Searching for a smartphone with great battery life? Awesome cameras? A truly affordable price? Take a look at these options.
Top picks in smartphones (left to right): Google Pixel 6a, iPhone 13 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy A42.
By Melanie Pinola
Whether you’re looking for the latest and greatest flagship phone or a more modest model for talking and texting, there’s no shortage of well-made devices in our smartphone ratings (available to CR members).
Consumer Reports tests dozens of smartphones each year, checking the basics, including how long the batteries last and how bright the displays are, along with premium features such as multicamera setups and the hinges on “foldable” phones.
But even the most lackluster of smartphones represents a leap in technology from a decade ago. And that means you don’t have to buy the No. 1-rated phone to get a great product.
All but 19 of the 53 smartphones currently in CR’s ratings have earned our recommendation. And the top 20 are separated by just a few points.
So which is the best smartphone for you? Well, that depends. Are you willing to spend a little or a lot? Is daylong battery life your first priority or a cutting-edge camera setup?
To help you out, here’s a range of smart options, based on our extensive lab testing.
Note: We’re still testing the iPhone 14 Pro Max and iPhone 14 Plus. We’ll update this article when we have the final results.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Overall Score: 84
List Price: $1,100 and up
This supersized Apple phone features a high-refresh-rate display that makes animations appear much smoother than before, a macro photography mode that makes it easier to take close-up photos of pets, flowers, and other objects, and a new video mode that automatically blurs the background of your subject, creating a dramatic effect.
Starting at $1,100, the 13 Pro Max costs $100 more than the 13 Pro and the 14 Pro. However, it packs in more battery life than both models (53 hours vs. 40 hours) and a bigger display (6.7 inches vs. 6.1 inches).
On the flip side, the Pro Max is significantly heavier than the Pro, and it can be tough to use one-handed, even for people with long fingers. So, if you’re wary of bulky phones, you might be happier with the more modest-sized and newer Pro 14.
Interested in other iPhone models? Take a look at which iPhone you should buy.
Best Android Phone
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G
Overall Score: 82
List Price: $1,200 and up
Samsung has long reigned as king of the Android smartphone market, but in recent years, its models have started to blend together a bit.
The S21 Ultra is the first device in the company’s S series lineup to support on-screen scribbling with an optional ($40) stylus, borrowing that capability from the now-extinct Galaxy Note line. The new Galaxy S22 Ultra comes with an S Pen tucked inside an onboard silo, fully embracing the Note’s design, but it scores just a hair below the older model, according to our testers.
All the Galaxy S21 and S22 phones performed well in our labs, but perhaps the most mind-blowing thing about them is that they cost $200 less than the comparable S20 models that debuted in 2020.
With the S21 Ultra, you also get those premium big-phone perks we’ve all come to expect: great battery life, a fancy zoom camera, and a huge, 6.8-inch Netflix-worthy display.
Prefer a phone not made by Samsung? Check out these other great Android smartphones.
Best Low-Priced (Under $500) Android Phone
Google Pixel 6a
Overall Score: 72
List Price: $450 and up
Google’s latest entry-level smartphone offers a lot for a relatively small price tag. It has a bright, 6.1-inch OLED display; two rear cameras instead of the one typically found in phones in this price range; and a clean and simple Android interface.
The Pixel 6a runs on the company’s home-brewed Tensor chipset, which Google says enables the phone to perform advanced tricks like digitally erasing people and objects from your photos. CR testers give the phone high marks for still image and video quality, as well as for the device’s overall performance.
On the downside, the Pixel 6a lasted just 30.5 hours on a single charge in CR’s battery-life tests, which is significantly lower than the now-discontinued Pixel 5a’s 43.5 hours.
Best Low-Priced (Under $500) iPhone
Apple iPhone SE 2022
Overall Score: 75
List Price: $430 and up
The iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch display and starts at $430, making this the smallest and least expensive model from Apple. But don’t let that relatively modest price tag fool you: The SE earns a Very Good rating overall.
The camera setup is pretty basic for an iPhone—just one 12-megapixel camera on the back and a 7-megapixel camera on the front—but the still image quality and video quality impressed CR’s testers.
What else do you give up at this price? The SE has a retro-y home button rather than support for Face ID to unlock the device, and it lacks Apple’s MagSafe technology for quickly connecting the device to wireless chargers and other accessories. Battery life is about average, at 30 hours.
Learn more about great low-priced smartphones.
Best Android Phone for Battery Life
Samsung Galaxy A42 5G
Overall Score: 70
List Price: $400 and up
At just under 53 hours, Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro Max boasts the longest battery life in our smartphone ratings. Its smaller sibling, the iPhone 13 Pro, clocks in at 40 hours.
But there are great Android phones with long battery life, too.
The Samsung Galaxy A42 5G delivers an impressive 49 hours, for instance. It’s a budget model with midrange scores for performance and camera quality. But for $400, it delivers a very good 6.6-inch display and even has a memory card slot for expanded storage. Not too shabby.
More from Consumer Reports:
Top pick tires for 2016
Best used cars for $25,000 and less
7 best mattresses for couples
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2022, Consumer Reports, Inc.
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