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The best smartphones 2020: be more creative on the move

The best smartphones in 2020
(Image credit: Samsung)

With such a huge variety of phones on offer today, finding the best smartphones in 2020 can be a daunting undertaking. Are you going to go for old faithful and pick up an Apple iPhone? Perhaps you'd rather Samsung's latest model with its innovative screen technology and the Note-series’s pen-input? Or you could brave a challenger brand like Huawei, with its incredible camera zoom. There's so much to choose from – so we've done the research and tested hundreds of Android and iOS devices to bring you our best smartphones 2020 list.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is – what’s your priority? If you’re after a champion camera phone, then you’ll want to check out our round up of the best camera phones. If you need a creative toolbox, then you’re in the right place, with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus taking the crown, thanks to its S Pen. Alternatively, there are other better value options from the likes of OnePlus if all you want is premium hardware across-the-board, and even Apple’s dropped a value champion this year – the iPhone SE (2020).

Before picking up any phone, remember to check that the best iPhone apps and Android apps for creatives are available. If you’re jumping from an iPhone to and Android, for example, the stellar Good Notes won’t be an option on Google’s mobile OS. 

Once you’ve cross-checked your must-have apps and know which OS you need, our list of top-ten creative phones should help you figure out which is the right device for your personal life, productivity, work and everything in between.

The best smartphones available now

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01. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus

Let your creative abilities run free with the Note 10

Release date: August 2019 | Weight: 168g | Dimensions: 151 x 71.8 x 7.9mm | OS: Android 9.0 | Screen size: 6.3-inch | Resolution: 1080×2280 | CPU: Exynos 9825 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery: 3,500mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 10MP | Release date: August 2019 | Weight: 196g | Dimensions: 162.3 x 77.2 x 7.9 mm | OS: Android 9.0 | Screen size: 6.8-inch | Resolution: 1440x3040 | CPU: Exynos 9825 | RAM: 12GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery: 4,200mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 16MP | Front camera: 10MP

Fantastic pen integration
Stunning screen
Good, not great battery
Gets warm

If you're a creative and your phone is an extension of your work, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus is a dream device, especially if you’re a fan of illustration or note taking.

You're getting a massive 4,300mAh battery to power you all the way through the day, a triple camera set-up, featuring an ultra-wide lens, a regular lens and a telescopic one - perfect for a range of different photo shoots.

This level of quality continues through to the video camera. With advanced image stabilisation and 'bokeh' background blur, you can create high quality videos straight from your device.

While the collection of cameras is certainly an added bonus, the real power of this phone comes through the S Pen, which adds 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity to the screen - as found on many Wacom tablets.

With this pen you can take notes without even turning on your screen (perfect for pitches and meetings), make gestures to control apps and easily draw with the phone – an added feature to really make this the best smartphone for creatives in 2020.

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02. iPhone 11 Pro Max

Go all out on Apple's greatest

Release date: September 2019 | Weight: 226g | Dimensions: 158 x 77.8 x 8.1mm | OS: iOS 13 | Screen size: 6.5-inch | Resolution: 1242x2688 | CPU: A13 Bionic | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64/256/512GB | Battery: 3969mAh | Rear camera: 12MP+12MP+12MP | Front camera: 12MP

Impressive night camera
Incredibly powerful processor
Large battery
The price

For those that don't mind spending a bit more on their phone and want the best Apple device around, the iPhone 11 Pro Max could be the best smartphone for you.

Everything about this phone feels like it was designed for the creative market. The cameras are more powerful than ever, offering up an ultra-wide camera and optical zoom.

From the demonstrations Apple showed when the phone was released, you can get some incredibly impressive shots from this device. Look past the camera and this phone has a massive 3969mAh battery, giving you well over a day of life at a time.

And, a feature really set to impress is the power. This phone has the fastest CPU currently on the market, making it perfect for gaming or editing on the go.

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03. Samsung Galaxy S20 (& Plus)

Excellent across the board

Release: February 2020 | Screen size: 6.2-inches | Screen type: AMOLED | Resolution: 1440 x 3200 pixels | Sharpness: 563 pixels-per-inch | Certification: HDR10+, Gorilla Glass 6, 120Hz | Dimensions: 151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9 mm | Weight: 163g | Rear camera: 12MP (wide + OIS) + 64MP (telephoto) + 12MP (ultra-wide) + ToF sensor (on Plus only) | Front camera: 10MP (wide) | Maximum video resolution: 8K, 30fps | Storage: 128GB | Memory card slot: Yes | Battery: 4000mAh

Amazing screen
Brilliant camera
Busy interface
Dull design

The Samsung Galaxy S20 might not be the best equipped of the S20-series, but it's still one of the most popular. Why? Because it packs an impressive set of features and a sharp, crisp screen into a super-manageable size. Plus, it costs a heck of a lot less than its bigger sibling, the S20 Ultra. 

The device comes complete with three rear cameras, which includes a 64MP 3x zoom telephoto camera to help you capture shots from an impressive distance. The main camera is lower resolution at 12MP, but its nighttime performance is a big step up when compared to last year’s Galaxy S10. Combined with an ultra-wide camera and up to 8K video recording, the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus cover all bases without breaking the bank like the S20 Ultra does. 

Water and dust resistant, like the iPhone 11 Pro, the S20 also supports wireless charging. Unlike its Apple rival though, you can add storage via an SD card. No doubt about it, one of the best smartphones money can buy right now. 

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Best smartphones in 2020: Sony Experia II

(Image credit: Sony)

04. Sony Xperia 1 II

Best smartphone for videographers

Release date: February 2020 | Weight: 181.4g | Dimensions: 165.1 x 71.1 x 7.6 mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.5-inch | Resolution: 1644x3840 | CPU: Snapdragon 855 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 8MP

Extensive manual camera tools
Gorgeous 4K screen
Very expensive
Occasional camera slowdown

Despite making the camera sensors on most smartphones around today, iPhones included, Sony hasn’t managed to achieve best-in-class status with its own smartphones to date. The Sony Xperia 1 II hopes to change that, borrowing from the brands alpha camera line, with eye-tracking and pro-grade video and photography software baked in.

The phone’s specs are flagship across-the-board with a flagship Snapdragon 855 chipset matched with 8GB RAM, and with that ultra-tall 4K screen, protected by Gorilla Glass 6, sandwiching a metal frame, the Xperia 1 II is premium on the outside too.

Loaded up with three 12MP cameras: a wide, ultra-wide and 3x zoom camera and a Time of Flight sensor, on-paper, the Xperia 1 II is nothing special when compared to many flagships like the OnePlus 8 Pro. Combined with the Zeiss optics, eye-tracking and a new Photo Pro app, which gives photography enthusiasts more control over photos, though, dive in and the Xperia 1 II starts to stand out.

There’s also full IP68 water and dust resistance here, as well as a few other flourishes including a creator mode, which guarantees accurate colours in compatible apps, including Netflix, and a 3.5mm headphone jack, not to mention stereo speakers.

Best smartphones: Google Pixel 4 XL product shot

(Image credit: Google)

05. Google Pixel 4 XL

The best smartphone for developers

Release date: October 2019 | Weight: 193g | Dimensions: 160.4 x 75.1 x 8.2 mm | OS: Android 11 | Screen size: 6.3-inch | Resolution: 1440x3040 | CPU: Snapdragon 855 | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 3,700mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 16MP | Front camera: 8MP

Clean stock Android UI
Great camera
No expandable storage
No telephoto camera

Despite featuring amongst the best main cameras of any smartphone, the Pixel 4XL is held back from greatness on the imaging front because it lacks the versatility of its key competitors. As a smartphone, though, it’s still a perfect choice for app developers, and will guarantee you a great user experience across creative apps, thanks to the fact it runs the latest version of stock Android.

Since launching, the Pixel 4XL’s flagship price has dropped a touch if you shop around, so we’re more inclined to forgive its limitations, specifically the fact it has no zoom camera. Having said that, if you just want to point, shoot and get a stunning picture, then few devices can touch the Pixel-series. Google has also included a night mode on its Pixel 4-series called Night Sight that can capture night skies in more detail than anything else on the market, with intelligent long-exposures that create pictures that look like they were taken on a DSLR.

Currently loaded up with Android 11, if you need to be ahead of the Android pack from a software point of view, a Pixel 4 and 4XL are obvious choices, and we’re recommending the XL owing to its superior battery life when compared to its smaller sibling.

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06. iPhone SE (2020)

Best smartphone for Apple fans on a budget

Release date: April 2020 | Weight: 148g | Dimensions: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm | OS: iOS 13 | Screen size: 4.7-inch | Resolution: 750x1334 | CPU: Apple A13 Bionic | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 1,821mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: MP

Flagship power
Best value iPhone
No telephoto camera
No expandable storage

Apple isn’t usually known for its value for money, but the new iPhone SE bucks the trend, delivering flagship features like water-resistance and wireless charging as well as flagship power from just £409 (at time of writing).

If the new iPhone SE’s design’s familiar, that’s because this 2020 phone comes in the body of a 2017 flagship, the iPhone 8. Bringing back Touch ID and a notch-free, bezel-heavy screen, the SE definitely isn’t the most futuristic looking phone you can pick up at its price, but it is a perfect compromise for Apple fans on a budget.

The ample power inside will blast through everything from the latest 3D games to creative software, and CAD viewers through to 4K video editors like iMovie. Despite only sporting one 12MP camera around the back, thanks to smart software, the iPhone SE can still grab Portrait Mode photos, and with availability in three colours - black, white and Product Red, its classic design is matched with classic finishes.

When it comes to storage, with a starting capacity of 64GB, be sure to pick up the right iPhone for your needs - 128GB should be enough for most. Other than that disclaimer, the iPhone SE is a guaranteed win for anyone who doesn’t want to stump up for an iPhone 11 or 11 Pro.

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07. Huawei P40 Pro Plus

Best smartphone for photography

Release date: June 2020 | Weight: 193g | Dimensions: 158.2 x 72.6 x 9 mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.58-inch | Resolution: 1200x2640 | CPU: Kirin 990 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 512GB | Battery: 4,200mAh | Rear camera: 50MP + 8MP + 8MP + 40MP | Front camera: 32MP

Best camera phone
Top-tier specs
No Google support

The P40 Pro Plus is the best camera phone money can buy right now. Whether you’re pinching the screen to zoom way into the distance, or shooting in middling to low light, Huawei’s latest Leica co-engineered flagship phone delivers best-in-class photography, almost every time.

Why isn’t it the best phone in general? Owing to app support issues after Huawei falling in the firing line of China-US trade disputes, it doesn’t support the full suite of Google services. In turn, definitely read up on the potential limitations before picking one up - many basic tools you take for granted like the YouTube app won’t work on it. That said, if all you care about is that camera, and/or you don’t mind sideloading Google Services onto your phone (something we naturally can’t sanction but have successfully done), then this is the hands-down camera phone to beat.

The stars of the P40 Plus’s show are the telephoto cameras. We say cameras, plural because there are two: a 3x zoom and a 10x zoom around the back. This combo covers all bases, so you can be guaranteed a decent shot, however you frame it.

Combined with an ultrawide camera featuring an 18mm focal length, and a primary 50MP camera that comes in at 23mm, there’s plenty of versatility with the penta-camera system around the back of the P40 Pro. Huawei also loads up a time of flight (ToF) depth sensor to help with background defocus for DSLR-a-like photos depth of field.

Add to the mix excellent video credentials and a selfie camera that flatters like no other with realistic beautification that can be dialled up or down, and to say Huawei gets imaging is an understatement. It’s a shame that the Chinese tech giant’s phones aren’t easier to recommend from a software point of view.

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07. Honor Play

The best cheap smartphone for creatives

Release date: August 2018 | Weight: 176g | Dimensions: 157.9 x 74.3 x 7.5mm | OS: Android 8.1 | Screen size: 6.3-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2340 | CPU: Hisilicon Kirin 970 | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 64GB | Battery: 3750mAh | Rear camera: Dual 16MP | Front camera: 16MP

High powered for the price
Huge display
Limited storage
Lacks features

A 6.3-inch smartphone for around the £200/$200-mark should ring alarm bells – it must be terribly slow to use, have awful cameras or at least be downright ugly, right? Wrong, actually, and the Honor Play is proof. Notionally intended for gamers, that massive Full HD+ display and HiSilicon Kirin 970 chipset mean that it comes close to matching some of the world's best smartphones in those areas. The 16Mp dual lens main camera is well up to the job for Instagram-friendly shots (although low light photography does start to become a struggle), while its svelte dimensions and full-metal unibody cover mean the Honor Play has the look and feel of a flagship phone, too. All this makes it easily our top recommendation if you're looking for a cheap smartphone.

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09. Sony Xperia XZ Premium

A more affordable smartphone for video than the Google Pixel 3XL

Release date: June 2017 | 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

Sony has a rich heritage in camera tech, and the Motion Eye technology in the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is a continuation of that. For one, it features super-slow motion video – recording at 960 frames per second. Yes, 960! 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), while 5-axis stabilisation should make for steady 4K videos. The other big selling point of the 2017 XZ Premium (its elder statesmanship means it's now a lot cheaper) is that it was the first smartphone to have a 4K HDR display, which means a delightful screen on which to play back your creations.

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