Best of Android 2018: The best innovations

A decade into the smartphone revolution, innovation seems to have slowed to a crawl. In 2018, we saw smartphones converge in appearance, performance, and features. So many products from competing OEMs this year look and feel almost the same.

Smartphones have hit the “Plateau of Productivity,” the final stage of the hype cycle, when incremental refinement replaces the wild growth of early days. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just look at our Best of Android 2018 results: there’s no runaway winner, but you won’t find any truly bad product on the list either.

Mature technology is a boon to the average consumer, but hardly exciting for us technology lovers. Fortunately, 2018 has not been devoid of meaningful innovation.

How we picked the winners

Our Best of Android awards stand out through their heavy focus on stringent testing and measurable performance, but you can’t really measure, weigh, or dissect innovation. That’s why we turned to good-old-fashioned human intuition and polled our resident team of over 30 Android experts for the best smartphone innovations of 2018.

In phase one, we asked everyone to nominate the most innovative new technologies and features of 2018. In phase two, we voted for the top contenders. Here are the best smartphone innovations of the year, according to the Android Authority team.

1) Google: Duplex

Google Duplex was the absolute highlight of Google I/O 2018 and for good reason. Duplex encompasses two mind-blowing technological achievements. First, it synthesizes a convincingly human-sounding voice on the fly, complete with natural intonation, cadence, and even those “ums” and “ahs” we all tend to use. Then, it picks up and “understands” natural language in real time, and can even deal with heavy accents, background noise, and less than clear human interlocutors. It’s downright amazing and more than a little creepy.

Google Duplex is still a ways off from passing a Turing test, but it’s definitely heading there. For now, it can handle simple tasks like booking a table at your favorite Chinese place, but it’s easy to envision it taking over more complex tasks in the near future.

Duplex is not a fancy proof of concept, it’s already out in the real world. Earlier this month, Google started rolling it out to Pixel users, giving them their very own robotic assistant. It’s limited and imperfect – it only works as intended about 80 percent of the time and it doesn’t work at all with some restaurants. But the core of the technology, the human-like interaction, is just as good as the demo we were shown on stage at Google I/O. Google is also deploying a Duplex-like spam-screening feature to the Android phone app, promising to finally rid us of pesky telemarketers.

Duplex is the biggest innovation of the year and potentially the decade

Duplex-enabled applications will help us in our daily lives in ways that have been completely inaccessible until now, thanks to their ability to speak to humans, just like humans. For this reason, Duplex is the biggest innovation of the year and potentially the decade.

2) Royole and Samsung: Foldable devices

Samsung Foldable Phone

For years, Samsung’s lead in the foldable device race has gone unquestioned. We all assumed the Korean giant would be the first to release a folding device, but tiny Chinese startup Royole beat it to the punch.

Royole’s FlexPai may lack refinement, but the 7.8-inch tablet-phone hybrid is still the first foldable device consumers can actually order. Royole definitely still has wrinkles to iron out before the FlexPai is ready for the mass market. Nevertheless, if the device ships by the end of the year, as Royole promised, it will be the first foldable on the market.

Royole can claim the bragging rights of being first to market, but for all intents and purposes, Samsung will make foldable devices mainstream. A few days after Royole revealed the FlexPai, Samsung showed its own foldable prototype, and from the few seconds we got to see it, we can already tell it’s more advanced and refined. Crucially, Samsung is also working on adapting Android for the new form factor.

Foldable display technology is a real game-changer, at a time when we’re in dire need of hardware innovation

Huawei, LG, and other manufacturers are also working on foldable devices. We only got a glimpse of it in 2018, but foldable display technology could be a real game-changer at a time when we’re in dire need of hardware innovation.

3) Vivo: In-display fingerprint readers

In just one year, in-display fingerprint sensors went from proof of concept to a genuinely useful feature available on multiple mass-market devices. Vivo launched the first smartphone with a fingerprint reader in its screen, the X20 Plus UD, and followed it up with the X21 UD, Vivo Nex and even mid-rangers like the Vivo V11 Pro. Huawei, Oppo, Meizu, Xiaomi, and OnePlus followed suit, but Vivo remains the biggest proponent of the technology.

Some have dismissed in-display sensors as a party trick or change for the sake of change, but the tech has tangible benefits. It frees up space and it’s more intuitive and easier to use than rear-mounted sensors.

Current sensors are just the first step to the ultimate goal, which is to embed fingerprint detection in the entire screen

Currently, in-display sensors are less reliable than conventional ones, but that will likely change over time. Current sensors are just the first step to the ultimate goal — to embed fingerprint detection in the entire screen. Once that happens, authentication will become seamless and continuous, dramatically improving the security of our most personal devices.

Expect in-display fingerprint sensors to take off in 2019, as Samsung adopts the technology on the Galaxy S10.

That’s a wrap, folks! From where we’re standing, Duplex, flexible displays, and in-display fingerprint readers are the most important and exciting innovations of 2018. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the best Android smartphone of 2018. Read more about the Best of Android winner here and make sure to check out the How We Test page for the nitty gritty. Other results:

The final Best of Android award is the Reader’s Choice, decided by you, our valued readers. Make sure to vote throughout the bracket for your favorite devices – the big winner will be announced on November 27.

Best of Android 2018: Best battery life

Battery life is a difficult thing to contextualize, and fraught with issues in testing. How do you use your phone? How can you compare it to other phones in a meaningful way?

There’s a lot of questions to tackle, but to figure out which smartphone has the best battery life, they’re questions we’re forced to answer. You can read more about this in our how we test page. For those unwilling to click, it’s as simple as:

  1. Charge the phone to 100%
  2. Set the display to 200cd/m2 brightness
  3. Open our custom battery app
  4. Let it run a test until exhaustion
  5. lather, rinse, repeat.

Okay, so that last bit is a joke, but it’s a fairly straightforward test that simulates normal use of a phone. It’s probably the most time-consuming part of our lab testing, but it gives us a good approximation about how long a phone will last under a given set of circumstances. We specifically test WiFi browsing, video playback, and mixed use with a proprietary app that you can’t get on the Play Store.

The size of the battery doesn’t matter as much as you think

Before diving into this, I feel like I have to mention the size of the battery isn’t the only thing that determines the battery life. If that were the case, the RED Hydrogen One would have been our winner without doing anything else, and that phone only narrowly beat the 2018 average in our tests. How the phone’s software allocates the use of its hardware matters a lot more.

Battery capacity

Higher is Better

The Huawei P20 Pro dominates battery life in 2018

This competition was interesting, but it wasn’t close at all. Huawei’s Kirin 970 processor is very aggressive when it comes to saving battery (to the point of impacting performance in other areas), but the P20 Pro has the advantage of an ample power cell as well.

The Huawei P20 Pro in a new gradient color.

Boasting the best battery life of the class of 2018, the Huawei P20 Pro is a force to be reckoned with.

Left to right, the bars in the chart below represent our general use battery test, our video playback test, and then the Wi-Fi browsing test. As you can see, only the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and Vivo V11 Pro can really hold a candle to the longevity of Huawei’s P20 Pro.

Battery rundown tests

Higher is Better

It’s not often you get results as clear as this, but when every single phone was tested on the same network, in the same conditions, and with the same display brightness, it’s tough to argue with the results. However, your usage will undoubtedly vary from ours as well. If you place more strain on your processor, or alter the screen brightness: you’ll get different results. But still, gaining an extra couple hours over the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 in terms of video playback is insane.

We were surprised the Huawei Mate 20 Pro didn’t have a better showing with its massive battery, but if I’ve learned anything in my years of testing: phones will often surprise you in the real world. This result could be due to some software love needed by the new Kirin 980, or it could be any one of a number of background processes we couldn’t kill. It’s a little strange, but not out of the ordinary to see a phone with a big battery fall short of where you expect. You can always turn down the brightness or toggle battery saver to squeeze out more life — and believe you me, that helps more than it sounds it would.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the fastest charging phone in 2018

Where the Mate 20 Pro doesn’t disappoint is its charging speed. I don’t know if it’s safe or responsible to send 60+mAh per minute to a battery like that, but I have never seen a faster charging phone. It also has the ability to charge wireless accessories — even other phones.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro vs P20 Pro Camera

Huawei’s P20 Pro might have the best battery life, but the Mate 20 Pro has the best charging speed of any phone this year.

It’s bonkers. In our charging test, we noted how much power the cell retained per minute. Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro almost doubled the average rate of power transfer, which is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor of Home Improvement fame to love. The Oppo R17 Pro comes close, but it still falls a little behind.

Battery charge speed, (mAh/min)

Higher is Better

Of course, that’s just the rate of charge. What we’re interested in is just how long it takes to get a full charge on that cell. Here’s where it gets fun:

Battery charge speed, charge to full

Lower is Better

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro charges almost twice as fast as the Google Pixel 3 XL. If you only have a couple minutes to spare, you could get a decent charge with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, but the Oppo R17 Pro laps at its heels. From left to right, you can see how much charge you get at 15 minutes, 30 minutes, then 60 minutes.

Battery charge speed, Percent

Higher is Better

Neat! Lots of phones handle quick charging quite well in our tests. We have the data for all phones in our database, so leave a comment if you’d like to see how another phone stacks up!

Final thoughts

While most phones don’t deviate too far from the 2018 average, it’s cool to see models out there really pushing things to accommodate the power-hungriest users. However, because the fastest charging phone and the best battery life don’t exist in the same phone: you’re probably going to want to find a safer middle ground like the Oppo R17 Pro. That model charges quickly, but it also lasts quite a while in our tests. Doing something the best is fine, but you want your phone to do both fairly well. In this one metric, the “best” might not be best for you — just something to keep in mind.

Here’s the list of the top 9 phones in terms of battery life and charge speed:

  1. Huawei P20 Pro
  2. Oppo R17 Pro
  3. Vivo V11 Pro
  4. Samsung Galaxy Note 9
  5. Xiaomi Mi 8
  6. OnePlus 6T
  7. Xiaomi Black Shark
  8. Vivo Nex
  9. Xiaomi Pocophone

Huawei has produced the fastest charging device AND longest lasting battery in 2018… just not in the same phone

We have the data for all the phones discussed here, but we’ve highlighted select models to compare. If there’s interest for more, we can accommodate readers in the future. Please let us know if there’s any other metrics you’re interested in seeing!


Best of Android 2018: the best audio

We’ve subjected the best Android devices of 2018 to a slew of testing and can confidently inform you of what the best sounding phone is, as well as list other standout products with excellent audio. While we’ve only highlighted one phone, a handful of options produce perceptually perfect audio when it comes to noise and dynamic range. Aside from the models that are virtually indistinguishable from each other, we’ll also address a few other phones that perform well but not perfectly.

What makes something the best sounding phone?

Best sounding phone: Red Hydrogen One headphone jack

As more and more flagships drop the headphone jack, its presence has become a sought-after feature for audio junkies and is required to be crowned the best sounding phone.

As writers from our sister site SoundGuys will tell you, audio is both a subjective and objective experience. While the subjective, experiential part is valid, we’re here to highlight some of the more scientific bits to get you on your way.

When looking for a phone that produces excellent sound quality, there are a few things to keep an eye out for:

  • Noise levels should be under -96.6dB for CD-quality music.
  • Dynamic range should similarly be at or over 96.6dB.
  • Frequency response shouldn’t ever deviate from 0dB in either direction, but you won’t hear it if it’s less than 0.5dB.
  • Smartphone speakers suck.
  • Headphone jacks are the only way to ensure high-quality audio.

Only three phones tested exhibited audible errors

If you were to take a look at our huge, color-coded results spreadsheet, you’d notice right away how most smartphones in 2018 exhibit no audible flaws. When it comes to figuring out which smartphone is better than others for audio quality, only two things separate them: features (like a headphone jack), and Bluetooth.

We don’t like shaming phones around here, but these are the offending models:

  1. RED Hydrogen One
  2. Huawei P20
  3. Huawei P20 Pro

SoundGuys noted some irregularities with the Huawei phones when it came to AAC, but also noted every Android phone has errors with that finicky codec. The phones listed here can handle SBC, LDAC, aptX, and aptX HD on-spec. Additionally, the errors exhibited by those phones are unlikely to be heard by over 70 percent of the population, so be sure to temper outrage on that front.

However, the RED Hydrogen phone has frequency response errors of over 7dB, meaning you’ll absolutely hear it affect your music. It’s the lone “bad” phone for audio here.

The tests tell a very rosy story

We were surprised to find that noise wasn’t really a factor in differentiating phones, as most phones did a great job with it, however, there were a few shortcomings in other areas that thinned the herd considerably.

Dynamic Range

Higher is better

While it’s important for smartphone audio to minimize noise, high dynamic range is just as crucial. Although we’re accustomed to seeing the acronym “HDR” in photography, auditory dynamic range is the ratio of the quietest sound to the loudest sound a device can produce.

Dynamic Range

Higher is better

Speaker loudness might mostly serve to annoy the crap out of everyone around you, but sometimes you need a little boom in your mobile to catch a call or watch a YouTube video with a group. This purely tested how loud a given smartphone’s speaker can get and didn’t take into account distortion. We see quite a bit of difference between our top contenders, with the Nokia 7.1 and LG V40 ThinQ leading the pack.

Speaker Loudness

Higher is better

A fourth metric brings us back to the fundamentals of audio: frequency response. Although consumer headphones and earbuds tend to alter sound with a brand’s specific “house signature,” if you’re looking for accuracy, you want a device’s frequency response to be as neutral as possible. Though much hay is made over the high-end DAC assemblies of the LG V40 and Samsung phones, the truth is most handsets can decode and output a decent enough signal for even picky listeners. Only five phones crossed our +/- 0.5dB barrier, three of which are listed above. 

This is particularly pertinent, as it applies to the best sounding phone. By producing a neutral frequency response, a smartphone minimizes harmonic distortion at the source. Any issues with the DAC’s ability to reproduce an accurate, high-fidelity response may be amplified down the line when you plug your headphones in.

An accurate, neutral-leaning frequency response is imperative for any phone to be considered as the best sounding phone.

Most phones deviate less than 0.5dB in either direction, and score nearly perfect in this regard. Any of the phones listed today are essentially indistinguishable from one another performance-wise, making each smartphone an excellent choice when considering audio quality. While we can easily get lost nitpicking smartphone audio performance, the fact of the matter is smartphones handle audio exceptionally well. Generally speaking, you’re not going to be able to tell the difference between the top 10 smartphones for audio.

However, that brings us to a funny artifact of our scoring: only phones with a headphone jack could top our list. Dongles are a death sentence for our awards.

The current state of smartphone audio

Best sounding phone: The LG V40 ThinQ and the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 standing next to each other on a shelf.

Smartphone audio has come a long way, and we’re confident that any of the notable phones mentioned today will be satisfactory.

Listen to the SoundGuys podcast: The state of smartphone audio

Yes, 10 phones is a lot of models to be indistinguishable — it serves as a testament to how far smartphone audio quality has come. Now, what makes each phone a top contender is its ability to exceed the limits of human hearing.

Human hearing ranges from 20Hz-20kHz — hence why you see that range brandished all over headphone packaging — but this range assumes a young age and unsullied ear mechanics. Most of our hearing abilities degrade naturally by the time we hit our early- to- mid-twenties, which you can put to the test here. If you find that you can’t hear a few of those files, try applying a filter in your phone’s settings (found in Samsung, LG phones). You might be surprised at the improvements you can get.

What’s more, if you’re streaming over Bluetooth, even the highest quality codec can’t keep step with wired listening. In fact, LDAC 330kbps showed itself less reliable than SBC, the lowest-common-denominator of codecs. So, the assumed codec pecking order been skewed up until now. AAC diminishes audio quality a bit when streamed over an Android device, and aptX is what listeners should be sticking to. Even then, however, wired remains king of quality.  

The LG V40 ThinQ has the best sound quality of any handset in 2018

After subjecting each of the 30 contenders to a battery of tests and analyzing the data through our in-house scoring algorithms, the LG V40 ThinQ narrowly reigned victor over the Asus ROG Phone and Samsung Galaxy phones. These phones actually beat out the V40 in some cases, but because many of those measurements lie outside the realm of human perception, they didn’t give those phones an edge with our scoring methods. The LG V40 ThinQ’s headphone jack, Quad DAC, and internal amplifier is a winning combination that’s yet to be bested.

Best sounding phone: LG V40 ThinQ camera

The LG V40’s 32-bit Hi-Fi Quad DAC in tandem with the retention of the headphone jack makes it the best sounding smartphone of 2018.

It’s that internal amplifier that makes the LG V40 ThinQ a special phone. Where LG’s V-series has had it for a long time now, no other phones offer a 2V output, which means you can use power-hungry high-end headphones without breaking a sweat. Though it’s probably not the most practical idea to listen to a pair of planar magnetic headphones on the town, the fact is the LG V40 ThinQ is the only phone that’s going to let you do that. The Quad-DAC certainly sounds flashy, but the power behind the headphone jack is what makes the LG V40 ThinQthe best phone for audio. 

Editor’s Pick

Although it’s important to acknowledge the winner’s weaknesses, we tip our headphones to the LG V40. It — along with the Asus ROG Phone, Vivo NEX, and Samsung Galaxy Note 9 — outperforms its smartphone brethren in dynamic range. Additionally, the V40 frequency response deviates just 0.07dB, outperforming all other potential picks.

Although the V40 can’t outperform its competition in every metric, the top-notch power output makes it the best sounding smartphone of the year.

This year, there’s a wide selection of excellent phones out there for listeners who prioritize audio quality. All of the listed candidates are within a few meager points of one another and remain perceptually indistinguishable — unless you have a set of high-impedance headphones that require a lot of juice.

  1. LG V40 ThinQ
  2. Asus ROG Phone
  3. Nokia 7.1
  4. Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
  5. LG G7 ThinQ
  6. Samsung Galaxy S9
  7. Vivo X21
  8. Vivo Nex
  9. Xiaomi Pocophone
  10. Samsung Galaxy Note 9

One more thing about testing

Best sounding phone: focusrite scarlett 2i2 connected to a smartphone.

We use a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 to conduct our smartphone audio tests.

Any of the nine alternatives are very close to the LG V40. We understand if you want a more financially viable choice, or a battery that’s not going to quit after a few hours. In that case, the Xiaomi Pocophone, and Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus remains standout performers. Though they’re technically not the best sounding phones, they’re sure to satisfy any enthusiast’s ears. We’ll have future comparisons coming down the line to help inform you on future smartphone-related decisions.

Although we’re not yet publishing our internal scoring, we implore our readers to learn about how we conducted our testing, and the philosophy behind it. We want to ensure our data tells a story and informs our audience of relevant information. What’s more, we want our data to be accessible to a wide array of readers, be it the computer engineer or the average consumer.

Come back throughout the week for more Best of Android 2018 coverage as we have plenty more to share with you.

Next: Best of Android 2018: The best displays

Best of Android: Reader’s Choice voting begins

Editor’s note: skip down the page if you’re looking for the next matchup, and to enter the giveaway!

Hello Android Authority readers!

It’s my pleasure to announce that while we’re finishing up testing for our annual Best of Android series, we’re going to be launching a Reader’s Choice award. We need YOU to decide which 2018 phones are the best, crowning one handset to reign supreme. An internal poll decided the seeding order, and all matchups were determined using a 24-unit bracket. This means that the most popular phones here got a first-round bye, but any phone has a chance to unseat these mobile devices head-to-head. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to cast your votes, and to enter our giveaway — the more you vote on our matchups, the more chances you get to win one of three winning phones!

A graphic showing the bracket competition for Android Authority's Reader's Choice award.

24 phones enter, one remains after a month of head-to-head competition.

Every day, we’re going to be updating our Best of Android scoreboard with the winners from the previous day’s polling. Check back here every day for a new head-to-head matchup, and to see how badly your phone beat the competition!

Once a final winner is determined, it’ll earn the coveted Android Authority Reader’s Choice Award. While we can’t guarantee that this is going to be the best smartphone of all time, the bracket competition is a fun way to blow off some steam and do what we came to Android Authority to do in the first place: argue about phones.

Vote on our social channels, too!

Matchup #1 results: OnePlus 6T defeats RED Hydrogen One

The readers spoke loud and clear: the RED Hydrogen One crosses the rainbow bridge, and the OnePlus 6T continues on. We’re still collating the poll results for a final tally, but it wasn’t close. The moonshot Hydrogen One never really made it off the ground, as it got drubbed by the OnePlus 6T by a ratio of nine to one.

As a side note, I’ve been pleased with how civil the comments have been, so keep it up! This is a lot of fun, and I’m proud of our readers.

Matchup #2: Nokia 8 Sirocco vs. Vivo Nex

Next up is a more interesting battle between the Nokia 8 Sirocco and Vivo Nex. While not everyone has each of these phones available to them, each has their own curiosities to offer. The Vivo Nex has a mesmerizing mechanically-hidden front camera and an ample specsheet, while the Nokia 8 Sirocco offers the Android One experience in a more premium phone — though its last-gen hardware might not excite you.

Why you should vote for the Nokia 8 Sirocco:

Nokia 8 Sirocco review

The Nokia 8 Sirocco is a reliably solid performer with excellent battery life… HMD Global placed confident bets on solid hardware choices that work well but that maybe won’t attract those who pick up smartphones purely based on specs sheet.

—Abishek Baxi

Why you should vote for the Vivo Nex:

Rather than post a quote from my colleagues, I think I’ll let this video speak for itself:

Which phone wins?

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.

Reader’s Choice International Giveaway