their phones are safe to use. Part of the sacrifice for ensuring an explosion-free devices comes in the form of reduced battery life, but we'll touch on that in a moment. For now, just know that you can reliably purchase this device in an AT&T store today and not worry about the phone bursting into flames while you're driving home.
Really, when it comes to hardware, there isn't much more to say that wasn't already covered in the S8 review above. The Note series used to differ from the S-series of devices in some major ways, not only in size but in build material (the faux-leather on the Note 3, for example, something that was brought back for the Note 4 before being dropped altogether). The Note 5 began a process of making the two device lines begin to merge in terms of design language, and with the Note 8, the two series are more alike than ever. Both devices have large, nearly bezel-less displays, IP68 water resistance, and a combination of metal frames and glass panels along the device. The only major design difference between the S8 and the Note 8, besides from the squared corners, comes in the camera module, which is now recessed into the phone and uses two different 12MP lenses to capture images. Samsung has also moved the heart rate sensor in between the camera and the fingerprint sensor to better separate the two units. That fingerprint sensor is still in a poor position compared to its Android counterparts, and it's more difficult than ever to press on the taller body of the Not 8, but at least it's still there. Here's looking at you, Apple.
SOFTWARE AND S-PEN
At its core, the Note 8 is running on Android 7.1.2, with an upgrade to Android 8.0 Oreo coming somewhere down the line, but if we're being honest, the software experience is so similar to what we've seen from the S8 and S8+ that there's no real reason to dive deep into the software again. Samsung's software has gotten solid over the past two years or so, far from the mess it used to be on phones like the S3 and S4, and while it's still not perfect, the company has done a good job in tightening both performance and overall bloat. Instead of rehashing the software already covered with the S8, it's worth turning our attention towards the S-Pen and its assorted software tricks, since that's really the differentiating factor.
There are two big software features exclusive to the Note this year. The first, a return from last year's Note 7, allows you to take notes on the display with the screen off by ejecting the S-Pen and writing on the screen. This was an awesome feature when it rolled out last year, and the Note 8 ups the benefits by allowing you to take multiple pages of notes while your display is off. It's a really cool idea, making the Note feel almost like a small notepad, and a great use of the AMOLED display. New to the Note this year is "Live Messages," possibly the coolest new idea to come from Samsung's Note line in a couple years. This allows you to create a doodle or note in real time using special writing effects, which are then saved as a GIF to be sent to anyone in any messaging application. Finally, in terms of hardware, the S-Pen now has a finer tip than the Note 5 and Note 7, and matches the same IP68 water resistance that Samsung has made on the rest of the device. The pen can even be removed from the device while still supporting water resistance.
Here's the thing about the S-Pen: it and the Note have been on the market for years now, which means you probably already know whether or not you'll benefit from the S-Pen in any real way. If you're a graphic design or artist, a constant note-taker, or anyone else who is typically looking for something to write with, you'll probably enjoy using the S-Pen. If you fall outside that category, however, the Note represents a decrease in battery life and an increase in price over the similarly-sized S8+ for a feature you aren't going to use. Live Messages are really cool, but whether or not you're really going to use the stylus is something you should think about before committing to purchasing this year's Note.
CAMERA, PERFORMANCE, AND BATTERY LIFE
This is the first time Samsung has gone in on the double-camera feature, making them one of the last OEMs to do so (following behind, in no particular order, HTC, Huawei, Motorola, LG, Essential, OnePlus, and even Apple). We've seen dual-cameras done a few different ways, including featuring different focal lengths, grayscale and color lenses, and even three-dimensional cameras on older phones like the Evo 3D. Samsung's particular setup here follows what we've seen from Apple, using a different focal length on each lens to offer wide-angle and telephoto options, allowing for a "zoom" option that should theoretically operate better than a digital zoom. Also included is "Live Focus" mode, a faux-bokeh effect that's incredibly similar to what we've seen from Apple's Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus.
There are a few differences here between the Note 8 and both the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus. First, both 12 megapixel sensors on the Note 8 feature optical image stabilization (OIS), compared to both of Apple's dual-cameras, where only the primary lens has OIS (the upcoming iPhone X does have OIS in both lenses). This helps with the shake from your device when you're zoomed in using the telephoto lens, though it isn't a groundbreaking change over what we've seen from Apple's lenses. Secondly, when using the Live Focus mode, you can control the amount of blur after the fact within the options of each photo. The Note 8 also lets you save photos from both the wide-angle and telephoto lenses at once. Overall, the telephoto lens is a nice addition, but the increased amount of noise and digital artifacts in photos taken with that sensor means you're probably just better off zooming and cropping photos taken with the standard 12-megapixel lens, the same one we saw in the S8 (albeit with improved software processing).
Performance-wise, the Note 8 provides exactly what you would expect from a 2017 flagship device. It's fast, multitasking is solid, and the Snapdragon 835 performs well. International users can grab an Exynos version of the device, which should provide better performance and better battery life than the Snapdragon model; it has us wishing Samsung would find a way to bring Exynos to the United States, but it seems some of Qualcomm's patents are preventing that from ever happening. Apple's newest chip, the A11 Bionic, is running circles around Qualcomm's processors (and even some Intel laptop processors), and competition in the Android ecosystem would really help close that performance gap. The Note 8's biggest performance upgrade from the S8 comes with an additional 2GB of RAM for a total of 6GB. Theoretically, this should help with multitasking, but you probably aren't going to see any major performance difference with this over a device with 4GB of RAM.
Finally, battery life is acceptable, but consider this: the Note used to be a device you bought for large displays and even larger batteries. Now, however, the inclusion of the S-Pen means Samsung has had to slim the battery down over the S8+, from 3500mAh to 3300mAh. This doesn't make a huge difference in day to day usage, but that extra battery capacity could buy power users some extra time before having to charge up the device. Luckily, the Note 8 supports fast charging over wired and wireless options, just as the S8 and S7 before it.
The Note 8 is a great phone. It's obvious that Samsung has gotten excellent at building devices that meet and exceed expectations. Their design is overall excellent, despite small quirks like the placement of the fingerprint sensor, and Note devotees will be more than pleased to have the option to purchase a new device once again, after a full year off the market. All that said, there's also more reasons than ever not to buy the Note. The size increase over the S8+ in terms of screen is negligible, and is more likely to cause you to drop the phone while trying to access the top of the display than actually benefitting you in any real way. The sharper corners look a bit more professional than the S8's rounded design, but that might also dig into the palm of your hand while using the phone. As for the S-Pen? It's a great addition as always, but plenty of people buy the Note for the larger screen, not the stylus, and the decrease in battery capacity over the S8+ means you should really consider whether the Note is the right device for you. Finally, the camera is solid as always, but that second lens doesn't add a whole lot new to the device over the camera on the S8 and S8+.
And of course, there's the price. At $930 upfront, or a down payment of $210 and $30 per month for 24 months, this is potentially the most expensive Android phone we've ever seen, and one of the most expensive phones on the market (at least until the iPhone X launches later this year). It's a lot of money to ask for when you'll be replacing this device in as little as two years, and possibly less. If you need (or want) the additional Note-based features, by all means, the Note 8 is an excellent option. But the reason the Note 8 is demoted to our runner-up position behind the S8+ is because, for most people, that money is better spent on an S8+, with a larger battery, a more-compact design, and nearly the same large display Note users have come to love. Choosing between an S-series device and a Note-series device has never been harder, and each consumer is going to have to make their own independent decision.
- Best display on the market
- Beautiful design
- Great cameras
- Very expensive
- Decrease in battery life over the S8 Plus
- S Pen might not be used by everyone
We recently named the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL our favorite smartphones on the market today, and it's easy to see why. With incredible battery life, a near-perfect software experience, and the best camera you can get on a smartphone today, the quality of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL even surpass the issues caused by the XL's display, which has been reported as muddy and washed-out (a software update has been pushed by Google to help fix parts of the problem). With IP67 waterproofing and stereo front-facing speakers, plenty of our complaints about the phone can be overshadowed by just how good they are in our day to day use. That isn't to say these are perfect devices, but in terms of Android devices, they're two of our favorite phones on the market today. Both phones run Android 8.0 Oreo, making them two of the only phones on the market today to do so, and their performance is second to none. Even the Note 8, which features two additional gigabytes of RAM, can't stop the Pixel from blazing through animations and staying virtually lag-free. Tie this in with the promise of three years of software updates, and the Pixel 2 line looks like a pretty good buy.
So what keeps them from hitting our top spot on the list? For starters, the Pixel 2 XL's screen is still a bit of a sore spot for users, even if it's something that users and reviewers alike can get past in a certain light. The lack of a headphone jack is also a shame, and with the rising prevalence of wireless charging makes for a blatant missing check mark on the Pixel 2's spreadsheet of specifications. Perhaps most importantly, however, is the availability of the device—you won't find the Pixel 2 in your local T-Mobile store. Instead, you'll have to purchase the phone through Google or an online store like Best Buy, either outright starting at $649 or on a payment plan over 24 month. With the Pixel 2's carrier exclusivity with Verizon locked in place for the next year, they'll continue to miss out on winning our top carrier spots.
- Incredible performance
- Best smartphone camera
- Three years guaranteed software updates
- Below-average display on the XL model
- No headphone jack
- Only available unlocked for T-Mobile customers
Yes the G6 is older than nearly every device on this list, first announced back in January to positive reviews. Though the phone was overshadowed by the launch of the similar Galaxy S8 from Samsung, the G6 is a solid phone in its own right. The device runs on a Snapdragon 821, an older chip than the 835 but nevertheless a solid chip in its own right, and 4GB of RAM. The screen is solid, using LCD technology instead of AMOLED like we've seen from the S8 and LG's own V30 phone. The technology in this phone is definitely older than some users might like, but it does include a headphone jack, microSD card reader, IP68 water and dustproofing, and a pretty good set of cameras on the back of the device. LG's software isn't our favorite on the market today, but it isn't quite as unmanageable as it was on the G4 and G5.
Though the launch of the V30 has essentially retired the G6 from flagship status, the launch of LG's newer device has been great news for would-be LG G6 owners—especially those with Amazon Prime accounts. The G6 has absolutely plummeted in price over these last few months, and you can routinely find the phone in a like-new condition online for under $400. But you don't have to sacrifice a new phone and the warranty just to save some cash. Thanks to Amazon, you can actually pick up the G6 unlocked for use with T-Mobile for just $399. You'll have to deal with the ads Amazon places on your lock screen, but it's a solid phone for that price, and for that reason, manages to make it onto our lists of the best Android devices for T-Mobile where it might have otherwise been left off. Amazon has gotten really good at offering great phone deals to its Prime customers; this isn't our only Prime phone on the list, after all. Just keep in mind that the G6 costs an extra $100 when buying through T-Mobile.
- Brand new low price from Amazon
- Solid build quality
- Best camera on a $400 smartphone
- Last year's processor in this year's flagship
- Mediocre LG software
- Amazon ads on $399 model
The V30 is an excellent phone that just misses the mark of winning our runner-up position thanks to some key weaknesses that, unfortunately, reduce the overall experience of using the device day to day. Let's start with the good: this hardware feels phenomenal in the hand, similar to using the iPhone X. The glass-and-metal sandwich design might not do it for everyone, but it looks really good, and allows the device to really put its 6" pOLED display to good use. The phone also features microSD card support for expandable storage, a powerful dual-lens camera on the back of the device, IP68 water resistance (just like the G6 before it), and a headphone jack with a premium quad-DAC for near-unparalleled audio on a phone. In many ways, the V30 feels like the antithesis to the Pixel phones by Google, which is ironic considering the larger Pixel 2 is developed by LG. Where Google's phone are missing headphone jacks and wireless charging, the V30 brings everything it can to the table.
Unfortunately, two things keep us from recommending the V30 to everyone. First, the software is a bit underbaked, as we've seen from LG for years. Just as on the G6, the V30 is brought down by a lesser software experience essentially skinned to look like 2015-era Touchwiz. It's not good, and LG's devices would be lightyears better simply if their phones stopped using this terrible excuse for software. Second, the display is nearly an identical panel to what we saw on the Pixel 2 XL, which means that the device's screen just isn't up to par with the best from Samsung or even the LCD panels on HTC devices. In fact, in many ways, the V30's display is worse than the Pixel 2 XL's, with a grainy appearance that looks terrible in low-light. Even the G6, which we recommended above, has a better (LCD-based) panel. Beyond those two weak points, however—and it's worth noting that there are people out there who are willing to live with both the software troubles and the mediocre display—the V30 continues trends that we've longed to see return on mainstream Android devices. And for some, that's far more important than a Google-based build of Android.
- Great design and appearance
- Incredible sound quality
- Good rear-facing camera
- Mediocre pOLED display
- Lackluster software from LG
- Poor front-facing camera
A new addition to any best-of T-Mobile list, the Galaxy S Active line is finally leaving its AT&T carrier-exclusivity behind and heading to both T-Mobile and Sprint. As of writing, a release date for the device hasn't been announced, but considering the AT&T version has been on the market for a few months now, we have a pretty good idea on what to expect from the device. This year's S8 Active is, by far, the most attractive "Active" version we've seen from the company, doing away with the camouflage coloring that was so prevalent on previous devices. The sides and back of the phone are covered in plastic and silicone, but it doesn't feel cheap. Instead, it's like having a protective case built into the phone, albeit without the option to remove or switch cases if the shell ever takes damage. One of the biggest changes comes in the display: it's Samsung's only flagship this year to offer a flat display without curved edges, making the device look more like a G6 than the S8 family it spawned from (though it's still the same 5.8" Super AMOLED panel we saw grace the front of the traditional S8). That flat display helps keep it a little less susceptible to cracks from drops, which might be a godsend for the clumsier among us.
In terms of specs, it's still a Galaxy S8. The Active is powered by the same combination of a Snapdragon 835 processor and 4GB of RAM, and this device still flies, even if Samsung's software slows things down compared to the Google Pixel. You won't have any complaints about using this phone as your daily driver, and despite its increase in size (the phone is about 10mm thick, much thicker than most devices on the market today), you make some of that room back by negating the need for a case. And the S8 Active uses that additional bulkiness to its advantage: while the phone may not be as sleek and slick as its glass-coated counterparts, it does offer a 4000mAh battery, nearly a full 1000mAh larger than the traditional S8. This puts the S8 Active into multi-day battery for most users, and even heavy users will find themselves with a solid 30 percent remaining when they head to bed. The pricing for the S8 Active on T-Mobile comes at an upfront payment of $820, slightly cheaper than the phone priced on AT&T, or a down payment of $100 and the usual 24 payments of $30 to T-Mobile on your monthly bill. The phone just became available as we were preparing this guide, and you can grab it using the link above.
- Drop-proof design
- Excellent battery life
- No need for a case
- More expensive than the traditional S8
- Clunkier design
- Fingerprint sensor placement still bad
The Essential Phone, or PH-1, is the first device offered from Essential, a new company founded by Andy Rubin, known to many as the original developer behind Android. Rubin left Google several years ago to start his own company, and the Essential Phone is the result of his years of research and work into design. The phone is nearly bezel-less, except for a sliver of bezel at the bottom of the display to power the 5.7" 1440p LCD screen panel on the front of the phone. At the top of the screen, there's a small circular cutout for the camera, similar to the notch design that we've seen on the iPhone X, that users will either love, hate, or—most likely—ignore. The back of the device is made from ceramic, with titanium edges that make the entire phone incredibly solid-feeling in the hand.
Specs-wise, the phone ships with a Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage, basically standard flagship-level specs for 2017. Essential is planning on building a full ecosystem of modular devices for the phone, which will attach to small, Pogo pin-enabled magnets at the top of the back of the phone. Unfortunately, the biggest downfall for this device is the camera, which reviewers have more or less panned in its current implementation. We'll have to wait to see if Essential can fix the camera through a promised series of software updates, but if you can live without an excellent shooter on the back of your device, the Essential Phone looks and feels like a device from the future. And since this phone works on all four carriers, you can pick it up for the network from Essential, Amazon, or Best Buy at the brand-new price of just $499. While we originally had difficulty recommending the device at its launch price of $699, this price reduction makes the Essential Phone a great buy for those looking for incredible hardware at an affordable price.
- Gorgeous hardware
- Bezel-less, modular design
- New lower price
- Not sold in T-Mobile store
- Terrible camera
- Questionable software future
At the cheaper end of the spectrum for Android smartphones, the Moto G5 Plus is a perfect example of how good a sub-$300 phone can be in 2017. We've previously ranked the G5 Plus as our favorite budget smartphone, and it's easy to see why. For only $239 with an Amazon Prime account (and $299 without), you're getting one hell of a phone for your money. There are two versions of the G5 Plus, but the best version includes 64GB of storage, 4GB of RAM, a 1080p display that manages to look colorful and sharp, and a solid build made from aluminum with a plastic frame. The phone runs near-stock Android Nougat (with an update to Android 8.0 Oreo coming in the next few months), with the usual suite of Moto enhancements we've come to expect from their lineup of devices dating back to the original Moto X in 2013.
The Moto G5 Plus isn't perfect however. There's no water resistance to speak of here, the battery life is solid but not outstanding, and the camera doesn't hold a candle to the competition in low-light usage. Motorola's reputation for updates on its budget phones is also mixed; don't expect the G5 Plus to get anything past Android Oreo. But for the majority of smartphone users looking for a quality, reliable Android phone that just works and won't break the bank the Moto G5 Plus continues to be one of our very favorite smartphones on the market today, and absolutely your best option under $300. If the features offered by the Galaxy S8 or the LG V30 aren't worth more than double the cost of this Moto device, you'll be happy with your purchase of the G5 Plus. Though, if you can, make sure to spring for the 64GB/4GB model of this phone. The performance boost is more than worth the extra cost of the device.
- Amazing price for the specs
- Stock Android
- Oreo update coming
- Need Amazon Prime for the cheap price
- Poor low-light camera performance
- No water resistance
As of writing, the OnePlus 5T has just been announced, which means we haven't had time to test the device in-person or hear first impressions from actual consumers of the device. Still, we're recommending the OnePlus 5T as a solid mid-range unlocked device, similar to our recommendation of the Essential Phone. Both devices start at $499, but for many, the OnePlus 5T might be the device to get. As with last year's OnePlus 3T, the 5T is an upgrade over this year's previous OnePlus flagship, the OnePlus 5. It represents a reworking of the ideas that worked on the 5 earlier this year, as well as some improvements to the areas that didn't. The biggest change comes on the front of the device, which has a brand-new 6" 1080p AMOLED display with an 18:9 aspect ratio, dramatically reducing the bezels on the front of the phone. Early impressions seem to indicate it's a gorgeous panel, even at a lower resolution than the 1440p displays of the V30 or Note 8, and with the display sourced from Samsung, it's no surprise.
The body of the 5T is nearly identical to the 5 outside of the screen shape and the fingerprint sensor, which has been relocated to the back of the device. The phone still has the same Snapdragon 835 processor, with two different models that allow you to choose your internal specs: 64GB of storage with 6GB of RAM, or 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. The phone retains its headphone jack, and the buttons and ports still remain the same. The other big change from the 5 to the 5T comes with the camera. Though both devices were equipped with dual-lens systems, this new device scraps the 5's telephoto lens for a secondary module that is used for better low-light photography. We'll have to wait to hear about how the camera performs in day to day life, but for now, we feel confident about recommending the OnePlus 5T as a solid mid-level phone. While we wish the company would add wireless charging or, at the very least, some level of waterproofing, we'll have to hold our breath for those features to finally be included on the OnePlus 6 sometime next summer.
- Brand new 18:9 display
- Solid build and design
- Good software support
- Not launching with Android Oreo
- Questionable camera
- Most expensive OnePlus phone yet
We'll be honest: the HTC U11 Life gains a soft recommendation from us, and it's largely based on the fact that this device is one of the few mid-range devices capable of running on T-Mobile's network that you can actually pick up in a T-Mobile store. While we greatly prefer the experience of using the Moto G5 Plus, some users have no choice other than to buy their phones directly through the carrier. For those looking for a sub-$400 device, the U11 Life is a solid offering from HTC, delivering some excellent build quality for around the same price as the non-Prime Moto G5 Plus. The device is like a smaller HTC U11, complete with the same look and design. Some users don't care for the glass back on the U11, but if you find it pretty on that device, you'll like it on this one too. Unfortunately, the front of the device has large, mismatched bezels that stick out plain as day, but for the $300 asking price, it's expected that the design can't be perfect.
Specs-wise, you're looking at a Snapdragon 630, a mid-range chip that's good enough for most tasks throughout your day, and 3GB of RAM, an average amount for basic multitasking. HTC's Sense software is included as a skin on here, and while it's not the most offensive skin on the market today, the rest of the world gets the U11 as an Android One device without Sense. Battery life is average, considering the paltry 2600mAh battery included here, and the 5.2" 1080p panel here is pretty good for the money. HTC has managed to make this phone IP67 waterproof, which is pretty great, but unfortunately, the camera is pretty mediocre overall. There's no headphone jack either, though you'll find a decent pair of HTC USB-C headphones in the box. Overall, the U11 Life is an alright smartphone that basically wins by default. It's one of the few budget smartphones sold through T-Mobile that manages not to be completely unusable, and at an $12 downpayment with 24 monthly payments of $12 (or $300 full-price), we can see how it might benefit certain users. Still, if you can, jump for the Moto G5 Plus through Amazon—it's the better budget phone overall.
- Premium waterproof design
- Decent price for the specs
- USB-C headphones included
- Large bezels
- No headphone jack
- Poor camera