2020 has been notable for many reasons, not all of them good. Thankfully 2020 has also thrown up some stellar smartphones to raise our spirits. And with home working, Zoom calling and staying in touch with friends and family more important than ever, our phones have assumed greater importance in our lives.
Let’s look back at the best phones of the year.
1. iPhone 12/iPhone 12 Mini
Well, it had to be didn’t it. Apple’s new iPhone launched in October – a little later than usual – to the typical fanfare and has gone on to earn five-star reviews across the board. Why? It’s made 5G, OLED screens and multiple camera arrangements standard across the board, meaning no matter which iPhone 12 you buy, you’re getting an incredibly powerful handset.
Apple’s four-strong iPhone 12 line-up features more powerful Pro models (more on those later), but the iPhone 12 and 12 mini will be more than enough for most people. In fact, we think the mini is the star of the show – an elegant, understated handset that crams a 5.4-inch screen into a package that’s much smaller than it has any right to be. You can thank those ultra slim borders for that.
It’s just as powerful as the iPhone 12, and cheaper, too. The only compromise is the screen size. But if you think 6 inches plus is overkill for a smartphone, it’s really no compromise at all.
2. Samsung Galaxy S20
Samsung’s last Galaxy S handset before this was the S10. Don’t worry – you haven’t blinked and missed 10 years. Samsung changed up the naming convention for its latest S phone to make it sound more modern. Thankfully, that’s not all it changed.
The screen can now display at 120Hz – double the refresh rate of even the latest iPhones. That will make for much smoother gaming, and other fast moving action. Wireless charging comes as standard, and thanks to a nifty feature called Reverse Power Share, you can plonk another device on top of the S20 and charge it up wirelessly. How neat is that?
Add in an even more capable camera and all-day battery life, and you’ve got one of the finest phones around. Don’t want an iPhone? This should be your first port of call.
3. Sony Xperia 1 II
A surprise entry for Sony, who had become a bit of an also-ran in the mobile game. That was until the Xperia 1 II broke cover.
It’s a phone made explicitly for enjoying films and music. And it’s the best currently available at what it does.
First off, that screen. It’s 4K, for showing the best quality content, and has a 21:9 aspect ratio, which is closer to how filmmakers intend you to see their films. In other words, correctly calibrated content will take up more of the screen with none of those annoying black bars at the top and bottom. That gives the phone its rather long shape, so you might need a pointer if you want to tap the top of the screen. But watch a film on it and you’ll know it’s worth it.
Audio quality is superb, and it’s one of the few modern smartphones with a headphone port, so you won’t need to buy a new pair of earbuds. Thankfully!
4. iPhone SE (2020)
Want the iPhone experience without the price tag? This is the handset for you.
It follows 2016’s original iPhone SE, but takes a new footprint and better specs. Its frame looks a lot like the iPhone 8’s, but it crams in a triple camera array on the back, Touch ID (instead of Face ID), and Apple’s A13 Bionic chip. And of course Apple’s winning iOS operating system comes as standard, along with all the features and apps that entails.
But the real kicker is the price: just £399 for the entry-level model. That’s half the price of the iPhone 12. Which is pretty crazy when you think about it.
5. Google Pixel 5
Google has dropped the price of its newest Pixel phone. Was it aware that a pandemic-caused global economic slowdown was coming? Or just admitting that it couldn’t complete with Apple and Samsung at the top end of the market?
It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that the Pixel 5 gives you plenty of bang for your buck. The camera software is slicker than ever, with a bevy of editing options that help rather than overwhelm the amateur snapper.
Battery life is also impressive, thanks to the Extreme Battery Saver feature. This pares the phone back to its barest basics when juice is low. You might be left with essentially a big-screened calculator for a while, but it’s worth it if it stops it dying on you.
And then there’s Android, Google’s mobile operating system. The Pixel phones show Android at its purest, with no bloatware to be seen. And because it’s made by Google, it’ll be front of the queue when an update drops.
6. iPhone 12 Pro/iPhone 12 Pro Max
The Pro variants of Apple’s iPhone 12 range pack even more power and more advanced features. And the Pro Max takes the screen size up to a gargantuan 6.7 inches.
So what do you get over the standard iPhone 12? The cameras are more advanced, there’s more storage, and the Pro Max has better battery life too, to go with its immense size.
Personally, we would save ourselves some money and go for the standard iPhone 12 (or better yet, save even more with the iPhone 12 mini). But if you’re happy to spend big to get the best, the 12 Pro and Pro Max will not disappoint.
7. OnePlus 8 Pro
Like the Samsung Galaxy S20, the OnePlus 8 Pro has a 120Hz screen for making gaming look a lot more fluid. Its wireless charging tech is among the quickest around, and its quad-lens camera set-up is up there with the best available at this price.
OnePlus built a reputation for itself as a maker of flagship phones as wallet-friendly prices. But this slightly pricier model shows its phones can command a premium.
8. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Samsung’s Note range was once the big-screened phone among smaller-screened rivals. Then every phone gained a big screen and the Note lost its USP.
The Note 20 Ultra is the top-of-the-range model in the Note range, and comes complete with Samsung’s S Pen stylus for writing and doodling on screen. Its display is one of the best around, and the S Pen makes a real difference to how you use it. As well as drawing, it can be used to activate the camera shutter, for example. Great for selfies without having to hold the camera.
The 6.9-inch screen is huge, as you would expect from a Note handset, and the power immense. If you’re using your phone for work as well as play, take Note.
9. Xiaomi Mi Note 10
The Mi Note 10 is cheaper than a lot of Android rivals, but in many cases, no less capable.
The screen is a thing of beauty, big, colourful, and with curved edges making it look effortlessly sleek. But it’s not just a pretty face, it’s high-tech too, with a fingerprint sensor built into the display.
Its battery lasts all day, and there’s a whopping great 108-megapixel camera on the back. That’s incredibly powerful. If you’re serious about smartphone photography, this should definitely be on your list.
The only downside is a slight lack of power. But the price and camera skills more than make up for that.
10. OnePlus 8T
A second entry for OnePlus – not bad at all for a company not that many people have heard of.
The 8T is a slightly pared back take on the 8 Pro, but it still boasts a big, 120Hz screen, all-day battery life and fast charging (though not wireless charging, sadly). A quad-lens camera arrangement doesn’t disappoint, and there’s plenty of power under the bonnet. A must if you’re looking to save a bob or two.