The year 2020 has been a strange and disruptive one for all of us, but the smartphone industry has barely slowed down and we’ve seen some fantastic handsets appear over the last 12 months.
These are our picks for the very best phones that launched in 2020, with a slight bias towards phones available to currently buy in the US and those towards the higher end of the price spectrum. While we’ve also seen some excellent value-for-money budget devices in 2020, here we’ve concentrated more on the premium phones.
1. Apple iPhone 12 Pro
There were four new iPhone 12 models unveiled in 2020 – we’re only going to include our favorite two in this list, but they’re actually all worth a look, depending on how much money you’re looking to spend and what screen size you prefer. They all run the same A14 Bionic processor, and the same iOS 14 processor.
The iPhone 12 Pro has a 6.1-inch display, which is the same size as the standard iPhone 12, but it adds a third telephoto lens and LiDAR, so we think this is the better buy. The quality of the snaps you can get from this handset is really impressive, as is the 17-hour video playback you can get between battery charges.
Apple being Apple, this is a finely finished, super-speedy, polished and premium smartphone, with everything from full IP68 waterproofing to wireless charging included. Unless you prefer Android as a mobile operating system, the iPhone 12 Pro from Apple is just about the best smartphone you can buy right now.
Buy the Apple iPhone 12 Pro (from US$999)
2. Google Pixel 4a 5G
Google launched three smartphones in 2020: the Pixel 4a, the Pixel 4a 5G, and the Pixel 5. If you like top-notch mobile photography and a clean Android experience then they’re all worth considering for your next buy, but it’s the middle one – the Pixel 4a 5G – that strikes the best balance between price, performance, and all the other considerations.
It comes with 5G on board, of course, and it has the biggest screen of the 2020 Pixel phones at 6.2 inches. It runs the same Snapdragon 765G processor as the Pixel 5 and has the same 128GB of internal storage, and while the on-board RAM is less (6 GB rather than 8 GB) this is nevertheless a powerful mid-to-upper range phone. The camera setup on the Pixel 5 and the Pixel 4a 5G is the same too: a 12.2-MP wide + 16-MP ultrawide array.
The reasons why a Pixel phone is worth buying didn’t really change much in 2020, even if the handsets did – they take fantastic photos, and they come with a clean and bloat-free version of Android that you know is going to be updated before anything from Sony, Samsung, LG, OnePlus or the other manufacturers making Android phones.
Buy the Google Pixel 4a 5G (from US$499)
3. OnePlus 8 Pro
It’s been another busy year for OnePlus, with the company branching out into even more affordable handsets with the Nord range. Not all of the Nord phones are available in the US though, whereas the OnePlus 8 Pro most definitely is: and it’s an Android phone that gives you plenty of bang for your buck.
The phone comes with a large, smooth, vibrant 6.78-inch display, while under the hood you’ve got the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset, up to 12 GB of RAM and up to 256 GB of internal storage. It’s fast, it looks great, and like most OnePlus phones it comes with an alert slider for quickly muting the device (something we wish more manufacturers would decide to add).
The OxygenOS software that OnePlus makes to run on top of Android is one of the best Android skins in the business, and OnePlus continues to get better at updating the software quickly too. We’re already looking forward to what the OnePlus 9 is going to bring in 2021.
Buy the OnePlus 8 Pro (from US$899)
4. Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
It’s been another strong year for Samsung, not just in terms of its flagship phones but right across the board. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is one of four S20 models you can pick up as the year draws to a close, and it excels in just about every area you’d want it to – though you’ll also have to part with a significant sum of money for it.
Like a lot of phones this year, the S20 Ultra comes with 5G capabilities, and you also get the cutting-edge Snapdragon 865 processor from Qualcomm (in the US), up to 16 GB of RAM, and up to 512 GB of internal storage – impressive specs that are backed up by polished software and excellent design and build quality.
Add in a fantastic (and huge) 6.9-inch display – a department where Samsung continues to set very high standards – plus a quad-lens rear camera that has a maximum 108-MP resolution and up to 4x optical zoom, and this is a smartphone that’s very difficult to top in just about every area (including the high price).
Buy the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (from US$1,399.99)
5. Sony Xperia 5 II
Sony doesn’t capture as many headlines as the likes of Apple, Samsung and Google when it comes to phones, and that’s a shame: its handsets are almost always well built, well specced, and well worth investing in. The Xperia 5 II is Sony’s latest flagship of 2020, and has a lot going for it.
As you would expect considering Sony also makes digital cameras and televisions, the rear camera and the screen on the Xperia 5 II are of a premium quality that few other phones can match: the 12-MP + 12-MP + 12-MP camera offers both an ultrawide mode and 3x optical zoom, while the 6.1-inch display runs at a super-sharp resolution of 2,520 x 1,080 and boasts a 120-Hz refresh rate too.
Everything is powered by the very capable Snapdragon 865 processor, which is alongside 8 GB of RAM and either 128 GB or 256 GB of internal storage. It is admittedly at the more expensive end of the market, but you get plenty in return for your money.
Buy the Sony Xperia 5 II (from US$949.99)
6. Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro
Along with the likes of Huawei and Oppo, Xiaomi doesn’t sell its handsets in the US at the moment, but the Mi 10T Pro really shows off what the North American market is missing out on: it’s a juggernaut of a smartphone that looks great and runs smoothly, offering just about everything you could ask for in a phone.
As well as having 5G on board, the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro comes running the top-end Snapdragon 865 processor, as well as boasting 8 GB of RAM and up to 256 GB of internal storage. It carries a triple-lens rear camera on the back, topped off with a 108-MP main sensor, and there’s a huge 5,000-mAh battery here as well to keep the 6.67-inch display powered up for hours at a time.
While Xiaomi’s Android skin might not be the best out there at the moment, you can’t argue with the aesthetics of its handsets, and the Mi 10T Pro is a superb-looking slab of glass and metal. It’s a fantastic overall package that’s available for less than you might think (if it’s on sale in your region).
Buy the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro (from £599)
7. iPhone 12 mini
Our second iPhone 12 pick is the one that’s going to appeal most to those who want a handset that’s first of all compact: the screen measures just 5.4 inches from corner to corner, which is way above the 3.5 inches of the original iPhone but smaller than a lot of comparable flagship phones in 2020.
Under the hood is the same speedy A14 Bionic chip used in all the iPhone models, so you don’t miss out in terms of performance. The rear camera is only a dual-lens affair rather than the triple-lens setup that the Pro models have but the camera is still more than capable of taking some very impressive shots through both day and night.
You get full IP68 waterproofing, wireless charging via the MagSafe technology that Apple has introduced this year, and up to 15 hours of battery life when watching video (according to Apple). It’s an impressive package however you look at it, and don’t forget this is the cheapest of the iPhone 12 models too.
Buy the iPhone 12 mini (from US$699)
8. Samsung Galaxy Note20
For the most serious of power users, the Galaxy Note series continues to provide top-tier handsets, with big, beautiful screens, and of course that S Pen stylus. There’s a rumor that this could be the last Note phone, with Samsung switching stylus support to the Galaxy S and foldable phones next year, and it would be a fine way to go out.
The Galaxy Note20 brings with it the Snapdragon 865 Plus chipset, 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of internal storage, as well as the option of 5G. The vibrant, sharp 6.7-inch screen dominates the front of the device, and around the back there’s a triple-lens 12-MP + 64-MP + 12-MP rear camera for all of your on-the-go photography needs.
It’s really that stylus support that marks the Note20 out as a great phone though: the S Pen now functions as an art tool, a writing device, a remote control for the camera and more, and when it’s not in use you can slot it neatly inside the phone’s casing.
Buy the Samsung Galaxy Note20 (from US$999.99)
9. Motorola Razr
Foldable phones continue to be expensive and not fantastically reliable, but there’s definitely a future in these devices – and the second-generation Motorola Razr might just be the best of the bunch in terms of what you can buy at the moment (the Samsung foldables range is also very much worth a look).
Admittedly the internal specs might not particularly wow you. You’ve got a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor, 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, and a single 48-MP camera on the back (or the front, when it’s closed shut). The 2,800-mAh battery is pretty small as well.
It’s the clamshell folding mechanism that’s the Razr’s real party trick, and what a party trick. It has a 6.2-inch screen on the inside, and a 2.7-inch screen on the outside, handy for everything from taking selfies to quickly checking incoming notifications. One day, all phones might be made like this.
Buy the Motorola Razr (from US$1,399.99)
10. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
For our final Samsung phone for 2020, we have to include the S20 FE alongside the S20 Ultra and the Note20 because it offers a really appealing balance of price and performance: it keeps a lot of what makes the more expensive phones great, while cutting back on a select few features to reach a more affordable price point.
There are no corners cut in terms of the internal specs, with the phone running the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, up to 8 GB of RAM, and up to 256 GB of internal storage. You’ve got a more than capable 12-MP + 8-MP + 12-MP triple-lens rear camera on the back of the device, as well as 5G and a gorgeous 6.5-inch display – one that runs at a refresh rate of 120-Hz, no less.
It ticks just about every box you could want it to tick, and it even offers IP68 waterproofing and wireless charging. The price is still on the high side – the upper-mid-range – but we think you’re still getting plenty of value for money with the Galaxy S20 FE.
Buy the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (from US$699.99)
Need more info? Dig into our 2020 smartphone comparisons.