Every year, smartphones become more homogenous, the differences smaller and the risk (associated with the ever-increasing cost) higher. 2017 was no different — with every manufacturer bringing their best to the table, and with mainstream smartphones hitting the $1,000 mark for the first time, the age-old question becomes ever more important:

Which smartphone really IS the best?

Two years ago, we set out to answer this question for the very first time with Best of Android 2015, with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 topping five competitors to become the inaugural Phone of the Year. Last year, we made Best of Android even bigger, with the budget-friendly OnePlus 3T knocking out nine other flagships to take home the crown.

For 2017, the stakes are the highest they’ve ever been and we’re taking our end of year awards to a whole new level. Since the first Best of Android, we’ve spent over 1,000 hours revamping our reviews format to really help answer the most important question that we are asked. The resulting testing methodology will be used in every Android Authority review in 2018, but until then, we’re putting ten of the best phones of 2017 to the test.

The phones we’re featuring in our third annual Best of Android comparison are:

We had also planned to include the ZTE Axon M, HTC U11+ and Essential Phone but problems with a defective unit, lack of availability and delays in shipping meant these three devices failed to make the cut. We picked these devices as they’re the latest from each manufacturer and in the case of the Galaxy Note 8, LG V30 and others, they are better than their flagship siblings from earlier this year.

Throughout this week, we’ll walk you through each test, the results, and what it all means! Here’s what you can look forward to.

Testing, 1, 2, 3

All of our testing was conducted in our brand-new testing lab in San Francisco, which features an entirely blacked-out room, dedicated computer with testing gear and fixed equipment to ensure that every camera sample is taken from the same angle and position.

Throughout the tests, we’ve adopted either custom solutions of our own, off-the-shelf solutions that are widely recognized and respected, or partnerships with industry-leading companies who are experts in their respective fields.

Display

Smartphone displays don’t undergo drastic changes in design often, but 2017 saw almost every flagship adopt a new, taller aspect ratio, as the battle to shrink bezels and increase screen real estate heated up. Our tests haven’t changed much from previous years but the addition of gamma testing gave us another criterion by which to identify the smallest of differences.

Audio

Our audio tests take into consideration max bit-rates and major advancements in audio, as well as testing the loudness of the loudspeaker and the quality of the headphone jack output. The latter includes how loud the headphone jack actually gets, as well as the noise level, total harmonic distortion, and frequency response.

Battery

Last year, we developed our in-house custom battery testing tool to allow us to measure three key areas of battery life: video playback, gaming, and web browsing. Of course, real world usage is often a combination of these, so running a combination of these over a 90-minute period allows us to extrapolate what screen-on-time potentially could be. Your mileage may vary, but the results are certainly interesting.

This year, we’ve improved the app and tested more phones than ever before. We’ve also expanded our battery recharge time test to focus on the percentages gained at 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and 60 minutes from empty, as well as how long it takes to charge to full. With lots of competing standards, which one is the best? Stay tuned to find out!

Camera

For most of 2017, we’ve been focusing our efforts on testing the nuances of smartphone cameras. Yes, it’s often about what looks best to you rather than what is technically the best – and we’ll be covering that as well – but we believe we have conducted the testing needed to confidently crown the winner of the all-new Camera of the Year award.

We’ve partnered with leading image testing company Imatest to collect and analyze the shots taken by all of our reviewed smartphones. All of the testing was conducted in a controlled environment, free of outside light and with the same exact lighting conditions for each test.

For our needs, we’ve selected eight key tests across the following categories:

  • Color and noise
  • Resolution
  • Video resolution

Of course, the numbers don’t matter to everyone and that’s why we’ve also conducted a camera shootout with all ten of these phones. If you’re into photography and the camera on your phone is important to you, stay tuned to find out which phone has the Camera of the Year!

Performance

Measuring smartphone performance becomes trickier with each new chipset generation. With most flagships featuring the same specs list – most of the devices are powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor – the differences are more and more minute. While we’re still creating and refining our own testing methods, we’ve chosen some of the industry leading benchmarks to help us take a closer look at performance.

User experience

Of course, a smartphone that’s good on paper isn’t necessarily good in real-world conditions. That’s why our User Experience section takes a look at the Hardware and Software features that help create the best all-round experience. We also take a look at the features that help a phone stand out from the competition, and dive into each of these devices in more detail.

Value for money

As important as the question of “Which phone is the best” is, there’s another question that’s even more important to the next generation of smartphone owners: Which smartphone offers the best value for money?

Each smartphone offers something different to each user so quantifying this is the biggest challenge we’ve faced, but we’ve come up with a method that should provide a little clarity. By taking the cost of a device relative to the overall score it achieves throughout our 100+ point testing process, we can establish a base “value for money” indicator. From here, we compare each of the ten value for money indicators to find out which phone offers the Best Bang-for-your-buck!

The results

Now you know the testing, but how do we actually crown the winner? Across a total of 44 individual tests (and over 100 different criteria), we score each phone and give it a points tally depending on its ranking to each of the other devices. The best phone gets 10 points, second best gets 9 points, and so on, until the worst phone gets 1 point.

At the end, we tally up all the points, run it through our value for money indicator to get a final value for money score and then add both of those together. The winner is the phone with the most points overall, and with a maximum score of 440 available, everything is to play for!

Best of Android 2017 is our biggest and boldest comparison ever: 10 phones, 44 tests and only 1 winner - which phone will be crowned Phone of the Year 2017?

Nirave Gondhia

Now you know what to expect, join us later today as we kick things off with a look at the best smartphone displays of 2017!

Here’s the full order of what to expect for this week:

Which phone do you think will win? Let us know in the comments below and stay tuned! Remember, our Best of Android 2017 Mega Giveaway is running right now and we’re giving away the top three phones overall. You could be one of three winners to win one of these smartphones!

Check out the widget below to enter and get five extra entries using the unique code: BOAWTE.

Best of Android 2017 3 Phone Mega Giveaway!

Which device do you think is the phone of the year? Vote in our poll below, which counts toward the winner of our Reader’s Choice Smartphone of the Year award!


Credits

Series Contributors: Rob TriggsGary Sims, Edgar Cervantes, Sam Moore, Oliver Cragg, David Imel
Series Editors: Nirave Gondhia, Bogdan Petrovan, Chris Thomas