Best overall: Google Pixel 2 / 2 XL

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Google's Pixel 2 and 2 XL give you sleek and robust hardware, all of the requisite specs inside, and intuitive software at a breakneck pace. They aren't flashy, but they're beautifully efficient — and also IP67 water-resistant. The big hardware downside is a lack of a headphone jack.

The software features and Google's apps aren't numerous, but they're delightfully useful without being bothersome. And with three years of guaranteed updates, you don't have to worry about the future — Google's phones are well-known for holding onto their performance longer than most.

Google has once again set the standard for Android cameras, with great hardware buoyed by the "HDR+" processing that can create amazing images. Photos are accurate with an extra punch of color, and can manage tough scenes with little issue. And with Android 8.1, the Pixel Visual Core enables dramatically better photos in third-party apps.

Bottom line: The best Android experience comes straight from Google with the Pixel 2 and 2 XL. Great hardware and amazing software support a top-notch camera anyone can enjoy.

One more thing: Verizon will tout the Pixel 2 is "exclusive" to the carrier, know that you can buy the phone unlocked from a variety of sources and use it on your carrier of choice.

Why the Google Pixel 2 is the best

If you want the best possible Android experience, you go straight to the source: Google. The company has gotten serious about user experience and interface design, and it really shows with Android Oreo on the Pixel 2 and 2 XL. Everything is blazing fast, smooth, consistent and intuitive throughout the interface. It's a core competency that separates the Pixel 2 and 2 XL from the competition, and it's something that any smartphone user can appreciate.

Google is really good at user experience and interface design, and Oreo is magnificent.

And it's not just software customization that makes it happen — Google has included a Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB (optionally, 128GB) of storage to make sure your phone has plenty of room to run. A 2700mAh battery in the Pixel 2 seems small (well, normally, it is), but it manages to get you a full day of use without worry. The 2 XL has plenty of battery for even a heavy day. Both phones have front-facing stereo speakers, which are an expected feature in flagships.

For the smaller Pixel 2, Google sourced a quality 5-inch 1080p panel that looks good for its $649 price point. Because of that smaller display, despite its big top and bottom bezels the Pixel 2 is quite comfortable to hold and reach to all four corners of the screen without the help of a second hand. The Pixel 2's taller and larger 6-inch display is the weakest point of the phone, struggling with colors and brightness compared to rivals — but that's something many people will be able to look past as it's still a "good enough" screen for most.

The Pixel 2 doesn't focus on the number of features; it focuses on the impact of each one.

If there's one knock on the Pixel 2 and 2 XL, it's that they doesn't have the sheer volume of features in its hardware or software that some of the competition does. It doesn't have a headphone jack, wireless charging, or an SD card slot; and if you're used to having a bunch of specialized software features on your Samsung, LG or Huawei phone you won't find them here.

But for most people, those are relatively small prices to pay to get a daily experience of using a phone that's fast, intuitive, smart and filled with a core set of features that can actually wow you. That's what you get from the Pixel 2 and 2 XL.

Best for features: Samsung Galaxy S9 / S9+

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The Galaxy S9 and S9+ aren't much different from their predecessors, but seeing as those were Samsung's best-ever-selling phones that's not a bad thing. These phones are all about giving you the most features in the most beautiful package. You get top-end specs across the board, plus all of the hardware features you expect: waterproofing, wireless charging, an SD card slot, a headphone jack and more.

The camera is all-new this year, with a sensor that does fantastic processing to remove noise and sharpen fine detail. It's aided by a dual-aperture lens to get the best combination of light and detail in different shots, and in the case of the Galaxy S9+ is paired with a secondary telephoto lens for zoom and portrait mode shooting.

You don't get the clean and simple software experience of the Pixel 2, which may take some extra customization and tweaking on your part, but the Galaxy S9 is far less polarizing overall — just about anyone looking for a high-end phone will love using the Galaxy S9 or S9+.

Bottom line: The Galaxy S9 and S9+ don't require much thought — they can do everything, and look great doing it, with few real downsides.

One more thing: Consider paying the extra $120 for the Galaxy S9+, where you get more RAM, a bigger screen and longer battery life. It's worth it for most people.

Best for battery life: Huawei Mate 10 Pro

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Unlike its predecessor the Mate 9, Huawei's Mate 10 Pro is an absolute looker — and it clearly positions itself right next to the flagship competition. Metal and glass are finely crafted and filled with top-notch specs, and its Leica-tuned dual cameras are capable of some wonderful shots with the help of the Kirin processor inside.

Alongside all of that, the Mate 10 Pro hits it out of the park with battery life. The combination of a 4000mAh battery, efficient processor, somewhat-restrictive software and a 1080p display make this a true two-day flagship for many people, and that's rare today.

The only downside, as ever, is Huawei's EMUI software. Though it has gotten better with Oreo, it still has many areas that are rough on the eyes, not very functional or inexplicably broken when it comes to integrating with third-party apps.

Bottom line: It's a true flagship with all of the best specs, and incredible battery life. You just have to give a little in terms of software experience.

One more thing: When searching for a Mate 10 Pro, make sure you're getting the U.S. unlocked model so that you have proper network bands and warranty support.

Conclusion

When you want an unlocked phone, our recommendation remains unchanged from our general "Best Android Phones" list: it's the Google Pixel 2 or 2 XL. They offer an amazing software experience, a top-notch camera, great hardware and guaranteed software updates. For those who want more features and a more striking design, the Galaxy S9 and S9+ offer a great balance of everything.

Best overall: Google Pixel 2 / 2 XL

See at Best Buy

Google's Pixel 2 and 2 XL give you sleek and robust hardware, all of the requisite specs inside, and intuitive software at a breakneck pace. They aren't flashy, but they're beautifully efficient — and also IP67 water-resistant. The big hardware downside is a lack of a headphone jack.

The software features and Google's apps aren't numerous, but they're delightfully useful without being bothersome. And with three years of guaranteed updates, you don't have to worry about the future — Google's phones are well-known for holding onto their performance longer than most.

Google has once again set the standard for Android cameras, with great hardware buoyed by the "HDR+" processing that can create amazing images. Photos are accurate with an extra punch of color, and can manage tough scenes with little issue. And with Android 8.1, the Pixel Visual Core enables dramatically better photos in third-party apps.

Bottom line: The best Android experience comes straight from Google with the Pixel 2 and 2 XL. Great hardware and amazing software support a top-notch camera anyone can enjoy.

One more thing: Verizon will tout the Pixel 2 is "exclusive" to the carrier, know that you can buy the phone unlocked from a variety of sources and use it on your carrier of choice.

Update, March 2018: The Pixel 2 and 2 XL remain in our top spot. The Galaxy S8 and Note 8 have been removed for the combination of the Galaxy S9 and S9+. The OnePlus 5T is no longer on sale, and has been replaced by the Huawei Mate 10 Pro for those who want long battery life.