Best Smartphones (H1 2018)

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

This Synopsis

Many users just care about the best of the best smartphones. The cycle normally brings us a slew of new releases every Spring, then one-upped variants in the Fall. So as H1 2018 is coming to an end, it’s time to roundup the newest top-end efforts and assess what’s the better buy for you. This Synopsis lays out the strengths and weaknesses of the latest cream of the smartphone crop.

The Short List

Samsung Galaxy S9/S9+Apple iPhone XLG G7 ThinQHTC U12+Google Pixel 2 XL
Samsung Galaxy S9/S9+Apple iPhone XLG G7 ThinQHTC U12+Google Pixel 2 XL

The Rundown

Samsung Galaxy Galaxy S9/S9+

The Galaxy S9 line was the first colossal flagship release of the year, and the duo continue to be a tenacious force. Samsung usually has the most well-rounded Android’s around, but not without concise faults. This year, the company focused more on tweaks to perfect its formula (like correcting last year’s awful fingerprint scanner placement and improving external audio), while innovating the camera with the first variable aperture mechanism we’ve seen on a smartphone. Check out our Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ Synopsis for more details.

Advantages:

  • S-AMOLED screen capable of 1,130 nits of brightness
  • First dual-aperture smartphone camera
  • Speedy Dual Pixel auto-focus
  • IRIS retina scanning security option
  • Fast wireless charging
  • Headphone jack

Downsides:

  • Battery life could be better
  • Images slightly over-exposed at f/2.4
  • Samsung’s software is imposing

Apple iPhone X

In spite of the new smartphone releases this year, the Apple iPhone X continues to be a force to be reckoned with. Some of its features, like the top-notch dual camera system, robust Portrait mode, and dual speakers are still being caught up by others (including, unfortunately, the notch). And we can’t forget about its unrivaled facial scanning technology and champion A11 Bionic chipset.

Advantages:

  • Super quick A11 Bionic hexa-core chip
  • Almost all-screen design
  • Facial recognition tech blows away competition
  • Top-class dual camera quality and robust Portrait mode
  • “True Tone” adaptive display

Downsides:

  • No fingerprint scanner; Face ID is only security option
  • Shiny metal frame prone to scuffing
  • Battery life could be better
  • One of the most expensive smartphones, at $1K

LG G7 ThinQ

LG broke its flagship G-series cycle this year as it took a time-out to question its smartphone approach (its mobile division hasn’t been doing some hot the past few years). The result of that extra development time has showed up as the G7 ThinQ. Questionable name aside, the “new” G-series flagship takes cues more from the more recent V30 than the G6, except for the backtrack to IPS LCD tech for the display. And like many Android’s today, the G7 ThinQ follows in the footsteps of the iPhone X’s notch. The rest is a familiar formula of wide-angle secondary camera and high-res audio, but with new “AI” smarts (hence, the “ThinQ” label).

Advantages:

  • Very bright and minimally-bezeled 6.1″ display
  • Secondary, wide-angle camera
  • External speaker can get considerably loud
  • Headphone jack powerd by dedicated HiFi 32-bit DAC

Downsides:

  • LCD display instead of the more efficient AMOLED
  • Cameras still struggle in low light
  • One speaker for external audio
  • Battery life could be better
  • Software is still dated

HTC U12+

Last year, many Android users were disappointed when the U11+ neglected the US. It took numerous months, but that’s now rectified with the U12+. And boy is HTC’s latest a whopper. We’re looking at top-notch specs you’ll find smartphones rivaling to be the best, like powerful dual speakers, a topflight dual camera system (not just on the back but the front too), and minimal bezels. And HTC has also progressed its unique squeeze-able sensor functionality. This is one solid and feature-packed smartphone, but HTC is no longer working with carriers, so your only option for buying is outright, unlocked.

Advantages:

  • “Edge Sense” squeeze-able frame functions
  • High-res secondary telephoto rear camera sensor
  • Dual camera system on the front too
  • Large battery for its size
  • Noise-cancelling, USB-C earphones included in box

Downsides:

  • Expensive
  • Cannot buy through carriers, only unlocked
  • Others have less bezel
  • LCD display instead of the more efficient AMOLED

Google Pixel 2 XL

Like the iPhone X, the Pixel 2 XL is another flagship smartphone on this list that debuted last year. That’s because it can still hold a strong candle to the newcomers. Being made by Google itself, you still won’t find a more responsive software experience than on the Pixel 2 XL (and smaller Pixel 2 too). Additionally, all new Android features announced by the software giant will hit the Pixel line long before you see them elsewhere. It also helps that Pixel 2’s camera quality is still largely considered unmatched. Check out our Google Pixel 2 XL Synopsis for more details.

Advantages:

  • Latest and best software experience for Android
  • Highest rated smartphone camera
  • Large battery
  • Front, stereo speakers
  • Better grip and less fragile than others

Downsides:

  • Display quality a step behind Samsung
  • No microSD slot or wireless charging
  • Verizon exclusive
  • Expensive

Final Thoughts

We have quite the competition going on right now. The top spot has long been a feud between Samsung and Apple, so we’re glad to see others catching up with almost equally as well-rounded smartphones. We feel this is more true of HTC than LG at the moment. The G7 ThinQ makes improvements to the display and external audio, but fails to address the camera speed and dated software concerns of last year. We’re excited to see what the rest of the year brings!

See Also: Best Smartphone Choices at a Mid-range Price

Josh is so enthused about tech that he writes about it. After time at several tech publications, he launched The Synops - concise and quality gadget synopses with information that readers want to know and details they want to see. You can also follow him at on Twitter (@joshnor713) and Google+ (+JoshNoriega). Email any inquiries to josh@thesynops.com.

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