2018 Gift Guide: The Best Smartphones of the Season
One of these years, the Apple-Samsung hegemony in the smartphone marketplace will end, but it’s certainly not this year. Meanwhile, phone displays don’t show any signs of getting smaller, although manufacturers are figuring out clever ways to shrink the overall size of the phones. (Rollable, foldable screens one day?)
If you’re a budget-conscious buyer, smartphones aren’t the best buy, especially when a lot of the top phones ($750 to $1000 range) are more expensive than a lot of laptops, but their ubiquity and near necessity make them must-buys. When you can work out trade-in or upgrade deals with your carrier, you’ll find the best options for purchase.
The holidays are a great time for smartphone deals. For example, on November 10, Sam’s Club will offer up to a $300 Gift Card with activation of select iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones. This Black Friday, Target will be offering a $250 Gift Card with qualified activation of the iPhone XS or XS Max and a $300 Gift Card with the Samsung Galaxy S9, S9+ or Note9.
Apple iPhone XS Max 6.5-inch iOS Phone (2018)
It also means, along with the iPhone XR, Apple’s nomenclature for its line of smartphones has become completely confusing.
Aside from the display size and a bit more battery life, the specs of the XS Max vs. the regular XS are essentially the same: an awesome camera that features the fantastic Depth Control, an amazing OLED display (the once-controversial “notch” does appear smaller on the 6.5-inch display), new dual SIM support and the powerful six-core A12 Bionic chip with four-core GPU. All these top-of-the-line goodies are yours, even if you have to sell your car to get one.
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus 6.2-inch Android Phone (2018)
While the Galaxy S9 Plus (starts at $840) is expensive, it still pales in comparison to the XS and XS Max or Samsung’s own behemoth, the 6.4-inch Galaxy Note9 ($1000).
The 6.2-inch Super AMOLED display (2960 x 1440) is the same as last year’s, sporting the signature curved glass design. The fingerprint sensor has been wisely moved to the center on the back of the phone, instead of to the right of the camera, which was a widely reviled design choice. You’re also getting upgraded stereo speakers vs. the mono of the previous model, plus support of Dolby Atmos simulated surround.
Apple iPhone XR 6.1-inch iOS Phone (2018)
At $749, it’s not exactly budget priced, but if you’re stuck in the iOS ecosystem, this is what you’re gonna get and you’re gonna like it. But, hey, look at all the pretty colors!
What are the tradeoffs for the lower price? Well, you still get the A12 Bionic processor which the XS and XS Max have, and you get the notch, if you like that styling. But… you don’t get the super high-res OLED display with HDR, you don’t get two cameras (no optical zoom) and you don’t get 3D touch. So the display and camera are the biggest tradeoffs. If you don’t care—and this is a lot of people— you’ve just saved yourself at least $250.
OnePlus 6T 6.41-inch Android Smartphone (2018)
The 6.4-inch display is in keeping with the “bigger is better” screen size trend in flagship smartphones, and it’s similar in size to the iPhone XS Max (or iPhone 8 Plus). It’s also OLED, which is usually found in the $750+ phones, and has the same trendy narrow form factor (19.5:9 aspect ratio) as the iPhone XS, and similar to the 18:9 aspect ratio popularized by the Galaxy S phones.
The OnePlus 6T ships with the latest and greatest Android 9 Pie and is very fast, as fast as the Galaxys of the smartphone world but at a much cheaper price point.
Moto G6 5.7-inch Android Phone (2018)
The Moto G6 has a sleek, curved 3D glass back, giving it a premium appearance. It’s pre-installed with Android 8 Oreo—not the latest and greatest, but close enough. The Snapdragon 450 processor is likewise not cutting edge but performs well in everyday tasks.
It’s an excellent budget phone that should get even cheaper around Black Friday.
Watch out… Don’t get it confused with the very similar but lower-priced Moto G6 Play, which has a cheaper build and display, single rear camera and slower processor.