It’s almost mid-2018 and Samsung’s new flagship, the Galaxy S9 and S9+ have been launched. we have tested them along with our already tested Google Pixels, the Samsung S8, the Note 8 and the iPhone X among other flagships and we have a new king of the hill, the Samsung Galaxy S9, the Best Smartphone for most people. For people with slightly different needs, we tell you why the Apple iPhone 7 or the Note 8 might just be for you. We also tell you why the iPhone X is really not a great buy right now. Read on to find out.
As with all flagships, they are expensive but they are the top of the line. While the lines between budget phones and premium phones are blurring and many of the cheaper phones today perform really well and offer incredible value and bang for buck. Buying flagship phones usually gets you better hardware, build quality, the best cameras and guaranteed software updates. If you are looking for the best budget phones, check out our Best Budget Phones in India guide.
Last Updated May 12 2018 :
The best Smart Phone in India
Samsung Galaxy S9
The Samsung Galaxy S9 looks and feels amazingly premium. It has a 5.8-inch screen, a stunning AMOLED display and one of the best cameras in a phone right now. With 4GB RAM and the new Exynos 9810: octa-core CPU, the phone feels snappy and a breeze to use. The expandable storage, fast -wireless charging and water resistance make it the best phone in the market right now. All this is available at a price which is still lower than the iPhone X. It’s a great phone and just a more sensible buy right now.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 has a premium build quality with stunning looks. The 6.3-inch AMOLED display is superb though slightly large and has one of the best cameras. With 6GB RAM and the Exynos 8895 octa-core CPU, the phone is amazingly fast and brilliant to use. The dual camera set-up with OIS and 2x optical zoom is a very capable snapper and is probably one of the best ones available right now. The stylus with the expandable storage, good battery life and water resistance make it the best phablet/business phone.
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus
The iPhone 8 and the iPhone x have just been launched. However, we are still recommending the iPhone 7 and the 7 Plus since they are the best bang for buck iPhone’s right now. The iPhone 8 costs around 50% more and has the same design as the 7, but gives you wireless charging, a slightly better screen and a faster A11 Bionic chip. The iPhone X costs double the price of the 7 and unless you need the latest and greatest iPhone are willing to pay for it, we advise you skip it for now.
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are still excellent phones. The design is the same as found in the iPhone 8. The main highlights are the better cameras and the dust and water resistance. The iPhone 7 comes with a 4.7-inch screen and the iPhone 7 plus with a 5.5-inch screen. Both these phones are still significantly fast and Apple’s A10 processor still is powerful enough. The iPhone 7 is just the perfect size for one-handed use or for people. However, we think it is the 7 Plus is the phone to get. The 7 Plus gets Apple’s new dual camera system with an additional “telephoto” lens, has 3 GB Ram and also a considerably longer battery life.
Why should you trust us?
We have spent the last four years testing and reviewing phones. For this review, we have spent over 150 hours of research and tested more than a dozen of the latest smartphone flagships. We first did a round up of the best reviewed phones by other experts on PCMag India, The Verge, Wired, NDTV, Android Police, Android Central and Trusted Reviews. We then got our hands on these phones and tested them. Further, we went through user feedback on Amazon and Flipkart and also spoke to actual owners. We also checked other parameters such as time taken for software updates, after sales service quality and real-world battery performance.
Should I buy a phone now?
If you’re happy with your current phone, don’t get a new one – there is always a new phone launch around the corner. If your phone is over two years old, you can consider an upgrade. Two years is usually when software updates stop coming for phones (varies model to model – The iPhones have a longer software update cycle of almost 4 years). If you are facing software issues, try a factory reset and for battery problems consider a visit to the service station.
Which phone should I buy?
We think phones have become the most integral and possibly the most used device in your life. One uses a phone for virtually everything and phones nowadays perform the role of cameras, music players, reading, gaming and even laptops. Considering all this and as per the beforeibuy philosophy of buying the best if it’s used daily and important, we think you should by the best phone that you can afford. That being said, there are a few critical differences that you must keep in mind.
Apple or Android?
First of all – One is a company the other is an OS. So, the question should actually be either Which platform – IOS or Android? or Which hardware – iPhone x or the Samsung S8?
We think currently we have reached a stage where both the OS’s are copying features from each other to a point where the differences are few. If you are well invested in the Apple ecosystem, i.e. you own other Apple products like an Ipad or a Macbook, and iPhone will be great for you since they sync and work well with each other. We also think that Android has come a long way and material design is very refreshing and colourful making IOS look drab even. However always remember that what matters is the combination of Hardware and Software and therefore the only thing you must consider is a particular phone model versus the other. For e.g.: The Pixel 2 XL compared to the iPhone X.
The best Smart Phone in India
Samsung Galaxy S9
Samsung has improved our previous top pick the Galaxy S8. Improved in almost all aspects and building over the success of the S8 of last year, Samsung has listened to feedback and added features that make this phone a winner. The S9’s stunning bezel-less display is 5.8 inches, and Samsung has managed to squeeze the dimensions by more than 1 mm in height and 0.5 mm in width and depth to accommodate the same screen making it smaller and easier to hold.
The phone has the new Exynos 9810 Octa Core (4 x 2.7 GHz & 4 x 1.8 GHz) Processor, 4 GB RAM, comes with 64/128/256 Gb internal storage options and is expandable to 400 Gb using SIM slot 2, 3000 mAh battery, a 12 MP (f/1.5-2.4) camera rear and an 8 MP (f/1.7) front camera, fast charging, wireless charging and IP68 water resistance.
The screen glides and curves over the edges providing a bezel less design that is beautiful to look at. The screen resolution is 2960 x 1440 pixels and the AMOLED panel are bright, vivid and fairly accurate. The screen is taller and increases the aspect ratio from 16:9 to 18.5:9. This is non-standard but more and more phones are now using this taller format. While videos may seem stretched if viewed in full screen, browsing and other activities are more pleasurable due to more screen estate. The screen is HDR certified which basically means more colours and better contrast in HDR videos.
The phone is powered with the new Exynos 9810 Octa Core Processor which is one of the fastest in the market. It is similar to the Snapdragon 845 but it is slower than the Apple A11 Bionic Chip found in the new iPhone 8 and X. Paired with 4 Gb RAM this makes the phone a breeze to use. The phone is snappy and quick without any lag. It performs brilliantly, even in the most graphically intensive games.
One of the most impressive things about this phone is the camera. The 12-megapixel rear camera is one of the best camera’s in the market right now. Daylight shots are stunning to look at. They are vivid, punchy and full of details. Its auto focus is lightning quick and performs without a hitch. There is a slow-motion mode which captures video in 960fps in 720p but you need a lot of light to make it work well. You can also shoot in 1080p by default and 4k in 60fps but you lose the auto focus tracking at 4k resolution. The wide f/1.5 aperture means that more light is allowed into the lens, and the result is brighter shots in the dark. Compared to this, the iPhone X has an aperture of f/1.8 (the lesser the better). The camera comes with a ‘pro’ mode which lets you shoot with manual controls where you can adjust ISO, white balance and a lot more. The front camera is 8 MP with wide angle lens which lets you capture selfies with more people in them.
The 3000 mAh battery is the same in capacity as the S8. However, it’s enough for a full day’s use. We think this is good enough especially when paired with fast charger which charges the S9 fully in an hours’ time. The phone is also compatible with wireless chargers which is slower than wired but can have its uses.
Samsung has added expandable storage via a micro SD card. This is something that few other flagships offer. This make storage easy and cheap and you don’t need to work about running out of space. Another great feature added this year is the ip68 water resistance. This means that the phone can be used the rain, the shower, or the pool for up to 30 minutes in a depth of 1.5 m or below.
Every Android manufacturer usually ships with a custom skin over the default Android design. Samsung uses their TouchWiz skin. It has improved dramatically over the years and we really don’t have much to complain now. The phone comes with a slew of additional software, some great and some not. There is the Samsung app store, browser, S-Health, S-Planner, Microsoft Office, and more.
You still have Bixby, the phone assistant app like Siri or Google Now with its own dedicated button underneath the volume buttons. Thankfully, you can now disable the button to avoid accidentally activating Bixby but you cannot remap it.
What about the S9 Plus? The S9 plus offers the exact same package as the S9 with a bigger screen, bigger RAM and a bigger battery. The makes it a great buy without any doubt. However, if you are looking for a bigger phone, consider our top phablet phone – the Samsung Note 8. The Note 8 has improved dual cameras, slightly bigger 6.3-inch screen, 6Gb RAM and bundled S Pen giving it a slight edge over the S9 Plus.
Service and Warranty
Samsung had a wide network of service centres in India. However, they are notorious for its long queues because of the large number of budget devices sold. With Flagship phones, Samsung offers home pickup and drop for its devices to let its premium customers escape the rush. We think this is great.
For most people, the Samsung Galaxy S9 will be the perfect phone. For those wanting a bigger screen, the Note 8 is our Top pick.
- Great build quality, amazing AMOLED screen.
- One of the best cameras with an aperture size of f1.7 produces incredible low light photos.
- Expandable storage.
- IP68 Water resistance.
- Fast charging.
- Samsung touch wiz UI has improved a lot still not a favourite.
- The Glass is a fingerprint magnet.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
After the debacle of the Samsung Note 7, Samsung decided to play it safe with the Note 8. Gone are the category defining features that the Note line-up was known for and say hello to the rather sedate Note 8. The big batteries that lasted for a day and a half used to be the hall mark of the Note line. Instead you get a safer 3300 mAh which lasts for a day at least.
That said, it’s not as if the Note 8 lacks features. It’s the first phone from Samsung that features a dual camera. It’s rectangular frame which features a nearly bezel-less display is stunning and of course there is the stylus that most Note fanboys love.
The Note 8 is powered by the Exynos 8895 Octa Core (4 x 2.3 GHz & 4 x 1.7 GHz) Processor, 6 GB RAM with an option to choose between 64/128/256 Gb internal storage options and is expandable to 400 Gb using SIM slot 2, 3300 mAh battery, a dual 12 MP (f/1.7) + 12 MP (f/2.4) rear camera and an 8 MP (f/1.7) front camera, fast charging, wireless charging, IP68 dust and water resistance and of course the new improved stylus.
The stunning bezel-less display is 6.3 inches diagonally and has a screen resolution of 2960 x 1440 pixels with a pixel density of 521 ppi. The AMOLED panel is bright, vivid (sometimes too vivid) and punchy and has an aspect ratio of 18.5:9. Videos sometimes may seem stretched if viewed in full screen but browsing and other activities are more enjoyable because of the increased screen real estate. The screen is HDR certified which means more colours and better contrast.
Even though the phone is powered by the previous generation of Exynos, paired with 6 Gb of RAM, it is not at all a laggard. The phone is quick and does most of its tasks well and shows no lags even in the most graphically intensive games.
The dual 12-megapixel rear cameras are a good addition and while daylight shots are stunning, they really excel in low light. It can shoot videos in 720p at 240fps, 1080p in 60fps and 4k in 30fps. Then there is the ‘pro’ mode which lets you shoot manually adjusting ISO, white balance etc. The front camera is 8 MP with wide angle lens which lets you capture decent selfies.
The stylus is the reason why fanboys love the Note. And it has improved by a good margin. It’s responsive and there is very little parallax between the tip and the screen and is neatly nested inside the main body. It can be removed with a nice click and has an alarm if the stylus is taken too far from the phone. It’s a nifty input tool for jotting down quick notes and you can even write when the screen is off. Very useful to write down phone numbers in a hurry. Samsung has its own app for note taking called the Samsung notes but there are other 3rd party apps which offer more functionality like drawing, painting etc.
The 3300 mAh battery is smaller when compared to previous Notes’ but is quite enough for a full day’s use. Disable the edge lighting and it can even manage more than a day. The phone charges to full capacity within an hour or so and is compatible with wireless charging.
You get options of 64, 128 and 256 Gb of internal storage and can be expanded to 400 Gb by using SIM slot 2 as storage. It is also IP68 certified which means it’s dust and water resistant in the rain, the shower, or the pool for up to 30 minutes in a depth of 1.5 m or below.
While not as clean as the stock Android, Samsung’s TouchWiz has changed much over the years and not as bloated as it used to be. There is additional software like the Samsung app store, browser, S-Health, S-Planner, Microsoft Office etc. but they can be disabled but not deleted unless you root your phone.
And then there is Bixby, the phone assistant a la Siri or Google Now. Bixby has its own dedicated button which is pressed accidently every time you reach for the volume. Thankfully, it can now be disabled but remapping is still not possible.
- Great build quality, amazing AMOLED screen.
- Dual Camera set-up
- Expandable storage.
- IP68 Water resistance.
- Responsive stylus
- Fast charging.
- Placement of the Bixby button
- Awkward fingerprint reader
- The Glass is a fingerprint magnet.
The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are still excellent phones. The design is exactly the same as found in the iPhone 8. It was the best phone in the market till Oct 2017 and just because an upgrade has been announced, doesn’t mean these phones aren’t good.
The iPhone 7 comes with a 4.7-inch screen and the iPhone 7 plus with a 5.5-inch screen. Both these phones are still significantly fast and Apple’s A10 processor still is one of the most powerful processors the market. The iPhone 7 is smallish and measures at 4.7-inches diagonally and fits perfectly in one hand. It’s great for people with smaller hands or those who just like one-handed usage of the phone. The 7 Plus is the larger sibling at 5.5-inches and it comes with the added benefit of a better camera, more RAM and a bigger battery. The phone design remains more or less the same with the same big bezels on the top and bottom. Compared to the S7 and the HTC 10 though, this looks outdated. It also means the iPhones offers less screen space for its size. So, the S7 which has very similar dimensions comes with a 5.1-inch screen, compared to the 4.7-inches on the iPhone 7.
The iPhone 7 comes with a LCD screen that has a resolution of 1334 x 750 pixels (326 ppi) what Apple calls “Retina Display”. It’s brighter and less reflective than before and works well even in direct sunlight, though some may feel that it falls short of the richness and vibrancy that the Samsung S7’s AMOLED display provides. However, Apple uses the wider DCI-P3 colour gamut which means the screen is actually more accurate and everything looks much more realistic as compared to the Samsung.
The iPhone 7 comes with the A10 Fusion Core processor which the fastest in the market. Apple says the A11 Bionic chip is 25% faster than the A10, however in real world usage, you will not find the A10 to be sluggish in anyway. The iPhone 7 retains the 2 GB RAM while the 7 Plus gets a bump up to 3 GB.
Both phones are built solidly. They look and feel absolutely premium and with IOS 11, the iPhones continue to set the benchmark for the best hardware and software combination. 3D touch is now improved and you can see more and more apps taking advantage of it. A slight longer press on the phone screen gives you a new contextual menu of options within the app. 3D Touch is made possible by a screen that senses degrees of pressure. It’s a lot like a right click on the desktop and it reduces time taken to get things done on the phone with intelligent shortcuts.
The camera in the 7 is one of the best, bettered only the one in the iPhone 8. The f/1.8 aperture lets more light in and this means better low light performance and more details in the photos. The iPhone has a 12-megapixel “iSight” camera, 4K video and supports live videos. Both the 7 and the 7Plus now comes with OIS (optical image stabilisation) which helps in low light performance and getting steadier videos. The front-facing FaceTime camera has received an upgrade from 5-megapixels to 7-megapixel making selfies better.
The camera is brilliant and fast. Live videos are turned on by default and when you snap a photo, the camera captures 1.5 seconds of audio and video before and after the shot is taken There are great to have and very addictive. The only downside is that Live videos can only be viewed on the iPhone 6s and above or Apple watches and the Macs. This also means that every photo takes up more space and you’ll soon find yourself running out of space in the 32 GB models. The new iPhones start with 32Gb of storage and the next model has 128GB and 256GB respectively. We recommend going for the 128 GB model.
The bigger iPhone 7 Plus comes with a new dual camera lens on the back. There are two lenses but they act as one. The iPhone 7 Plus uses its second camera to provide optical zoom. The camera switches from the 28mm wide-angle lens to the 56mm telephoto one seamlessly. This is the first time that any company has been able to add zoom to a phone camera while keeping the phone thickness the same. This helps in bringing far away objects closer and also helping create a Bokeh effect which looks brilliant. The Bokeh effect creates professional like photos where the subjects remain in focus and the background is blurred.
Battery is one area when the iPhone 7 really lags behind. With moderate to heavy usage the 7 will barely last a day. On the other hand, the bigger 7 Plus easily finished a day with up to 20% battery left. Another area where the iPhones’ lag behind is the absence of fast charging which is now available even in cheap Android phones like the Moto G plus. The iPhone 7 takes up to 90 minutes for a full charge and the iPhone 7 Plus takes around 120 minutes.
Apple has controversially removed the headphone jack from the phone. The phones now come with a lighting to 3.5mm adapter to plug in headphones. It is either that or switching to Bluetooth earphones. The removal of the headphone jack feels unnecessary and is a big problem especially for those who have invested in expensive headphones.
The iPhone 7 comes with IP67 rating for water and dust resistance and can now be used in the rain or survive up to 30 minutes in water. This is great to have and you can actually use the phone for underwater videos in the swimming pool. However, mind you iPhone warranty still doesn’t cover water damage.
The Apple ecosystem
Apple products work great with the company’s other products. The software works seamlessly between Apple devices like the iPad, MacBook, Apple watch etc devices with features like Handoff, Universal Clipboard, iPhone Cellular Calls, SMS/MMS messaging, Instant Hotspot, and Auto Unlock. With Handoff, you can start work on one device, then switch to another nearby device and pick up where you left off. Apple products are tightly integrated with each other. Another feature is AirPlay which is audio streaming that is built into every iPhone and iPad and most newer Macs. Using it for audio and video requires that you purchase an Apple TV, or you can just wirelessly stream music to a number of “Made for AirPlay” speakers.
If you already have invested in the apple ecosystem, then buying an iPhone makes sense. However otherwise, be aware that you will need to buy the other apple products to fully enjoy all features.
Service and Warranty
Apple prides itself on providing stellar service and its true. The phone comes with a one-year limited warranty and any hardware problems are usually resolved quickly with a good turnaround time. The Apple service centre also helps you in any software problems that may arise. You can also get extended warranty for the iPhones thereby increasing the coverage by additional 2 years for Rs. 10000.However, take note that both of these warranties do not take care of accidental damage like dropping and liquid damage. Getting extended warranty will cover only manufacturing defects. The iPhone is slippery and cases of broken screens are the most common complaints at Apple service centres. The cost of replacement of a broken screen for an iPhone 7 is around Rs. 24,000.
Getting a good cover for your iPhone is the best insurance.
Why you shouldn’t get the iPhone 8?
The biggest drawback of the iPhone 8 is that it comes in the same design as the iPhone 6, 6s and 7. The design simply feels dated for the price. The changes are all internal. The iPhone 8 gets a new AMOLED display that supports True Tone and HDR. It comes with a glass back that supports wireless charging. It also has the new A11 Bionic Chipset that Apple says is 25% faster than the A10. The iPhone 8 costs around 50% more for what feels like a minor upgrade. Apple has a history of supporting their phones for long and the iPhone 7 can easily perform well for another 3 years or so. We think it makes sense to get for the iPhone 7 or if you really want a new iPhone go for the iPhone X.
Why you shouldn’t get the iPhone X?
The iPhone X brings a new iPhone design after 3 years and it does look stunning. It gives you a bezel-less iPhone, something that all fans have been waiting for. Gone is the home button and in place of that you get Face ID. You also get a new gesture-based interface. It’s a great phone and you get most of these features in the iPhone 8. It costs double the price of the 7 and unless you need the latest and are willing to pay for it, we advise you skip it for now.
For most people the iPhone 7 will be a phone that they will enjoy. The iPhone 7 is just the perfect size for one-handed use or for people. However, we think it is the 7 Plus is the phone to get. The 7 Plus gets Apple’s dual camera system with an additional “telephoto” lens, has 3 GB Ram and also a considerably longer battery life. The 128GB model will ensure you don’t run out of storage on a vacation.
- Great build quality, screen and camera.
- Good Speakers.
- Software works seamlessly with other apple products.
- Fantastic service and support.
- Expensive as compared to competitors.
- Closed apple ecosystem means several restrictions like the necessity to use iTunes.
- No expandable storage. Prices for models will higher storage are ridiculous.
- No Headphone Jack
We showcase the other great phones in the market that are good but don’t make it to our top picks.
Google Pixel 2
“Made by Google”, the Pixel 2 is the second attempt by Google at the premium game. Google may try to hide it but the phone is actually manufactured and serviced by HTC.
There are 2 phones actually, the 5-inch Pixel 2 and the larger 5.5-inch Pixel 2 XL. The Pixel 2 looks like the iPhone while the Pixel 2 XL looks a bit like the Note 8.
Both the phones are well-built and feel light and premium. The body construction is of aluminium and had a harsh, textured stony feel to the back. This makes the phones non-slippery and having no glass back means lesser fingerprints. But we feel that they will get scratches over time.
The phones have brilliant cameras which are right up there with the S8 and the iPhone 8. The camera is a 12.2 MP (f/1.8) shooter with OIS, phase detection and laser autofocus and dual-LED flash. And Google says it will offer cloud support for storage till Jan 15, 2021.
The screen is a bit of a downer though. While it’s an AMOLED, the screen resolution is only 1080 x 1920 pixels with a 16:9 ratio and a 441 ppi pixel density.
Google has positioned the Pixels as the Pure Google Experience. The Google Pixel 2 is a fast phone with a combination of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and 4GB of RAM. And finally, the Pixel 2 is now water resistant but in the process has sacrificed the headphone jack.
Google also promises at least two years of OS updates and three years of security patches – And you can be assured that you’ll be the first to get them.
But what Google is really charging a premium for are 3 things – the Google Assistant, the VR service called Daydream and the first to get unlimited cloud photo storage at high quality. Is it worth the premium over the S9? In our opinion No!
The Google Assistant is nice to have and great fun to play with. It’s a voice assistant that’s supposed to make doing stuff easier and quicker. Assistant can take pictures, send messages, tell you when your flight or package is arriving, help you set reminders, read the news, tell jokes, read poetry and more. It’s the best assistant out there beating Apple’s Siri hands down. However, we found using it lesser and lesser as the novelty wore off and it still is very awkward to talk aloud to your phone in public areas.
Daydream is a mobile virtual reality platform, by Google. You can watch 360-degree videos, play VR games and watch movies on your headset. It still new and we don’t see it to be a big decision-making factor in your phone purchase.
The Pixel 2 does not have expandable storage and hence the ability to store high-res video and photos online is undoubtedly great and Google photos is the best photo backup software out there. While this storage is free for lifetime, do note that it is only for pictures and videos taken by and uploaded from your pixel phone.
We think the Samsung Galaxy S9 is clearly better in a number of ways – it’s got a better screen, better design, better camera, better battery and expandable storage.