iPhone, Samsung and Huawei smartphones reviewed

We’ve assessed ease of use, advanced quality of elements like cameras and speaker, and, of course, battery life (The Independent)
We’ve assessed ease of use, advanced quality of elements like cameras and speaker, and, of course, battery life (The Independent)

These days, of course, phones do a lot more than make calls and send texts. This means that when it comes to choosing a smartphone, you want something that is fast enough to load web pages instantly, and big enough to make video playback viable, with enough pixels on the screen to be immersive.

It also needs to have a camera or multiple cameras, so you can safely leave your standalone camera at home.

Plus, it should handle your payments (especially in these contactless-oriented times) and play your music and games. All with a battery that lasts at least a full day so that you’re not filled with battery anxiety.

Most high-end phones are now all screen affairs, meaning there are no areas of non-screen space at the top and bottom of the display. The move to maximising screen to body ratio has meant that the selfie camera sometimes now sits in a peephole or notch at one end of the screen.

Similarly, the fingerprint sensor you will want to unlock the phone and authenticate payments is now found buried under the display itself, on the side edge or, on more affordable phones, on the back. Of the phones here, only the iPhones have facial recognition that’s good enough for payment authentication.

Something else that’s mostly relegated to budget phones is the 3.5mm headphone jack. Of the phones here, it’s the Sony’s Xperia 1 II that stands out for including the traditional socket.

There are two operating systems in mobile phones, Apple’s iOS, on Apple’s devices only, and Google’s Android, which is on everything else.

In the last few months, a new element has appeared. Thanks to the American government’s restrictions on Huawei dealing with US companies such as Google, the Chinese phone brand has been forced to switch to the open-source core Android operating system on its devices, instead of the version with full Google mobile services which other manufacturers use.

Google mobile service is what allows apps like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube and Google Play Store to work. Even so, Huawei’s stunning phone hardware and growing app store, called AppGallery, makes the brand definitely worth considering.

We’ve tested for ease of use, advanced quality of elements like cameras and speaker, and, of course, battery life. Additionally, many phones now have fast charge options so that even if the phone runs out at a bad time, it may only take minutes to charge it to half full again. Some phones have wireless charging coils inside so if you have a wireless charging pad you can just conveniently place it on that to recharge, though this is routinely slower than charging by cable.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

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Apple iPhone 11 pro max

Screen size and resolution: 6.5in, 1242 x 2688 pixels, 458 pixels per inch
Screen technology: OLED
Storage capacity: 64/256/512GB
Expandable storage? No
Camera (rear): 12MP wide, 12MP telephoto, 12MP ultra-wide
Camera (front): 12MP
Dimensions: 158 x 77.8 x 8.1mm
Weight: 226g
Headphone jack? No
Wireless-chargeable? Yes
5G? No

Apple’s Pro smartphones are pricey but amazing and come in two versions, iPhone 11 pro and this one, the pro max. It looks stunning, with matte finish glass on the back, apart from the gloss surround on the camera panel. This is an all-screen phone, except for the notch at the top where the camera and other sensors sit. The sensors make the facial recognition possible – just by looking at it you can unlock the phone, or authenticate payments and use as a digital wallet.

It has a blazingly fast processor inside, so everything from opening apps to playing intense video games happens at speed. The processor also powers the very advanced cameras which work together for special effects and separately to give three distinct views – wide, telephoto and ultra-wide. Where some earlier iPhones had average battery life, here, it’s epic – it lasts a full day and more with ease. It’s exceptionally intuitive to use, and highly enjoyable.

Buy now £1149.00, Apple

Sony Xperia 1 II

Screen size and resolution: 6.5in, 1644 x 3840 pixels, 643 pixels per inch
Screen technology: OLED
Storage capacity: 256GB
Expandable storage? Yes
Camera (rear): 12MP wide, 12MP telephoto, 12MP ultra-wide
Camera (front): 8MP
Dimensions: 165.1 x 71.1 x 7.6mm
Weight: 181.4g
Headphone jack? Yes
Wireless-chargeable? Yes
5G? Yes

The Xperia 1 II is distinctive looking thanks to a much longer, slightly narrower display. It means that though it’s a 6.5in display phone, smaller hands can grip it with ease. Reaching to the very top is a little more of a challenge, but there’s a special one-handed use mode which shrinks the screen to make it easier. There’s also a useful split screen effect where you can have two live apps occupying half the screen at once. The display is 4K resolution, the same as high end, full size TVs, and looks glorious. The Xperia is pretty much alone among the premium handsets in the fact it features a 3.5mm headphone jack. The fingerprint sensor is mounted on the side of the phone which is fast and reliable. Sony had input from its camera division and there’s a hardware camera shutter button on the edge, too. It has advanced photography and video apps to make the most of these. The cameras are great with superbly fast autofocus, extensive burst mode and so on. It especially rewards those photographers prepared to take time to choose the right settings. With a strong battery life, this is a great device.

Buy now £1099.99, Carphone Warehouse

Huawei P40 Pro+

Screen size and resolution: 6.58in, 1200 x 2640 pixels, 441 pixels per inch
Screen technology: OLED
Storage capacity: 512GB
Expandable storage? Yes
Camera (rear): 50MP wide, 8MP telephoto, 8MP periscope telephoto, 40MP ultra-wide
Camera (front): 32MP
Dimensions: 158.2 x 72.6 x 9mm
Weight: 226g
Headphone jack? No
Wireless-chargeable? Yes
5G? Yes

When it comes to photography, this phone has the best camera hardware by a country mile – one of the lenses is a periscope camera. No, sadly that doesn’t mean it pops up out of the phone’s body. Rather, mirrors reflect the light along the inside of the phone to offer the equivalent of a 10x the optical zoom compared to the main sensor – something that’s not possible without this periscope system. There’s also sophisticated artificial intelligence, which can spot whether you’re taking a picture of a cat or a dog and adjust accordingly. This truly is a remarkable photo powerhouse.

The P40 Pro+ also has a dazzling design with a screen that slopes down the edges and a handsome ceramic finish. But it has one problem: it uses basic Android instead of the version with Google mobile services, which is used by other manufacturers. This means there’s no Gmail, Google Maps or Google Play Store. Huawei’s equivalent, the AppGallery, is growing fast and has 81,000 apps. These include Here WeGo Maps, which is in some ways better than Google’s version, for instance, but some key apps are not there.

Buy now £1299.99, Huawei

Oppo Find X2 Pro 5G

Screen size and resolution: 6.7in, 1440 x 3168 pixels, 513 pixels per inch
Screen technology: OLED
Storage capacity: 256/512GB
Expandable storage? No
Camera (rear): 48MP wide, 13MP periscope telephoto, 48MP ultra-wide
Camera (front): 32MP
Dimensions: 16.2 x 74.4 x 8.8mm
Weight: 217g
Headphone jack? No
Wireless-chargeable? No
5G? Yes

Oppo’s phones are innovative and attractive. This one looks and feels high-end and is a pleasure to use. It comes in two versions, one with a ceramic back, the other with a faux leather finish. Like the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, it has a display which can change its refresh rate to make sure it looks great at all times. Similarily to the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, this display can adjust the colour and brightness of the display to suit the ambient light around it. In short, it always looks great. The camera peeps through the display at the top-left while the fingerprint sensor, like some others here, is buried under the display. Classy and elegant, but pricier than previous Oppo phones.

Buy now £1099.99, Amazon

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

Screen size and resolution: 6.9in, 1440 x 3088 pixels, 496 pixels per inch
Screen technology: OLED
Storage capacity: 128/256/512GB
Expandable storage? Yes
Camera (rear): 108MP wide, 12MP periscope telephoto, 12MP ultra-wide
Camera (front): 10MP
Dimensions: 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1mm
Weight: 208g
Headphone jack? No
Wireless-chargeable? Yes
5G? Yes

The “note” series from Samsung is known for big screens and a special extra: a stylus that tucks away into the phone’s body. This means you can take notes on the display or draw on it. There’s even a subtle sound effect which makes it sound like a pen scraping across paper when you do. This is a super-fast phone with lots going for it. The display has a variable refresh rate, which means it can make everything look butter smooth, whether that’s watching video or scrolling through lists. It can also save battery life by reducing the refresh rate when it doesn’t need to be fast. The only downside to the phone’s elegant and business-like design is that the camera unit on the back of the phone is enormous and really sticks out. It has three cameras on the back which includes one with a 108MP sensor, which is able to pick up more light, more quickly. The results are impressive, even though you probably won’t use the maximum zoom level, which is 50x.

Buy now £1179.00, Currys

Apple iPhone 11

Screen size and resolution: 6.1in, 828 x 1792 pixels, 326 pixels per inch
Screen technology: LCD
Storage capacity: 64/128/256GB
Expandable storage? No
Camera (rear): 12MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide
Camera (front): 12MP
Dimensions: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm
Weight: 194g
Headphone jack? No
Wireless-chargeable? Yes
5G? No, but 5G version available

The iPhone 11 is almost as good as the Pro models. It has spectacular battery life and two of the Pro’s three cameras (it lacks the telephoto). It’s also every bit as powerful as it has the same processor at its heart, so it can do all the standout things from the Pro, such as the fast, effective face recognition. The screen technology is LCD, which isn’t quite as glitzy as OLED, and the lower screen resolution is not as pin-sharp as others here. The design is similar, although the rear glass is shiny instead of matte. It comes in six colours: white, black, green, yellow, red and a lovely purple. This is an amazingly capable phone and has proved deservedly popular for Apple.

Buy now £729.00, Apple

Huawei P30 Pro new edition

Screen size and resolution: 6.47in, 1080 x 2340 pixels, 398 pixels per inch
Screen technology: OLED
Storage capacity: 256GB
Expandable storage? Yes
Camera (rear): 40MP wide, 8MP telephoto, 20MP ultra-wide
Camera (front): 32MP
Dimensions: 158 x 73.4 x 8.4mm
Weight: 192g
Headphone jack? No
5G? No

The P30 Pro was originally released last year but has since been updated with new colours and improved hardware. Because it was first released before the US Government announced that American companies can’t do business with Huawei, it’s able to include full Google Mobile Services, instead of the basic Android on the P40 Pro+ above. More recent developments hang a question mark of how long those services can stay on the phone, but Huawei has said it will continue to ensure the phone will receive security updates. Similarly to the other Huawei device, it has an outstanding series of cameras and is capable of taking remarkable images. It also has exceptional battery life, a fingerprint sensor buried in the display, and was one of the first to include reverse wireless charging. This means that you can place any other wireless chargeable phone or earbuds, say, against the P30 Pro and charge the other phone from yours.

Buy now £699.99, Huawei

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Screen size and resolution: 6.7in, 1080 x 2636 pixels, 425 pixels per inch
Screen technology: OLED
Storage capacity: 256GB
Expandable storage? No
Camera (rear): 12MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide
Camera (front): 10MP
Dimensions: 167.3 x 73.6 x 7.2mm
Weight: 183g
Headphone jack? No
Wireless-chargeable? Yes
5G? No

Folding phones are the newest kind of smartphone, using flexible displays that fold in half. Most are phone sized and fold out to become tablets but this one is phone-sized until it folds in half to become especially pocketable. The screen looks great – though there is a small, visible join between the two halves. Also, to keep the display safe, there’s a plastic cover on the screen. It’s taut enough that you can’t feel it except in the seam. For many, this will be the perfect phone. The only downside is it feels like you need to treat it with kid gloves. Still, it comes with its own, rather cool, two-part case.

Buy now £1399.00, Samsung

OnePlus 8 Pro

Screen size and resolution: 6.78in, 1440 x 3168 pixels, 513 pixels per inch
Screen technology: OLED
Storage capacity: 128/256GB
Expandable storage? No
Camera (rear): 48MP wide, 8MP telephoto, 48MP ultra-wide, 5MP colour filter
Camera (front): 16MP
Dimensions: 165.3 x 74.4 x 8.5mm
Weight: 199g
Headphone jack? No
Wireless-chargeable? Yes
5G? Yes

The OnePlus 8 Pro has a sumptuous, deeply attractive design (especially in the glacial green finish, though there’s a price premium to get this as it comes with higher specifications). It’s handsomely built and feels great in the hand. The camera bump on the back is quite big – though nothing compared to the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The display stands out like the Samsung, although it also has a fast refresh rate. There’s a gentle slope down the phone’s long edges, which looks great. The four cameras include two with 48MP sensors, an 8MP telephoto and, curiously, a camera that works as a colour filter. Results are very good, if not a match for the Huawei P40 Pro+.

Buy now £799.00, John Lewis & Partners

Motorola G 5G Plus

Screen size and resolution: 6.7in, 1080 x 2520 pixels, 409 pixels per inch
Screen technology: LCD
Storage capacity: 64/128GB
Expandable storage? Yes
Camera (rear): 48MP wide, 5MP macro, 8MP ultra-wide
Camera (front): 16MP, 8MP ultra-wide
Dimensions: 168 x 74 x 9mm
Weight: 207g
Headphone jack? Yes
Wireless-chargeable? No
5G? Yes

This is one of the best value 5G smartphones (although its name is a bit of a mouthful) and has a slick, slim design and great build quality. The display is bright and attractive, with two tiny hole punch gaps where the dual selfie cameras peep through. The two cameras mean you can achieve clever portrait effects on selfies as well – these are good, but not a match for the best here. The battery goes on and on, which is always reassuring. The fingerprint sensor sits on the edge of the phone and isn’t quite as reliable as on some phones. But it’s one of few disappointments in a great-value device which also has a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Buy now £279.99, John Lewis & Partners

The verdict: Smartphones

The Apple iPhone 11 pro max is the fastest phone on the market, so it never keeps you waiting and is a joy to use. The standout for photography is the Huawei P40 Pro+, though the absence of Google apps will deter some. And for the best display, easiest fit in the hand and all-round usefulness, the Sony xperia 1 II is tremendous.

If you’re worried your phone will run out of charge, take a look at our review of the best portable chargers that will top your mobile up while you’re on the go