2018 was another year in which smartphones took centre stage to beat all gadgets. While they became more powerful, some of them also started doing better than laptops and other computing devices. Nandagopal Rajan, Shruti Dhapola and Anuj Bhatia compile the list of the best smartphones and other gadgets of the year.
Best overall phone: Galaxy Note 9
This was a year in which many good phones were launched. But when it came to picking the best phone of the year, we chose the Galaxy Note 9 because it has a distinct advantage in comparison with other flagships. The Note 9 has a 4000mAh battery which is still rare in flagships and solves the biggest pain point for smartphone users. Then even if all this puts the Note 9 at par with other phones, it still has the S-Pen that gives it a distinct edge over any other smartphone out there.
Closely followed by: iPhone XS Max
The iPhone XS Max was maybe the most anticipated phone this year. It is certainly the best Apple has offered so far, but it some ways is an improvement on the iPhone X. The iPhone XS Max is a near perfect phone that is powerful and stable at the same time. The A12 Bionic process is powerful enough to bring AI, ML and AR functionalities to the device without depending on the cloud. It has the best camera ever on an iPhone and one that can click photos that will awe you all the time. And yes, the best facial recognition too.
Best Android flagship phone: OnePlus 6T
The OnePlus 6 and then the OnePlus 6T set the benchmark on what a no-nonsense Android flagship should be. It also reiterated the fact that a good smartphone does not have to cost the earth. The latest OnePlus flagships offered superior performance, great cameras and a software that was both clean and innovative. With the OnePlus 6T, the startup pushed an in-display fingerprint scanner that worked every time you touched it. No wonder, this Chinese device maker has started dominating the premium segment.
Closely followed by: Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Huawei Mate 20 Pro has been one of our favourite flagship smartphones of 2018. It ticks all the boxes: a large OLED panel, Kirin 980 processor, triple rear-facing cameras, beautiful glass back and front, in-display fingerprint scanner, FaceID-like 3D depth facing cameras, and a massive 4,000mAh battery. A few premium phones stood this year and Mate 20 Pro was one of them.
Best flagship phone with camera: Pixel 3
Google Pixel 3 remains the top camera in our review, simply because of what it offers despite coming with a single lens. The Night Sight mode truly does transform images, SuperZoom is excellent as well and in Portrait mode, Pixel 3 remains ahead in our view, even better than some of the phone with 2-3 sensors. With Pixel 3, one can see that software is really going to drive the future of the smartphone camera. The Pixel 3’s camera requires minimal effort on part of the user to give stunning results, and that’s really what you want in a phone at the end of the day.
Closely followed by: iPhone XR
The iPhone XR was Apple’s bid to offer a more affordable option in its lineup without users having to pick an older device. The iPhone XR does not compromise on power, as it is powered by the same A12 Bionic processor that Apple has put on its flagships this year. This phone offers just a single lens at the back and not the dual camera set up in the iPhone X series. But despite that this phone has emerged as a great clicker with results similar the iPhone XS. Though the iPhone XS Max is still a much superior camera, the fact that the XR does what it does with one lens makes it our pick for runner up.
Best mid-range flagship: OnePlus 6T
OnePlus 6T and the original OnePlus 6 was the mid-range phone. The brand which has really changed the definition of a flagship in our view, delivered well with the OnePlus 6 and the 6T. In particular the camera on the OnePlus 6 and 6T, proved to be a significant improvement over the previous generation. Coupled with that the stylish glass design of the OnePlus 6, 6T, along with ample power and regular updates makes it a reliable choice in the market. Towards the end of the year, OnePlus launched a McLaren edition of the phone as well which comes with 10GB RAM for those who want that extra power.
Runner-up mid-range flagship: Nokia 7 Plus (Later Nokia 8.1)
HMD Global has managed to do an excellent job in the mid-range segment with the Nokia 7 Plus, which had a premium design, good performance and excellent cameras. This was followed by the Nokia 8.1 towards the end of 2018, which also impressed us in terms of the performance and camera. HMD Global’s Nokia 7 Plus had a price tag of Rs 25,999 and made it as a worthy option in that segment. Nokia 8. 1 improves on this further in our view.
Best mid-budget phone: Redmi note 5 Pro
Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 5 Pro is our winner in this year’s mid-budget segment. Yes, the Redmi Note 6 Pro has also launched in the market, but that was only towards the end of 2018. For the rest of the year, Redmi Note 5 Pro has helped Xiaomi to cement its number one position in the Indian smartphone market. Redmi Note 5 Pro offered a solid performance and dual-rear cameras, which were excellent for the price. The display, battery life on this phone all live up to the claims, and overall the phone proved to be a best-seller for Xiaomi. In fact, Xiaomi continues to sell the device in the market, and at its current price of Rs 12,999, this is still a good deal. Of course, those who want dual-front cameras and slightly bigger display, now have the option of considering the newer Redmi Note 6 Pro variant.
Runner-up mid-budget phone: Realme 2 Pro
Realme might have just entered the market back in May 2018, but it has managed to really shake up the budget space. The Realme 2 Pro was one of the company’s best offerings in this segment, launched at Rs 13,990 for the 4GB RAM and 64GB variant going up to Rs 17,990 for the 8GB RAM and 128GB variant. Realme 2 Pro has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor, a stylish design, display with a more elegant waterdrop notch and excellent dual cameras at the back. The device impressed us with its performance and camera in our review, and for its price is definitely a winner.
Mi A2: In the budget category smartphone cameras can be a hit and miss. Yes dual-cameras at common in this segment now, but very few phones deliver a consistent performance, no matter what the lighting conditions. With Mi A2, Xiaomi launched an excellent device in the camera department. Mi A2 is an Android phone, and the camera performance was impressive for its price. The camera’s Bokeh mode is excellent, and works well on both objects and actual human portrait subjects. The low-performance is also better than what the competition offers, at least in this particular price segment.
Best value for money phone: Asus Zenfone Pro M1 (Later M2)
Asus made a solid comeback in 2018 with phones like the Asus Zenfone Max Pro (M1), which launched back in April 2018. The successor to this phone, the Zenfone Max Pro (M2) is already here as well, and was launched this month. Asus went for stock Android and packed a big battery of 5000 mAh coupled with good performance on the Zenfone Max Pro M1. With the M2 Pro, it has gone for a slightly better Snapdragon 660 processor compared to the 636 on the M1 variant. Overall, Asus got it right with the pricing, the performance and the features when it came to the Zenfone Max Pro series.
Nokia 5.1: HMD Global has been trying very hard in the mid-budget segment and its phones like Nokia 5.1 and Nokia 6.1 Plus really stood in terms of the price and performance. The quality of these Nokia-branded phones, and overall design and look is very premium, something on rarely sees in the under Rs 20,000 price segment. Nokia 5.1 in particular impressed us with the performance, cameras. With Nokia 6.1 Plus, the performance and camera was also very good. There’s no doubt that in the mid-budget segment, Nokia phones have managed to stand out thanks to their impressive design and features.
Honor 8X: Another brand which has been playing aggressively in this segment is Huawei’s Honor, which has showcased a slew of devices in 2018. Honor 8X really stood out in our view thanks to the big display, elegant design, and good performance. The camera performance on the Honor 8X was also impressive considering its price of Rs 14,999 for the 4GB RAM option.
Oppo Find X: This was a truly bezel-less display phone with notch, motorised cameras and unique look and design. It also has the flagship level specifications and a performance to back it up as well. The camera performance was also impressive as we noted in our review. Vivo Nex: Vivo Nex was one of the first few phones to offer a truly bezel-less display, no notch, in-display fingerprint sensor and a motorised selfie camera. The phone impressed us with its performance, the camera was also good.
Honor Play: Honor Play was a unique smartphone in many ways. The smartphone came with top-of-the-line specifications in the mid-range category, something that was unheard of. Although not a perfect phone, it’s still one of the best performing smartphones of 2018. Poco F1: Xiaom’s Poco F1 gave an affordable flagship phone with good specifications, an excellent battery life and decent camera as it took on the OnePlus 6, 6T. The phone will appeal to those who want a gaming phone at a budget. Oppo F9: Oppo F9 continued with the selfie focus and offered an improved design thanks to the elegant water-drop notch. The phone offered decent cameras, fast charging and good selfie camera in our view.
The Apple MacBook Pro version for 2018 is pretty much the best you can buy when it comes to creativity, productivity and performance on a laptop. It packs more than a punch with the most powerful processors, really fast memory and a stunning display, the TouchBar offer a versatility that other laptops don’t.
Dell XPS 13
Dell’s XPS 13 is one of the best laptops in the market for those who want a premium design and powerful performance. Yes, the Dell XPS 13 is expensive, but it packs some really high-end specifications, like the option for a 4K display, the 8th gen Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM and excellent battery life. The sleek design of the Dell XPS 13 makes this ultimate premium laptop to get.
iPad Pro 12.9-inch
The latest 12.9-inch iPad Pro can put any laptop to shame with its pure processing power. So much so that Adobe is preparing to launch a full-blown version of its Photoshop just for the iPad. In fact, if you are looking at buying the new MacBook Air as a writing device, the iPad Pro will challenge the decision by offer more portability, similar power and a better price. The improvements on the Apple Pencil makes it a better option now for creative people.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S4
Where the iPad Pro falls a bit short, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 scores and that is the with the stylus. The Samsung S-Pen is the best stylus you can buy. The new Tab S4 is overall a very powerful device, so much so that it can power a desktop on its own via Samsung Dex.
Apple Watch Series 4
Apple is still lording over the entire watch and smartwatch segment thanks to the immense popularity of its Apple Watch. With Series 4, Apple has pushed the envelope to offer ECG on the wrist along with fall detection, both features that could end up saving lives.
The Fitbit Versa looks a bit like the Apple Watch and is a full fledged smartwatch with a decent apps ecosystem and a few more extras thrown in at a very decent price. An excellent battery life takes it one step ahead of competition.
The JBL BoomBox stands out for its sheer audio quality that is deep, soulful and touching. It has four active transducers and two JBL bass radiators, good enough to liven any pool party. But if that was not enough it also comes with a massive 20,000 mAh battery.
Mass Fidelity Core
An engineering marvel of sorts, the Mass Fidelity Core is a Bluetooth speaker that produces a 3D audio profile which you can literally walk around. Ths gets over then challenge of producing a broader frequency range from smaller chassis, and gives stunning audio that will please you even if you are just enjoying a movie.
The Audeze Mobius stands apart from everything we have heard this year as it offers a near perfect audio profile using the relatively new and distortion-free planar magnetic technology. The Mobius comes with head tracking too and that makes it audio output more spatial.
Sony WH-1000X M3
Sony has been closing in on Bose in the noise cancelling segment and this headphone is proof that there is a lot of work going in. The new WH-1000X M3 offers touch controls along the ability to customise the audio and noise cancelling to your preference.
The Leica C-Lux might look like a point and shoot, but despite being the most affordable camera you can own, this is also a stunning clicker that offers DSLR-quality images. The camera is as versatile as any can be and offers details that will put larger cameras to shame.
Canon EOX R
Canon’s first mirrorless full-frame camera also ushers in a new R Mount series of lenses made just for these. The results, especially with low light and macro, show that Canon could help more professionals make the switch to full frame.
Also by Anuj Bhatia