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Android Power Rankings (May 2019): Shake-up at the top
After the first Android Power Rankings captured the state of Android at the start of 2019, a number of big releases have shaken the market and there’s all kinds of movement up and down. Android brands have rushed out a huge number of new phones — close to 70 by now — and we’re now looking at flagship devices including the Samsung Galaxy 10 range and the Huawei P30 series, along with 5G variants, plus of course, the big new foldable devices — the struggling Samsung Galaxy Fold and the coming-soon Huawei Mate X.
There are a few interesting devices with the Google Pixel 3a and 3a XL hitting stores during the writing of these rankings, and the OnePlus 7 series coming out in style. Xiaomi has been busy and we’ve seen phones like the Oppo Reno 10x Zoom Edition, Honor View 20, Nokia 9 PureView, and a flurry of Samsung A-series mid-rangers hit the shelves in different regions.
But what’s the lay of the land in terms of overall brand success, value, competitiveness, service, style, and importance? Which brand is on top, and which has fallen back?
Catch-up: The first Android Power Rankings.
What are these power rankings?
The best Android brands, ranked.
First, a refresher or introduction to power rankings. Power rankings are, of course, mostly from the world of sports. Systems to rank teams in the NFL, NBA, and NCAA have been around for decades and are part of the fun of a long season. Teams go up and down depending on the strength the team has shown, which mostly comes down to wins and losses. But close losses against top teams can boost a low team, and scrappy, ugly wins for top teams over lower ranked teams might hurt their ranking in close races. It’s a chance to assess the entire league or division, and of course, the fans won’t always agree with whatever system is in place.
How does it work?
How do you rank Android brands, when everything from new devices to an unexpected update with hot new features can change rankings? Is it about proven success, or can a new upstart immediately rank well? Is it about new growth or sustaining a brand without necessarily growing? Is it about having options at every price point, or doing one phone superbly? Well, it’s all of those.
I’ve decided each ranking subjectively, but have taken into account metrics such as sales, strength of reviews of devices, our still hot Best of Android results, plus recent poll results around top phones and new brands.
Here are my Android power rankings for the second time in 2019.
Android Power Rankings
Samsung has been all-but dethroned. The brand I dubbed the King last time has suffered at the hands of its own doing in the Samsung Galaxy Fold. I think this problem went from bad to worse after the initial problems, then the iFixit blog takedown. I want to give Samsung credit for trying, but the whole release has damaged foldable devices. However, it’s difficult to know how much of this permeated into the average consumer. For most people, Samsung’s S10 range, including its 5G phone, offered a refined smartphone experience, even if its cameras didn’t always please us.
The new A-range of mid-level devices is packing a punch, and the Note 10 is the next big release, a follow-up to the award-winning Note 9, and most people find One UI a step forward.
Probably the main thing that saved Samsung from falling to Huawei is the strength of the S10. Yes, the Huawei P30 Pro offered a new level of optical zoom and got the jump on Samsung in the camera. But the kicker in Samsung’s favor came from a site vote on the S10 Plus vs P30 Pro, where nearly 60 percent of people preferred the S10 Plus in a poll of 50,000 readers. Back when we compared the P20 Pro to the S9 Plus, the P20 Pro easily won. I think Samsung’s S10 range really overcame a weak S9 series, and that made sure Huawei didn’t get past on the back of the Fold issues. There are also those availability issues working in Samsung’s favor, given U.S. buyers can’t get the P30 or any Huawei device.
Huawei can’t stop, won’t stop and the P30 Pro added even more firepower in its flagship range, with its 5x optical zoom and excellent low-light camera, plus all-round performance. Huawei’s power is across the full range of devices, with the Honor View 20 a nice value flagship, along with all the challenger phones, gaming devices, and more.
Huawei’s foldable phone, the Mate X, is set to appear later than the Galaxy Fold, but in the brief hands-on won admirers for its form factor. While Huawei could still make a mess of things with a too-fragile device, it hasn’t yet. 5G is also coming soon with the Mate X and the Mate 20 X 5G gaming phone, with the 20 X offering 5G in Switzerland, and the Mate 30 is just a few months away.
Zero U.S. presence really holds Huawei back, because of course it does, and the rival Snapdragon 855 platform now on most flagships looks like it beats out the Kirin 980 chipset in terms of performance. But here we are – Huawei climbs to an equal footing with Samsung through solid work, and crucially, no missteps.
OnePlus grabbed the third rank in early 2019 and the OnePlus 7 Pro looks to keep it here. Just this week, OnePlus announced the 7 Pro, the standard OnePlus 7, and a 5G variant of the Pro. The OP7 Pro will have T-Mobile carrier support in the US, and features a range of improvements like a 90Hz screen, the triple-lens main shooter, a pop-up selfie camera, UFS 3.0 and HDR10+ support. The OnePlus 7 Pro is also much more expensive than in the past. As OnePlus continues to get closer and closer to a true flagship without compromise, is the price going to slow its advance in the market?
One more thing: Somehow, OnePlus is the best BBK brand with the best UI and software. Meanwhile, its conglomerate sibling or cousin or uncle, Vivo, has awful software. Both are popular in India.
Xiaomi’s race for top three is closer than ever and really, and there are many arguments to place Xiaomi ahead of OnePlus. Xiaomi packs top specs into the flagship Mi 9, while we’re waiting to see the first Xiaomi 5G phone in the Mi Mix 3 5G variant, complete with Snapdragon 855. The main issue for Xiaomi is that its incredible value-packed pricing game has been cracked by other OEMs, as it was always bound to be. Xiaomi is obviously still a massive player in China, India, but now growth in Europe and the UK is vital, while a new Australian arm will be an interesting move.
Google remains a solid fifth, with the Pixel 3a announced just in time for the rankings, and to great reviews! The Pixel 3a and 3a XL were announced in the same markets as the Pixel 3 but at attractive pricing – starting at $399 — while packing much of what makes the Pixel series good and tight integrations. However, Google’s Night Sight has been significantly bested by Huawei, taking away a key advantage for the Pixel series, although Google is much more backwards compatible. Back on the bright side, our look back after using the Pixel 3 XL for five months reads well for anyone still thinking about buying that flagship at lower prices, although average battery life and iffy performance are discussed.
Everyone thinks Google can do more, especially with all those HTC engineers now firmly integrated within the Google mothership. How high are hopes for the Pixel 4 to offer something even better?
LG’s G8 ThinQ improved on the G7 flagship formula of packing together features, including top-level audio options, as well as a few gimmicks, but managed again to be upstaged by Huawei’s P30 Pro and the Samsung S10 series. The LG V50 ThinQ 5G, expected on May 10 in South Korea, offers a 5G flagship that might manage to create some brand pull for LG. In any case, LG does release many more phones than flagships, including the K40 and K50 already this year, but they’re more value-focused offerings. LG is shifting production to Vietnam in the hopes of offering better value devices but that will likely take time to come to fruition. In the meantime, LG still hasn’t figured out that slow software updates are a big problem, and it still hasn’t figured out how to transfer the LG brand known for quality TVs and white goods into phones.
7. Oppo (up 1)
The Oppo Reno series including the 10x Zoom Edition didn’t win any awards for the name but with clever optical zoom and a shark fin pop-up camera, is an interesting flagship following the Find X. We learned from the Reno’s launch in Zurich that it is clearly ramping up further, bringing a 5G device to Europe before competitors and even branching into the IoT space. It looks like Oppo is trying harder to not just be the “other OnePlus” and pushing forward towards being a top five maker.
8. Nokia (down 1)
Nokia has four new smartphones in 2019. The top of the line, the Nokia 9 PureView was fairly criticized for its ambitious camera that has regular crashes. While it can take stunning photos, especially if you edit RAW files, most people don’t go this far, and some photos are just bad. A recent software update bug allowed anyone or almost anything to unlock the phone, which was one of the worst software bugs of the year. I’ve used it, and I didn’t think it was a brilliant phone.
Otherwise, the Nokia 1 Plus, 3.2, and 4.2, were all lower-end phones, with the 4.2 dubbed an “affordable flagship.” All three were announced at MWC 2019 a few months ago but haven’t been rushed to market. We’ll know more about them in time. I said last time that Nokia needs a solid performer that everyone wants if it truly wants to climb up the ranks. The Nokia 9 PureView attracted that sort of interest in its fancy cameras but ultimately still has a long way to go to play with the big boys.
Sony hit MWC 2019 with new tallness. The Xperia 1 flagship went for a super tall 6.5-inch display at a 21:9 ratio, while the more mid-range Xperia 10 and Xperia 10 Plus added tallness to the cheaper-but-cheerful line. I mean, Sony had to do something. The Sony Mobile division is one of the more costly enterprises in electronics today, losing some $800+ million in 2018 alone. Who knows where it went?
New management has shaken up Sony Mobile to better incorporate the brilliance from mirrorless cameras into its smartphones. But the cost is insanely high for Sony Mobile to keep going as is. We also know that Sony Mobile exited the Middle-Eastern, Central and South American markets, along with Australia as it downsizes and reshapes itself. What comes next will tell us a lot about Sony’s future.
Lenovo/Motorola is interesting. Motorola is attracting attention for what seems like a foldable clamshell RAZR v4 sometime this year, while the G7 series seems like it’s a winner, dubbed “as powerful and appealing as ever” in our review. Plus, it does technically have the award of being the first 5G consumer device in the USA, via the Moto Z3 with 5G Moto Mod. No one should buy it, but hey, it works. The Moto Z4 has had some leaks, suggesting it’s not far away, too.
As for Lenovo, its Z5 range is packed with value, including flagship Snapdragon 855-led specs with the Z5 GT, but its devices are simply not widely available outside of China.
11. Vivo (up 1)
Vivo’s growth in India is massive, and it has managed to do that by targeting a slightly more youthful audience with a focus on selfies, while, as Android Authority’s Dhruv Bhutani tells me, it sells offline and is big in smaller cities. On Vivo’s 2019 checklist of value-packed phones are the Vivo V15 and V15 Pro; it tried the weird Vivo Apex 2019 phone without a port; while its Vivo iQOO gaming phone kept Vivo active across many different markets. Vivo made a big bet on the FIFA World Cup last year, and seems to be pushing its sport options in the IPL in India. The big problem for other markets is that Vivo won’t get mainstream while its software remains strange if not borderline bad, at least for a Western audience. I like that Vivo keeps trying bleeding-edge concepts, and it commands respect because the new ideas are more than gimmicks, but a powerhouse it isn’t. Dhruv tells me it’s Oppo 2.0, and that makes sense, given both brands are owned by BBK.
12. Asus (up 3)
Asus makes a jump but don’t read into it too far. Asus released the ZenFone Max Shot and ZenFone Max Plus M2 in India, while the ROG Phone is still a worthy gaming-first device. The Asus Zenfone Max Pro M2 still punches above its weight, although as a Redmi Note 7 competitor the latter just wins out. There’s a strong community behind Asus which helps offer enthusiasts a variety of ROMs and support. An Asus ROG Phone 2 will be interesting.
Let’s see if the ZenFone 6, due very soon, will give Asus a shot in the arm.
13. HTC (down 4)
Poor HTC. We’re now five months into 2019 and there are no new HTC devices, although we did see confirmation of a second blockchain phone. The HTC U12 Plus remains at just-about flagship level and is priced more attractively now, but who’s buying it? HTC is more or less flaming out unless I’m very much mistaken. I was once on HTC Island, as someone with high hopes for HTC. But now it comes down to lucky 13: will the HTC U13 (if that is its name) restore any glory? Can HTC beat its constant mistakes of high price, poor battery life, slow software updates (Android Pie still hasn’t been seen!), and not just offer slightly-odd blockchain devices? Way down but not out?
14. Pocophone (down 1)
The Pocophone F1? Great. But what next, and when? The rookie of the year from Xiaomi and 2018 is still a superb value-packed device, still selling well and even cheaper, and getting useful updates such as 4K/60fps video recording. That’s all very encouraging. But to keep things short, we’re waiting for a Poco F2 to join the ranks of the Snapdragon 855 phones and keenly waiting to see how aggressively it will be priced. I said to watch out for a second-season slump from Pocophone. Nothing much has happened, so I’m not wrong or right, but the F2 will be hotly anticipated.
15. Realme (up 2)
Realme sprung up as Oppo’s solution to the Redmi juggernaut in India and it’s managed to stay busy, with the release of the Realme 3 and Realme 3 Pro to take on Redmi in India. Our recent review of the Realme 3 Pro found a few issues but it’s a solid enough device, and has been selling well. Previous devices like the Realme 2 have had price cuts, so Oppo’s sub-brand is staying aggressive.
Just earlier this week, the Realme X was introduced in China, for the Chinese market. It’s by far the fanciest phone Realme ever put out, with features like an all-screen front and a pop-up selfie cam. It only costs around $200 too. Making an expansion move into China bucks the reverse trend that we’ve seen, and it’s looking like it’s all up from here in the next ranking if things continue.
16. ZTE (up 2)
ZTE made a show of its return at MWC 2019 with announcements including a 5G phone, plus the ZTE Axon S and Axon V in interesting designs, with the ZTE Axon 10 Pro hitting Europe as something you can buy right now. Is this ZTE back in business for real? If so, stay tuned!
17. BlackBerry (down 2)
Blackberry has a color change, and that’s about it so far in 2019. The Blackberry Key2 is now looking a little dated on the specs front, but a new Red Edition did keep things ticking over with more storage, despite the price tag. Clearly, Blackberry is aiming at consumers that worry about function, not price. Although there is the Key2 LE that exists as a more affordable physical keyboard option, or sidekick to the Key2. TCL aren’t letting Blackberry go to waste, and even though software updates to new OS versions are not rapid, software patches are, and rock-solid software is worth something.
18. Razer (down 2)
I wasn’t sure where Razer might end up and there’s really not much new. On the good side, the Razer Phone 2 is now sub-$500 and has Android Pie. The gamer space hasn’t really proven to be a big deal for smartphone makers, but others are now joining the smoother and faster refresh-rate display ranks, so Razer might not be on its own with its 120HZ display. That’s good and bad. It reduces Razer’s headline exclusive feature, but this might encourage app and game developers to offer more compatibility. Razer started something, but where does it go from here? Will there be another phone? Based on ranking Razer so low, we’re guessing not.
The Red Hydrogen One is now out and the Red Hydrogen One probably shouldn’t be bought by anyone. It abandoned its module technology although it may not be dead, but who’s waiting to find out? Disastrous efforts in smartphone land so far, but redemption might be possible. I’m an eternal optimist!
Essential. Our first retired entrant! Essential, gone but not forgotten, and still putting out software updates for the PH-1, and that’s about it.
Both Red and Razer might fall here too in the coming months, depending. It’s not easy being in Android.
So, how are the Android Power Rankings looking to you? Questions, queries, concerns? Let’s take it to the comments. We’ll be back with updated rankings in a few months time!