Whether for ourselves or as a gift, the holiday season presents a good opportunity to get a new device with all of the discounts being handed around. And as such, it's a great time to re-evaluate where 2017's top phones rank. Obviously the newer phones released later in the year will compare favorably to those from the first quarter, but at the same time those early phones deserve to still be considered — many have received deep discounts, and aged well.
The "new" phones are pretty easy to evaluate at this point. We're just getting out of the honeymoon period with the Pixel 2 and 2 XL, but it's clear what we have. The Pixel 2 offers fantastic value at $649 with its amazing camera, solid (though unspectacular) hardware and great software experience. The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, is a bit tougher to recommend at $849 with an arguably worse screen and an otherwise identical experience.
It feels like the Galaxy Note 8 has had a relatively calm couple months on the market, and that's probably a good thing from Samsung's perspective. Its amazing similarities to the Galaxy S8+ and super-high price tempered some of the excitement, and it seems like all but diehard Note fans are content looking for something cheaper. The phone's ridiculously powerful, beautiful and capable, but does it really justify its near-$1000 price? Using one the past few days again, I can't say it necessarily does. The LG V30 still lives in the shadow of the Galaxy S8+, even though it's a newer phone — its price hasn't dropped much, its cameras are a side-grade from the G6 unless you primarily shoot video, and you can easily say the Galaxy S8+ is a better buy.
It's the phones released earlier in the year that deserve some renewed attention. Even though they're "old" they're still valid choices and ones all of the retailers and carriers are still pushing several months later. The LG G6 pretty quickly fell off the radar after launch, but is still a good phone, and more so today with ample price cuts. Sure the specs aren't toe-to-toe with the latest phones, and the display is definitely a weak point. But the phone's hardware has held up, has a nice overall size and those dual rear cameras are great. The LG G6 is only $399 from Amazon right now — one hell of a phone for that price.
The Galaxy S8 and S8+ have come back up around their original MSRPs after price cuts through the summer, but you can't blame Samsung for this approach. For as far as it's concerned, these are still its flagships and the Note 8 didn't really introduce enough new to make the GS8 and S8+ feel old in any way. The Galaxy S8 is a great phone that's actually compact and pretty easy to use in one hand, and the GS8+ actually manages to justify its price with good battery life and a comparatively low price with the Note 8 above it.
How about a couple of those middle-ground releases? The HTC U11 had its time to shine when it was released between all of the other big names, and is still quietly a great pickup at $649 (typically $599 with a coupon). It doesn't do anything spectacular, but it does everything you expect really well — and it just isn't in the news much because there isn't any issue with it that needs addressed. On the other side of the coin, I still get a massive number of questions about my thoughts on the Essential Phone now that it has picked up a few dozen substantial software updates and a price drop to $499. Yup, it's actually a pretty good phone right now at that price. It's a shame it had such a horrendous launch (and honestly, it deserved it at the time) that marred its image.
Oh yeah, Motorola released a bunch of phones. I was not excited or inspired by a single one. The Moto X4 is a good phone, especially as a device to bring Android One to the U.S. and a mid-range option to Project Fi. One of the myriad Moto G5 variants is still a go-to phone in the sub-$300 range, but it's not something anyone actually gets thrilled by.
So there's my lighting round hot take of the big names of the year. Agree? Disagree? I want to hear from you in the comments. And with that, a few other random thoughts on the week:
- I'm enjoying our "gift guide" series where each of us here at AC list our top tech of the year. It's one of the times we can talk about tech outside of just the Android world.
- I plan on writing up a second-take review on the Galaxy Note 8 soon. It's a phone that's worth revisiting after a couple months.
- Same goes for the Essential Phone. I want to get some final thoughts (again) on the phone. It's clearly a different device and a new value proposition now than it was when I first reviewed it
- For the record, I'm not jealous of Daniel Bader's week spent in Hawaii. Not at all.
Another week of Android ahead!
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