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The best Android phone to buy in 2023 Leave a comment

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The Android ecosystem is all about choice. While iPhone owners have a smaller pool of new devices to pick from when it’s time to upgrade, there’s a huge range of new Android phones every year. Some of them even fold in half! You want a built-in stylus? A flagship processor for less money? Maybe even — dare I say it — an unapologetically pink phone with matching earbuds? You’ve got options on Android.

On the flip side, all that choice can make for some hard decisions. Here’s where I’d like to help; I’ve tested a whole boatload of recent Android phones, and I think there are some real winners in the current crop. It’s all a matter of what you’re looking for, what you’re comfortable spending, and what your definition of a “reasonably sized phone” is. (I have my own, personally.)

Here’s something else to factor in: one of the year’s biggest Android phone launches is likely just around the corner. We’re expecting Google to announce new Pixels this fall, as it tends to do, and rumors point to some substantial upgrades to the camera along with the end of the curved-edge design, at last. If you’re interested in a new Pixel, it’s worth waiting a while to see what’s new this year. Otherwise, most of the year’s major Android phone launches are behind us, and there are some great options on the table.

If you live in the US, I have some bad news about the Android market, though. For complicated reasons having to do with “capitalism” and “geopolitics,” we don’t get nearly as many of the options as you’ll find in Asia and Europe — brands like Huawei, Xiaomi, Honor, and Oppo just aren’t available here. I’ve limited this guide to the devices I’ve personally tested in depth; thus, it is a fairly US-centric set of recommendations. 

With that in mind, it’s also worth acknowledging that most people in the US get their phones “for free” from their wireless carrier. If you can manage it, buying a phone unlocked will give you the most flexibility and freedom if you end up wanting to change carriers in the near future. Phone manufacturers also offer financing and trade-in deals to make payment more manageable. But if you’re happy with your carrier and the free phone on offer is the one you really want, by all means, take the free phone. Just make sure you understand the terms, especially if you need to change plans to cash in on the deal. 

However you go about it, you have some fantastic options for your next Android phone.

Best Android phone overall

Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus standing upright on a table top showing home screen and colorful wallpaper.

With a sizable 6.6-inch screen, good battery life, a whip-fast Snapdragon processor, and a capable camera system, the S23 Plus is an Android crowd-pleaser.

Screen: 6.6-inch 1080p 120Hz OLED / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy / Cameras: 50-megapixel F1.8 main with OIS, 10-megapixel 3x telephoto with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel selfie / Battery: 4,700mAh / Charging: 45W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IP68

Samsung’s Galaxy S series phones have been the go-to high-end Android phone for the past few years — particularly in the US — and there’s a good reason for that: they’re excellent devices. The Galaxy S23 Plus is a minor update to that winning formula, but that still makes it a winner. It neatly checks every item on the list of 2023 must-have flagship features: a lovely, large 6.6-inch screen, a capable camera system with a telephoto lens, robust weather resistance, and great battery life. At $999, it’s not cheap, but it’s also not the most expensive flagship phone you can buy.

It’s not surprising that the S23 Plus includes Qualcomm’s latest chipset: the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. But what is surprising is that all versions of this phone sold across the globe use that Snapdragon processor — previously, some regions would get a Samsung-made Exynos chip. That’s great news because the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is excellent, and it makes the S23 Plus sing. Day-to-day performance is top-notch, and battery stamina is much improved. There’s a larger 4,700mAh battery cell in the Plus this year, but the 8 Gen 2 is also well-tuned to conserve battery.

The S23 is an all-around winner with a great camera and high-quality build.
Image: Allison Johnson / The Verge

The 50-megapixel main camera, ultrawide, and 3x telephoto cameras that make up the S23 Plus’ imaging system aren’t showstoppers like the S23 Ultra, but they’re more than adequate for most situations. Occasionally, the S23 Plus takes stunning photos, particularly in its telephoto portrait mode. But it’s also prone to some heavy-handed processing that goes a little too hard on the HDR sometimes.

Samsung’s software isn’t our favorite, either. With a little work upfront, you can uninstall or at least hide most of the proprietary apps and services Samsung insists on downloading, but it would be nice not to have to tango with Bixby in the first place. But on the bright side, Samsung offers one of the strongest software support policies from any Android device-maker, with four years of OS updates and five years of security updates promised. Even if the initial setup takes a little work to get right, at least you won’t have to do it all over again in a couple of years.

Read my full review of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus.

Best affordable flagship

$599

The Google Pixel 7 upgrades the standard model of the Pixel with Google’s second-gen Tensor CPU and an upgraded ultrawide camera.

Screen: 6.3-inch 1080p 90Hz OLED / Processor: Google Tensor G2 / Cameras: 50-megapixel F1.85 with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 10.8-megapixel selfie / Battery: 4,355mAh / Charging: 30W wired, 20W wireless / Weather resistance: IP68

Updated August 30th, 2023: As noted previously, the Pixel 8 looks to be arriving soon, and unless you’re in a pinch, it’s probably worth holding off on buying a new Pixel phone right now. That said, if you just can’t wait or you snag a great deal somewhere, we won’t stand in your way.

Depending on how you look at it, the Google Pixel 7 can pass as either a budget-friendly flagship or a premium midrange phone. At $599, it’s a bit cheaper than Samsung’s S-series phones and also a bit more expensive than the $499 Pixel 7A, a bona fide midrange device. Its specs follow suit: you get the high-quality build and conveniences of a high-end device, like an IP68 rating and wireless charging, but you miss out on nice extras like a telephoto camera and a 120Hz screen. If those things aren’t super important to you, then the Pixel 7 is one heck of a good deal.

The Pixel 7 and its step-up 7 Pro sibling use Google’s latest custom chipset, Tensor G2. It delivers flagship-level performance, but it’s also part of the Pixel series’ special sauce of Google-exclusive features. They’re generally clever but sort of a mixed bag in terms of how helpful they actually are. 

Clear Calling, which is exclusive to the Pixel 7 series, is like noise cancellation for phone calls that makes it easier to hear someone you’re talking to when they’re in a loud environment. Other features designed to make navigating phone trees and customer service calls less painful don’t work as well consistently. But they aren’t actively bad, and Google has proven committed to supporting its devices with updates and new features throughout their life spans.

There’s no telephoto lens, but it’s still a top-notch camera system overall.
Image: Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Software really is the Pixel 7’s strength. It runs a clean version of Android, free of duplicate assistants and app stores (looking at you, Samsung) and will be supported well into the near future with three OS upgrades and five years of security patches. On the hardware front, you’ll have to live with a couple of concessions Google made to keep the price down. The 6.3-inch screen is just fine, but its 90Hz refresh rate is a bit slower than the super-smooth scrolling 120Hz screens on most phones at this price. 

The Pixel 7 is also missing a telephoto rear camera, though the 2x crop mode from the 50-megapixel main sensor does an admirable impression of a true optical telephoto lens. The ultrawide camera is also a generation behind the Pixel 7 Pro’s. But outside of those few drawbacks, you don’t miss out on a whole lot by opting for the Pixel 7 rather than the 7 Pro — and you definitely get to keep a few extra dollars in your pocket.

Read my full review of the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro.

Best phone with everything but the kitchen sink

Samsung S23 Ultra in cream color standing upright on a table with rear facing outward.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra offers a huge 6.8-inch screen, built-in S Pen stylus, two telephoto cameras, and a top-notch Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset. It’s pricey, but there’s nothing else quite like it on the market.

Screen: 6.8-inch 1440p 120Hz OLED / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy / Cameras: 200-megapixel main with OIS, 10-megapixel 10x telephoto with OIS, 10-megapixel 3x telephoto with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel selfie / Battery: 5,000mAh / Charging: 45W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IP68

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s pricey, starting at $1,199, and thanks to a 6.8-inch screen, it’s huge. It’s also the most powerful Android phone you can buy in the US right now, with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, S Pen stylus support with a built-in silo for storage, and two — count ’em, two — telephoto cameras on the rear panel. It’s kind of hard to imagine what else Samsung could possibly stuff into this phone.

The screen at the center of this spec monster is a 6.8-inch OLED with a variable refresh rate up to 120Hz and 1440p resolution. It’s lovely, and the even better news is that it’s more battery-efficient than last year’s model. Between that and the new chipset, the S23 Ultra gets through a full day of heavy use with a little more wiggle room than its predecessor could. 

The S23 Ultra stands alone.
Image: Allison Johnson / The Verge

The S23 Ultra’s camera system is a major reason to consider putting in the extra cash for this model rather than the S23 Plus. There’s nothing quite like it available on any other flagship phone: there’s both a 3x and 10x telephoto camera plus an ultrawide and, oh yeah, a 200-megapixel main camera.

The 200-megapixel thing is only partially a stunt — most of the time, you’ll be getting a 12-megapixel file from it, but the extra data from all those pixels seems to help the system come up with some fantastic images. It occasionally makes some weird judgments or turns the HDR up to 11, but it’s often very good and, here and there, is even capable of stunning “I can’t believe it’s not a ‘real’ camera” photos.

Our complaints about Samsung software stand, unfortunately, and its faults are even more glaring on a very pricey phone. Why the spammy clickbait links in the weather app? And who on earth wants push notifications from the Samsung Galaxy store? You don’t get that kind of thing on a Pixel phone. Still, there are enough impressive things about the S23 Ultra that it’s worth some minor software annoyances.  

Read my full review of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Best foldable phone

Samsung Z Fold 5 shown standing upright unfolded and folded with outer screen exposed.

$1799

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5 looks a lot like its predecessor, but it now folds flat thanks to a new hinge with fewer moving parts. It maintains the 7.6-inch inner display and narrow 6.2-inch cover screen, but it now utilizes the same Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor found in Samsung’s Galaxy S23 phones.

Screen: 7.6-inch 2176p 120Hz OLED inner screen, 6.2-inch 2316p 120Hz OLED cover screen / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 / Cameras: 50-megapixel F/1.8 main with OIS, 10-megapixel 3x telephoto with OIS, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 10-megapixel selfie (cover screen), four-megapixel under-display selfie (inner screen) / Battery: 4,400mAh / Charging: 25W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IPX8

Samsung’s flagship foldable isn’t the only show in town anymore, but it’s still the best choice for most people looking for a folding phone. Its multitasking capabilities are second to none, and it’s lighter and easier to wield than Google’s Pixel Fold. The narrow dimensions of the cover display make it a little awkward to use for regular phone stuff, but that’s a reasonable tradeoff considering everything that the Fold 5 can do.

There are some important things to consider, though, starting with the $1800 price. That’s what the Pixel Fold costs, too, but it doesn’t matter how you look at it — that’s a lot to pay for a phone. The Fold 5 isn’t dust-resistant, either, so you’ll want to be somewhat careful with your investment.

The Fold 5’s unusually long-and-narrow aspect ratio when it’s closed is a turn off for some.
Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

The Fold 5 isn’t exactly teeming with technological improvements over last year’s model, either. There’s a new hinge that folds flat rather than with a gap between the two halves of the phone, and that’s about it. A couple of software updates that it offers will come to older Fold devices in the future, so there’s not much reason to rush out and trade in your Fold 4 for a Fold 5.

If you’re a devoted Pixel fan or averse to the Fold 5’s narrow form factor when closed, Google’s foldable might be a better choice. But for most people, the Galaxy Fold 5’s versatility and good recent track record for durability make it a better bet.

Read my full review of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5.

Best alternative to Google and Samsung

Nothing Phone 2 standing upright on a table showing illuminated glyphs.

$599

The Nothing Phone 2 embraces a certain retro-infused aesthetic that’s unlike anything else you’ll find on the market. It’s not certified to work on Verizon, and its rear-panel LED light strips are more stylish than functional, but it’s a good alternative to the big Android brands.

Screen: 6.7-inch 1080p 120Hz OLED / Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 / Cameras: 50-megapixel F/1.9 main with OIS, 50-megapixel ultrawide, 32-megapixel selfie / Battery: 4,700mAh / Charging: 45W wired, 15W wireless / Weather resistance: IP54

The Nothing Phone 2 doesn’t offer the very best value proposition in its upper-midrange category. For sheer ROI, the Pixel 7 is the better pick. But if it’s style you’re after and something a little different, then the Phone 2 is an easy pick.

It offers a good 6.7-inch screen, great daily performance and battery life, and a capable camera system. But that’s the usual stuff — what’s unusual about the Phone 2 is its set of LED light strips on the back panel. They illuminate in combinations called “glyphs,” and you can set them to alert you to certain notifications. It’s neat but ultimately isn’t as helpful as the system’s customizable always-on display.

The Phone 2’s UI is on-theme.
Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

On the downside, the Phone 2 is only splash-resistant rather than fully resistant to water submersion like virtually all other phones over $500. It’s also not fully supported on Verizon’s network, which takes it out of contention for a lot of the US population.

If neither of the above is a deal-breaker, and the Phone 2’s styling appeals to you, then it’s an excellent choice. One thing’s for sure — it definitely stands out from the crowd.

Read my full review of the Nothing Phone 2

Other Android phones worth considering

There are many more great Android devices that weren’t covered here, and a few are worth calling out that didn’t quite make the cut for a recommendation. The Galaxy S23 Plus’ smaller sibling, the Galaxy S23, is a fantastic option if you want a somewhat smaller Android phone. Its 6.1-inch screen doesn’t put it in “small phone” territory, but it’s much more pocketable than the other two S23 models. Battery life has been improved this year on the S23, too, which was a weak point for the S22. 

There’s also the Galaxy Z Flip 5, Samsung’s clamshell-style foldable. It’s much more useful than its predecessors, thanks to a bigger 3.4-inch cover screen that allows you to type out texts and emails on a full QWERTY keyboard. It’s not as versatile as the Fold 5, but it also costs a much more reasonable $999. Another flip phone worth considering: the Motorola Razr Plus. It’s not as durable as the Flip 5, and its cover screen widgets aren’t as useful, but it runs full apps on the outer display more easily. And it’s just plain fun, gosh dang it.

If you’re all in on Google’s ecosystem, then the Pixel 7 Pro is a good (and somewhat obvious) step-up option. It doesn’t offer any essential upgrades compared to the Pixel 7 but does come with a good 5x telephoto camera. The screen is bigger — 6.7 inches compared to 6.3 — and it’s also a little nicer, with a faster 120Hz top refresh rate. But the Pixel 7 is priced so well that it’s kind of impossible not to recommend it, and most people will find everything they need in the base model.

There’s one more Pixel phone to consider: the Google Pixel 7A. It’s $499 and has the same Tensor G2 processor as the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro. The 7A is definitely the best phone camera you can get for the money, and it comes with nice creature comforts not usually seen in budget devices, like wireless charging. It’s on the pricey side of the “budget” category, but it’s designed to go the distance.

Update August 30th, 2023, 5:00PM ET: Replaced the OnePlus 11 with the Nothing Phone 2 and replaced the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 with the Galaxy Z Fold 5. Replaced the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 with the Z Flip 5 and Motorola Razr Plus as also-considers. Removed the Motorola Edge Plus as an also-consider.

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