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The best Android phones of the decade: 2010-2019

We pick the best Android phone from each year over the past ten years, and throw in some honorable mentions.
December 31, 2019

As 2019 comes to a close, we take our leave of the 2010s and enter into the 2020s. This is the first full decade that Android phones have been around, as the first Android phone didn’t pop up until 2008. As such, we thought we’d take a look back at the best Android phones of the decade, from the beginning of 2010 to the end of 2019.

Below, we’ve picked the best smartphone from each year. Additionally, we also threw in some honorable mentions, as for some years it was very difficult to choose just one.

Without further ado, here are the best Android phones of the decade!

2010: HTC Nexus One

HTC Nexus One

The HTC Nexus One wasn’t the first Android phone, but it was the first Nexus phone. It also was the first phone that Google sold in the then-unconventional manner of focusing on online direct sales of unlocked units, rather than relying on carriers. It also shipped with an easily unlockable bootloader, which made it a huge hit within the custom ROM community.

Related: Ghosts of Nexus past: Nexus 5 vs Nexus 4 vs Galaxy Nexus vs Nexus S vs Nexus One

This is the only phone on this list with a trackball, a now long-gone smartphone feature. Although you didn’t need to use the trackball to navigate through the phone’s applications, it probably made people used to BlackBerry devices feel more comfortable about switching to Android. Keep in mind that the Android operating system was less than two years old at the time the HTC Nexus One launched.

When you took the Nexus One out of the box, it was pre-loaded with Android 2.1 Eclair, but eventually got upgrades all the way through Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread. Google abandoned supporting the Nexus One shortly thereafter, but that unlockable bootloader kept the device alive in the ROM community for a long time.

HTC Nexus One specs:

  • Display: 3.7-inch AMOLED
  • Chipset: Snapdragon S1
  • RAM: 512MB
  • Storage: 4GB
  • Camera: 5MP
  • Front camera: None
  • Battery: 1,400mAh
  • Software: Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread

Honorable mentions: The HTC Evo 4G was a very popular smartphone model in 2010, but we decided against making it one of the best Android phones of the decade due to its abysmal battery life, even for 2010. That device is especially notable, though, due to it being the first 4G-capable phone launched in the United States. Another popular phone was the Motorola Droid X, which many reviews called the first Android phone to truly be a threat to the iPhone.

2011: Galaxy Nexus

Galaxy Nexus

2011 was the first year Samsung made a huge splash in the Android world. The company pushed out the Samsung Galaxy S2 that year, but its launch was incredibly confusing due to each of the four major wireless carriers in the US getting slightly different models with even slightly different names. It was even more confusing throughout the rest of the world.

It wasn’t until the very end of the year when Samsung finally got it right. Partnering with Google, the two companies co-released the Galaxy Nexus. Since it had the Nexus branding, the device was a top priority for Google and the launch of Android updates. In fact, the Galaxy Nexus was the first device with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

Related: A decade of Google: The most notable events from the past 10 years

As with the Nexus One from 2010, the Galaxy Nexus had an easily unlockable bootloader, which made it a prime choice for the custom ROM community. It also featured a unique curved display which gave it a very premium feel and is the first phone on this list to feature a selfie camera.

The device received universal acclaim upon its release, with many reviews citing it as the first truly great Android smartphone. That is debatable, but one thing is for certain: it is one of the best Android phones of the decade.

Galaxy Nexus specs:

  • Display: 4.7-inch Super AMOLED
  • Chipset: TI OMAP 4460
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Storage: 16GB
  • Camera: 5MP
  • Front camera: 1.3MP
  • Battery: 1,750mAh
  • Software: Android 4.3 Jelly Bean

Honorable mentions: Elsewhere in 2011, we also had the HTC ThunderBolt, which was the first device to support making phone calls and using data at the same time. We take this for granted now, but it was a big deal back then. There also was the previously mentioned Samsung Galaxy S2 lineup, which were all great phones. But Samsung’s weird strategy of releasing different ones for each carrier was a bad move. Luckily, the company smartened up in 2012.

2012: Samsung Galaxy S3

Samsung Galaxy S3

This was an absolutely bonkers year for Samsung. Although the original Samsung Galaxy S had done exceptionally well and the Galaxy S2 fared even better, the Samsung Galaxy S3 was the device that shot Samsung to the top of the Android world.

Related: Samsung Galaxy S3: 7 years later, its iPhone-bashing commercial still works

The Samsung Galaxy S3 was the second-best-selling phone of 2012 (right behind the Apple iPhone 5) and would eventually go on to be the second-best-selling Android phone of all time with over 70 million units sold (just under the 80 million units sold of the Samsung Galaxy S4, the top dog of Android sales).

The Galaxy S3 was about the same size as the 2011 Galaxy Nexus, but featured a physical home button and removed the curved glass design. It featured a best-in-class camera system, top-of-the-line specs, and durable construction with an easily removable back panel (hello, swappable battery!). For many people around the world, the Galaxy S3 was — and possibly still is — the perfect Android phone.

Samsung Galaxy S3 specs:

  • Display: 4.8-inch Super AMOLED
  • Chipset: Snapdragon S4
  • RAM: 1GB or 2GB
  • Storage: 16, 32, or 64GB
  • Camera: 8MP
  • Front camera: 1.9MP
  • Battery: 2,100mAh
  • Software: Android 4.4 KitKat

Honorable mentions: Samsung wasn’t content to launch just one game-changing phone in 2012. Although it isn’t one of the best Android phones of the decade, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 was a monster when it came to specs and features — and physical size. Today, its 5.5-inch display would be considered small, funnily enough. HTC also pushed out a terrific phone in the HTC One X, which featured one of the best displays on the market at the time, as well as a terrific, premium design. However, it was the following year when HTC really took us for a ride.

2013: HTC One (M7)

HTC One M7

If someone makes a list of the best phones of all time, it’s a safe bet that the HTC One will be on the list, either this M7 model or the M8 model that followed in 2014. No matter how you look at it, the HTC One set the standard for what a premium Android smartphone could be.

Related: The HTC One M7 reminds us that HTC once stood for quality

Honestly, where do you even begin with this phone? The unbelievable all-metal construction? The powerful, crisp-sounding dual front-facing speakers? The great camera using Ultrapixel technology? The 1080p display? The list goes on and on. All an Android fan would need to do was hold an HTC One to know that it was truly terrific.

Unfortunately, HTC started to nosedive only a year or two after this phone launched, to the point where today it barely releases smartphones at all. But we’ll always hold HTC in high regard for the One and its game-changing effect on the smartphone industry.

HTC One (M7) specs:

  • Display: 4.7-inch Super LCD3
  • Chipset: Snapdragon 600
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 32 or 64GB
  • Camera: 4MP
  • Front camera: 2.1MP
  • Battery: 2,300mAh
  • Software: Android 5 Lollipop

Honorable mentions: Motorola, unfortunately, doesn’t have a device that makes this list of the best Android phones of the decade, but the Motorola Moto X is probably the device that would have been it. The customizable phone (assembled in the US!) was truly innovative for its time, despite the fact that the specs and hardware itself were of a low tier. Elsewhere, the LG Nexus 5 was an interesting phone. It had the Nexus branding, which is always good, but its construction and specs were pretty weak. However, the device only cost $350, which, even for 2013, was pretty low.

2014: OnePlus One

A OnePlus One on a bench with the battery settings page pulled up.

Honestly, no matter which phone we picked for 2014 it would be seen as a controversial decision. How do you even choose the best Android phone for 2014 when you have so many legendary choices? We had to toss aside the Samsung Galaxy S5, the HTC One (M8), the Google Nexus 6, the LG G3, and on and on.

Ultimately, we picked the OnePlus One as one of the best Android phones of the decade because it was an industry disruptor and truly did signify the “Flagship Killer” moniker OnePlus adopted. For less than $300, you got an Android smartphone that looked great, had powerful specs, and even came pre-loaded with one of the most popular custom Android ROMs of all time, Cyanogen.

Related: From OnePlus 6T to OnePlus One: A week with a five-year-old phone

Of course, the problem with the OnePlus One was you needed to fight tooth-and-nail to get one. The much-loathed invite system prevented just anyone from buying the device, and it even resulted in a “black market” of sorts in which you could buy and sell invites and make tidy profits. Still, if you got one it was worth it, as the OnePlus One is one of the most beloved phones ever released. To this day, there are still people who use it as their daily driver and it even (unofficially) supports Android 9 Pie!

OnePlus One specs:

  • Display: 5.5-inch IPS LCD
  • Chipset: Snapdragon 801
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 16 or 64GB
  • Camera: 13MP
  • Front camera: 5MP
  • Battery: 3,100mAh
  • Software: Android 5 Lollipop

Honorable mentions: We actually needed to make an entirely separate post just to go over all the amazing Android phones launched in 2014, which you can read here. We will highlight two notables though, starting with the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact. As Android smartphones started getting larger in size, the Z3 Compact was one of the few phones you could get that was small in the hand but still fully powered with modern specs. We also want to point out the Motorola Moto G, which set the benchmark for budget devices. The Moto G line is Motorola’s most successful family of phones, so clearly it was on to something.

2015: Google Nexus 6P

Google Nexus 6P

OK, OK…we will fully admit that the Huawei-made Google Nexus 6P has a bit of a tainted history now with its well-documented bootloop errors. However, if you ignore that problem, you’re left with not only the best Nexus-branded phone, but one of the best Android phones of the decade.

Related: Google tried to recreate a DSLR photo with a Nexus 6P — and it worked

Dual front-facing speakers? Check. Powerful processor? Check. Great camera? Check. Stunning, beautiful design? Check. The Google Nexus 6P checked off nearly every box an Android fan could want and still kept the price at under $500.

Unfortunately, this would end up being the final entry in Google’s long-running Nexus series. After the Nexus 6P, Google moved on to the Pixel series with the 2016 launch of the original Google Pixel. It’s sad that the Nexus series came to an end, but at least it went out with a solid bang in the Nexus 6P.

Google Nexus 6P specs:

  • Display: 5.7-inch OLED
  • Chipset: Snapdragon 810
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 32, 64, or 128GB
  • Camera: 12.3MP
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 3,450mAh
  • Software: Android 8.1 Oreo

Honorable mentions: In 2015, we also really liked the third-generation Motorola Moto X. Sure, the Nexus 6P was cheap by flagship standards, but the Moto X was even cheaper, although it did cut down on some specs to get there. We also loved the LG V10, the first entry in LG’s long-running V series that ups the ante on the specs and designs of the flagship G series. You just needed to get used to those rear-mounted buttons.

2016: Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge

Samsung Galaxy S7

The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge came at an interesting time for Samsung. Between the Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy S7, things changed significantly in the world of Android. Although Samsung was still top dog, its reign was by no means assured as other players such as Huawei and Xiaomi started hacking away at its market share.

Related: Samsung Galaxy S7 sales cross 55 million units

The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, in a way, were the last of the “old” Samsung. They were the last to feature the familiar home button (even if it was only capacitive here) and the last to feature the distinctive body design of the Galaxy S family up until this point. They were also the last to sell in incredibly high numbers — since the launch of the Galaxy S7 family, Samsung has sold fewer and fewer Galaxy phones with each passing year.

Even if you ignore all that significance and history, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge were some of the best phones from Samsung ever. They were like the Galaxy S3 taken to the nth degree when it comes to design, specs, and features. We don’t know what the future holds for Samsung, but we know we’ll never see a phone like the Galaxy S7 again.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge specs:

  • Display: 5.5-inch Super AMOLED
  • Chipset: Snapdragon 820
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 32, 64, or 128GB
  • Camera: 12MP
  • Front camera: 5MP
  • Battery: 3,600mAh
  • Software: Android 8.0 Oreo

Honorable mentions: You can’t talk about 2016 smartphones without mentioning the Google Pixel, the very first device of its kind. Unlike previous Nexus devices, Google designed and created the Pixel itself (with a little help from HTC), putting all its focus on making it the most “Google” phone ever. Additionally, the OnePlus 3T launched towards the end of the year and was the first smartphone from the company that proved OnePlus could be a major global player, not just a niche brand for Android geeks. OnePlus even continued to support the OnePlus 3 and 3T all the way into 2019 by delivering a final official update to Android 9 Pie.

2017: Huawei Mate 10 Pro

The front of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro.

Although Huawei has unofficially already appeared on this list (the Nexus 6P was created by Huawei in partnership with Google), the Huawei Mate 10 Pro is the first bonafide win from the Chinese company. While Huawei had certainly made great phones before the Mate 10 Pro, this device was the first from the company that ticked off every box (well, almost) to become the best phone of the year and one of the best Android phones of the decade.

Related: Samsung Galaxy S9 vs Huawei Mate 10 Pro

Most importantly, in 2017 Huawei was a breath of fresh air in the Android market. The domination of Samsung had made the Android world rather stale and Huawei was offering something different while still giving Android fans the specs and features they wanted.

After the Mate 10 Pro, Huawei would go on a winning streak with the P20 Pro, the Mate 20 Pro, and on through 2019 with the P30 Pro, which was absolutely a contender for the best phone of 2019.

Unfortunately, the future is uncertain for Huawei now. But we’ll always know how amazing Huawei is at creating smartphones by looking at the Mate 10 Pro.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro specs:

  • Display: 6-inch OLED
  • Chipset: Kirin 970
  • RAM: 4 or 6GB
  • Storage: 64 or 128GB
  • Cameras: 12 and 20MP
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 4,000mAh
  • Software: Android 9 Pie

Honorable mentions: A lot happened in 2017. One of the biggest bits of news was the return of Nokia, albeit via a manufacturer called HMD Global. That company released the very first Android phones bearing the Nokia name, including the sort-of-flagship Nokia 8. Additionally, we saw the launch of a one-hit-wonder: the Essential Phone. Although the device had some serious problems (that camera, ugh), a steady stream of software updates made the phone better and better with age. Even now, the device still sees updates sometimes only minutes after Pixel devices see them.

2018: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Samsung Galaxy Note 9

For many Android diehards out there, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the perfect modern phone. It’s got wireless charging, an IP rating, a microSD slot, a headphone jack, a great camera system, a huge battery, and no display notch in sight. It delivers a top-of-the-line experience with no frills. Notably, the device was not only our favorite smartphone of 2018, but also yours: the phone won both the official Best of Android as well as our Reader’s Choice battle.

Related: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 battery review: Huge, but enough?

Although spec-wise this year’s Samsung Galaxy Note 10 is “better” than the Note 9, many would argue that the Note 10 is actually a step down, especially when you consider there’s no headphone jack and no microSD card included on the Note 10 (the Note 10 Plus kept the SD card slot, but still no headphone jack).

Luckily, the Galaxy Note 9 is still an active device for Samsung, with Android 10 scheduled to land as a stable update on the phone early in 2020. Here’s hoping that Samsung extends the life of the Note 9 longer than the usual two years as there are lots of folks who will be loathed to give it up.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 specs:

  • Display: 6.4-inch Super AMOLED
  • Chipset: Snapdragon 845
  • RAM: 6 or 8GB
  • Storage: 128 or 512GB
  • Cameras: 12 and 12MP
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 4,000mAh
  • Software: Android 9 Pie

Honorable mentions: Although the Galaxy Note 9 was universally the phone of the year for 2018, there were still plenty of heavy hitters. The Xiaomi Pocophone F1 appeared to take up the “Flagship Killer” mantra OnePlus left behind several years earlier by offering top-of-the-line specs for just $300. Speaking of OnePlus, it dropped the 2018 powerhouse OnePlus 6T, which not only earned a bevy of accolades from Android Authority, but also earned the company a deal with T-Mobile that saw the brand expand heavily in the United States for the first time.

2019: Google Pixel 3a XL

Google Pixel 3a XL front of the phone

This year was a very interesting time for smartphones. High-end phones are getting so similar that they all share many of the same features and design elements while simultaneously getting so expensive that a price with four digits is not uncommon. It almost makes you wonder why you should even get a flagship phone at all.

That’s exactly where the Google Pixel 3a XL comes in. For less than $500 you get most of the features one would expect with a flagship smartphone, including an amazing camera, a large, crisp OLED display, and the latest version of Android. It even has a headphone jack.

Related: Google Pixel 3a XL review: Come for the camera, stay for the experience

To keep the price down, Google opted for a weaker processor, a relatively small amount of internal storage, and none of the bells and whistles of high-end flagships. It also took away the glass back and replaced it with plastic, which some would argue is actually better than slippery, easily breakable glass.

The Google Pixel 3a XL may not have the best specs of other devices launched this year and it may not have aced all of our objective tests to become the overall best phone of the year. But dollar-for-dollar this is an amazing device and is solid proof that buying a flagship phone in 2019 isn’t at all a necessity to get what you need.

Device specs:

  • Display: 6-inch OLED
  • Chipset: Snapdragon 670
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB
  • Cameras: 12.2MP
  • Front camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 3,700mAh
  • Software: Android 10

Honorable mentions: You can’t talk about relatively inexpensive 2019 devices that offer a flagship-style experience without of course bringing up the OnePlus 7T. Although the Pixel 3a XL is over $100 cheaper than the 7T, you make far fewer spec and design sacrifices with the 7T (obviously, though, you won’t get that headphone jack). Speaking of close seconds and headphone jacks, the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is easily one of the best devices Samsung has ever made, possibly even better than the Galaxy Note 9. Of course, to get that phone you’ll spend at least $1,000, far more than the Pixel 3a XL or the OnePlus 7T. But if you want everything great about a 2019 smartphone all-in-one, you want the Galaxy S10 Plus.

That’s our list of the best Android phones of the decade. Are there any we missed or is there one you wish had a more prominent status on the list? Sound off in the comments!