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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, 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.
If you do have your heart set on Windows, also see our list of the best Windows phones.
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. For more, see Android vs iPhone.
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. See How to move from Android to iPhone and How to move from iPhone to Android. 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.
But you should do your research before you take the plunge. We can help with that with our feature: ‘How to unlock any phone‘.
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.
You’ll also like: Samsung Galaxy S9 rumours
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.
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.
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.
As with the regular Galaxy S8, we’re really impressed by the Galaxy S8 Plus. Samsung has done a great job of making last year’s phones even better. However, with both offering the infinity edge screen and the unwieldy size of the S8 Plus, there’s little reason to spend the extra.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review.
The iPhone 7 is an evolution of the 6S, so if you were expecting a revolution you’ll probably be slightly disappointed. However, aside from the underwhelming battery life, it is an excellent phone. It’s waterproof, has fantastic cameras and performance, and the new stereo speakers sound great. There’s now 32GB of storage as a minimum, which helps to mitigate the higher prices.
If you have an iPhone 6s, it’s hard to justify upgrading (even for some people with a 6) but if you’re out of contract and want a small phone, it’s the best Apple has made yet.
Read our Apple iPhone 7 review.
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.
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.
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.
The iPhone 7 Plus is an excellent phone. It’s Apple’s best yet, but it is also Apple’s most expensive yet, with a huge starting price. In some respects, the upgrades seem to justify this, but at the same time some features are arguably only catching up with what the competition has been offering for a while now – water-resistance for one.
Taken as a whole, the performance, battery life, camera quality and stereo speakers are all compelling reasons to upgrade. But our advice remains much the same as for the iPhone 7: if you already own the previous generation, there’s not enough here to justify ditching a 6S Plus, especially if you’re halfway through a two-year contract. Those just coming out of contract on the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus would do well to grab a 7 Plus.
Read our Apple iPhone 7 Plus review.
The Huawei P10 is an impressive beast – it’s gorgeous, powerful and the dual cameras are a huge improvement over the 2016 flagship, the P9. Portrait mode works better than expected, photos are crisp, vibrant and detailed and even the selfie camera has had a meaningful upgrade. Huawei’s EMUI, one of the most controversial Android overlays, is much better to use than with previous smartphones, and offers machine learning algorithms that should speed up your phone the more you use it. Even the price is competitive at £499.
The only downside? Despite being of a high capacity, the battery life of the P10 isn’t great, and some users may find that they have to plug it in to top it up once or twice a day, just to get through.
Read our Huawei P10 review.
Huawei P10 Plus
The P10 Plus is another solid smartphone from Huawei offering attractive design, high-end hardware and much improved software. However, it’s missing a few features compared to rivals such as waterproofing and wireless charging. The phone is also pretty expensive so you’re probably better-off getting the regular P10 or even cheaper options like the OnePlus 3T or Honor 8 Pro.
Read our Huawei P10 Plus review.
Huawei Mate 9
Huawei’s Mate 9 is, in our opinion, the best in the Huawei line-up, boasting an impressively large battery alongside powerful internals, an improved dual-camera setup and a sleek, gorgeous design. The benchmark results were some of the best we’ve seen, bringing excellent value for money. EMUI 5 makes a huge difference to the overall experience too, and we can’t wait to see whether Huawei’s new technology will actually improve the performance of the smartphone over time.
Read our Huawei Mate 9 review.
Xiaomi Mi Note 2
The Mi Note 2 was wrongly overshadowed at its launch. This is a gorgeous big-screen Android phone with very decent performance, a great camera and plenty of storage. We’d like to see a Quad-HD screen on Xiaomi’s flagship phone, but this one should prove plenty sharp and clear. Google apps are not preinstalled, but there is a workaround if you are happy to do some tweaking.
Read our Xiaomi Mi Note 2 review.
Honor 8 Pro
After a good stint with the Honor 8 Pro, it remains a promising device. It represents the brand moving even closer in look and price to big bro Huawei, but it is a decent option.
However without contract options in the UK at this time, you’ll have to plump for SIM free, and at just under £500 you might be tempted to look at the OnePlus 3T or even go for a more expensive, better phone on contract. And even though they cost more, the Huawei P10 and P10 Plus hardware is better designed.
Read our Honor 8 Pro review.
So, what do we think of the Galaxy Note 5? We’re very fond of just about every aspect of the Galaxy Note 5, from its curved and sleek design to its vibrant display and high-resolution camera. It can handle almost anything you can throw at it thanks to its CPU, GPU and 4GB of RAM and we experienced no lag during our testing. The only bad point is that the Note 5 would sometimes falsely detect the S Pen detaching – and to point out such a minor fault says a lot about the quality of the handset. With this being said, we’re both surprised and sad that the Galaxy Note 5 won’t be heading to UK shores any time soon.
Read our Samsung Galaxy Note 5 review.
Google Pixel XL
While the Pixel XL is an attractive phone (if you can get used to the glass section) with decent combination of hardware and software, we can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. It’s very similar to the much cheaper Nexus 6P and OnePlus 3. You can get plenty of other Android phones for less which have extra features like waterproofing and expandable storage. Sorry Google, but things have gone a bit wrong here.
Read our Google Pixel XL review.
The SE is what many iPhone fans have been asking for, and it’s a great upgrade if you’re still using an iPhone 5. For 5S owners, things aren’t quite as clear cut. If you’re not happy with the 5S’s performance, the SE should solve that problem. However, unless you really want to shoot 4K videos, you’re not going to notice a massive improvement in photo quality. There’s a much bigger jump in quality if you’re coming from an iPhone 5 (or earlier), however. In 2017 the SE might be more expensive but Apple has doubled the storage making it a more attractive buy.
Read our iPhone SE review.
Moto G5 Plus
The Moto G5 Plus is an impressive phone for under £250. It’s barely any bigger than the normal model which is odd but it might well be worth spending the extra to get more storage, a better processor and a significantly better camera.
Read our Moto G5 Plus review.
Motorola Moto Z
The Moto Z is a mixed bag, successful in some areas and not in others. As long as you can deal with the jettisoning of the headphone jack and carrying a Power Pack Mod, the modular nature of the Moto Z makes it a compelling alternative to other flagships. It’s also arguably a better choice than the LG G5. Battery life isn’t great, though and the Moto Z Play is also compatible with Moto Mods, too.
Read our Motorola Moto Z review.