Another year bites the dust with a leap year to come. As the year ends, we’re reflecting on the best phones of 2023 that made our lists.
As the final days of 2023 tick on over to a new year, we’re looking at the phones on the Pickr Reviews Desk with a steady eye. We’ve seen quite a few this year, though it has felt like the numbers have been much smaller than expected.
In Australia, flagship phones have been low in number, mostly arriving from Apple, Google, and Samsung, as rivals tended to skip out on major mobiles locally. Asus offered a new ROG gaming phone which could definitely qualify, and Motorola offered a foldable that could be seen as flagship territory, but by and large, the three makers that are Apple, Google, and Samsung seem to have flagship phones covered locally.
Oppo skipped out on its follow-up to the Find X5 Pro in Australia, Sony doesn’t release phones in Australia anymore, Nothing didn’t offer its Phone (2) in the country, and the numbers of device makers seems to be lowering and lessening year by year.
Despite the numbers thinning, Australia still saw some fantastic phones locally, meaning there’s great choice whether you want an upgrade or something outright new.
Best Android phone: Google Pixel 8 Pro
Our favourite Android of the year belongs to Google’s Pixel 8 Pro, which delivers such an excellent combination of design, performance, multiple 5G technologies (which will be useful over time), and one of the best cameras around.
In a year where Australia didn’t see a whole heap of flagship Androids, the Pixel 8 Pro stands out as being brilliant and a favourite.
Best iPhone: Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
While one of the biggest Androids was the best, the biggest iPhone was the best this year, and not just because it featured a bigger screen and battery.
Armed with a lighter weight design using titanium, the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max were both excellent, not to mention their exciting new processors underneath. But what makes the iPhone 15 Pro Max the best of the bunch is the camera system which is actually better overall.
In the 15 Pro Max, Apple jumped from a 3X telephoto to a 5X telephoto, a change that can make all the difference and give you just that little bit more to work with. That makes it the best iPhone, and one of the best phone cameras of the bunch.
Best foldable phone: Motorola Razr 40 Ultra
If the idea of a big phone doesn’t gel, you may want to check out where small phones are going, particularly in the direction of foldable.
A combination between big and small, the Razr 40 Ultra offers a big display that can fold small, complete with a smaller screen on the outside. The crease inside is hard to notice and the design is lovely, too. While the cameras could be better, it’s such a great phone.
Motorola has snatched the foldable crown from Samsung this year with the Razr 40 Ultra. It’s such a cool little mobile.
Best value phone: Google Pixel 7a
Saving money is critically important, especially this year when everything felt super expensive, and more so than usual. And it’s one of the areas where phones are coming out in droves, as manufacturers work out ways to deliver a great phone for not too much money.
Much of what we see in phone reviews is in this category — value and budget phones, often concentrated in the mid-range — and it’s where Motorola, Oppo, and Nokia play some solid competition in.
But this year’s best value phone is from Google, with the Pixel 7a. Similar to the Pixel 7 but available for less, the Pixel 7a is everything we’ve been looking for in a phone made to deliver value.
There are less expensive phones in this category, and some that are also more, but we think Google has hit the nail on the head with the 7a. It’s just right.
Best small phone: Motorola Razr 40 Ultra
Also just right is our choice for best small phone in 2023: the Razr 40 Ultra.
In case you can’t tell, we’re fans of how big phones are able to get small in foldable designs, as the phone folds flat and device makers manage to deliver something big that’s also quite small.
About the size of the iPhone 15 Pro Max unfolded yet more like a compact mirror closed up, foldable like the Razr 40 Ultra deliver the best of both worlds and mean you can get something truly compact without sacrificing much more than the omission of a telephoto camera, and we suspect that’ll change next year, too.
For now, our favourite foldable of 2023 is also our favourite small phone. It’s so good.
Best big screen phone: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Small phones are nice, but if you fancy the best big screen, Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra is worth checking out.
A massive 6.8 inch screen may not be as big as the internal 7.6 inch display of the Z Fold 5, but we think the 6.8 inches found in the S23 Ultra is more usable, great on the eyes, and keeps it in a body that manages to feel thing. The display is Quad HD+ and a suitably premium AMOLED panel, and there’s not only support for the S-Pen, but it’s included in the design, something the Z Fold 5 misses out on.
In short, if you fancy the biggest screen in a way that’s properly usable beyond mere browsing and video watching, the S23 Ultra has what you need.
Best battery: Asus Zenfone 10
One of the last small-sized or even “normal-sized” phones, we were surprised Asus continued with the Zenfone, especially given how ho-hum they’ve been over the past couple of takes.
But we’re glad it did. In the Zenfone 10, Asus has one solid point over pretty much every other phone out there, delivering two days of battery life.
And it’s a total surprise, because the Zenfone 10 is a smaller phone than most of what’s around, and yet delivers better battery life despite that fact. If you’re after the best battery life around, it’s not in the biggest phones, but one of the smallest.
Best camera: Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
However, if camera drives your needs, we’d look to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, thanks in part to the combination of the 5X camera and another Apple-specific feature: automatic portrait modes.
It’s one of those very Apple things specific to iOS 17 on the new iPhone models, the standard 15 included, but it works brilliantly on the best model, too. Simply put, any photo where there’s a clear person in it can be turned into a portrait and have its background focus edited. In short, you don’t need to be in portrait mode to take portrait-style photos in the iPhone 15 range.
Between that, the extra 5X length, and the still impressive Dolby HDR video mode, not to mention the excellent built-in editing capabilities of the iPhone, we think the 15 Pro Max is the winner this year.
Google’s Pixel 8 Pro is also excellent and includes some nifty AI tools for image editing, but we think Apple has the edge this year, and so it gets our best phone camera nod for 2023.