When shopping for a new phone, you can’t go wrong with any of the major flagship smartphones that have been released in 2021 and 2022 so far. You can even get excellent phones for under $500 or less these days.
In this guide, I’ve selected the absolute best phones I’d recommend to the vast majority of people. If you stopped me on the street and asked what phone you should get after telling me your budget and whether you like iOS or Android, these are the first phones that come to my mind without even thinking about it.
The best phones of 2022
Best phone overall: iPhone 13, $799 available on Apple
Apple’s iPhone 13 offers the best balance of price, design, screen quality, performance, features, battery life, longevity, and camera quality out of any smartphone.
Best Android phone: Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus, $999.99 available on Samsung
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus excels in everything but battery life, and it’s the Android user’s best choice.
Best phone for photography: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, $1,199.99 available on Samsung
Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra’s quad-lens camera system is the most versatile and takes excellent photos.
Best phone for battery life: iPhone 13 Pro Max, $1,099 available on Apple
Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro Max has astounding battery life that beats everything else we’ve ever tested.
Best phone for kids: Google Pixel 5a, $449 available on Google or Apple iPhone SE, $429 availalbe on Apple (pre-orders starting March 11)
Google’s Pixel 5a and Apple’s iPhone SE are affordable phones that pose much better value, thanks to their performance and features, than cheaper phones.
Best phone for less: Google Pixel 5a, $449 available on Google
The Pixel 5a is a gem of a phone for its incredible affordability relative to its performance and features.
Best phone overall
The easiest smartphone to recommend to almost anyone is Apple’s iPhone 13. It has the best overall balance of price, design, screen quality, performance, features, battery life, longevity, and camera quality out of any smartphone.
Pros: Premium design, excellent performance, fantastic camera quality, Apple’s ecosystem
Cons: Charger not included, still uses Lightning instead offor charging, 60Hz iPhone screen is not as smooth and fluid as Android rivals’ 90Hz or 120Hz screens
The truth about phones today is that you’ll likely be happy whether you choose an iPhone or a top-tier Android phone — they’re all powerful and take excellent photos. However, going with Apple has some advantages.
Apple has the best track record for supporting iPhones with iOS and security updates, which means iPhones have a longer lifespan than any other phone I know about. Samsung is creeping closer with its five-year Android updates promise for its recent phones, but it still doesn’t match Apple’s support: the iPhone 6S from 2015 runs on the latest version of iOS.
Additionally, Apple’s ecosystem is still unmatched. Apple devices work together seamlessly with useful features, like taking phone calls on other Apple devices, AirDrop, iMessage, FaceTime, and instant mobile hotspot connectivity. To be sure, Samsung has an ecosystem that’s getting better over time, but it’s just not there yet.
Then, there’s also access to the best smartwatch you can buy: the Apple Watch. And while AirPods aren’t our favorite wireless earbuds for audio quality, there’s something to be said for their simplicity when used with an iPhone.
And finally, iPhone users have the reassurance of Apple’s physical presence with Apple Stores, which are clearly defined places that iPhone owners can go to for support, like repairs or simple questions on how to use their device.
To be fair, official Apple repairs tend to be expensive, not to mention that some low-tech repairs, like screen replacements, seem to be getting harder with every new generation. Still, at least there’s something: the Apple Store is an easy and convenient option, if imperfect, compared to what’s available to Android phone users.
You can read my Apple iPhone 13 review here.
Best Android phone
Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Plus is the best Android phone you can buy so far in 2022. It has the best balance of design, performance, features, and camera versatility and quality. It’s pricey, but Samsung and carriers have excellent trade-in offers.
Pros: Premium design, latest specs and highest performance on Android, triple-lens camera system, gorgeous 120Hz screen, speedy 45W charging speed
Cons: Shorter battery life than expected
There are innumerable high-end Android phones out there, but we’re focused on the US market where Android users only really have Samsung, Google, Motorola, and OnePlus phones to choose from. Out of those four phone makers, Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Plus is the best, safest bet so far in 2022.
It’s the first Android phone I’d recommend to any Android user. It has a classy, understated design that harbors the latest premium processor from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, at least in the US. In certain other markets, the S22 series run on Samsung’s own Exynos processors, which have been poorly received.
That doesn’t set the S22 Plus apart, as most top-tier Android phones will run on the top specs of the year, which means they’ll all have similar, comparable performance. But Samsung phones have proven over the years to be stable, reliable workhorses with excellent cameras and an extremely comprehensive set of features.
What does set the S22 Plus apart from Google or OnePlus phones is Samsung’s recent commitment to deliver five generations of Android and six years of security updates. Effectively, that gives the S22 Plus a six-year lifespan, which is the best support I know of in the Android ecosystem.
The S22 Plus is an overachiever in almost every respect, except for battery life, where it scored a rather middling result in our battery test. It’s satisfactory, but I expect better.
You can read my Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus review here.
Best phone for photography
Almost any premium phone takes excellent photos these days, but Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra is a cut above, thanks to the versatility of its quad-lens camera system.
Pros: Four camera lenses, 108-megapixel sensor makes for ultra-detailed photos, best zooming in any phone,and 8K video recording, “pro” mode and RAW, useful video recording features
The S22 Ultra offers the most comprehensive and versatile camera on any phone I’ve tried, thanks to its four camera lens options.
It has a 108-megapixel (MP) main camera, a 12MP ultra-wide camera, a 10MP 3x zoom lens, and a 10x optical zoom lens that’s capable of up to 100x digital zoom. Most phones with a single zoom lens are limited to 3x or 4x optical zoom with up to around 20x digital zoom.
By having two zoom lenses at different magnifications, the Galaxy S22 Ultra can take clear and detailed zoomed photos at a wider range of distance than any other phone I know about.
But, don’t swoon over the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s 100x ability — zooming at such distances produces bad, blurry photos with little value. Rather, I’ve found that zooming up to 30x digital zoom is the limit before photos start to actively look bad. Still, that’s more zoom than other phones have to offer.
The S22 Ultra has also proven itself in low light, and it takes excellent portrait mode shots, too. And as expected, the S22 Ultra has all the expert camera settings and options you need if you want finer controls.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra can record video at 4K at 30fps, 4K at 60fps, and even 8K at 24fps. There are some genuinely useful video recording features here, like the new Auto Framing mode that tracks up to 10 people in the video frame for better focus. You can also record from a rear lens and selfie camera simultaneously. The S22 Ultra really is the most fully-featured camera phone I’ve ever used.
To top it off, the S22 Ultra comes with the handy S Pen stylus that helps give you finer control over photo editing, plus it’s great for taking notes.
You can read my Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review here.
Best phone for battery life
The iPhone 13 Pro Max has the best battery life out of any phone I’ve ever used or know about. It’s simply amazing.
With the iPhone 13 Pro Max, I can easily get two days’ worth of average usage on a single charge. By “average,” I mean taking a few photos, scrolling through social media, short videos from time to time, with between four hours or so of screen-on time each day.
In our battery test, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is also in a league of its own. It lasted 20 hours and 18 minutes while streaming a continuous YouTube video at full brightness, which trounces everything else. By comparison, Samsung’s S22 Ultra with a large 6.8-inch screen lasted 13 hours and 22 minutes.
The iPhone 13 Pro Max is the best choice, but it’s also expensive at $1,200. You can get great battery life with most other phones, including cheaper ones, like the 2021 Motorola Moto G Power. However, if battery life is paramount, I’d actually avoid the Samsung Galaxy S22 series.
You can read my Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review here.
Best phones for kids
What phone you’d like to give your kids will largely depend on which ecosystem you — the parents or guardians — are entrenched in, whether it’s Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. It’s also wise to get a durable case for the phone, whichever model you go for.
For kids, I always recommend smaller and less expensive phones. That way, they’re easier to handle for younger kids, and the financial blow from kids’ phones getting lost or broken will be lighter. While these are less expensive phones, they’re no duds, either. Getting a phone that’s too underpowered means it won’t last very long in terms of usability, and phones aren’t like kids’ clothes — they last much longer.
The best iPhone for kids: iPhone SE
Pros: Least expensive iPhone, good performance for long-term use, good camera, long-term security updates
Cons: Two-year-old phone with no price change, lackluster battery life, Apple rumored to announce new iPhone SE model soon
It used to be the case that iPhones were too expensive to realistically suggest for kids, but the $400 iPhone SE changed that. While it’s certainly still pricey, it’s the cheapest and smallest iPhone that comes with recent specs to ensure longevity. It’s the best option for parents or guardians who use iPhones, as they will be familiar with the iOS interface and ecosystem, and it’s easier to get accustomed to the parental controls that are built into iOS.
The AppleCare+ for iPhone extended warranty is also a good safety net to get for a kid’s iPhone, seeing as you get two cheaper repairs up to twice a year and theft/loss coverage.
Read our Apple iPhone SE review here.
The best Android phone for kids: Google Pixel 5a (2021)
Pros: 5G connectivity, good battery life, dual-lens camera, good performance for long-term use
Cons: $50 more than the iPhone SE, security updates only till 2024,
For Android families, your best bet is the $450 Google Pixel 5a for familiarity with the Android operating system, built-in parental controls, as well as for its relatively low price.
The decent performance will be suitable for younger and older kids. Better yet, the Pixel 5a also has a great camera that punches above its price tag, to boot.
Google also offers its own extended warranty, called Google Preferred Care, which gives you up to two covered incidents of accidental damage. That’s especially helpful with children.
You can read my Google Pixel 5a review here.
Best phone for less
Google’s Pixel 5a is all the phone anyone ever needs. It’s powerful enough, it has fantastic cameras, a nice screen, fantastic battery life, and it’s priced at an affordable $450. It’s a true “phone for the people.”
Pros: Under $500, speedy for the price, great screen, excellent battery life, premium wide and ultra-wide cameras, headphone jack, 18W fast charger included, IP67 water resistance
Cons: No wireless charging
The Pixel 5a shows very clearly that spending more on premium phones offers rapidly diminishing returns. The performance gains from spending more are somewhat noticeable but hardly worth the extra hundreds. And you’re not getting better cameras for the price. In fact, you’re not getting better cameras by spending twice as much, either.
Phone users who are used to premium phones may have a hard time adjusting to the Pixel 5a. It’s just a smidge less speedy and powerful, and it doesn’t come with certain premium features like wireless charging or an ultra-premium metal and glass build. But unlike the expensive premium phones today, you are getting a fast charger included with the phone.
Otherwise, just about everything else in the Pixel 5a, including the cameras, the screen, the battery life, and peripheral features like water resistance, handily match phones that cost hundreds more.
You can read my Google Pixel 5a 5G review here to check out this marvel of a device in more detail.
What else we considered
I have tested more than a dozen new phones over the past year to come up with my top picks. There are many other great options that I haven’t included in our top four for various reasons. Here’s what else we considered:
OnePlus 9 series: The OnePlus 9 series are fine, powerful, and feature-rich phones, but they didn’t quite make the cut. The cameras aren’t quite up to snuff, which I could excuse if their price tags were lower. In addition, OnePlus recently announced that its latest OnePlus 10 Pro will arrive in the US by the end March. If you’re a OnePlus fan, I would wait for the OnePlus 10 Pro.
Google Pixel 6 series: I also considered Google’s latest Pixel 6 phones, which are viable alternatives to Samsung’s Galaxy S22 series. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro also have excellent cameras and come with better battery life, but they aren’t quite as powerful as the S22 series.
The real kicker is that not even Google, the company behind Android, supports its Pixel phones as long as Samsung does its own phones. Google only promises three generations of Android updates with four years of security updates. While many will upgrade before Google’s upgrade support window is over, it’s still a ding in Google’s armor.
There’s only one foldable phone I can recommend
If you’re desperate to buy a foldable phone, let it be Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3. It’s the first foldable I have been able to recommend because, unlike previous foldables, it’s priced relatively well for its specs.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is part of Samsung’s third generation of foldable phones, and you can truly tell how far the company has come with its foldable screens and hinge technology. Overall, it really is a decent phone, except for the battery life. Read my Galaxy Z Flip 3 review here.