Modern flagship smartphones are little engineering marvels. And they should be since they start around $800 and can cost well over $1,000. They tend to last upwards of four or five years, so the high cost is a little easier to swallow, but it’s still a major purchase for most of us.
To make sure you get the most for your investment, we’ve picked out the best of the best. The phones highlighted below deliver excellent daily performance and great cameras and will keep on running well into the foreseeable future. They may be pricey, but you get what you pay for.
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.
Apple iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max
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 the previous-gen 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 the 13 models, with adaptive refresh rates that go up to 120Hz for smooth scrolling and animations. New to this generation 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.
The Pixel 7 Pro feels like the phone its predecessor should have been. It’s better late than never: the 7 Pro (and the 7, in its own right) is a high-quality device with good battery life, a consistently excellent camera, and great daily performance. Best of all, at $899, it costs a little less than the thousand-dollar flagships.