It’s been a rocky end to the decade and it seems many people want 2020 to be over already, but thankfully down here in NZ we have been fortunate enough to plod along as usual. Surprisingly, so has the smartphone industry as many of the most anticipated devices dropped right on time… with an odd virtual press-release or two. This has been well received by many, as digital communication has suddenly become a necessity and not just a distraction. So, with this usual yearly increase in options and an unforeseen rise in usefulness, we thought we would help you navigate the daunting task of finding the right smartphone for you.
We have sorted our top picks for the best smartphones of 2020 into 4 different categories each with a runner up; including compact devices, best device for photography, best biggest device, best battery and the best budget device.
Best Compact Smartphone
Apple iPhone 12 Mini (Winner)
Weighing in at only 135grams we can quickly identify how this has taken out first place of the best compact device. Weighing the same as the average apple (the fruit), it is one of the smallest phones available on the market right now. The iPhone 12 Minis compact design includes a 5.4” OLED display to give the best true colour tones. The smaller screen size allows the majority of users to reach around the entire device and touch all corners of the screen with one hand and has added advantages of being able to easily fit in most pockets. The iPhone 12 mini has an OLED display offering you the best true colour tones. The notch at the top of the screen scales the same size as other larger devices, thus being a downside as this decreases the size of the actual screen but without this notch you wouldn't be able to unlock the screen with face recognition in the dark. Overall, we are very impressed with how much Apple has packed into such a small space, with the fastest processor of any phone and the same cameras in the iPhone 12, while also remarkable having all of the competent and antennas necessary for 5G connectivity. Congratulations iPhone 12 mini, you are fast, can multitask well and your size doesn't compromise anything.
Finally, the iPhone12 Mini provides two quality cameras with 12-megapixels in both the rear and selfie cameras. But you are missing those zoom and wide angle lenses found in the bigger models.
Apple iPhone SE (Runner-up)
The SE in iPhone SE stands for Special Edition, and it sure lives up to its name! Although it doesn’t mention it in the name, this is actually the second iteration, both owe their compactness to the use of previous models bodies as a basis. The first one was based on the iPhone 5 body and the new SE “2” is based on the iPhone 8 body. By using older designs Apple can cut down on costs making this phone a more affordable choice. Compared to the iPhone 8, the new SE also has a new processor and a better camera. Even though it's better value for money, what keeps it from that top spot is the screen. Not only is it smaller, with more bezels, the panel also has a lower resolution and is dimmer in brightness.
Neither of the iPhones include a charging brick, so if you need one you can grab a Momax fast-charger here.
Best Smartphone for Photography
Huawei P40 Pro+ (Winner)
Adorning its exclusive ceramic white case, Huawei have impressively managed to fit five cameras on the back of this ‘+’ version of its latest flagship, the P40 Pro. The sole feature that marginally separates it from its competition is its 10x optical zoom lens. Usually, premium phones might be able to get up to 5x times optical zoom, and then use digital zoom to crop in even further into an image, but will start to degrade the image, becoming blurrier as the pixels spread further apart from each other. This industry leading optical lens can get a clear shot of your subject matter from double the distance away. To assist this the camera has great image stabilisation to help assist your aim. Without it, even the slightest quiver would have you miss your target. We found that the overall look of the images captured on this device are hyper-realistic in contrast to its competitors, with soft contrast and vibrant colours.
Over to video performance. The P40 Pro+ is capable of capturing 4k resolution at 60 frames per second on the back and front cameras. Plus, with 512GB of storage, you will have no problem storing all those large video files. Its video stabilisation technology is some of the best we’ve ever seen, and you can film with its rear camera smoothly while jogging along. Though it might not be quite so good for action sports because it has a ramped smoothing effect that lets you pan smoothly between each camera movement. This means you might experience a delay when trying to keep up with your target.
Unrelated to cameras, it is important to remember that all new Huawei devices do not have Google services.
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max (Runner-up)
Arguably in second place, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a few areas where its cameras excels over P40 Pro+. Firstly, in photography we found that it’s wide-angle lens to be superior in viewing angle and quality. We were also impressed with its natural-looking images from the main lens and it’s self-camera in both day and night.
Moving on to video, it can also film in 4k at 60fps both on the front and back cameras, but a noticeable difference is that the voice recording quality is clear no matter where you are orientated from you device.
Unlike the Huawei P40 Pro+, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is not able to brighten up the night as if it was an overcast day, but instead offers a more realistic level of darkness and it’s video stabilization is unaffected by the lack of lit objects.
Best Big Smartphone
Samsung Fold2 (Winner)
The Fold2 was our top pick not only because of its 180.8 cm2 main display but its versatility too. While it has the biggest, most vibrant and bright screens it’s also compactable! You can fold it in half and a second smaller front activates. This screen is good enough for light and can save you precious battery. The main screen's pixels per inch (PPI) is only 362 which isn't the most densely packed resolution but you're going to be holding it further away from your face once you fold it out. We found that the cameras on this thing are passable for its price, but can tell that it's built for media consumption, not for photography. Also, the wide-angle lens is below average and produces grainy images. We believe these features were only added so that the Fold2 was on par with flagship phone expectations.
Because screens are such an important feature on big phones, it's unsurprising then that another quality screen from Samsung takes our runner-up position…
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra (Runner-up)
The Note20 Ultra 116.7 cm2 screen with a high resolution at 496 PPI. This is great as you will be up-close and personal with it thanks to the included S-pen. A nifty little tool that lets you do multiple things such as, taking photos wirelessly, writing down notes, text by guessing at what letters you're writing, and you can even draw a few doodles if you're bored. The Note20 Ultra screen is maybe 35% smaller than the Fold2’s main screen but it is half the price. Aside from the screen, it also has better cameras. Samsung has delivered exactly what we expected this year, which is a boss device for work and play. However, It is disappointing that the charging isn't super-fast but neither is the Z Fold2 so that wasn't a contentious point.
Smartphone with Best Battery Life
ASUS ROG Phone 3 (Winner)
ROG’s latest evolution is equipped with a 6000mA battery! With capacity of this size its capable of up to two days of use. However, this impressive battery leads to quite a hefty device. Fortunately, the industrious ASUS has used all that space to put in extra things like better speakers and cool gaming features like air triggers which give you extra mappable buttons. Less so in this version of the ROG phone but the aesthetics of its design have a strong emphasis on gaming, a potential draw back in the ‘form over function’ is that it lacks a wireless charging on the back to make way for a dope glowing ROG logo. But this big battery winner is not going to need to be topped up on a wireless charger anyway. The ROG Phone 3 also comes with a high hertz screen at around 144Hz, which once set to that speed, will provide the user with a smooth gaming experience.
The runner-up in the Battery category also has a high hertz screen so let's find out why it didn't quite beat this beast.
Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro (Runner-up)
This big battery runner-up came in second in partly due to its smaller 5000 mA battery. The other compromise here is that it has a variable adaptive refresh rate that jumps between fast and slow speeds so you're not getting a consistently smooth experience however it does save you on battery. The Mi 10T Pro has a hard time beating out the ROG Phone 3 in spec but so doesn’t most phones. Where it does excel is in it cameras features as it has a big 108-megapixel lens which will capture highly detailed photos that will let you zoom in to get your perfect without losing too much detail. (check out this late entry: the Samsung new M51 with its 7000 mA battery)
Best Budget Smartphone
Motorola Moto G8 (Winner)
The Moto G8 has many stand out features that quickly allow us to award it the best budget phone of 2020. With an excellent battery life, strong performance, 4GB of RAM which is good for casual gaming, and exceptional performance for the money. The Moto G8 is a great phone for many who need a great performing phone for a great price. The Moto G8 is an affordable phone and when handling the device you'll be pleasantly surprised with how the unit feels, with a plastic frame and rear it doesn't hold the same aesthetic appeal as many top of the line phones but the size of the phone definitely will not let you down.
Xiaomi Poco X3 (Runner-up)
Poco entered the market this year with another hot deal. The new Poco X3 NFC comes with features that are usually expected with high-end android handsets. The Poco X3 sells itself with its strong gaming performance, excellent battery life, a 120Hz display panel, and loud stereo speakers. For its price it is probably the best phone for gaming on the market. However, due to the Poco X3’s popularity it is hard to get your hands on. Overall, congratulations Poco X3 we can see why you are the runner up for being one of the best buys for tech lovers on a budget.
That’s a wrap for 2020 and our top line-up for all of the best smartphones of 2020!
What did you think about our top picks? And what are some of your top picks from 2020?