With a couple of exceptions, the word that best summarizes 2022’s big phone launches is “iterative.” This year has been all about small incremental updates that make for more polished devices but don’t offer a lot of incentive to upgrade. If you bought a flagship phone within the past couple of years and you’re happy with how it’s performing, then you’re probably safe to hold off for another year. But if it’s time for a new one, you’ll find that today’s crop of top-tier devices is just a little bit better: more mature, with some minor rough edges smoothed out.
One thing that hasn’t changed about this year’s flagship class? The high prices. For the most part, they haven’t gotten higher, which is nice, but you’re still looking at spending anywhere from $800 to well over $1,000. That’s a whole lot of money, even if you spread it out over the two- or three-year payment plans carriers usually offer.
The phones highlighted below deliver excellent daily performance, great cameras, and will keep on running for four, five, or maybe even six years into the future. You get what you pay for — however you’re paying — so we’ll help you pick the best phone for you and make sure it’s worth it.
If you’re looking to spend a little less and still get the best smartphone on a budget, you can find something really good for under $500. For those recommendations, you can check out our guide to budget smartphones.
The iPhone 14 Pro ushers in some new ideas from Apple, making it kind of an early adopter special. If it’s time to upgrade and you want all the latest and greatest features, then you’ll need to go Pro.
The 14 Pro Max is the bigger sibling to the 14 Pro, with a large 6.7-inch screen. Otherwise, it shares the same features as the smaller model, including the new Dynamic Island status indicator and a 48-megapixel main camera.
The Galaxy S22 Plus features the latest Snapdragon chipset, an excellent 6.6-inch display, three rear cameras including a 3x telephoto, and a great support policy promising up to four generations of Android OS upgrades.
The best phones of 2022
1. Apple iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max
Best iPhone to buy in 2022
For a lot of iPhone owners, this isn’t an upgrade year, especially if you’re coming from a 12 or a 13. But if you do need a new iPhone right now and you want the very best device, then Pro is the way to go. The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max usher in some new ideas from Apple that the standard 14 doesn’t get, like the “Dynamic Island,” a playful mash-up of hardware and software that turns the notch into a shape-shifting status indicator. There’s also a new high-resolution camera and an always-on display.
The iPhone 14 Pro, which starts at $999, is the very best iPhone you can buy right now. But it’s a bit of an early adopter special. There’s plenty that’s good but a lot of room for Apple to fine-tune and improve these features over the coming years. If you’re not ready to spend a thousand dollars on the first iteration of a new design, then look at last year’s iPhone 13. The standard iPhone 14 is an incremental upgrade over the 13 and doesn’t get you that much more; the 13 is still available and starts at $699. That’s our choice for most people, but the 14 Pro does have a lot to offer.
There’s plenty that’s good but a lot of room for Apple to fine-tune and improve these features
The 14 Pro comes with a 6.1-inch screen and the Pro Max has a 6.7-inch screen. They’re both ProMotion displays like last year, with adaptive refresh rates that go up to 120Hz for smooth scrolling and animations. New this year is an always-on display: when you lock your phone, the screen dims and drops into a low-power mode, with frame rates as low as 1Hz, but the clock, widgets, and wallpaper all remain visible. This means you can check the time or see if you have notifications without having to wake the display.
The display’s other new trick is, of course, Dynamic Island. Apple took the notch — the area of the screen that houses the front-facing camera and Face ID sensors — and turned it into a pill-shaped cutout that appears to expand dynamically (get it?) to show system indicators and notifications. It’s a handy place to quickly see what your phone is doing, whether it’s playing back music, sending files via AirDrop, or using navigation. It’s nice but it’s something Apple and third-party developers will keep making more useful over the next few years — definitely not something to upgrade for right now.
The 14 Pro also has a new 48-megapixel main camera, which uses pixel binning to maximize light sensitivity and produce 12-megapixel images. The real-world improvements are subtle, with more fine detail in shadows and in low light, but the differences compared to a standard 12-megapixel sensor in the iPhone 14 are hard to see unless you’re looking really closely. The higher-resolution sensor also enables a 2x telephoto mode that’s essentially a 12-megapixel crop from the middle of the sensor. It’s the new default view for portrait mode, and it’s one that feels like a happy medium between the wide and 3x telephoto that have been the only options on iPhones past.
Outside of the new stuff, there’s a lot that’s familiar. The phone’s battery gets through a moderate day of use, though it seems to run down a little faster than the 13 Pro. The camera may not be the leap forward in photography that Apple claims it is, but it’s still one of the best in the game and records stunning video clips. And the new A16 Bionic chipset handles intensive tasks like gaming without a problem.
2. Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus
The best Android phone to buy in 2022
Those of us in the US have plenty of budget phones to choose from, but high-end Android phones are a little scarce compared to the bountiful options overseas, where Xiaomi, Huawei, and Oppo are on the table. Thankfully, the options we do have are very good. While it has close competition in the Google Pixel 6, we think that the Galaxy S22 Plus is the best Android device for most people.
The S22 Plus features a big, bright 6.6-inch screen with 120Hz refresh rate, the excellent flagship-grade Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, and three high-quality rear cameras. You don’t get the 10x telephoto or the built-in S Pen of the S22 Ultra, but you do get a more spacious screen than the 6.1-inch standard S22. It’s a comfortable middle ground that’s the right configuration of features and size for most people.
The 1080p screen is bright, with a smooth-scrolling 120Hz top refresh rate. Generally, it’s just a pleasure to use. Even without the Ultra’s 10x telephoto, the camera system is versatile and dependable, with an excellent portrait mode. Its build quality is top-tier, with an IP68 rating for robust dust and water resistance and a minimalist, understated design. The 4,500mAh cell will last lighter users a full day, but moderate and heavy users who stream a decent amount of video will likely find themselves running the battery down into the single digits by the end of the day. It doesn’t have the best battery life among flagship phones, but it’s good enough for most people.
Even without the Ultra’s 10x telephoto, the camera system is versatile and dependable
Samsung promises up to four software OS upgrades for the S22 Plus, making its shelf life one of the longest among Android phones. Now, Samsung’s software is still our least favorite part of a Samsung phone: it’s more cluttered and contains more duplicate apps than we’d prefer. If you’re looking for an alternative that’s a little sleeker, the OnePlus 10 Pro is a good option. It won’t get software updates for quite as long — three OS upgrades versus four for the S22 — and its cameras aren’t as good as Samsung’s. Otherwise, it’s a very nice device with a UI that’s a little more sophisticated.
Battery and software gripes aside, there’s a lot to like about the S22 Plus. It may be one of a handful of truly high-end Android phones offered in the US right now, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a winner only by default; it also happens to be a very good device.
Best iPhone for most people in 2022
The iPhone 14 seems like the obvious choice for anyone who needs a new iPhone but doesn’t want to step up to the 14 Pro. But hear me out: the iPhone 13 does almost everything that the 14 does, and it’s $100 cheaper. Sure, if your carrier is offering you a good trade-in offer or dirt-cheap financing for the 14, or you want the (slight) year-over-year upgrades, then go ahead and get that one. It’s great! But if trade-in deal season is over or you’re paying out of pocket, we think the standard iPhone 13 is the better buy; the $799 14’s improvements are so minor that they’re not worth the extra money.
By opting for the 13, you don’t miss out on anything as far as the screen or processor is concerned. The iPhone 13 features a 6.1-inch screen with a standard refresh rate — no smooth-scrolling ProMotion here — as does the 14. There’s an A15 Bionic chipset in both phones, and although the 14’s is a slight upgrade with an extra GPU core, they both deliver excellent performance. They’re both MagSafe compatible for wireless charging and IP68-rated for robust water and dust resistance.
Upgrading to the 14 does get you a slightly better camera system, but the improvements are subtle. The ultrawide and front-facing cameras do better in low light compared to the 13, and the main camera features a bigger sensor that’s able to hold on to detail in dim conditions a little better. But for the most part, you have to go looking for these differences in fine details — most people viewing their images at web- and social-media-friendly sizes won’t see what’s changed.
By opting for the 13, you don’t miss out on anything as far as the screen or processor is concerned
You’ll miss out on a couple of emergency features, too. The 14 includes a new Crash Detection feature that uses specialized sensors to recognize when a car crash has happened and automatically call emergency services. There’s a satellite-based emergency messaging service, too, for when you’re out of cell range. For a small group of people, these services might be worth upgrading for, but they’re likely things that most of us can do without.
From the outside, the iPhone 14 and 13 look almost identical. There are some physical differences to note, though. The first is that you can’t just use an iPhone 13 case on the 14 because the camera bump is a bit bigger. And below the glass and aluminum surface of the iPhone 14, Apple made some changes that enable much easier repairs to the back panel. That means out-of-pocket repairs will likely cost less, and if you’re a DIYer, it’s a much less daunting task to take on yourself.
There are a handful of other interesting new iPhone features this year, but they’re reserved for the Pro models. If you consider yourself an early adopter or you just want the best iPhone you can buy right now, it’s worth stepping up to the Pro. But if you’re just looking for a reliable device to get you through your day, take great photos and video, and keep the blue-bubble chat a-flowin’, then the iPhone 13 will serve you just as well as the 14 — for a little less money.
With the introduction of the iPhone 14, Apple lowered the price on the 13 to $699. If you’re paying upfront rather than subsidizing your purchase with a carrier, then this is the best bang for your buck in 2022.
4. Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
The phone that does everything
The “Ultra” moniker in Samsung’s Galaxy lineup no longer means you’re just getting the biggest phone; now, it means you’re getting the biggest phone and everything but the kitchen sink. The S22 Ultra offers no fewer than five cameras, a huge, bright 6.8-inch OLED with up to a 120Hz refresh rate, and, oh yeah, a built-in stylus. It’s the successor to the Note series, but more than that, it feels like the endgame of slab-style smartphone development. Related: it costs a steep $1,200.
At the heart of the S22 Ultra is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset paired with 8 or 12GB of RAM. Performance is, not surprisingly, excellent; you’ll rarely see the phone stutter or hesitate, even while running graphics-intensive games. Samsung is also promising up to four generations of OS version upgrades, so the Ultra should remain a very good phone for years to come.
The included S Pen stylus pops out of a dedicated silo on the bottom of the phone, and Samsung says it’s been improved with lower latency than the S Pens of previous years. It’s hard to judge a few milliseconds of improvement, but it’s certainly responsive and easy to use. You can go deep into the stylus features with handwriting-to-text recognition options and slightly gimmicky “Air Actions” that turn the stylus into a magic wand / remote control combo. Or you can just scribble notes to your heart’s content or ignore the stylus entirely. The choice is yours.
If you’re looking for a phone that can do just about anything, the S22 Ultra is in a league of its own
The cameras are largely the same as the S21 Ultra’s, including a 108-megapixel main camera accompanied by 3x and 10x telephoto lenses plus a couple of software-based improvements. The Ultra’s portrait mode photos are some of the best in the game, with excellent subject isolation, and you can use night mode with high-res mode or portrait mode now. But the bottom line is that the solid camera system the S21 Ultra offered is still just as good here, and 10x telephoto is about the best you’ll find on any smartphone, anywhere.
With so many power-hungry features, the S22 Ultra’s battery life is a bit lackluster. It will last a day of moderate use with a little in the tank, but power users may need to keep an eye on battery percentage and top off the 5,000mAh cell toward the end of the day. Fast 45W wired charging makes this a quick job, though.
If you know the stylus life is for you and you’d use a 10x zoom regularly, rather than a handful of times out of curiosity, then look no further than the S22 Ultra. Its specialty features are somewhat niche — if powerful — which is why it’s not our overall pick for the best mainstream Android phone. But if you’re looking for a phone that can do just about anything, the S22 Ultra is in a league of its own.
The S22 Ultra is pricey, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another slab-style smartphone that can do everything it’s capable of doing.
Best small smartphone in 2022
The iPhone 13 Mini is one of very few small phones on the market with top-tier features and specs; you don’t have to compromise on performance, build quality, or cameras. Apple didn’t announce a new Mini with the 14 series, instead opting for a big-and-bigger approach with the 6.1-inch 14 and 6.7-inch 14 Plus. The 13 Mini is likely your last shot at a small, highly functional iPhone, so get it while you can.
Though it’s much smaller in size than pretty much every other modern smartphone, the Mini’s 5.4-inch screen is still big enough for text messaging, email, web browsing, apps, video, and games, and if you’re coming from an iPhone 6, 7, or 8, it will feel quite spacious. But it’s also small enough that most adults, even those with small hands, will be able to comfortably reach all of the screen with their thumb. You won’t need a PopSocket on this one.
You won’t need a PopSocket on this one
One important downside to a smaller phone: the iPhone 13 Mini has a smaller battery that probably won’t last a power user through a whole day without a charge. It’s really designed for someone who isn’t glued to their phone all day. Otherwise, the Mini is the same phone as the iPhone 13: it has the same design, processor, cameras, 5G support, and build quality as the larger model. It’s just smaller and has a smaller price tag — about $100 less.
If you prefer Android, the Asus Zenfone 9 is a good alternative. It’s a little bigger than the 13 Mini, with a 5.9-inch screen, and it doesn’t work on Verizon, but it’s otherwise a very similar proposition: great build quality, top-notch processor, and high-end features like a 120Hz screen are all tucked into a pocket-friendly device.
The iPhone 13 Mini has all the features and cameras of its bigger siblings, just in a smaller package. It has a 5.4-inch display, 128GB of storage, a smaller battery, and the same A15 Bionic chip as other iPhone 13s.
The Zenfone 9 features a relatively small 5.9-inch display and a unique camera stabilization system that mimics the action-smoothing effect of using a gimbal.
The best Google experience
The Pixel 6 is a lot of phone for $599. Just note that the Pixel 7 is right around the corner, so it might be worth waiting to see what improvements it brings if you can hold off. Still, the Pixel 6 remains a great value-packed flagship. It will likely keep up for many years to come, too, since it will get OS updates through 2024 and security patches through 2026.
The Pixel 6 features a sizable 6.4-inch 1080p OLED display and comes in bold color choices, like two-tone red or green. For a relatively big phone, it’s not too thick yet still feels substantial. That said, its glossy body is super slippery, so you’ll need to budget for a third-party case. (Forget the Google ones — they aren’t worth the money.)
At the heart of the Pixel 6 is Tensor, Google’s first proprietary mobile processor that is on par with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip inside other 2021-vintage Android flagships. Tensor allows the Pixel to lean into machine learning and artificial intelligence to learn some new tricks. You can use the Magic Eraser to remove photobombers from your photos, take photos that better reflect real skin tones, and use Google Assistant to handle automated calls for you. The Pixel 6 has 8GB of RAM, 128GB or 256GB of internal storage, and runs the latest Android 13 software with Google’s new Material You theming.
The Pixel 6 remains a great value-packed flagship
Inside its sizable rear camera bar are dual cameras: 50-megapixel wide and 12-megapixel ultrawide cameras, along with a laser detection autofocus sensor for low light and depth. Unlike the Pixel 6 Pro, the 6 doesn’t have a telephoto camera. Still, its images are very good in both normal and low light and competitive with the best from Apple.
The Pixel 6 has a large 4,614mAh battery (it should last two days for light users), supports Qi wireless charging, and has some protection from rainstorms (IP68). Its main weakness is a slow underscreen fingerprint scanner, and it lacks a face unlock option. While not perfect, the Pixel 6 is an all-around good phone for $599.
The Google Pixel 6 is the new base model of Google’s latest flagship. It features the Google Tensor CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a rear camera with both 50 megapixels for its main wide-angle and 12 megapixels for its ultrawide.
The best phone under $500
The Pixel 6A follows the same budget phone recipe Google has used for years: deliver core Google features in a stripped-down device with just the basics. In previous years, that meant getting the same camera system as the flagships. That recipe changed slightly with the 6A. Now, you get the same Tensor custom chipset as the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro but an older camera system. It’s a recipe that works: the Pixel 6A is a great all-around budget device, and even without the latest hardware, it still offers one of the best cameras in its class.
The 6A includes a 1080p 6.1-inch screen with a standard 60Hz refresh rate, and this is one area where Google made a sacrifice to hit a lower price point. The 6 and 6 Pro feature faster refresh rate screens, and you’ll even find other budget phones with faster refresh rates, like the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G. This is only something you’ll miss if you’re coming from a phone with a high refresh rate screen, so don’t worry about it if your current phone has a regular ol’ 60Hz display. There’s also no wireless charging, and it’s rated IP67, so water resistance isn’t quite as robust as on the Pixel 6.
Sure, the 6A misses out on a few nice things, but it’s got it where it counts
The cameras are a step behind Google’s current flagships, but the stabilized main 12-megapixel camera and 12-megapixel ultrawide are still highly capable — especially compared to the rest of the midrange class. Google’s image processing is smart, and Tensor enables some interesting software features, like Face Unblur, which uses information from both rear cameras to keep human photo subjects looking sharp, even in dim lighting.
Most of all, Tensor puts the Pixel 6A’s day-to-day performance on par with the 6 and 6 Pro. And it should keep up for a long time: the phone will get security updates through July 2027. Sure, the 6A misses out on a few nice things, but it’s got it where it counts.
Google’s Pixel 6A comes with a relatively small 6.1-inch OLED screen but is an excellent performer with a good camera and battery life.
8. Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4
Best flip phone of 2022
When the Galaxy Z Flip 4 is flipped open, you get a big 6.7-inch screen that handles just like the slab-style smartphone you’re used to. But fold it in half, like the flip phones of yore, and you can use its small outer screen to see basic widgets and read notifications. It’s unconventional, but it’s also fun and kinda stylish. It’s a great choice if you’re feeling a little bit adventurous — it’s still the early days for this form factor — and you’d appreciate a way to quickly check info on your phone without having to fully engage with it.
The Flip 4 is the definition of an incremental upgrade, but when you’re talking about a phone that folds in half, that’s still a pretty impressive achievement. It’s the same basic size and shape as the Flip 3, with a slightly slimmer hinge and some squared-off corners. It’s still IPX8 water resistant (no dust resistance, so please don’t take it to the beach) and the cover screen is still a tiny 1.9 inches — big enough to read an email subject line or check the current weather but not big enough to do much more than that.
The Flip 4 is undeniably fun and different
The inner screen is protected by stronger ultrathin glass than the Flip 3. There’s a non-user-replaceable screen protector in place, as there was on the previous model, but the adhesive that attaches it is stronger this time around. That will hopefully avoid the bubbling problem some previous-gen foldable owners saw.
The Flip 4’s cameras are mostly the same as the Flip 3’s, and they’re still a bit behind what you’d expect from your garden-variety flagship phone. There’s a 12-megapixel main camera with slightly bigger pixels than the last one, a 12-megapixel ultrawide, and a 10-megapixel selfie camera. Most other phones priced at $999 will throw in a telephoto lens of some kind, but not the Z Flip 4. Still, it’s a lot of fun taking pictures and recording videos in the phone’s L-shaped Flex mode. (Just try and name another phone that comes with its own built-in kickstand.)
If you’re a Flip 3 owner, there’s nothing about the Flip 4 worth upgrading for. In fact, many of the new software-based features introduced with the 4 are already making their way to the 3. And there are still plenty of ways Samsung could improve on its design: making it slimmer, more durable, and increasing the size of the cover screen, for a start. The Flip 4 offers some valuable refinements over the 3 that make it feel like a more mature product and less of a concept. There are likely significant improvements coming down the line for the Flip series, but right now, it’s undeniably fun and different.
When the device is folded, the Flip 4’s outer screen shows at-a-glance information, like notifications and weather widgets. To interact with the phone, you usually need to open it and use the large inner 6.7-inch screen.
9. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4
Best folding phone of 2022
The Fold 4 is Samsung’s latest folding phone, and it is a pricey multitasking powerhouse — a phone and a tablet wrapped up in one device. Like the Fold 3 before it, it’s sized like a skinny smartphone that fits in your pocket, but it unfolds to reveal a tablet-sized 7.6-inch display on the inside.
That inside screen makes everything from reading books and browsing the web to watching videos and playing games more enjoyable and immersive. When you’re done using it, just fold it back up and stick it in your pocket just like any other phone. You can use the 6.2-inch outer screen for simpler tasks like you would on a slab-style smartphone, but the big screen is there when you need it. The Fold 4 is undeniably a gadget person’s gadget, best suited for someone who wants to get the absolute most out of their mobile device, cost be damned.
The Fold 4’s outer screen looks and handles like any other slab-style smartphone screen; unfold the device and you’re looking at something quite different. For starters, there’s a non-user-replaceable screen protector glued to the inner display to protect against scratches — the ultrathin glass that allows it to fold is easily damaged without it. The whole device is IPX8-rated, meaning it offers robust water resistance but no dust resistance. Folding phones: not recommended for the beach.
It’s a device you could actually use as your daily driver — not just as a cool gadget that stays at home
On the software side, the Fold 4 provides a lot of ways to get the most out of that big screen. There are new multitasking interface options that make it easy to open apps in multiple windows or use it in an L-shape like a laptop. These features are already becoming available to the Fold 3, so nobody should run out and upgrade from last year’s folding phone just for the software improvements.
The Galaxy Fold 4 is just brimming with cameras, including a 3x telephoto zoom lens, upgraded from a 2x zoom on the outgoing model. There are also 12-megapixel standard wide and ultrawide cameras on the rear panel plus a 10-megapixel selfie camera on the outside and a 4-megapixel under-display camera on the inside. Image quality is on par with the S22 and S22 Plus, including a great portrait mode. You’d get a more powerful set of cameras on the significantly less expensive S22 Ultra, but the Ultra doesn’t fold in half.
The Fold 4 has evolved beyond the early hardware hiccups of the first Fold phones in the series, and it’s a device you could actually use as your daily driver — not just as a cool gadget that stays at home. The refinements over the Fold 3 are minor, like slightly wider aspect ratios on the screens and better adhesive on the non-user-replaceable inner screen protector, but they push the Fold a little closer to the mainstream. With apologies to the also-ran Microsoft Surface Duo 2, there’s just nothing else like it on the market — if you’re willing to pay the very high $1,800 premium.
The Fold 4 is a multitasking powerhouse that can be used tablet-style or as your daily driver smartphone. It’s a gadget person’s gadget with a high price tag to match.
Flagship performance for a little less money
The 10T feels like OnePlus coming back to its premium-hardware-at-midrange-price roots. It’s a $649 phone with Qualcomm’s very latest mobile processor, the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, with a side of extremely fast wired charging. That’s its whole deal: top-tier performance and unreal charging speeds, all for less than $700.
The 10T includes a nice screen, too: a big 6.7-inch display with a top 120Hz refresh rate. But you can’t have everything on a sub-$700 phone, and the 10T lacks a few things you’ll find on the slightly pricier flagships. That list includes wireless charging and a robust water resistance rating (it’s IP54 only). Camera quality isn’t quite up there with the best, either. It can be inconsistent, though photos in good lighting generally look fine.
You’ll see the phone charge from zero to 30 percent in under five minutes
Wired charging is exactly as advertised: fast as heck. In the US, it’s capable of 125W charging, and you need to use the included USB-C cable and brick. With them, you’ll see the phone charge from zero to 30 percent in under five minutes. In 10 minutes it will charge up to 60 percent, and a full charge takes about 20 minutes. It’s downright impressive.
The 10T isn’t for everyone, and that actually makes it a better phone. If you want a great all-arounder, then the 10T isn’t it. You can get a device with better water resistance, a better camera system, and maybe even wireless charging for around the same price. But if you want top-tier performance for a midtier price, then the OnePlus 10T is the way to go.
The 10T is priced like a premium midrange phone but performs like a flagship. It lacks wireless charging but makes up for it with incredibly fast wired charging — charger included.
Read the full article here