The 6 best smartphones for designers in 2017

A modern smartphone is of course a staple of the designer – a large screen can help you improve productivity on the go, and a fantastic camera can be used to shoot textures, images for comps and pitches, and just random inspiration you see on your travels (all in high-quality). 4K video is now a standard on smartphones as well, meaning pro-quality video doesn’t need a pro-quality setup.

So with these things – and more – in mind, let’s take a look at the best smartphones for designers and creative professionals on the market today.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is all about the screen

01. Samsung Galaxy S8

The best smartphone in the world for designers.

Weight: 155g | Dimensions: 148.9 x 68.1 x 8mm | OS: Android 7 | Screen size: 5.8-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2960 | CPU: Exynos 8895 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 3000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 8MP

Dazzling, bezel-less Infinity display
Great camera
Bixby is just bloatware
Irritating biometrics

Samsung has quite a lot to prove with the Galaxy S8, its new flagship smartphone. After the debacle that was the Note 7, with its tendency to explode in people’s pockets, the company needs to win back the trust of consumers everywhere. And with the brand new Galaxy S8 it could just do that. There are two models – the S8 and S8+, and it’s the latter we’re interested in here at Creative Bloq.

This is a monster of a smartphone – in every sense. Both S8 and S8+ models feature an ‘infinite display’ that curves around the edge of the phone (like the S7 Edge) but the S8+ features a huge 6.2-inch screen with a resolution of 2960x1440 pixels. The camera pretty much remains the same as the excellent S7: a 12-megapixel sensor.

We’re a little disappointed that there’s no dual camera or tech as found in Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium, if we’re honest. There’s no home button either. This phone is ALL screen. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ will launch with Bixby – a new virtual assistant similar to Siri (but Google Assistant is on the S8 as well). There’s also face unlock, IRIS unlock and a fingerprint sensor.

But this smartphone is all about the screen. It looks incredible. In terms of aesthetics, there isn’t a more beautiful phone available. And because of the lack of bezel, you get a larger screen in a smaller form factor. The Galaxy S8 can also become a desktop PC through the DeX dock. You may not want to do this, but hey, you can! It launches on 28 April.

The big draw of the Pixel XL 2 is its camera

02. Google Pixel 2 XL

Google's followup to last year's flagship.

Weight: 175g | Dimensions: 157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm | OS: Android 8 | Screen size: 6-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2960 | CPU: Octa-core (4x2.35 GHz Kryo & 4x1.9 GHz Kryo) | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB | Battery: 3520mAh | Rear camera: 12.2MP | Front camera: 8MP

Brilliant design
One of the best cameras for smartphones
No 3.5mm headphone port
Expensive

The Pixel 2 XL (and the smaller Pixel 2) are this year's followups to Google's own-brand smartphones – tying a native, non-skinned or tweaked version of Android O with Google hardware that should run its OS in the best possible way. And it’s a fact: the native version of Android O running on the Pixel 2 XL is fast. So fast. Everything about the Pixel 2 works in double-quick time, from the fingerprint sensor unlocking to the homescreen to the camera launching. You’re never waiting for anything, and that’s a huge plus. Oh, and you also get Google Assistant – a kind of supercharged Siri that you can ask contextual questions.

The screen on the Pixel 2 XL is 6-inches (a decent amount larger than last year's model), with a resolution of 1440x2560 pixels, and it’s bright and sharp. But for a 6-inch phone it feels pretty compact thanks to its small bezel (it’s not like the S8’s edge-to-edge screen by any means, but it’s certainly more compact than the iPhone).

One of the real winning features of the Pixel 2 XL is the camera. Sure, it doesn’t have a dual-camera setup like the Huawei P10 Plus, but its 12.2-megapixel offering produces shots of the highest quality; details are sharp and colours natural. And it’ll shoot video in 4K. 

One word on the design. On the back of the Pixel 2 XL is a glass panel (what is it with smartphone manufacturers making EVERYTHING out of glass?). You may want to pick up a case – the official Google ones are the least intrusive. But add this £30 case to the cost of the phone outright and it soon becomes very expensive (and like the Huawei P10 Plus, it’s only splash-proof). Annoyingly, Google has also followed Apple's lead by dropping the 3.5mm headphone port, so you'll need an adaptor if you want to plug in your wired headphones.

If you're after something jazzier, Huawei also offers the p10 Plus in Pantone colour of the year ‘Greenery’

03. Huawei P10 Plus

A brilliant and affordable flagship phone for designers.

Weight: 165g | Dimensions: 153.5x74.2x7 mm | OS: Android 7 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2960 | CPU: Octa-core (4x2.4 GHz Cortex-A73 & 4x1.8 GHz Cortex-A53) | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 3750mAh | Rear camera: Dual Leecia 20MP and 12MP | Front camera: 8MP

Beautiful, bright QHD screen
Decent price
Navigation key badly designed
Not available in US

Huawei (pronounced Hu-Wah-Wey if you’re interested) has really upped its game recently with its range of Android-powered smartphones. And the P10 Plus is its latest, combining a huge 5.5-inch QHD screen with a dual Leica camera setup. The latter is very interesting – there’s two cameras and sensors here, one for monochrome shots and one for colour. Just flick between them using the camera software.

The monochrome sensor is 20-megapixels; the regular camera 12-megapixels. And the custom camera app really is excellent, giving you access to such features as a wide aperture mode. There’s enough in the camera alone to make this phone extremely appealing to creative professionals. Oh, and it’ll also shoot in 4K. 

One other interesting thing is that Huawei has partnered with Pantone to bring the P10 Plus in ‘Greenery’ – Pantone’s colour of the year. To be fair, you may want to stick with black (Graphite Black) or silver (what Huawei call Mystic Silver – oooh, mystical silver). And this is one of the slimmest ‘big’ smartphones out there. 

Software-wise, the Huawei P10 Plus runs a modified version of Android N called (rather snappily) EMUI. When you compare it to say, Google Pixel XL and the native experience on offer there, it’s nowhere near as slick. That said, it’s better than previous versions – and reinstates the app drawer so you don’t have to have all of your app icons across multiple screens. 

The camera may convince you to try this out – and we wouldn’t blame you. But bear in mind you don’t get the waterproofing of the iPhone 7 or Galaxy S8 (so don’t spill coffee on it or drop it in a puddle). And it costs £680, which is right up there with premium phones.

Another great iPhone from Apple

04. iPhone 8 Plus

Apple shows it still has what it takes with this great update.

Weight: 202g | Dimensions: 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5 mm | OS: iOS 11 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | CPU: Apple A11 Bionic | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 64GB/256B | Battery: 2691mAh | Rear camera: Dual 12-megapixel with optical zoom | Front camera: 7MP

Wireless charging
Fantastic camera
No 3.5mm headphone port
Average battery life

What can we say about the iPhone that you probably don't already know? Apple's smartphones have revolutionised the mobile industry, though for the past few years it feels like Apple has played it a little safe. So, iPhone 8 Plus looks like the iPhone 7 Plus, which looks like the 6S Plus, which looks like the 6 Plus. If you love the look and feel of existing iPhones, then 2017's updated model will definitely be for you.

Whilst the screen remains pretty much the same as the iPhone 7 Plus (a meagre 1080p affair compared to some lesser-priced Android devices), the camera on the 8 Plus is its real selling point. It’s a dual-camera affair, but unlike Huawei and Leica’s offerings, the iPhone 8 Plus camera is about zoom – optical zoom. 

One lens is a wide-angle, one a telephoto. This means you can zoom anywhere from 1x to 2x using pure optical zoom, which obviously yields better results with less noise and artefacts. You can also use the digital zoom up to 10x. Optical image stabilisation is another great feature. It’s one of the best cameras out there.

The iPhone 8 Plus is a little heavier than the majority of phones this size (the Pixel 2 XL feels very light in comparison) and feels bigger due to its fatter bezel – one-handed operation can be a bit of a struggle (unless you’re a goalkeeper). But build quality is better than anything out there (maybe excluding the Galaxy S8), and features such as 3D Touch and Touch ID with Apple Pay make it a real winner. And of course the depth and breadth of apps is always a swaying point. It ain’t cheap at £949 for the top model... you could almost get a MacBook for that!

Sony is aiming to revolutionise camera tech with the addition of Motion Eye

05. Sony Xperia XZ Premium

Sony’s 4K smartphone boasts a pixel-packed display and a solid snapper.

Weight: 195g | Dimensions: 156 x 77 x 7.9 mm | OS: Android 7.1 | Screen size: 5.46-inch | Resolution: 3840 x 2160 | CPU: Octa-core (4x2.45 GHz Kryo & 4x1.9 GHz Kryo) | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 3230mAh | Rear camera: 19MP | Front camera: 13MP

4K display is stunning
Great camera
Not the best design out there
SIM tray is difficult to use

The XZ Premium is Sony's latest flagship handset, and while the 4K screen seems like the headline feature, it's the camera that really impresses. Sony has a rich heritage in camera tech and it’s looking to rewrite the rulebook with the XZ Premium, in the form of Motion Eye. 

Yes, it’s all a bit ‘marketing hyperbole’, but Motion Eye tech looks amazing for those regularly shooting on their smartphones. For one, it features super-slow motion video – recording at 960 frames per second (yes, 960!). Sony says this is four times slower than other smartphones. Next, there’s predictive capture, which basically starts buffering your shot a second before the shutter is pressed – and then gives you four images to pick from. Its 19-megapixel sensor also has intelligent exposure controls to automatically adjust light levels (there’s also manual focus controls), and 5-axis stabilisation should make for steady 4K videos. 

The other big selling point – potentially – is that the XZ Premium is the first smartphone to have a 4K HDR display (before the Galaxy S8 at least, even though the Galaxy will go on sale before). It’s an all-Gorilla Glass affair so should be pretty robust, and it’s a real stunner with ergonomic rounded edges. With high-res audio built in it’ll sound as good as it looks.

Add-ons can transform this into a top camera

06. Motorola Moto Z

The world's thinnest smartphone.

Weight: 136g | Dimensions: 153.3 x 75.3 x 5.2 mm | OS: Android 7.1 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2560 | CPU: Quad-core (2x1.8 GHz Kryo & 2x1.6 GHz Kryo) | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32/64GB | Battery: 2600Ah | Rear camera: 13MP | Front camera: 5MP

World's thinnest phone
Creative modular accessories
No 3.5mm headphone jack
Not great battery

In terms of innovation, the Moto Z could be our favourite phone out there at the moment. Why? Because of the different modules you can buy to extend the device. It kind of takes what was so cool about the LG G5 and expands on it, making your smartphone a real jack-of-all-trades. 

Moto Mods, as they’re known, clip onto the back of the Moto Z using strong magnets. Our favourite has to be the Hasselblad True Zoom Mod, which essentially turns your smartphone into a high-quality camera with 10x optical zoom. Yes, it’ll cost you an extra £199, but it shoots in RAW and gives you an optical zoom level that no other smartphone has. 

Then there’s the Insta-Share Projector, turning your smartphone into a portable projector capable of projecting at sizes up to 70 inches, meaning you can project your ideas and even short films onto any flat surface on the fly. Again, it’s not cheap at £250, but is a real innovation. And there’s a JBL speaker and an Incipio battery pack.  

Whilst it isn’t by any means the most cutting-edge of smartphones on its own, by adding Moto Mods you can transform it into a top camera, mobile projector or portable speaker in an instant. And that’s what’s so impressive. 

Like this? Read these...