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.
Startups went on a hiring spree in 2021 as VC cash flowed and the job market was hot. But many overindulged in the talent pool and then had to make large cuts and layoffs in 2022. The worst for startups is likely still to come.
This isn’t a pattern that companies are going to want to fall into again when the market recovers and subsequently ramps up. And maybe they won’t this time around, because VCs are likely going to start paying a lot more attention to how companies are spending their money on hiring.
While many of the huge layoff numbers of the past year come from public names like Amazon and Microsoft, startups have also made notable cuts. Some, including Better.com, Bolt and Vimeo, have conducted multiple rounds of layoffs in the past year. Many expect layoffs among startups won’t slow down this year.
But there’s hope we won’t see this again. Angela Lee, a professor at Columbia Business School, angel investor and venture partner, said founders generally state their hiring plans on a slide at the back of their pitch deck that breaks down how they plan to spend the money they raise. Traditionally, she said, that was a throwaway slide that didn’t get much thought from VCs. But it won’t be anymore.
“It is not to say, ‘do not hire’ — it is just that we need to see the double click now on why,” Lee said. “You need X number of million of dollars for what? Why do you need a chief data scientist and architect?”
Best phone 2023: the top smartphones to buy right now
To make sure you get the most for your investment, we’ve picked out the best of the best. The phones highlighted below may be pricey, but they deliver excellent daily performance and great cameras and will keep on running well into the foreseeable future. Just bear in mind that a new crop of flagship phones are likely right around the corner — along with the trade-in deals and carrier freebies that go along with them. Android fans especially may want to hold off and see what the next few weeks bring.
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.
The best phones of 2023
Best iPhone to buy in 2023
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 best Android phone to buy in 2023
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.
There’s an updated version of Google’s custom chipset on board, called Tensor G2. It’s behind some minor improvements to the phone’s intelligence and speech recognition. But mostly, it just delivers seamless performance for everyday tasks. It’s battery-efficient, too. In our testing, it was hard to push the Pixel 7 Pro into single-digit percentages by the end of the day. Most users can easily call this all-day battery life, and only very heavy users will need to recharge to get to the end of the day.
The 6.7-inch screen is very big, and with a boost in peak brightness, it’s comfortable to use even in direct sunlight. One of the best updates on the Pixel 7 Pro is a faster under-screen fingerprint scanner. It’s a tad faster than Pixel 6’s (sluggish) system, and it’s now joined by face unlock. It all makes for a smoother experience unlocking the phone, whether you use one or both of these methods.
As always, the software experience on the Pixel is among the best in Android
The Pixel camera system is still one of the best in the game. There’s a 50-megapixel main camera — no change from the previous generation there — and a telephoto camera, slightly boosted from 4x to 5x zoom. Google’s using a new sensor crop method to offer 2x and 10x zoom settings that don’t rely on digital zoom. The result is surprisingly good image quality; the 10x can’t quite match the true optical 10x lens on the Samsung S23 Ultra, but it’s good in a pinch.
Most of all, the Pixel offers a consistent photography experience. While the Galaxy S22 series offers a better portrait mode, it’s harder to predict when it will go overboard with saturation and color shifts. The Pixel 7 Pro delivers photos that are a little more contrasty and cool and can lack the punchiness of Samsung and Apple’s photo processing, but you can rely on it to get good-quality shots even in very challenging circumstances.
As always, the software experience on the Pixel is among the best in Android — unsurprising, given that it comes from the same company. It remains a strength, with timely updates arriving every month, three years of new OS versions guaranteed, and a healthy five-year software support policy. There are some gems among the intelligence-based software features, too, like the creepily good live transcription in the Recorder app. Other features fall a bit short of Google’s lofty claims. Magic Eraser, which tries to automatically remove distractions from the background of your images, isn’t that magical. Photo Unblur, which is new to the Pixel 7 series, is only sort of good at sharpening blurry photos. But more importantly, the Pixel 7 Pro gets the basics right — and at the right price.
Best iPhone for most people in 2023
The iPhone 14 seems like the obvious choice for anyone who needs a new iPhone but doesn’t want to step up to the 14 Pro. But hear me out: the iPhone 13 does almost everything that the 14 does, and it’s $100 cheaper. Sure, if your carrier is offering you a good trade-in offer or dirt-cheap financing for the 14 or you want the (slight) year-over-year upgrades, then go ahead and get that one. It’s great! But if trade-in deal season is over or you’re paying out of pocket, we think the standard iPhone 13 is the better buy; the $799 14’s improvements are so minor that they’re not worth the extra money.
By opting for the 13, you don’t miss out on anything as far as the screen or processor is concerned. The iPhone 13 features a 6.1-inch screen with a standard refresh rate — no smooth-scrolling ProMotion here — as does the 14. There’s an A15 Bionic chipset in both phones, and although the 14’s is a slight upgrade with an extra GPU core, they both deliver excellent performance. They’re both MagSafe compatible for wireless charging and IP68-rated for robust water and dust resistance.
Upgrading to the 14 does get you a slightly better camera system, but the improvements are subtle. The ultrawide and front-facing cameras do better in low light compared to the 13, and the main camera features a bigger sensor that’s able to hold on to detail in dim conditions a little better. But for the most part, you have to go looking for these differences in fine details — most people viewing their images at web- and social-media-friendly sizes won’t see what’s changed.
By opting for the 13, you don’t miss out on anything as far as the screen or processor is concerned
You’ll miss out on a couple of emergency features, too. The 14 includes a new Crash Detection feature that uses specialized sensors to recognize when a car crash has happened and automatically call emergency services. There’s a satellite-based emergency messaging service, too, for when you’re out of cell range. For a small group of people, these services might be worth upgrading for, but they’re likely things that most of us can do without.
From the outside, the iPhone 14 and 13 look almost identical. There are some physical differences to note, though. The first is that you can’t just use an iPhone 13 case on the 14 because the camera bump is a bit bigger. And below the glass and aluminum surface of the iPhone 14, Apple made some changes that enable much easier repairs to the back panel. That means out-of-pocket repairs will likely cost less, and if you’re a DIYer, it’s a much less daunting task to take on yourself.
There are a handful of other interesting new iPhone features this time around, but they’re reserved for the Pro models. If you consider yourself an early adopter or you just want the best iPhone you can buy right now, it’s worth stepping up to the Pro. But if you’re just looking for a reliable device to get you through your day, take great photos and video, and keep the blue-bubble chat a-flowin’, then the iPhone 13 will serve you just as well as the 14 — for a little less money.
The phone that does everything
The “Ultra” moniker in Samsung’s Galaxy lineup no longer means you’re just getting the biggest phone; now, it means you’re getting the biggest phone and everything but the kitchen sink. The S22 Ultra will likely be replaced very soon by the S23 Ultra, which is rumored to include a more advanced camera.
The S22 Ultra will likely be replaced very soon by the S23 Ultra.
If you’re after the best of the best (and you probably are if you’re looking at the Ultra), then it’s probably best to hold off. But even with its successor on the way, the S22 Ultra will remain an extremely capable device for many years. It offers no fewer than five cameras, a huge, bright 6.8-inch OLED with up to a 120Hz refresh rate, and, oh yeah, a built-in stylus. It’s the successor to the Note series, but more than that, it feels like the endgame of slab-style smartphone development. Related: it costs a steep $1,200.
At the heart of the S22 Ultra is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset paired with 8 or 12GB of RAM. Performance is, not surprisingly, excellent; you’ll rarely see the phone stutter or hesitate, even while running graphics-intensive games. Samsung is also promising up to four generations of OS version upgrades, so the Ultra should remain a very good phone for years to come.
The included S Pen stylus pops out of a dedicated silo on the bottom of the phone, and Samsung says it’s been improved with lower latency than the S Pens of previous years. It’s hard to judge a few milliseconds of improvement, but it’s certainly responsive and easy to use. You can go deep into the stylus features with handwriting-to-text recognition options and slightly gimmicky “Air Actions” that turn the stylus into a magic wand / remote control combo. Or you can just scribble notes to your heart’s content or ignore the stylus entirely. The choice is yours.
If you’re looking for a phone that can do just about anything, the S22 Ultra is in a league of its own
The cameras are largely the same as the S21 Ultra’s, including a 108-megapixel main camera accompanied by 3x and 10x telephoto lenses, plus a couple of software-based improvements. The Ultra’s portrait mode photos are some of the best in the game, with excellent subject isolation, and you can use night mode with high-res mode or portrait mode now. But the bottom line is that the solid camera system the S21 Ultra offered is still just as good here, and 10x telephoto is about the best you’ll find on any smartphone, anywhere.
With so many power-hungry features, the S22 Ultra’s battery life is a bit lackluster. It will last a day of moderate use with a little in the tank, but power users may need to keep an eye on battery percentage and top off the 5,000mAh cell toward the end of the day. Fast 45W wired charging makes this a quick job, though.
If you know the stylus life is for you and you’d use a 10x zoom regularly rather than a handful of times out of curiosity, then look no further than the S22 Ultra. Its specialty features are somewhat niche — if powerful — which is why it’s not our overall pick for the best mainstream Android phone. But if you’re looking for a phone that can do just about anything, the S22 Ultra is in a league of its own.
Best small smartphone in 2023
The iPhone 13 Mini is one of very few small phones on the market with top-tier features and specs; you don’t have to compromise on performance, build quality, or cameras. Apple didn’t announce a new Mini with the 14 series, instead opting for a big-and-bigger approach with the 6.1-inch 14 and 6.7-inch 14 Plus. The 13 Mini is likely your last shot at a small, highly functional iPhone, so get it while you can.
Though it’s much smaller in size than pretty much every other modern smartphone, the Mini’s 5.4-inch screen is still big enough for text messaging, email, web browsing, apps, video, and games, and if you’re coming from an iPhone 6, 7, or 8, it will feel quite spacious. But it’s also small enough that most adults, even those with small hands, will be able to comfortably reach all of the screen with their thumb. You won’t need a PopSocket on this one.
You won’t need a PopSocket on this one
One important downside to a smaller phone: the iPhone 13 Mini has a smaller battery that probably won’t last a power user through a whole day without a charge. It’s really designed for someone who isn’t glued to their phone all day. Otherwise, the Mini is the same phone as the iPhone 13: it has the same design, processor, cameras, 5G support, and build quality as the larger model. It’s just smaller and has a smaller price tag — about $100 less.
If you prefer Android, the Asus Zenfone 9 is a good alternative. It’s a little bigger than the 13 Mini, with a 5.9-inch screen, and it doesn’t work on Verizon, but it’s otherwise a very similar proposition: great build quality, top-notch processor, and high-end features like a 120Hz screen are all tucked into a pocket-friendly device.
The best phone under $500
The Pixel 6A follows the same budget phone recipe Google has used for years: deliver core Google features in a stripped-down device with just the basics. In previous years, that meant getting the same camera system as the flagships. That recipe changed slightly with the 6A. Now, you get the same Tensor custom chipset as the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro but an older camera system. It’s a recipe that works: the Pixel 6A is a great all-around budget device, and even without the latest hardware, it still offers one of the best cameras in its class. And although its processor is one generation behind the very newest Pixel phones, you’re not missing out on much in terms of new features, and performance is still top-notch.
The 6A includes a 1080p 6.1-inch screen with a standard 60Hz refresh rate, and this is one area where Google made a sacrifice to hit a lower price point. The 6 and 6 Pro feature faster refresh rate screens, and you’ll even find other budget phones with faster refresh rates, like the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G. This is only something you’ll miss if you’re coming from a phone with a high refresh rate screen, so don’t worry about it if your current phone has a regular ol’ 60Hz display. There’s also no wireless charging, and it’s rated IP67, so water resistance isn’t quite as robust as on the Pixel 6.
Sure, the 6A misses out on a few nice things, but it’s got it where it counts
The cameras are a step behind Google’s current flagships, but the stabilized main 12-megapixel camera and 12-megapixel ultrawide are still highly capable — especially compared to the rest of the midrange class. Google’s image processing is smart, and Tensor enables some interesting software features, like Face Unblur, which uses information from both rear cameras to keep human photo subjects looking sharp, even in dim lighting.
Most of all, Tensor puts the Pixel 6A’s day-to-day performance on par with the 6 and 6 Pro. And it should keep up for a long time: the phone will get security updates through July 2027. Sure, the 6A misses out on a few nice things, but it’s got it where it counts.
Best flip phone of 2023
When the Galaxy Z Flip 4 is flipped open, you get a big 6.7-inch screen that handles just like the slab-style smartphone you’re used to. But fold it in half, like the flip phones of yore, and you can use its small outer screen to see basic widgets and read notifications. It’s unconventional, but it’s also fun and kinda stylish. It’s a great choice if you’re feeling a little bit adventurous — it’s still the early days for this form factor — and you’d appreciate a way to quickly check info on your phone without having to fully engage with it.
The Flip 4 is the definition of an incremental upgrade, but when you’re talking about a phone that folds in half, that’s still a pretty impressive achievement. It’s the same basic size and shape as the Flip 3, with a slightly slimmer hinge and some squared-off corners. It’s still IPX8 water resistant (no dust resistance, so please don’t take it to the beach), and the cover screen is still a tiny 1.9 inches — big enough to read an email subject line or check the current weather but not big enough to do much more than that.
The Flip 4 is undeniably fun and different
The inner screen is protected by stronger ultrathin glass than the Flip 3. There’s a non-user-replaceable screen protector in place, as there was on the previous model, but the adhesive that attaches it is stronger this time around. That will hopefully avoid the bubbling problem seen by some owners of previous-gen foldables.
The Flip 4’s cameras are mostly the same as the Flip 3’s, and they’re still a bit behind what you’d expect from your garden-variety flagship phone. There’s a 12-megapixel main camera with slightly bigger pixels than the last one, a 12-megapixel ultrawide, and a 10-megapixel selfie camera. Most other phones priced at $999 will throw in a telephoto lens of some kind, but not the Z Flip 4. Still, it’s a lot of fun taking pictures and recording videos in the phone’s L-shaped Flex mode. (Just try and name another phone that comes with its own built-in kickstand.)
If you’re a Flip 3 owner, there’s nothing about the Flip 4 worth upgrading for. In fact, many of the new software-based features introduced with the 4 are already making their way to the 3. And there are still plenty of ways Samsung could improve on its design: making it slimmer, more durable, and increasing the size of the cover screen, for a start. The Flip 4 offers some valuable refinements over the 3 that make it feel like a more mature product and less of a concept. There are likely significant improvements coming down the line for the Flip series, but right now, it’s undeniably fun and different.
Best folding phone of 2023
The Fold 4 is Samsung’s latest folding phone, and it is a pricey multitasking powerhouse — a phone and a tablet wrapped up in one device. Like the Fold 3 before it, it’s sized like a skinny smartphone that fits in your pocket, but it unfolds to reveal a tablet-sized 7.6-inch display on the inside.
That inside screen makes everything from reading books and browsing the web to watching videos and playing games more enjoyable and immersive. When you’re done using it, just fold it back up and stick it in your pocket just like any other phone. You can use the 6.2-inch outer screen for simpler tasks like you would on a slab-style smartphone, but the big screen is there when you need it. The Fold 4 is undeniably a gadget person’s gadget, best suited for someone who wants to get the absolute most out of their mobile device, cost be damned.
The Fold 4’s outer screen looks and handles like any other slab-style smartphone screen; unfold the device and you’re looking at something quite different. For starters, there’s a non-user-replaceable screen protector glued to the inner display to protect against scratches — the ultrathin glass that allows it to fold is easily damaged without it. The whole device is IPX8-rated, meaning it offers robust water resistance but no dust resistance. Folding phones: not recommended for the beach.
It’s a device you could actually use as your daily driver — not just as a cool gadget that stays at home
On the software side, the Fold 4 provides a lot of ways to get the most out of that big screen. There are new multitasking interface options that make it easy to open apps in multiple windows or use it in an L-shape like a laptop. These features are already becoming available to the Fold 3, so nobody should run out and upgrade from the previous-gen folding phone just for the software improvements.
The Galaxy Fold 4 is just brimming with cameras, including a 3x telephoto zoom lens, upgraded from a 2x zoom on the outgoing model. There are also 12-megapixel standard wide and ultrawide cameras on the rear panel, plus a 10-megapixel selfie camera on the outside and a 4-megapixel under-display camera on the inside. Image quality is on par with the S22 and S22 Plus, including a great portrait mode. You’d get a more powerful set of cameras on the significantly less expensive S22 Ultra, but the Ultra doesn’t fold in half.
The Fold 4 has evolved beyond the early hardware hiccups of the first Fold phones in the series, and it’s a device you could actually use as your daily driver — not just as a cool gadget that stays at home. The refinements over the Fold 3 are minor, like slightly wider aspect ratios on the screens and better adhesive on the non-user-replaceable inner screen protector, but they push the Fold a little closer to the mainstream. With apologies to the also-ran Microsoft Surface Duo 2, there’s just nothing else like it on the market — if you’re willing to pay the very high $1,800 premium.
Flagship performance for a little less money
The 10T feels like OnePlus coming back to its premium-hardware-at-midrange-price roots. It’s a $649 phone with Qualcomm’s very latest mobile processor, the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, with a side of extremely fast wired charging. That’s its whole deal: top-tier performance and unreal charging speeds, all for less than $700.
The 10T includes a nice screen, too: a big 6.7-inch display with a top 120Hz refresh rate. But you can’t have everything on a sub-$700 phone, and the 10T lacks a few things you’ll find on the slightly pricier flagships. That list includes wireless charging and a robust water resistance rating (it’s IP54 only). Camera quality isn’t quite up there with the best, either. It can be inconsistent, though photos in good lighting generally look fine.
You’ll see the phone charge from zero to 30 percent in under five minutes
Wired charging is exactly as advertised: fast as heck. In the US, it’s capable of 125W charging, and you need to use the included USB-C cable and brick. With them, you’ll see the phone charge from zero to 30 percent in under five minutes. In 10 minutes, it will charge up to 60 percent, and a full charge takes about 20 minutes. It’s downright impressive.
The 10T isn’t for everyone, and that actually makes it a better phone. If you want a great all-arounder, then the 10T isn’t it. You can get a device with better water resistance, a better camera system, and maybe even wireless charging for around the same price. But if you want top-tier performance for a midtier price, then the OnePlus 10T is the way to go.
Other good phones
There are a few other devices that didn’t quite make the cut for any of the above categories but are still worth mentioning. The $999 Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus was our pick for the best Android phone for most of 2022, and it remains an excellent device (though presumably, very soon to be replaced by the S23). We think the Pixel 7 Pro is a better value overall for $899, but for someone who’s invested in the Galaxy ecosystem and doesn’t need all of the features of the Ultra model, the S22 Plus is the flagship to buy.
The iPhone 14 Plus is worth considering if you prefer iOS and you like a bigger phone. If the 14 Pro feels like overkill but you want a big screen and a big battery, then the 14 Plus is a good alternative. It costs less than the $1099 Pro Max, though its $899 price isn’t exactly cheap. But like the iPhone 14, the 14 Plus offers very few appreciable updates over the iPhone 13 and doesn’t quite lend itself to a broad recommendation.
Best cheap phone 2023: six smartphones for under $500
The current state of inflation has a lot of us looking harder at price tags lately. While your grocery receipt may be full of bad news, we’ve actually got some good news: you can get a very good phone for under $500 these days.
Many of our picks run about $400 or $500, but there are great options for $300 and under, too. You can find a bright, high-definition OLED screen or a built-in stylus or a battery that lasts for days. If you can hone in on the one or two features that are most important to you and you’re willing to compromise elsewhere, you can get a phone that suits your needs for half the price of a flagship.
What compromises can you expect from a budget phone? Some combination of the following: slower processors, less storage, and lousier cameras than flagship phones, almost across the board. Many have lower-resolution screens, and most lack official water-resistance ratings, wireless charging, and NFC chips for contactless payment.
And while we usually recommend buying unlocked phones to maximize flexibility, you might find better deals — and much lower up-front costs — by buying through a carrier and signing up for a wireless plan. There’s a fresh crop of new flagship phones likely coming very soon, so it might be worth waiting to see what your trade-in options look like, particularly if you’re on Android.
The best smartphone for under $500 in 2023
The best iPhone under $500
Apple iPhone SE 2022 (third-generation)
The 128GB iPhone SE is the best value on the smartphone market, period. It’s a great deal at $479 when you consider that it will continue receiving iOS updates for upwards of five, even six or seven years.
But before you pick up an SE expecting to coast through most of the next decade without buying a new phone: make sure you can live with its very small, very dated 4.7-inch screen. It’s the same size as the one on the iPhone 6, and it’s starting to feel cramped in an age when apps and web pages are designed for bigger screens. The SE’s big bezels make the device look dated, too, but the usability of a small screen will be a bigger factor over the years to come.
There’s no night mode for brighter photos in very low light, which is a curious omission
That’s the biggest knock against the SE. Otherwise, it’s a fantastic midrange device. Its A15 processor is the same as iPhone 13 Pro Max, so performance is excellent. There’s IP67 waterproofing and wireless charging — both uncommon in this price range — and even though it uses the same 12-megapixel camera that iPhones have used since the dawn of time, it takes very nice photos and high-quality video clips. The camera has no night mode, which is a curious omission — many other midrange phones offer some sort of low-light photo mode, and the phone’s processor is certainly up to the task. Apple gonna Apple.
This generation SE offers 5G connectivity — just low- and mid-band, which is fine. You won’t get the fast millimeter-wave 5G you might encounter in an NFL stadium, but it’s nothing to lose sleep over. Battery life is also improved over the last generation, and it will generally last a full day unless you really push it with demanding tasks like gaming and streaming video.
If you can live with the small screen and you aren’t bothered by the lack of night mode, we recommend picking up the 128GB version. The base model’s 64GB of storage isn’t quite enough, and you’ll be glad you spent the extra $50 when you’re using this phone for years into the future.
The 2022 iPhone SE will last for upwards of five years if it’s taken care of thanks to Apple’s excellent track record of offering iOS updates to older devices. But its tiny 4.7-inch screen feels cramped now and may be tough to use in five years’ time while apps and web pages continue to be designed for bigger screens.
The best Android phone under $500
The Pixel 6A comes with a $449 MSRP, but it’s often marked down for much lower than that. It’s a good buy at its full retail price, but if you catch it for less than $400 — as is often the case now — it’s a screaming deal.
The phone’s biggest asset is Tensor, the custom-built chipset Google used in the company’s 2021 flagships, the 6 and 6 Pro. Not only does it enable very good overall performance now, but it also means that the 6A will keep up for many years to come. Google promises five years of security updates for the 6A, and with an IP67 water resistance rating, it’s a good all-around bet if you want a budget phone that will last.
The 6A’s least impressive feature is its screen — a 6.1-inch 1080p OLED with a standard 60Hz refresh rate. It’s not bad; it’s just not the best screen you can get for the money. The fingerprint sensor under the display is also on the slow side. Again, it’s not unusable, but it’s noticeably a beat slower than the best fingerprint sensors out there.
The 6A will keep up for many years to come
And unlike previous Pixel A-series phones, the 6A doesn’t include the same cameras as the flagships, but that’s okay. It uses the same 12-megapixel standard wide camera as the Pixel 5A, which is still a very good camera — especially for the midrange class. The phone’s 4,410mAh battery is on the small side, but overall battery performance is better than its size would suggest.
All that said, the 6A offers the best all-around package of essential features plus a top-tier processor that you can buy right now for around $450.
The best phone screen under $500
The Samsung A53 5G offers an outstanding value for its $449 MSRP. It has one of the best screens in its class — no surprise from display maker Samsung — with a 6.5-inch 1080p OLED that provides richer contrast than the LCDs that are common in this category. It also uses a top refresh rate of 120Hz, which makes for smooth scrolling and a little bit more of a “premium” experience.
The A53 5G’s battery lasts a full day of use, and the Exynos processor gets through daily tasks fairly smoothly. The phone’s main 64-megapixel camera is a cut above the usually unremarkable cameras in this class, with optical image stabilization to help get more sharp shots in poor lighting conditions.
The A53 5G’s best feature might just be its excellent software support policy
It stands out from other budget Android phones in a lot of ways, but the A53 5G’s best feature may be its excellent software support policy. Samsung has promised four years of Android OS version updates and five years of security updates. That gives the A53 5G an exceptionally long shelf life, especially among Android phones, where two or three years of security updates is more common. Considering that the phone is also IP67-rated for dust and water resistance, it should last a long time.
The best phone under $300
The OnePlus N20 5G is a $280 phone that feels like it should cost a lot more. It offers a 6.4-inch screen with good 1080p resolution. Better yet, it’s an OLED panel in a category where lower-contrast LCDs are much more common. You’ll have to make do with a standard 60Hz refresh rate, but unless you’re coming from a phone with a faster 90Hz or 120Hz screen, you won’t know the difference. Refresh rate aside, it’s a good screen that’s enjoyable to use. Plus, there’s a good fingerprint scanner under the display that makes unlocking the phone a frustration-free experience.
The N20 5G is sold unlocked but take note: it does not work on Verizon. It’s also limited to 4G on AT&T, which isn’t the end of the world given the carrier’s slow expansion of their mid-band 5G network (that’s the good 5G). The unlocked N20 does work on T-Mobile’s 5G as well as 4G, and you can buy a network-locked version of the phone directly from T-Mobile if you want to take advantage of a free phone offer or bundle the cost with your monthly phone bill.
The N20 5G is equipped with a good Snapdragon 695 processor and generous 6GB of RAM for very good daily performance. It also supports 33W wired fast charging — another feature you’d be hard-pressed to find in any of the N20’s competitors — with the included charger. You can charge the phone from 0 to 30 percent in just 20 minutes, which is really helpful if you’re in a jam and need a quick battery boost. NFC is also included for contactless payment; many cheaper phones exclude it to cut costs.
The N20 5G also supports 33W wired fast charging — another feature you’d be hard-pressed to find in any of the its competitors
Camera quality is a bit of a weak point for the N20. The main rear 64-megapixel camera is fine; the other two cameras (a low-res macro and a monochrome sensor) are best ignored. The phone also ships with Android 11, which is a version behind most other new Android phones at this point. But on the brighter side, OnePlus is promising three years of security updates — a pretty good policy in a class where two years isn’t uncommon.
It’s unfortunate that the N20 isn’t an option for Verizon subscribers, but if you’re on T-Mobile or AT&T, it’s a heck of a deal — with or without 5G support.
The best basic Android phone for Verizon customers
Samsung recently announced the A13’s successor — you guessed it, the Galaxy A14 — which we haven’t been able to test yet. It comes with some promising updates, including an additional year of security updates, but the Galaxy A13 5G remains a good deal if you can still find it on a retailer’s shelf. It’s a no-frills $249 phone that delivers the basics.
Its screen is nothing special, but battery life and performance are very good considering the price, and the device is backed up by a solid support policy promising three years of security updates. It’s not as polished as the N20 with its fancier OLED, but it’s also a bit cheaper and works on all major carriers (the N20 doesn’t work on Verizon).
The A13’s 6.5-inch screen is certainly big, but it’s a fairly dim, low-contrast LCD with a resolution of just 720p. Related: battery life is very good since the screen drains less power than brighter displays. Overall performance from the MediaTek 700 5G chipset and 4GB of RAM is very good, too.
The screen on the Galaxy A13 5G is nothing special, but battery life and performance are very good considering the price
On the camera side, the A13 lacks a couple of features you can find on other budget phones — namely, a night mode and an ultrawide camera. What you do get is a good 50-megapixel main rear camera that takes reliably good photos in daylight and dim indoor light. Just don’t expect much in very low light.
If you can live with a mediocre display and a basic camera, then the A13 will deliver on performance and battery life — pretty important stuff. Just make sure you budget a little extra for a MicroSD card because the phone’s 64GB of built-in storage is a little skimpy.
The best budget phone with a stylus
Motorola Moto G Stylus (2022)
This year’s 4G-only edition of the Moto G Stylus continues to offer the excellent balance of features and cost-saving measures as last year’s model. It’s a good phone for the price, whether you’re a stylus devotee or just want a big cheap phone, and it works on all three major US networks.
The Moto G Stylus has a big 6.8-inch 1080p LCD display, good battery life with its 5,000mAh cell, and ample internal storage with 128GB of capacity. With a capable MediaTek Helio G88 processor and a healthy 6GB of RAM, the G Stylus performs well with everyday tasks. The cameras, though flawed, are good enough to get by. You won’t find an amazing night mode or top-notch picture quality here, but for a sub-$300 phone, it does the job just fine. The G Stylus is missing an NFC chip for contactless payment, and it doesn’t have wireless charging or an IP rating for water resistance, which are all common omissions at this price.
The Moto G Stylus’ stylus lives in the device, like the one on the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Popping it out brings up a quick menu of shortcuts to stylus-friendly apps, like its coloring book app. It’s a feature set intended for a more casual user than the likes of the S22 Ultra and, as a result, feels more approachable.
Other budget phones we tested
We also tested the OnePlus Nord N300, which doesn’t make an appearance among our recommendations. The N300 is very affordable at $228 but cuts too many corners to include fast charging. The slightly pricier N20 that snags our recommendation above is a generation behind but offers better overall performance and a nicer screen.
We’ve also looked at two TCL phones over the past year: the TCL Stylus 5G and 30 XE 5G. The latter provides fairly good daily performance for its very low $200 price, but ultimately neither TCL phone is worth recommending over the competition from Motorola and Samsung.
Google’s expanding Chrome’s Incognito lockdown on mobile and Safety Check
Google is rolling out access to a feature that lets you lock your Chrome Incognito sessions behind biometric authentication, making it so someone using your phone won’t be able to open your browser and see what you were looking at privately, according to a Thursday blog post. The feature has been available in the iOS version of Chrome for a while now, but now it’s becoming more widely available on Android (read: won’t require activating via a flag).
The Lock Incognito tabs when you close Chrome feature does what its name suggests — you can open Incognito tabs normally, but if you switch to another app, you’ll have to unlock Chrome when you return to get at the hidden tabs. You can do that via your phone’s unlock pin or through biometrics like your fingerprint or face. However, someone can still see your regular tabs without an unlock.
To enable the feature, tap the three-dot menu in the top right corner, then go to Settings > privacy and security. There, you can toggle the “Lock Incognito tabs when you leave Chrome” option.
Google also says that it’s expanding its Safety Check feature, which can do things like scan your saved passwords and let you know if any of them have been compromised and weed out malicious extensions. Google says it’s making Safety Check more proactive by rolling out “more personalized recommendations and reminders” to notify you about what kind of permissions sites have.
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