Samsung’s Galaxy S8 sits at the top of our list of the best phones for 2017, but do the recently released iPhone 8, iPhone X and soon-to-arrive Google Pixel 2 have the potential to topple it? We’ll be adding these reviews to our round-up in due course.
You can also see our hand-picked Best Phone Deals.
Your buying guide for the best phones in 2017
When choosing a phone you probably have a mixture of these factors on your list: build quality and design, ease of use, features, performance and value.
Generally speaking a flagship phone will cost between £500- and £600 but can be close to £800 in 2017 (we’re talking starting price), or between £40- and £50 per month if you buy a phone on a contract.
We think buying a phone outright is the best value, but you’ll obviously need a SIM to go in it. If you don’t already have one, check out our best SIM-only deals.
If the latest phones are too expensive, consider and older-generation phone. For example, we still think the Samsung Galaxy S6 is better value than many of the phones in this chart because it’s now available under £400 SIM-free.
For this reason we move all older-generation smartphones to our best mid-range phones chart. Phones like the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge will move into that chart when they are £400 and under – currently the LG G5 sits atop of that list.
Should you buy a phone running Android, iOS or Windows?
There’s more than one mobile phone operating system, but really only two worth talking about: Android and iOS. Windows phones account for around one percent of all phones sold, so it makes more sense to go with Android or an iPhone.
The vast majority of phones today run Android; Nougat is the latest version. While Apple’s iOS platform has a much lower market share, developers always release their apps on iOS so it has one of the best app stores you’ll find.
If you have an Android phone or and iPhone and want to move to the other type of phone, it’s fairly easy move your contacts and other data from one to the other. What you can’t move is paid-for apps, so keep this in mind if you’re considering a change of platform.
Why you should buy an unlocked phone
An unlocked phone is one which is not tied to any particular mobile operator, such as Vodafone or EE. Buying unlocked usually means buying the phone outright without a SIM.
The most important point is that an unlocked phone is almost always a better deal than buying a phone on contract.
The only real exception to this are Apple’s iPhones – because of their traditional popularity, operators do often subsidise the cost of buying an iPhone in order to lock you into a lucrative long-term deal.
Generally speaking, however, if you can afford the upfront cost of the handset, you will pay less over the life of your phone by buying unlocked.
More importantly, you are not locked in. If you want a new handset at any time, you can buy one without having to up-purchase your way out of a contract, or commit to another two years.
SIM-free vs unlocked
One thing to be sure of when purchasing an unlocked or ‘SIM-free’ phone is that not all SIM-free handsets are unlocked.
The excellent Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 is a classic example of this. It is SIM-free, but if you want to use it for any network other than Vodafone you have to first use it for a month with a Vodafone SIM, and then pay £20 to get it unlocked.
EE’s own branded phones are similar. In both cases it may well still be better to buy network branded phones and go through the pain of getting them unlocked, than to buy on contract.
The right SIM
One other thing to consider is the size and shape of the SIM required for your phone. Make sure you get a nano-SIM if a nano-SIM is what your phone requires.
If you get that wrong it is easily solvable – every network will gladly send over a different-sized SIM. SIM cards tend to come in all three sizes – you simply pop out the one you need.
But that’s assuming you are getting a new SIM, and if you’re looking for a SIM-free phone or unlocked phone you probably already have one.
You can buy adaptors that let you fit a Nano-SIM or Micro-SIM in a Micro-SIM or full-size SIM slot for a very small charge.
More important is to make sure that if you want 4G you get a 4G-enabled phone and SIM.
Looking for phones like the Galaxy Note 8, iPhone 8 Plus and Pixel XL? Well we’ve got a separate chart especially for larger devices, aka phablets, so you can see them ranked here.
Samsung has taken the best phone around and made it even better with an impressive Infinity screen and premium design. It ticks a shedload of boxes – as you’d expect from a flagship. It’s the best phone of 2017 so far, but it is expensive and the biometrics are a let down. The OnePlus 5 is already a strong competitor, and we’re keen to see what Apple can offer in way of a challenge with its iPhone 8.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S8 review.
2. LG G6
The LG G6 is no doubt a striking smartphone. Metal and glass shimmer while the huge 18:9 screen is impressively brought to life with the improved software and its rounded corner design. It is a more refined smartphone than both the G4 and G5, and should appeal to a broader audience – even if its features aren’t the same globally.
There’s a lot to cover with the G6, and it’s a complicated phone to assess. The differences in hardware and the tweaks in software mean that is a phone that reveals itself to you slowly than the immediacy of, say, a Samsung Galaxy S. The design looks uniform at first until you realise how well it all comes together.
LG has quietly managed to build a mature phone with next to no bezels and some genuinely unique tweaks to software, leaving it feeling fresher and more creative than any Android phone we’ve seen for a while.
The age-old question for LG though – will people buy it?
Read our LG G6 review.
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is a stunning smartphone, both in terms of design and performance. The mirror-like look isn’t for everyone due to the appearance of smudges, but it helps provide an elegant, high-end look.
The 4K HDR display is one-of-a-kind, bright and vibrant, and shows off snaps taken by the impressive Motion Eye camera perfectly. The camera itself can handle almost anything you can throw at it, although performance does slip in low-lit conditions and the super slow-mo video mode takes some practice.
If you’re looking for a gorgeous high-end smartphone with a huge focus on display and cameras with above average battery life, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is a solid option.
Read our Sony Xperia XZ Premium review.
4. OnePlus 5
The OnePlus 5 is a logical refinement of the young company’s back catalogue. It marries solid design with excellent software in a package under £500. But a year ago, it did this all for a sliver over £300.
The phone feels like the end of OnePlus phase one and a bridge to whatever the company does next. It might not be the obvious bargain price OnePlus is known for but it’s still significantly cheaper, is incredibly fast and has improved cameras.
There are downsides with no waterproofing, Quad HD screen or wireless charging. We strongly recommend considering this phone if you’ve been tempted by the Galaxy S8 or LG G6 but can’t stretch to them – the fact it’s in that conversation is testament to OnePlus’ continuing impressive achievements.
Read our OnePlus 5 review.
We’re really impressed by the Galaxy S8 Plus, just as we are with the regular S8. Samsung has done a great job of making last year’s phones even better.
Both offer the infinity edge screen and most people will be better off saving money and going for the S8 unless you specifically want the Plus’s larger display. Otherwise it’s hard to find any other reason to buy it over the smaller phone.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review.
6. HTC U11
There’s a lot to like about the HTC U11 and while it certainly has flagship level specs, it’s hard to differentiate in the market against the likes of Samsung and LG. The glossy and colourful design is fresh but won’t be for everyone, even though we’re glad it’s finally waterproof. The key is wether you want the squeezable Edge Sense feature which is useful at times but not something we’re blown away by.
Read our HTC U11 review.
7. iPhone 8
There are some great things about the iPhone 8 including the addition of wireless charging, 64GB storage as standard and a fast A11 Bionic processor. However, this all comes at a higher price and everything else is largely the same so we can’t imagine or recommend iPhone 7 users upgrading. Those on an older device like an iPhone 6 or older will experience a much bigger change.
Comparing the iPhone to Android rivals is difficult as many users will be on one side of the fence already. Forgetting about software, the iPhone 8 simply doesn’t excite like flagship rivals including the Galaxy S8 and LG G6.
Read our iPhone 8 review.
8. Google Pixel
The Pixel has plenty going for it: it’s small, well built, speedy and has excellent cameras. It also supports Google’s Daydream VR headset and runs the plain version of Android 7 – complete with Google Assistant – and will get timely updates. But it isn’t waterproof, doesn’t have a microSD slot or stereo speakers and we’d have preferred a quad-HD screen for VR use at this price. If those downsides don’t bother you, and the OnePlus 3T is too large, then the Pixel is a fine choice and a great Android phone.
Read our Google Pixel review.
9. Xiaomi Mi6
This really is an amazing phone, and only the Chinese software puts us off recommending it for a UK audience. It is crazy fast, crazy beautiful and crazy priced. If you know your way around Android go and get one, and you won’t be disappointed.
Read our Xiaomi Mi6 review.
10. Moto Z2 Play
The Moto Z2 Play is a great mid-range smartphone; it features a gorgeous design, premium build and the Moto Mods support provides extended functionality based on what you require from the smartphone, from extra battery power to an improved speaker and even a built-in projector.
Despite the smaller battery, the Snapdragon 626 processor is incredibly efficient and we comfortably lasted a day on a single charge, and when we did run out it was quick to top up thanks to the included fast charging tech. It holds its own against competitors in our benchmark tests, and real world use is decent.
Read our Moto Z2 Play review.