There are various segments of the smartphone market, with phones that are cheap and cheerful, phones that are great for gaming, and phones that strike a balance between price and performance.
None of these phones typically get much attention from the press though. You never see people queuing up outside stores to get their hands on the latest bargain smartphone from Motorola.
The hype and news coverage is reserved for a segment of the market called the “flagship phones”. These are the latest releases from leading brands like Apple and Samsung, fitted with the fastest processors, biggest cameras, and best screens.
So, what is there to be excited about in the latest versions? And which one is best?
Apple iPhone 11 and 11 Pro
Apple is the leading brand in the smartphone market, and it launched its 13th generation of iPhone, the iPhone 11 in September 2019. It used the slogan “just the right amount of everything”, which may actually be a very fair description of this flagship phone.
Both the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro have the same internal hardware, using the Apple A13 Bionic processor and 4GB of memory. The processor has six separate cores, two designed for high performance with a clock speed of 2.66 GHz, and four designed for low power consumption. In true Apple style, it has named these two types of core “Thunder” and “Lightning”.
4GB may seem a small amount of memory when you compare it to some of the specs of the Android phones on this list. However, it is a well-established pattern over several generations of smartphones. Apple devices don’t need as much because they run apps natively, while Android devices use a separate runtime environment (previously a Java-based virtual machine) which requires more resources.
The iPhone 11 and 11 Pro are just as capable of performing resource-heavy tasks like video editing and multitasking. They’ll also comfortably run any type of game, including classic card and slots games from Paddy Power Casino, puzzle games like Words With Friends, and first-person shooters like Call of Duty: Mobile.
The iPhone 11 and 11 Pro cameras are some of these phones’ best features. The standard iPhone 11 has a dual-camera setup with a wide-angle and standard lens. The 11 Pro improves on this by adding a telephoto lens, meaning you get an optical zoom that lets you get a close up without losing picture quality.
The 12 megapixels will also sound small compared to other handsets but it’s more than sufficient for anyone that isn’t going to print huge canvas versions of their photos.
The only major downside to the iPhone 11 is that it does not support 5G, while most new phones do.
OnePlus made a name for itself when it launched its first flagship handset, the OnePlus One in 2014. The mission of the company was to build phones that balanced the quality and high-specification of high-end phones, with lower prices of more budget devices. This led to the company’s slogan “Never Settle” which it has kept for every device since. The OnePlus One had a base price of $299, and even today, the OnePlus 8 is still cheaper than others at $699.
It achieves its cost-cutting by selling online, removing middlemen like retailers and mobile carriers. It has moved away from this a little, with some carriers now stocking the device.
It doesn’t save money by scrimping on hardware. The OnePlus 8 has an octa-core processor that also has varying clock speeds across the cores to balance speed and power consumption. It comes with 8 and 12GB memory options, significantly more than the iPhone making it great for several years to come.
Its screen is better than the iPhone’s, with a 90 Hz refresh rate that will create smoother movements in high-speed games and movies. On the 8 Pro, the screen has a 120 Hz refresh rate and is capable of displaying 1 billion different colours, more than almost any other phone on the market.
It too has three lenses, but you only get optical zoom in the Pro version. Even the digital zoom works well between 2x and 3x because it has 48 megapixels to work with.
Like all OnePlus phones, the OnePlus 8 comes with dual-SIM slots so you can use two separate SIM cards at the same time. At launch, one supports 5G with an update planned for later which will mean you can have both connected via 5G.
You also get the rapid 30W charging that OnePlus customers love, and it’s even possible to do this wirelessly on the OnePlus 8 Pro.
You can’t get a better phone for the money than the OnePlus 8.
Samsung Galaxy S20
Samsung has been Apple’s main challenger for most of the history of the iPhone, offering a powerful Android alternative. The latest version, the Galaxy S20 is no different, with one of the most feature-rich smartphones on the market. It’s also in the same price range as the iPhone, starting at $999.
Internally, the S20 range contains very similar specs to the OnePlus 8, with an octa-core processor that runs at varying speeds. You get the same 8 and 12GB memory options in the S20 and S20+, but you have an additional 16GB version in the top S20 Ultra model.
The higher-end models have larger battery capacities, which should give you some of the best battery life on the market. You can also charge the S20 wirelessly, but only at 15W, making it half as fast as the OnePlus.
The Galaxy S20 range is the only one to have an optical zoom lens on its base model, with a 64-megapixel telephoto lens, 12-megapixel ultrawide lens, and 12-megapixel wide lens. The S20 takes this to the extreme, with 10x optical zoom and a whopping 108-megapixel lens. For photographers, there’s no doubt that the S20 Ultra is the best option.
All of these phones offer similar, market-leading performance. The main differences are in the speed of charging, the performance of the cameras, and the presence or lack of 5G. The iPhone 11 is the oldest of the three, meaning it has slightly lower specs than the more up-to-date competitors. So unless you are deadset on having an Apple device, choose between the powerful camera of the S20, or the lower price of the OnePlus 8.