What a year 2020 has been. One welcome light in the darkness of these past 12 months was the launch of tons of amazing phones. Yet, only one can take home the title of Android Authority’s best smartphone of the year.
Even without the forced adjustments due to the ongoing global pandemic, 2020 was a year of major change for the mobile industry. We saw fresh form factors emerge with the rebirth of clamshells, spinning phones with two screens, and a tease of what rollables might look like. A handful of foldables that finally felt good enough (and sturdy enough) to genuinely consider buying made an appearance too.
We also saw 5G take center stage with its continued rollout. There were even new price tiers of smartphones with $1,000+ ultra-premium phones, super mid-rangers, and even a truly budget iPhone! Cats and dogs. Mass hysteria.
2020 was a torrid year for many, but we at least had some amazing smartphones.
2020 was also a year of change for us here at Android Authority. If you’re a regular, you’ve no doubt seen us gradually broaden our scope beyond mobile as the years have gone by. We’ve often brought you all the latest news and analysis in the audio, smart home, and computing categories, but we’ve expanded even further this year to look at gaming, streaming, and much, much more.
Next year we’ll be reflecting on that change when we come to awards season. Moving forward, we want to show love to the very best the consumer tech world has to offer. Of course, we won’t ever stop bringing you the best coverage of the mobile platform we all know and love — Android!
With that said, it’s time to crown our Editor’s Choice smartphone of the year. As ever, we’re running two awards — one decided by us (Editor’s Choice) and the other determined by you, our wonderful readers (Reader’s Choice).
Here, we’re counting down the top five phones chosen by members of our reviews and features teams at Android Authority. Head further down to see which phone you chose for the Reader’s Choice award!
How we decided and why
Thanks to our testing team, we were able to pick through crucial data on display accuracy, camera quality, audio clarity, as well as sustained performance and battery life. This was achieved through a custom version of Speed Test G designed by our very own Gary Sims of Gary Explains.
Each phone represented here reached or surpassed a threshold in our testing, proving their superiority versus dozens of rival handsets across various price tiers. However, we also wanted to factor in the intangible elements that separate good phones from great ones. These include software support, build quality, value, availability, and more.
To determine our winner, we balanced our objective testing with seasoned, subjective analysis.
That’s where our seasoned editorial team stepped in — a team with enough experience to look beyond a specs sheet full of big, sexy numbers or enticingly low price tags (or indeed both). We cast judgments with an eye on the bigger picture of the ever-changing smartphone landscape.
The voting was extremely close this year. There were some surprises along the way, but we finally arrived at five phones that all deserve the very highest praise. One undisputed champion rose above the rest.
Without further ado and counting down to the overall winner of our Editor’s Choice 2020 award, these are Android Authority’s smartphones of the year.
Fifth place: Sony Xperia 5 II
In our review, we put it out there that the Xperia 5 II may well be the best phone Sony has ever made. Considering the Japanese OEM’s ailing fortunes in recent years, that may sound like faint praise. However, its presence here shows that’s absolutely not the case. In fact, it narrowly beat out the OnePlus 8 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus by just a single vote. That’s some serious competition.
The Xperia 5 II distilled all that was great about the Xperia 1 II — itself a notable upgrade over previous Xperia phones — reduced it to a more compact form factor. It dropped the price to a far more attractive sub-$1,000 tag to boot.
Everything you need to know: Sony Xperia 5 II buyer’s guide
As a hardware package, the Xperia 5 II is simply fantastic. The 120Hz display may be Full HD+, but the elongated OLED panel delivers an almost Samsung-level experience with solid peak brightness, color accuracy, and very low gamma error. The general performance and triple camera are equally great, as is the colossal battery life. It pushed almost five hours even in our most extreme stress test — very nearly matching regular usage for a typical flagship smartphone. There’s even a headphone jack.
Sony’s slimline phone could’ve ranked even higher, but legacy software issues — particularly the confusing camera app situation — prevented it from challenging for top honors. If Sony can fix those, then the sky’s the limit.
Fourth place: Oppo Find X2 Pro
This is one for the books. The Oppo Find X2 Pro not only blew our expectations out of the water in 2020, but it also ended up besting the OnePlus 8 Pro in the battle of the BBK-affiliated brands.
OnePlus’ flagship (our mid-2020 winner, no less) is still a fantastic phone, but our love affair sadly faded over time. Meanwhile, our affection for the Find X2 Pro grew, capturing a special place in our hearts.
It’s not hard to see why either. Unlike its sister brand, Oppo’s tuning of the BBK-exclusive Sony IMX689 sensor proved to be sublime. The phone consistently ranked near the top of our camera testing. The Find X2 Pro matched and in some cases bested the overall leader, the Huawei Mate 40 Pro. That’s quite an accomplishment.
Our verdict: Oppo Find X2 Pro review
Throw in impressive performance stats, rapid charging (just under 45 minutes from zero to 100%), and a cool, color-accurate QHD+ AMOLED display, and you’ve got yourself a top flagship. It may not have the innovation factor of its slider-toting predecessor, but it’s still a looker, especially the handsome vegan leather model.
If Oppo is able to continue delivering competitive flagships like this, we can’t wait to see what’s in store in 2021 with the Find X3 series.
Third place: Google Pixel 4a
The follow-up to 2019’s Editor’s Choice award winner, the Pixel 4a took the blueprint of the beloved Pixel 3a and somehow made it even more attractive.
Compared to the powerhouse devices of 2020, its Snapdragon 730 chipset was never going to set the world on fire. Yet, elsewhere the Pixel 4a punches well above its weight. This is particularly true of its stellar display, with very high peak brightness (720 nits), excellent color accuracy, and low gamma error.
Everything you need to know: Google Pixel 4a buyer’s guide
Despite slow charging, battery life is also decent and, again, it’s nice to see a headphone jack on any phone in 2020. Then there’s the 12MP camera that once again brings Google’s applauded computational photography to the budget segment.
Speaking of budget, the Pixel 4a hit the market with an MSRP of just $349. It may not be the most flashy phone of the year, but its incredible value blows out other comparable phones like the OnePlus Nord with an undeniable pairing of excellent hardware with excellent software.
Second place: Google Pixel 4a 5G
Coming in just one vote ahead of its 5G-less sibling, the Google Pixel 4a 5G offered so much more than its awkwardly affixed moniker would suggest.
Much like the Pixel 4a, the display is astonishingly good, but the battery life is even better. Even our intense stress test couldn’t stop the phone hitting just under six hours of screen on time. The camera also enjoys a welcome upgrade with a secondary ultra-wide shooter. While the Pixel 5’s photography suite faltered a little this year as others caught up, that exact same camera module shines here. The camera experience is leaps and bounds above anything else in the sub-$500 region, including Apple’s iPhone SE.
Everything you need to know: Google Pixel 4a 5G buyer’s guide
That was the case across the board too. While there were some great mid-range phones in 2020 like the Poco F2 Pro and Realme X50 Pro — toting flagship processors to boot — they couldn’t match the vision of Google’s perfectly balanced middle child. The fact that our team resoundingly shunned Google’s 2020 flagship for the sweet-spot-hitting Pixel 4a 5G speaks volumes.
Stupid name be damned, the Pixel 4a 5G was Google’s best phone of 2020. Arguably its best ever… but it still couldn’t topple the ultimate winner of our 2020 Editor’s Choice award.
Android Authority‘s Editor’s Choice 2020 winner: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Samsung released an insane amount of phones in 2020, but it was its last big launch of the year that stole the show.
Launched in an understated fashion just a month after the headline-grabbing Note 20 series and the Galaxy Z Fold 2 (the best foldable of the year, no question), the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition 5G (to give it it’s full name) was the perfect answer to a year where the commoditization of smartphones reached fever pitch.
On one hand, you had the Ultras, the Pro Pluses, and the Pro Maxes — eye-wateringly expensive luxury flagships bursting with power and bloated with additional extras. This, combined with increasing price tags across the industry, pushed a lot of buyers towards the steadily improving mid-range.
That wasn’t the only option though. 2020 saw the rise of a new category of super mid-rangers — such as the Pixel 5 and LG Velvet. They eschewed flagship power but still delivered premium design and features.
The Galaxy S20 FE doesn't necessarily excel in any one area, but it absolutely smashes expectations in all of them.
At a glance, the Galaxy S20 FE appears to slot nicely into this category with its $699 price tag. But, no, this is a good old fashioned flagship killer with bleeding-edge silicon — one that beat out its own Galaxy S20 family members in our collective voting.
With the S20 FE, you don’t have to heavily compromise in a particular area to save a few dollars. Its triple camera can’t quite hang with the very best of the year, but it’s a punchy and wonderfully versatile setup. The “glasstic” build isn’t as premium as glass, but it’s far more durable. Samsung’s expert craftsmanship still shines through.
The Galaxy S20 FE is blazing fast, too. The Snapdragon 765G may have risen to prominence in 2020, but the Snapdragon 865 is still where it’s at if you want true top-tier performance. As for those less fortunate that don’t get the Snapdragon model, the 4G-only Exynos variant still thankfully retained a lot of the FE 5G’s best qualities, though it is an inferior version overall.
Samsung’s display pedigree is on show with its impeccable 120Hz panel. It drops the resolution to FHD+, but delivers on brightness and accuracy. This is topped off with competitive battery life, wireless and reverse wireless charging, 5G mmWave support, UFS 3.0 storage, a microSD slot, an IP68 rating, and Samsung’s One UI skin that continues to mature over time.
The few trade-offs that the Galaxy S20 FE makes are exquisitely balanced against its approachable retail price. While it doesn’t truly excel beyond the elite devices of 2020 in any one area, it meets and surpasses expectations in all of them.
In a year where many phones seemed laser-targeted on a specific audience — be it frugal buyers, early adopters, or power users — the Galaxy S20 FE was the phone for everyone. You can probably even buy it in your favorite color, as the phone broke the monochrome monotony with its bright colorways.
Samsung called its affordable S20 the Fan Edition — and you can count us among them. The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is the deserved winner of Android Authority’s Editor’s Choice award.
If you don't mind cutting a few corners, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (which stands for "Fan Edition") might be the phone you are looking for. It offers most of the flagship specs and features of the Galaxy S20 family but trims things down to keep the price low.
What about the Reader’s Choice award?
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is our pick for the best smartphone of 2020. Did you agree with us? Find out by checking out our Reader’s Choice award below!
What was your favorite smartphone of 2020? Find out the Reader’s Choice 2020 winner right here
Also, be sure to check out our 2020 retrospective articles below for more on some of the best phones of the year:
- 2020 smartphone mega shootout: The best camera phones tested
- Did smartphones get a lot more expensive in 2020? Let’s look at the numbers
- 2019 vs 2020 camera phone shootout: Is mobile photography stagnating?
- Did 2020’s Snapdragon 765G affordable flagship experiment work?
- The rise of ultra-fast charging
- 2020 was the year of the mid-range smartphone
- High refresh rates exploded in 2020, but you need to look beyond the numbers
- Apple made 2020 the year of active noise-canceling