We’re getting close to the finishing line on the 2018 holiday shopping season. It’s down to just a matter of days to cross everyone off your gift list. Last-minute gifts can be tough to pull off, especially high-tech gifts that are often in hot demand.
However, there’s one high-tech gift option that’s always popular, always making headlines and yet always easy to get ahold of this time of year: a smartphone. Even better, a few months after the last of the big launches, discounts are now easy to find.
Before you walk into your local wireless store — or Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Store — it pays to know what you’re looking for. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of 10 of the best smartphones of 2018.
Apple iPhone XR
Let’s start with the usual disclaimer that if someone is big on Android, and they’re invested in the platform — including a library of apps they’ve paid for — then they probably don’t want an iPhone.
That being said, if there’s an Apple fan on your list who hasn’t upgraded in a few years, the iPhone XR is a great all-round smartphone, and the most affordable of Apple’s 2018 releases. If you happen to have an older, unused iPhone kicking around, Apple will knock even more off the price — the company is advertising prices as low as $449 with a trade-in.
The iPhone XR lacks an OLED display and has a single primary camera, but its 6.1-inch edge-to-edge Liquid Retina LCD display is still big and sharp. It has key features of the more expensive iPhone XS series, including the A12 Bionic processor and Face ID, but the iPhone XR is offered in a range of bright colors. And Apple says it offers the longest battery life ever in an iPhone.
Google Pixel 3
Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) division Google’s new Pixel 3 smartphone offers the latest Android experience — Android 9 (Pie) is pre-installed — combined with the best of Google’s hardware design.
The Pixel 3 leverages Google’s AI and machine learning to the limit with what many reviewers feel is the best camera in a smartphone, including the amazing AI-driven Night Mode. It also has dual front cameras for wide-angle group selfies. In addition, if you’re shopping for someone who hates the whole concept of the smartphone notch, the Pixel 3 is one of the few 2018 flagship smartphones you can find that skips the notch.
The Pixel 3 is being discounted for the holidays (currently starting at $699 from Google) and includes six months of free YouTube Music Premium.
Samsung Galaxy S9+
One of the first flagship smartphones to be released in 2018, remains a popular choice: The Samsung Galaxy S9+.
Like the previous year’s Galaxy smartphones, this one features an edge-to-edge Super AMOLED Infinity Display (6.2-inches in this case). Besides a bigger display, the big feature that set the Galaxy S9+ above the smaller Galaxy S9 is its camera system. The Galaxy S9+ has two rear cameras (wide angle and zoom) compared to a single camera for the smaller version. The wide angle version has dual aperture support, which switches automatically for improved low light photos.
As an early 2018 smartphone that’s scheduled to be replaced in just a few months, you should be able to find plenty of deals. Samsung has also dropped the starting price to $739.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9
For those who love big Android smartphones, they don’t get much better than the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 — the latest in the company’s line of phablets.
The Galaxy Note 9 is a mobile powerhouse, with 128GB of local storage (expandable with microSD cards up to 512GB), integrated S Pen stylus, all-day battery life and up to 8GB of RAM tied to a powerful processor with advanced cooling technology for faster sustained performance. Over top of all this is Samsung’s biggest edge-to-edge mobile display ever (6.4-inch QuadHD+ Super AMOLED Infinity Edge) combined with Dolby Atmos audio, making the Galaxy Note 9 ideal for multimedia applications. The retail price has dropped to $899, but you can currently find the Note 9 on sale as low as $699 through wireless carriers.
Apple iPhone XS
The iPhone XS is Apple’s latest flagship smartphone. While not as large as the iPhone XR, its 5.8-inch Super Retina display is an advanced OLED panel with HDR support, offering higher resolution and superior color reproduction.
The iPhone XS also gets dual rear cameras for more advanced photo capabilities, its water resistance is a level better than the iPhone XR’s and instead of aluminum, the all-glass body is framed with stainless steel for a more premium look and feel. The MSRP is $999, but Apple is currently promoting a trade-in offer that could drop that to as low as $699.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is probably the toughest of all the phones on this list to track down. It was already difficult to find Huawei smartphones in the U.S. before the trade war with China started escalating.
You won’t find it at wireless carriers, but you can track down the Huawei Mate 20 Pro online — it goes for around $900 unlocked on eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), for example. And it might just be worth the effort. Because for someone who’s into photography, this smartphone is now running away with awards for its camera system. With high quality Leica optics and a triple-camera rear shooter system, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the closest thing currently available to a DSLR and phone in a single device.
This Chinese alternative to the big tech companies has been generating a lot of buzz as 2018 closes out. The OnePlus 6T features a 6.4-inch, edge-to-edge AMOLED display. The notch is there, but it is much smaller than most. And OnePlus is using an in-display fingerprint sensor, advanced tech that Apple, Google and others don’t yet offer.
A BlackBerry (NYSE:BB) on a best-of smartphone list in 2018? This isn’t a time warp and technically, the $649 KEY2 isn’t really a BlackBerry. It’s a licensed product made by China’s TCL.
However, if you’re shopping for someone who’s hanging onto an old BlackBerry device, desperately trying to avoid being forced to type with a virtual keyboard, the BlackBerry KEY2 is the best option for a modern upgrade. Unlike BlackBerries of old, it runs Android with access to all those Android Apps. In addition, it rocks a 4.5-inch high resolution touchscreen display, two-day battery life and it has a dual-camera system with optical zoom. But most importantly of all, the KEY2 has a physical keyboard.
Google Pixel 3 XL
The Pixel 3 XL is the Google smartphone for anyone who wants the ultimate and always up-to-date Android experience, in a big phone with all the latest tech … including a near bezel-free display and accompanying camera notch.
The Pixel 3XL’s display is a 6.3-inch OLED panel. It bucks the trend of big phones having dual cameras on the back, but with the help of AI, the Pixel 3XL is rated as one of the best smartphones of the 2018 crop when it comes to snapping photos.
Apple iPhone XS Max
Finally, we have the largest (at least based on diagonal display measurement) smartphone Apple has ever made. The iPhone XS Max has a whopping 6.5-inch Super Retina HD OLED display and is easily the best iPhone I have ever reviewed. That display is incredible, the smartphone has lightning-fast performance, and it has a great dual-camera system. Maybe not the absolute best camera out there, but really good, especially in decent lighting.
Starting at $1,099, it’s also the most expensive smartphone Apple has ever made. But, with holiday discounts, the iPhone XS Max is more affordable than at launch just three months ago, and could make the ultimate high-tech gift for an Apple fan.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.