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Phones with an IR blaster: What are your best options?
There was a time not too long ago when IR blasters were like headphone jacks and removable batteries. They were easy ways to control your TV if you didn’t have a remote handy, and brands like Samsung and LG (RIP) embraced the extra feature on their best Android launches year in and year out. Now, however, the IR blaster has become something of a rarity. It only pops up here and there and often only on devices that you have to import from Europe or Asia. While its popularity is dwindling, the IR blaster isn’t gone yet. Here are some of the best phones you can get with IR blasters.
The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is the best flagship phone with an IR blaster
If we’re being honest, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra isn’t focused on being a phone at all. Instead, it’s a premium portable camera that just so happens to have a 6.73-inch LTPO AMOLED on the back — and an IR blaster. We said just as much in our review, choosing to dig into the four 50MP sensors that dot the massive camera bump before even mentioning the chipset, storage, or battery size.
After all, when you pair a 1-inch primary sensor with a trio of high-resolution 1/2.51-inch backups (all larger than Samsung’s 12MP ultrawide sensor), there’s probably something to write home about. Rob, our resident camera shootout expert, put the Xiaomi 13 Ultra up against the Galaxy S23 Ultra and found some interesting results. He noted Xiaomi’s depth and contrast and its natural-leaning color profiles when shooting outdoors. Like its 13 Pro sibling, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra lets you choose between Leica Authentic and Leica Vivid settings as part of its ongoing partnership with the famed camera maker.
While the cameras are undoubtedly the star of this show, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra isn’t half bad as a phone, either. It packs the latest internals, as well as the RAM and storage you might expect, given the steep cost. Xiaomi tapped Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 to keep the lights on and a whopping 16GB of RAM. The performance potential is unquestioned, though the Xiaomi 13 Ultra does get a bit hot and bothered if you run it through stress testing. Our unit hit an uncomfortable 45 degrees Celsius, or just over 113 degrees Fahrenheit.
Let's face it — this is a camera with a phone on the back, and a darn good one at that.
Xiaomi’s charging setup is equally hot, with the 13 Ultra packing a 5,000mAh battery — as expected for a flagship — with 90W wired charging. Unfortunately, the UK’s summer heat seems to have impacted our charging times, as the Xiaomi 13 Ultra quickly throttled away from its top speeds to a much more sensible 25W to preserve its internals. There’s also no wireless charging due to the massive camera bump and slightly curved back panel.
The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is big and bold, pairing a faux leather back panel with the 6.73-inch AMOLED panel we mentioned above. It’s a true 120Hz LTPO slab, too, dropping to 1Hz as needed when reading a book or a magazine. The hefty camera bump makes for a slightly top-heavy device, but it’s a price we don’t mind paying. Don’t forget, there really is an IR blaster mixed into this pull-no-punches layout.
It’s a bit tougher for us to judge the latest iteration of MIUI, as our unit came with the Chinese version installed. Make no mistake, it’s loaded with features — perhaps too many — but we can’t speak to how many of them will make it onto the global version. Xiaomi has also promised three full Android updates and a fourth year of security support, which is good but not excellent.
What makes it stand out:
- Cameras: It’s tough to put four 50MP sensors on the back of a phone and not have them stand out. Xiaomi’s large sensors load up on details and outpace Samsung when it comes to lower levels of zoom.
- Charging: 90W wired speeds are nothing to scoff at as long as you can hit them. The Xiaomi 13 Ultra also comes with a charger in the box, which helps to make up for the lack of wireless support.
- Color profiles: Xiaomi’s partnership with Leica continues to pay dividends with some of the best color profiles. Leica Authentic gets close to the classic “Leica look,” while Leica Vivid adds more punch.
- Internals: The Xiaomi 13 Ultra packs everything you’d expect from an expensive flagship, thanks to its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset and 16GB of onboard RAM.
The best of the rest
While we think the Xiaomi 13 Ultra is the best phone with an IR blaster, there are a few other options to pick from — many of which are more affordable. If you’re looking for something a little more approachable, here are other phones with IR blasters:
- Redmi Note 12 Pro Plus: Redmi’s Note 12 Pro Plus packs several features we’d expect from a more premium device, including a 120Hz refresh rate, 120W wired charging, and a 200MP primary camera on top of its reliable gaming mode.
- POCO F5 Pro: The POCO F5 Pro is a go-to option if you want a QHD+ display with your IR blaster.
- HONOR Magic 5 Pro: HONOR’s Magic5 Pro throws a lot of specs at the wall, and most of them stick. It’s an impressive flagship with an IR blaster if you don’t want to splash out on the Xiaomi 13 Ultra.
- OnePlus Nord 3: The latest OnePlus budget phone strikes a fine balance between power and affordability. It carries a solid water resistance rating and comfortable build materials in addition to its IR blaster.
The Redmi Note 12 Pro Plus is a well-equipped gaming phone with an IR blaster
Coming in at less than half of the price of the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, Redmi’s Note 12 Pro Plus is a much more affordable way to get your hands on an IR blaster. While it’ll certainly save you some money, the Note 12 Pro Plus won’t make you sacrifice too many premium specs to make weight. It packs fast charging, a smooth refresh rate, and a dependable gaming mode into its glossy white package.
That gaming mode, which Redmi calls Game Turbo, helps the Note 12 Pro Plus to find its way onto our list as a good gaming phone — on top of the IR blaster, of course. Essentially, it helps to free up your phone’s memory to dedicate all of its resources to the game at hand and boost the frame rate while you’re in the action. We put Game Turbo to the test during more than an hour of Call of Duty Mobile and had no issues with performance, though the phone did warm up quite a bit.
Game Turbo doesn't keep the Note 12 Pro Plus any cooler, but it does keep your focus entirely on the game at hand.
Outside of Game Turbo, the Redmi Note 12 Pro Plus is also a solid pick if you want a large phone with an IR blaster. It packs an expansive 6.67-inch AMOLED with a full 120Hz refresh rate and Dolby Vision support. Redmi also updated to the Dimensity 1080 chipset, which is perfectly respectable even if it comes up a bit short of midrange rivals like Samsung’s Exynos 1380.
Redmi’s other secret weapon is the Note 12 Pro Plus’ 200MP primary camera. It’s the best of the trio (flanked by 8MP ultrawide and 2MP macro lenses) and offers plenty of detail when set to either the 50MP resolution or the full 200MP quality. Just keep in mind that the file sizes for 200MP images can get out of hand pretty quickly, so you might need to grab a version with extra storage.
What makes it stand out:
- Game Turbo: As the closest thing to a gaming phone on our list, the Redmi Note 12 Pro Plus can dedicate all its resources to keeping you running at top speed — even if it gets a little warm.
- Wired charging: We’ll seldom complain about a phone that comes with a charger in the box. Redmi’s 120W setup is blisteringly fast, even if it’s a proprietary USB-A connection.
POCO F5 Pro packs a super-sharp display with its IR blaster
The F5 Pro is a phone of firsts for POCO despite being a fifth-generation launch. It’s the sub-brand’s first device with wireless charging (offering 30W speeds) and its first device to carry a QHD+ resolution. However, it’s not the first POCO launch to offer an IR blaster, which earns it a place on our list.
It’s well-equipped under the hood, too, with a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset and up to 12GB of RAM to check off our performance needs. We had no issues while using the POCO F5 Pro during our review period, and its massive battery offers more than enough juice to power through multiple days of use. Like many POCO launches, the F5 Pro is a rebadged version of the Redmi K60, though it differs in a few places. Its battery isn’t quite as big as that of its Redmi sibling, offering a 5,160mAh capacity instead of 5,500mAh. However, as mentioned above, its solid wireless charging and 67W wired charging are more than fast enough to keep you moving.
The POCO F5 Pro is a phone of firsts for the brand, but the IR blaster is a mainstay.
Of course, you can’t dig into the POCO F5 Pro without discussing its premium display. On top of the snappy charging, the QHD+ panel of Gorilla Glass 5 is the most important part of this mid-ranger. It pairs a dynamic refresh rate with several color profiles you can easily switch between, including vivid (the default option), original, and saturated. We won’t pretend to know why vivid is the default instead of original, but the colors are pleasing and punchy, so we don’t mind.
Maybe the real reason that the POCO F5 Pro makes our list — on top of the IR blaster, of course — is the fact that POCO nailed its ergonomics. This is a big phone with a big battery, yet it feels comfortable in the hand and not too heavy. A little shaping goes a long way, especially when you have to fit this much power in your pocket. We were also impressed by the POCO F5 Pro’s audio setup, with its stereo speakers outdueling the Google Pixel 7 Pro as shower companions.
What makes it stand out:
- Resolution: POCO’s first phone with a QHD+ resolution stands out from the rest of its lineup. It’s a sharp, vibrant option for watching movies, playing games, or just wasting time on social media.
- Ergonomics: There’s something to be said for a phone that fits comfortably in the hand. POCO’s rear contours fit nicely around its nearly 7-inch display and are comfortable to hold for extended sessions.
HONOR Magic 5 Pro is a great all-rounder with an IR blaster
HONOR took an “all that and the kitchen sink” approach when designing its Magic 5 Pro, and we have to say that it paid off. The IR blaster is more like a footnote in this setup, but only because the rest of the flagship is so well-rounded. It does skip out on the premium materials a little bit — you won’t find Gorilla Glass durability — but the rest of the setup is worth the price of admission.
The Magic 5 Pro packs a hefty 5,100mAh battery that we easily rode through a day of heavy use, and we were able to inch pretty close to two days of use when we kept our usage in check. We found that part of HONOR’s secret to sustained power is that it dials back its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor just a bit. This keeps thermals in check and knocks the benchmarking performance down a peg, but not in a way you’re bound to notice in daily usage. HONOR’s battery life is even more impressive once you consider that you’re powering a massive 6.81-inch AMOLED panel.
Come for the IR blaster, stay for face unlock that's secure enough for banking.
HONOR didn’t skimp on the battery hardware, either. Its Magic 5 Pro stops one lens shy of challenging the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, but it still carries three 50MP sensors in its large, circular camera bump. In our testing, we noted both the detail and the default color profile, which bumps up a few colors but doesn’t go quite to the point of oversaturation. We also noted the Magic 5 Pro’s Super HDR, which pulled out impressive shadows and highlights even in difficult backlit situations.
One last piece of the HONOR Magic 5 Pro that makes it worth picking up is its impressive suite of biometric options. It packs both an in-display fingerprint reader and laser-fast face unlock. While we felt that the fingerprint reader is a bit low on the display to be used truly comfortably, HONOR’s face unlock is almost instantaneous and secure enough for banking. It uses infrared depth data, making it a more reliable option than brands like OnePlus.
What makes it stand out:
- Biometrics: We’re used to Android’s face unlock lagging behind Apple’s Face ID, but it’s great to see HONOR use infrared data for secure unlocking that works with banking apps.
- Software updates: HONOR is pushing the limits when it comes to software support, tabbing its Magic 5 Pro for three years of Android coverage and five years of security patches.
OnePlus Nord 3 is a durable budget pick with an IR blaster
The OnePlus Nord 3 has found its way onto a few of our lists as a budget phone thanks to its combination of power and value. It’s still not available in the US, but it comes in at just under £500 in the UK and makes for an enticing alternative to the brand’s flagship offerings. In fact, the IR blaster isn’t the Nord 3’s only feature that has OnePlus touting the good old days. It picks up OnePlus’ signature alert slider, ditches the funky plastic frame around the display, and carries MediaTek’s Dimensity 9000 flagship processor from a few years back.
As mentioned, the Nord 3 takes its build quality up a notch from the usual budget fare. It’s a true glass sandwich with either a matte or a glossy panel on the back — just like its flagship siblings. The 6.74-inch AMOLED drops as low as 40Hz when scrolling a webpage, but we noticed that it spends more of its time at the highest 120Hz setting. We were also decently impressed with the 1,450 nits of peak brightness, even if it’s not quite as high as the Nord 3’s more expensive rivals.
OnePlus opted for an all-glass Nord 3, and it feels as good as it looks.
The Nord 3 isn’t short of power under the hood, even if its processor is a few years old. OnePlus tapped the Dimensity 9000 chipset to keep the lights on, though it’s backed with up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, which should help to make up for the relatively old flagship chip. The mid-range Nord also carries a 5,000mAh battery that’s pretty much standard on large phones these days, and we have no complaints about the 80W wired charging speed — especially because there’s a charger in the box.
While it doesn’t carry the same Hasselblad color science that we’ve come to expect from OnePlus’ flagship offerings, the Nord 3 does pack the same 50MP primary sensor that we saw on the OnePlus 11. It’s just as impressive here, delivering solid detail in most lighting conditions and picking out good highlights and shadows thanks to its refined HDR formula. Unfortunately, the 8MP ultrawide and 2MP depth sensors are, well, just along for the ride.
What makes it stand out:
- Premium processor: While the Dimensity 9000 isn’t the newest chipset on the block, it’s more capable than some base-level processors that power rival mid-range phones.
- Build quality: OnePlus doesn’t always bring premium glass to its affordable entries, making the Nord 3’s glass sandwich design stand out just a bit more. It looks as good as it feels, and we don’t miss the plastic frame.
Phones with IR blasters: Honorable mentions
While we’ve picked out a few of what we think are the best phones with IR blasters, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Here are a few honorable mentions that bring some extra features to the table while still offering the all-important IR blaster:
- HONOR Magic V2: Even though the HONOR Magic V2 might be the most interesting phone with an IR blaster, it only makes our honorable mentions due to being so hard to get. The paper-thin foldable is only available in China right now but will make its way to Europe early in 2024.
- OPPO Find X6 Pro ($1298 at eBay): Like HONOR’s Magic 5 Pro, the Find X6 Pro is all about fitting powerful cameras into a stylish package. It pairs three 50MP sensors with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor and premium materials like Gorilla Glass Victus 2 and eco-leather.
- POCO X5 Pro ($415 at Amazon): POCO loves its IR blasters, and we figured it would be appropriate to add another budget-friendly pick to our honorable mentions. After all, the X5 Pro offers other creature comforts like a headphone jack, too.
What we look for in phones with IR blasters
As you’ve probably guessed, not all phones with IR blasters are created equal. Whether you’re on a budget or looking for the best of the best, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Here are just a few of the other features we look for (in addition to the IR blaster):
- Thermal performance: Some chipsets run a bit hotter than others. It’s just a fact of life. It’s good to know if you’re picking up a warmer chip like the Google Tensor or Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 or grabbing a phone with better performance, like one with a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1.
- Software updates: While most Android OEMs come up well short of Apple’s software support, some push further than others. Top brands like Google and Samsung set the tone, but HONOR and OPPO have been increasing their commitments on the flagship level.
- Cameras: Outside of great battery life, camera performance is usually one of the first things that people look for when buying a new phone. Keep an eye on the size of the sensors themselves rather than the megapixel count, and don’t be afraid to reach for two capable cameras over four mediocre ones.
- Build quality: Good materials go a long way when buying a new phone. A device with an aluminum frame and Gorilla Glass Victus will often stand up to more use and abuse than a more affordable one with a plastic frame. Also, look for an IP rating to handle dust and water resistance.
- Availability: Perhaps the biggest factor when buying a phone with an IR blaster is where you can actually get it. A few of our honorable mentions are restricted to the Chinese market for the time being, and almost all of the other options have to be imported through Amazon or another retailer.
No, Apple does not include IR blasters on its iPhones.
No, Google does not include an IR blaster in its Pixel designs
No, Samsung no longer includes IR blasters in its designs. The last Galaxy flagship to include one was the Galaxy S6.
No. The IR blaster is a hardware component and, therefore, can not be downloaded.
Yes. Some companies make IR blaster accessories that you can plug into your phone’s USB-C or Lightning port.