XDA Awards – The Best Tech of 2020

XDA Awards – The Best Tech of 2020

Despite all the notable events this year, 2020 has been incredible for consumer tech, and more specifically, smartphones. A lot of companies went all out with their devices, flooding the market with great options catering to a wide variety of needs and wants. We at XDA have used a lot of these gadgets throughout the year, so here are what we think are the best smartphones of 2020.

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Best Overall Smartphone: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2

The best smartphone overall is the one phone that everyone should consider buying to get the best overall experience. It’s the phone that is not only at the pinnacle of smartphone innovation but is also one that is refined enough to deliver a cohesive experience to the average consumer. Of course, it also needs to have the best combination of top-tier specifications to carry forward the weight of the whole brand with it. It’s not just about the specifications alone—it’s about the whole story. It’s quite a no-brainer that the award for the best overall smartphone this year goes to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 does everything that a flagship can do, and then it folds. It’s the first foldable that is truly consumer-ready with no major flaws, refining the experience from the original Fold and the Galaxy Z Flip. The pricing on the device is high, there’s no escaping that. But what you do get out of it is a phone that stands out in the crowd in all the right ways. It’s big on style, raw horsepower, and practicality. If you want customization, you can choose a different hinge color. You get to be the talk of the town and also get your work done while you’re at it. If we sound obsessed, it’s probably because we are — the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is a great phone that sets the bar very high in a nascent category that has immense potential. It lives up to the Fold legacy but has enough of its own brand power to carve out its own identity. The Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the smartphone of the year, and having one in our hands makes us very excited in anticipation of what could be next.

    The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the phone of the future available in the present. It's got everything we want out of a top tier flagship -- great design, great specifications, great display -- and then it folds. You can even add a touch of customization by selecting your own hinge color, giving you one unique phone in your hand.

Honorable Mentions for Best Overall Smartphone

The runner-ups for this section are two smartphones that also provide excellent experiences all around — smartphones with just the right hint of extras to deliver a nearly perfect experience. They aren’t necessarily bleeding edge in what they do, but they handle their duties with a level of finesse that is difficult to find in other smartphones. It’s about the experience, and two of the best ones on offer are the Apple iPhone 12 and the Google Pixel 5.

    The Apple iPhone 12 is the iPhone to get this year, because it offers the best of the Apple experience without the extra fluff (and price bump) from the Pro and Pro Max versions. It will serve all your modern smartphone needs, especially with a very capable camera for photos and videos.

    The Google Pixel 5 may not have the top-end processor, but there is more to a smartphone experience than just raw horsepower. If you're looking for a refined Android experience, with arguably the best photography setup on a smartphone, the Pixel 5 deserves all of your attention.

Best Premium Flagship: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

samsung galaxy note 20 ultra copper

A premium flagship is, to us, a phone that pulls no punches in packing specs, features, and (unfortunately) price. It’s not enough to have just the latest processor — it needs to have all the extra bells and whistles too. A premium flagship is almost always expensive, but the target audience is okay with that. In fact, they want to flaunt the premium-nature of their purchase. And for us, the best premium flagship this year is the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

Everything about this phone — from the 6.9-inch Super AMOLED display that can refresh up to 120Hz and get as bright as 1500 nits, to the matte copper finish that under certain lighting appears gold, to the seemingly purposefully bulky camera module housing three prominent lenses — screams premium. This is the powerful phone for the power user. With a Snapdragon 865+, 12GB of RAM, and a speedy UI that can act as a desktop computer via Samsung DeX, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra can handle everything you throw at it, and then some more. That gorgeous OLED display with razor-thin bezels and a variable refresh rate ensures it’s optimal for fun too. Then there’s the S Pen. While a stylus is not useful for day-to-day browsing, when we do need to sign the occasional e-document or make pinpoint photo crops, the S Pen is still mightier than the fingertip.

    The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the maximum flagship with overkill across the board. It's the most premium experience that you can get on Android, with unique features like the S Pen that continue to stay unmatched by competitors. All bells and whistles included in this power package.

Honorable Mentions for Best Premium Flagship

We’ve tested a lot of excellent premium flagships in 2020, but one that a lot of us keep coming back to is the OnePlus 8 Pro. It’s the first truly premium flagship from OnePlus, and it delivers OnePlus’s signature clean and fast experience in an absolutely impressive package. It is one of the best performing Android smartphones on the market, but it’s also one that is a better eye candy than the usual crop of gaming smartphones. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 also receives an honorable mention. While it does deliver one of the best overall experiences on Android, it does hold back a few very small punches in areas like camera and some more, primarily to accommodate all the folding tech.

    The OnePlus 8 Pro is a proper premium flagship from the company forever known for starting off the affordable flagship trend. This premium flagship goes head-to-head against all the bulls of the market, and comes out towards the top thanks to its clean experience and powerful hardware.

    The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the phone of the future available in the present. It's got everything we want out of a top tier flagship -- great design, great specifications, great display -- and then it folds. It remains a great choice as a premium flagship.

Best Affordable Flagship: OnePlus 8T

The homescreen of the OnePlus 8T Cyberpunk 2077 Edition

An affordable flagship smartphone is a phone that comes with a flagship-grade processor (meaning Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 or its MediaTek/Exynos/HiSilicon/Apple equivalent) and all the other parts necessary to be a top-dog, but costs under $800 to satisfy users who want to splurge within reason. Pricing is definitely a factor here, but so is the experience, so the best affordable flagship is the one that most users look at to get top-tier performance without breaking the bank. And we don’t think any phone does that better than the OnePlus 8T.

The OnePlus 8T carries over a lot of what made the OnePlus 8 Pro a runner-up for our premium smartphone category, but it has a few compromises that let it hit a lower price tag. It’s the T upgrade that makes sense. The phone trades the QHD+ display for a still-respectable FHD+ display but retains the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 that gives the device its great performance. Other trade-offs are smaller downgrades, but you do get an upgrade in charging speeds with OnePlus’s proprietary Warp Charge 65 on the 8T, letting you spend less time hugging a wall than with any other OnePlus smartphone.

    The OnePlus 8T is our choice when it comes to the best affordable flagship this year. It packs in the latest top end processor and several key technologies while compromising in just the right areas to keep the price under $800.

Honorable Mentions for Best Affordable Flagship: Apple iPhone 12 and Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G

The runner-ups for this section are two smartphones that also come with flagship processors and deliver flagship performance, right on par with our winner. The race is close, and the runner-ups could arguably swap places with the winner too. The Apple iPhone 12 and the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G are our runner-ups for the best affordable flagship, letting users experience the best in terms of performance while staying within a practical budget.

    The Apple iPhone 12 is the iPhone to get this year, because it offers the best of the Apple experience without the extra fluff (and price bump) from the Pro and Pro Max versions. It will serve all your modern smartphone needs, especially with a very capable camera for photos and videos.

    The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G comes with the flagship Snapdragon 865 SoC, granting it performance comparable to the other stalwarts in Samsung's lineup. The polycarbonate body fits right into the simple look, bringing down the price tag to the realms of practicality.

Best Mid-Range Smartphone: Google Pixel 4a

Google Pixel 4a Barely Blue

Google’s Pixel phones have consistently offered less value-for-money compared to Samsung’s Galaxy phones and dozens of more affordable models from Chinese OEMs. But despite the gap in hardware, Pixel phones have remained competitive because of Google’s prowess in software support and image processing. Down in the mid-range space, which we define as phones with sub-$500 prices and Qualcomm’s 7-series chips (or their MediaTek/Exynos/HiSilicon equivalent), excellent software can elevate the otherwise middling experience that we’ve come to expect from phones with middle-of-the-road hardware components. No phone demonstrates this better than the Google Pixel 4a, which is why we’ve crowned it the Best Mid-Range Smartphone of 2020.

Announced in early August, the Google Pixel 4a is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 730G, 6GB of RAM, and a 3140mAh battery. It has a relatively small 5.8” Full HD OLED panel at a standard 60Hz refresh rate and the same front and rear cameras we’ve seen in previous generations of Pixel phones. Where the Pixel 4a truly shines is with the official Google Camera app—features like HDR+, Night Sight, Astrophotography, Portrait Mode, and Super Res Zoom make for some compelling shots from both cameras. And the Pixel 4a has already received an OS upgrade to Android 11, with further updates planned to bump the OS to Android 12 and 13, not to mention the consistent monthly security updates and Pixel Feature Drops to keep your phone feeling fresh. At a price of just $349 in the U.S., the Google Pixel 4a is also arguably one of Google’s best value-for-money phones yet.

Other OEMs like Xiaomi, OnePlus, and Samsung have made great strides in improving their mid-range smartphones, so the next Pixel A phone will need to make a great showing next year, or Google risks losing its edge.

    The Google Pixel 4a is our pick for the best mid-range smartphone thanks to Google's software prowess elevating good hardware to a great experience.

Honorable Mentions for Best Mid-Range Smartphone

Both the OnePlus Nord and the POCO X3 are excellent devices in their own right and even trump the Pixel 4a in regions where it isn’t on sale. While the POCO X3 offers a more complete hardware package, OnePlus’s OxygenOS elevates the OnePlus Nord to deliver a stronger punch compared to POCO’s MIUI experience. This makes the software one of the defining features in our determination of the best mid-range smartphone since everyone can throw together a good combination of specs, but many fail when it comes to software.

    The OnePlus Nord marks OnePlus's return to the mid-range, and it does so with a good combination of specifications that should serve most users very well. OxygenOS is the cherry on top, highlighting the clean user experience that is also seen on the company's flagships.

    The POCO X3 (/NFC) pulls together one of the strongest combination of hardware components in the mid-range segment, and further pulls the price down to ~$220 in some regions. It's a no-brainer purchase at that point, thanks to the insane value proposition it brings about.

Best Value for Money Smartphone: POCO X3

Many people looking to make a purchase on a new smartphone ask whether or not they’re getting their money’s worth. The smartphones that offer the most value give you the strongest combination of hardware at the lowest possible price. Our pick this year for the best value for money you can get in a smartphone is the POCO X3. POCO’s smartphones have always been great choices for when you want the best bang for your buck, but the POCO X3, in particular, takes the cake for the best value proposition the company has ever put out. For a price of €205 (~$250) in Europe and even less in China and India (albeit with some changes like a bigger battery and no NFC in the latter market), the POCO X3 offers a 120Hz LCD panel, a 5,160 mAh battery with 33W fast charging (charging brick included), the Snapdragon 732G, a really solid 64MP main camera, and Gorilla Glass on the front and back.

POCO didn’t skimp on the little things either: The haptic engine is strong and precise, there’s a headphone jack, and the phone is even rated IP53 for splash resistance. We’ve handled a lot of smartphones this year, but the POCO X3 is the best budget smartphone that can pass for a great mid-range flagship unless you really nitpick.

    The POCO X3 (/NFC) pulls together one of the strongest combination of hardware components in the mid-range segment, and further pulls the price down to as low as ~$220 in some regions. It's a no-brainer purchase at this point, thanks to the insane value proposition it brings about. This is the most smartphone you can get for the least money.

Honorable Mentions for Best Value for Money Smartphone

The Google Pixel 4a is our pick for the best mid-range smartphone, but it is also a strong contender in the best value for money category. The iPhone 12 Mini also makes an appearance despite its higher-than-Android price tag since it is practically a proper Apple flagship, just in a smaller package and a relatively-cheaper price tag to match. Both of these smartphones offer a great software experience, and you’ll notice them as also being the cheaper options of the devices that made it in our runner-ups for the best overall smartphone. Software does indeed matter a lot for both the overall experience and for value-for-money, and you get the best with these.

    The Google Pixel 4a is our pick for the best mid-range smartphone thanks to Google's software prowess elevating good hardware to a great experience. This also makes it a great value-for-money smartphone.

    The iPhone 12 Mini is practically a flagship in a small form factor, with most bells and whistles included. You even get the signature Apple photography experience, all at a relatively cheaper price.

Best Compact Smartphone: Apple iPhone 12 Mini

The iPhone 12 Mini

The iPhone 12 Mini

Compact smartphones are a dying breed on Android, if not completely dead. We can expect Android OEMs to take a renewed interest in this space thanks to the Apple iPhone 12 Mini, which wins our award for the best compact smartphone this year.

The Apple iPhone 12 Mini is practically an Apple flagship packed into a tiny body, which as a consequence, means it has a smaller battery and lacks the third rear camera. Other than these, you get all the bells and whistles that you get on the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro, making this the premier choice for people who prefer smaller phones. Smaller Android phones have traditionally been butchered by compromising heavily on the specifications. Hopefully, that changes in 2021. For now, bow down to the iPhone 12 Mini as your miniature smartphone king.

    The iPhone 12 Mini is practically a flagship in a small form factor, with most bells and whistles included. You even get the signature Apple photo and video experience, all at a fraction of the cost and size of Apple flagships.

Honorable Mentions for Best Compact Smartphone

The Google Pixel 4a and the Google Pixel 5 may not be the smallest smartphones around, but they shine as two of the few relatively smaller Android smartphones that still deliver a great experience. There’s just a big vacuum for compact devices in the Android smartphone market, especially from mainstream brands, so the Google Pixel 4a (5.8″) and Google Pixel 5 (6.0″) come up as runner-ups for lack of better options.

    The Google Pixel 4a is a good, compact, mid-range smartphone thanks to Google's software prowess elevating good hardware to a great experience. This also makes it a great value-for-money smartphone.

    The Google Pixel 5 might be walking the line on being a 'compact' smartphone, but its smaller than most Androids. If you're looking for a happy-medium sized Android, the Pixel 5 deserves all of your attention.

Best Gaming Smartphone: ASUS ROG Phone 3

Gaming used to be reserved for PCs and consoles, but these days, it’s totally feasible for a gamer to spend the majority of — if not the entirety of — their time on a mobile device. Thanks to cloud gaming services, mobile gamers no longer have to settle for bite-sized adventures with limited gameplay loops. And as modern phones continue to get beefier, the processing power needed to flawlessly run retro console emulators can be found in more and more devices. But while basically every mid-range and flagship Android phone can play Google Stadia or emulate a PS1, only gaming phones can provide an out-of-the-box experience that truly makes your phone feel like a handheld console. By far the best phone that does just that is the ASUS ROG Phone 3, which is why we think it’s the Best Gaming Phone of 2020.

The ROG Phone 3 features Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 Plus system-on-chip; up to 16GB of RAM; a 6000mAh battery; and a 6.59” notchless, Full HD+ resolution, 144Hz refresh rate display. That’s more than enough power to run every mobile game flawlessly or near flawlessly — including the graphically intensive Genshin Impact — for hours on end. In addition, the ROG Phone 3 provides the best out-of-the-box mobile gaming experience with its plethora of gaming-related features, such as the ultrasonic AirTrigger 3 gestures, per-game Armoury Crate customizations, and in-game GameGenie overlay. If you splurge a bit on accessories, you can pick up the excellent ROG Kunai 3, which can turn your phone into a pseudo-Nintendo Switch-like console when placed in a special case. There’s much, much more to the gaming experience than we can describe here, but we can comfortably say that the ROG Phone 3 blows its competition out of the water when it comes to gaming features.

    The ASUS ROG Phone 3 is the phone to get if smartphone gaming is your top-priority. It over-delivers on all aspects necessary for a great gaming experience, even on the go with its huge 6,000 mAh battery. It also has a wide accessory ecosystem to further improve your gaming experience.