If you are not excited about the new iPhone X, well you are not alone. I think the iPhone X has a lot going for it but if I wasn’t a reviewer I don’t think I would pay a thousand bucks for the privilege of owning one. While the new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are less expensive, they are also less exciting with basically the same industrial design iPhones have had for the past three years. So if you have been toying with the idea of jumping to Android, this is a good year to do it. But the world of Android is so vast, it can be tough to tell what is actually worth your time. These are my top picks for iPhone alternatives.
Let get one thing out of the way up top, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8 are great, but I don’t think they really fit on this list. Every year, everyone seems to recommend these as iPhone replacements, and I get it Samsung is the most popular Android brand and that is true for a reason. But as much I personally like using this generation of Galaxy phones, I tend to think they are only good for people who are so bored of the iPhone that what they want is an anti-iPhone. Where Apple has historically been pretty restrained in the features and functions it includes, Samsung has not. Name a smartphone feature and you will probably find it on the S8 or Note 8, sometimes in duplicate. That leads to more complexity than I think most iPhone users want, and I don’t mean that in a patronizing way. There’s an elegance to the simplicity of iOS or at least the simplicity it once had, that I don’t think people should have to give up when moving to Android. And while you can modify any Android phone to make it as minimalist as you like, the point is that there are other options out there besides the Galaxy phones.
The Essential Phone
A few short months ago, one of the most hyped phones in years was announced. The Essential Phone promised top-notch build quality, a clean build of Android and some seriously great cameras. However, things weren’t all that they were cracked up to be. When it went on sale, there were some serious issues as the camera was a borderline deal breaker. It was lacking both water resistance as well as a headphone jack, and with a $700 price tag, the phone really just didn’t get off the ground. Nothing shows this off better than the sales figures, which were reportedly less than 90,000 over the first year of the Essential Phone’s life. That my friends, that’s not good, however, it’s 2018 and the Essential Phone has actually gotten a lot better. The first and biggest change is the price.
You can pick up the Essential Phone on Amazon right now for only $450. And that includes some other colors that weren’t available at launch, including a pure white. Now, sure, when you look at this as a $700 phone, there are some issues, but at less than $500, nothing even comes close to touching the build quality here.
This is one of the nicest builds on any phone, period. So with that ceramic back, especially when you put it side by side with a glass-backed phone like the iPhone X, it really makes it look dull in comparison. You do lose wireless charging, but in return you’re getting not only that look and feel but you’re also going to be getting the extra durability of having that ceramic. It’s not going to be for everyone, but personally I absolutely love the way this looks and feels. Come around to side of the phone and you’ll see that it is made of titanium.
Now that’s also something that you don’t really exactly see on phones these days, and it gives it a nice feel in the hand. Now what’s interesting is that while a lot of flagships these days are going for a very rounded sort of curved design, this is much more chunky, which I kind of like, you’re making the best use of space inside the phone. That same solid feel comes around to the buttons which have a nice tactile click, as well as the machining on things like the USB-C port as well as the speaker grill. No, it does not have stereo speakers and no it doesn’t have the headphone jack, but there’s a lot to really like about the hardware of this phone, and that’s not even getting into the screen.
Come around front, and you’ll find that 5.7 inch display with some of the thinnest bezels that we’ve seen yet. Now, keep in mind, this phone has been out for a while.
Even phones like the iPhone X, as well as the Galaxy S9 can’t quite match that super thin bezel, but they also can’t match the notch. Yes, my friends, the Essential Phone was actually first when it comes to the notch, and personally I actually like the way they do it here better than on the iPhone X. It’s just barely big enough to fit that front-facing camera and everything else has been crammed into the tiny little bar above it including the status LED as well as your earpiece. To be fair, the IPS panel on the Essential Phone can’t quite match up to the awesome AMOLED displays on both the Galaxy S9 as well as the S8 and the iPhone X. However, I’m really nitpicking at this point.
This is a very good display especially when you consider the price. Sure, there are some minor things that I can nitpick. So the plastic that surrounds the front glass on my unit is slightly imperfect. There are a couple little places where it’s not totally smoothed, and on the actual pixels themselves they come around not only the notch but as well as the rounded edges on the top of the display. You can actually see that there are individual pixels that you can barely make out. But this is really nitpicking, when you consider that this is a $450 phone, there’s nothing to complain about.
MEMORY AND SPEED
Unless of course, you want a headphone jack in which case, sorry. Inside, you’re getting pretty standard flagship specs; the Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, as well as 128GB of storage which is definitely helpful considering that there’s no microSD card slot. I should expect everything is super snappy. Now, a lot of this is thanks to Essential constantly updating their phone as they have consistently added updates to be able to smooth out things like the touch response in this as well as the scrolling speed. But as you would expect, it’s just as fast as pretty much any Android flagship at this point. Now as far as the software side of things go, it’s good but not perfect.
The biggest issue is that it is still running Android 7.1 Nougat. Now, yes, Essential has said that they’re working on an Oreo update, and hopefully that comes out soon, but as of right now, it’s a very clean build, the slightly older version of Android. The good thing though is that when I say a clean build of Android, I mean it as there’s exactly zero bloatware of any kind. Now there are some minor tweaks that Essential has done mostly to actually support the notch which is actually one of the more impressive parts.
Supported apps like Google Maps will flow around the front-facing camera essentially giving you that full screen experience, and even other apps that aren’t fully supported by the notch are still going to give you access to your notifications as well as the system info without really getting in the way. It’s kind of like using a normal phone like that. It’s not an OLED display, so while the blacks are good, it doesn’t quite fully blend in, although she does a pretty good job, but it’s not that far off from something like the iPhone X as far as using an app that is not supported. Now one thing that’s actually been very impressive that Essential has done is update the camera, this thing is so much better than it used to be.
With a pair of 12 megapixel cameras around back, the hardware seems to be there, but when it launched, the Essential camera was straight garbage town. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not exactly going to rival the Pixel, but it has gotten so much better than before. Now, pretty much all that is thanks to Essential constantly releasing updates to improve the camera. Provided that you had some decent light, the photos really aren’t too bad. Now the autofocus is still a little bit on the slow side, and one of the things I did notice is that while the image might not look that great on the preview, once you actually take a shot in this process it typically does look a lot better which is nice except that it’d be better to know exactly what your shots going to look like before you hit the shutter button. The portrait mode is also pretty decent, now I will say that the blur can be a little strong sometimes and like all the systems, it’s not going to be perfect at cutting you out from the background, but it’s not that far behind something like the Galaxy S9 or the iPhone X, and again, it is going to be much, much less expensive. And that’s really where I come down on the Essential Phone.
When it first launched at $700, there were some legitimately really big problems. The lack of waterproofing, the battery life, which is only okay, and the camera were big problems. But now that a lot of these things have been addressed, and it’s got a huge price cut, I think a lot of people would be really happy with the Essential Phone. So, if you want to join 90,000 other people who have a phone that no one else has ever heard of, the Essential Phone really is worth a look.
One Plus 6
Honestly, the most important feature of the OnePlus 6 is the price, it starts at $529 in this world of $700 to $900 flagship. So they’re kind of working in the reverse direction instead of pushing value as high as you possibly can, they’re kind of thinking how much can we cut off of the price without sacrificing a significant amount of value, how cheap can we make this phone and still make it great and every year OnePlus does this they have to make this balance of things they want to cut out versus things they want to keep and I think this year they’ve made a bunch of good choices and come out with a balanced budget performance beast.
So this year is a 2018 version of that, I’ll give you the updates of what I found from my experience which is most of it being positive and then I’ll fill you went on the shortcut so the shavings they had to take because you don’t get to this price without some of these.
On the outside the build is legit awesome, the actual look of the phone might not speak to everyone but I’m a fan of the midnight black or the matte black version. It has these awesome buttons, I love these clicky buttons it has the alert slider that’s firm and also clicky and I was actually confusing it with the power button pretty early when I first got this phone just because of the placement it’s kind of high but after using it for a while I stopped doing that.
MEMORY AND BUILD
The whole phone has this nice wedge shape, phones don’t necessarily have to be thin for me to like them but this phone feels super solid with a lot of metal in there. It has a headphone jack, a dual SIM card tray and it even has this subtle S shape and when you see it in the frosted glass back it’s clean. So overall, it honestly looks and feels quality. It has the slight bump in the back to the camera that’s not really a big deal but for the emissions there are some conscious choices that they made to leave out of this phone that they’re hoping that you won’t mind so much.
There are no expandable storage just dual SIM cards, so no micro SD card expansion. The speaker situation is pretty weak, it just has this single downward facing speaker which is the worst part of the phone’s hardware, it’s pretty average at best kind of tiny at high volumes and there’s no second speaker in a earpiece to make a stereo sound so it’s super easy to block this one by accident.
The fingerprint reader on the back is not that bad but it’s a little bit smaller it used to be a full circle now the smaller surface area is a bit of a bummer. There’s no wireless charging so most phones nowadays with glass backs are doing it to enable wireless charging since it doesn’t work through metal, OnePlus has gone with the glass back but didn’t add wireless charging and then it’s also not officially IP rated for water resistance.
BATTERY, DISPLAY, PERFORMANCE
OnePlus kind of just says like it’s okay if you splash water on it, it’ll survive daily use but they don’t officially say it is ip67 or ip68 rated, so keep that in mind. I have to say the battery situation of the OnePlus 6 is really interesting, this is gonna sound like I’m just defending OnePlus for not putting in wireless charging. The truth is they definitely could have put it in with this glass back and it would have been great but I don’t really miss it on this phone because the combination of this battery it’s a 3300 milliamp hour battery decent size plus the near stock Android with oxygen OS + at 1080 P AMOLED display plus a Snapdragon a 45 with eight gigs of RAM,
I’m getting like 6 plus hours every single day of screen on time I’m getting 8 plus battery life if I don’t use it that much, it’s like ending the day forty percent it’s really good. And then on top of all that you throw in there – charging which is still on this phone it’s still the fastest 0 to 100 charging I’ve ever seen in a phone it’s super convenient and when you have all that it just kind of feels like I don’t need wireless charging. Now let’s talk about that 1080p display; OnePlus has stuck to their guns and they’re going with yet again a 1080p optic AMOLED display, 6.3 inches from corner to corner. So it’s huge and this time with a notch up at the top it’s part strategy part sacrifice. The resolution 20 to 80 by 1080 is actually hugely beneficial for battery life as I mentioned it’s also pretty great for performance you’re not pushing nearly as many pixels which means your GPU is not working as hard everything is super smooth but also now it’s not going to be as sharp as the Galaxy S9’s and the Pixels of the world which have quad HD displays, so instead of settling for an average quad HD screen to save money this phone has what I’d say is the best-looking 1080p OLED in any phone right now. It gets really bright, it’s colorful and there are a couple different display modes for different color profiles with different amounts of saturation.
The best part of this display is actually the clever way OnePlus has handled the notch up at the top. It also has a pretty good amount of extra features while still staying pretty close to stock Android, there’s still the super fast facial recognition, there is the gaming mode that doesn’t let notifications interrupt your gameplay, there’s an ambient display mode that’s new that works when you raise your phone up but it’s not always on so I actually don’t even really bother using it, basically it’s not lacking features.
Now for software updates, when you think about the longevity of the phone this is actually one of the first of like maybe six phones to get included in the Android P beta program alongside the Pixel so now it’s not just the pixel this is one of those phones you can put the Android P beta on and that’s a pretty good sign as far as the future of when it’ll get updates being close to stock Android. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee it’s going to get the same update timing as the Pixel, you still probably have to get a pixel to be first in line for that but it probably does mean it’ll be better than your Samsung’s and LG’s many months down the road so that’s pretty good. I really like oxygen OS still as it’s clean and nothing is too in-your-face, it has a few quirks and a few extra things like the shelf that put a lot of useful information at your fingertips but doesn’t overwhelm you and you can always hide most of it. This is both literally and figuratively the most polished phone OnePlus has ever made, I think the choices they made really of what to keep versus what to cut out balanced out to a quality phone.
Sony Xperia XZ2
Sony has gone with a new modern look for its flagship phone, the Xperia XZ – but that’s not the only thing that has changed. Sony is kicking off 2018 with a brand new design for their flagship phones, say goodbye to the boxy squared off look of the past the Xperia XZ2 still has square corners for the mirrored surface now tapers down to a rounded edge. It’s not seamless, there’s a ridge or the glass and the aluminum frame meets the arched glass back, the curves reflect light and really catch the eye. The downside of all these curves is that the XZ2 is really slippery, it is pretty hard to use if it is lying on a flat surface.
The build is solid though it’s not a fragile phone and is fully dust and water resistant with both IP 65 90-68 certification. The screen of the XZ2 was a 5.7 inch IPS LCD with full HD resolution. The top and bottom bezels are smaller than last year resulting in a taller 18 by 9 aspect ratio, a first for Sony. The screen is pretty bright and legibility outdoors is decent but not outstanding, the same can be said for the deepness of the blacks but it’s not bad for an LCD. Colors are a little on the blueish side but it can make them super vivid in settings. The XZ2 has support for HDR video playback, with HDR content you’ll see more highlights and shadows in normal SDR video. One big change from last year is the lack of a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, you’ll have to use a pair of wireless headphones or a dongle so when they did say that a dongle with a splitter will come bundled with the phone which will allow you to charge while the headphones are plugged in. If you switch the speaker’s, the XZ2 has a stereo setup, this sound is rich his speakers are nice and loud and best of all balanced.
A new feature unique to the XZ2 is dynamic vibration, it analyzes the sound output and vibrates along with it at different intensity settings, it makes your content a lot more immersive. To unlock the phone the fingerprint reader is rear-mounted unlike Sony’s older side-mounted models as always ready for your touch and it is pretty fast. The placement is a bit strange as it is right below the camera and both are lower than you’d expect, so be careful or you’ll accidentally smudge your lens. The new camera placement does have an advantage however now you can grip your phone without worrying about your fingers getting in the shots. Storage is expandable on the XZ2 on top of the 64 gigs already onboard and opening the slot will turn off the phone.
OPERATING SYSTEM , PERFORMANCE
For the user interface, we get Android eight Oreo out of the box, the UI is pretty similar to what we’re used to from Sony. Swiping down from the home screen shows you your most used apps along with recommendations for new ones. There’s not a lot of bloatware but we do get some nice multimedia apps from Sony, the theme store offers a lot of options to customize the look of your home screen there is a new interactive phone assistant which can help you learn all of the phone’s features as well as the tools panel that organizes your phone management options into one convenient place. The XZ2 is one of the first devices to have a next-gen Snapdragon 845 chipset working with four gigs of RAM so benchmark performance is excellent around 30% better than last year’s Snapdragon phones.
Though the iPhone 10 still holds its own in regular use there aren’t any slowdowns on the XZ2, everything feels nice and snappy compared to last year. The XZ2 has an even larger battery pack with a great 88-hour endurance rating. The XZ2 supports Qi wireless charging – another first for Sony. The 19 megapixel F 2.0 single shooter is the same motion high camera we’ve seen in last year’s XZ 1 as well as other recent Sony phones but the new chipset enables more advanced image processing and the RAM buffer allows for five times faster readout of the sensor reducing rolling shutter in good light. Shots are sharp from edge to edge and have plenty of detail accurate colors in a wide dynamic range, the noise suppression has been dialed down from last year resulting in slightly more noise. The new processing is also quite evident in low-light shots resulting in fewer artifacts. Quality has improved a bit over last year’s XZ phones, but there’s still no OIS.
Google Pixel 2
The Google Pixel 2 is their second shot at making the iPhone of Android smartphones, that means their aim here is to make the absolute benchmark for what every phone should aim to be and they have honestly done a really good job so far. Last year the Google pixel offered speed, great cameras, and a prime software experience but they fell short with a lot of their design choices. That said they’ve kept all of those selling points this time around whilst also improving on the downsides and it’s definitely become one of my favorites.
So for the cameras it already gets very interesting, the Google Pixel 2 only has one rear facing the camera while most other flagships this year have two. For a portrait mode that blurs the background that would lead you to think that it’s not a feature here because it’s simply not feasible with one lens on a smartphone right now but that is actually not the case, Google’s advanced software tech has allowed them to include a portrait mode anyway and it produces stunning results.
After having used all of the other portrait modes this year the Pixel 2 easily has the most accurate and consistent blur to really make shots look flawless in my opinion. Sharpness and exposure are absolutely great especially because of the high dynamic range on this phone.
Of course, the portrait mode camera here, in my opinion, is the best in class and as for the front-facing camera it has completely won me over; this is one of the only two phones available right now that have a front-facing portrait mode, the other one, of course, being the iPhone X and on the Pixel 2 it works flawlessly, once again it blurs the background in nearly the same way it does when you are using the rear-facing camera.
It works in pretty much all lighting conditions and yes that does include dark lighting so it is extremely impressive and the results are always just very good. Performance is another strong point on the Pixel 2 as you would expect because it is made by Google to other people that run Android since it’s running on the best hardware available for Android right now and it also has a very light near stock operating system it is one of the fastest phones available right now, doing everything on this phone flows really well including heavy multitasking and that’s made even better by the completely untapped operating system battery life on the Pixel 2.
It will get you through a whole day of usage but it’s just not as good as I would expect it to be but on the XL version it is definitely better and I’ll come on to that in just a second. As for the design, it is a bit of a letdown for me as the front of the regular.
Pixel 2 still has the same huge bezels from last year but they have at least moved the speakers to be dual front firing speakers. It is a great improvement over last time, so audio quality is pretty good but from a phone that does everything else so well this screen design choice was a huge letdown for me but I do think that it’s a bit of a weird decision to not cut them down on the regular Pixel 2 as well an XL version is only supposed to be larger and not something with a completely new feature that isn’t on a previous model and yes that does also apply to the iPhone 8 and 8 plus as well.
Now I, of course, can’t finish this review without touching on the headphone jack because last year they literally mocked the iPhone for ditching the headphone jack but this year they sheepishly followed them as well, now this is of course not a problem for me because I use wireless earphones anyway and I think they are superior to wired headphones but it is still definitely something that irritated me because first, they’re mocking iPhones and then they go ahead and follow them doing the exact same thing and just stay quiet about it this time around.
That said, they have made one huge improvement to their design which I personally absolutely love and that comes in the form of ip67 rated dust and water resistance, that means it’s not quite as reliable as the Galaxy S8 and other smartphones but it still does a great job in terms of waterproofing and for most uses I don’t think any of you guys are going to have any issues, of course don’t go swimming with it don’t do anything stupid but if you drop it in a bubble or anything like that you’re going to be just fine.
Remember folks, this list is just my own personal take, so if you are not already typing away, head on down to the comments and drop your own recommendations.