Best smartphones 2019: The best phones for music and movies

Best Smartphone Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?’s round-up of the best phones you can buy in 2019.

Want the best mobile phone for music and movies? Of course you do. And you’ve come to the right place. 

No matter if you’re an Android or iOS loyal, whether you’re eyeing up a flagship phone such as the iPhone XS or Samsung Galaxy 10+ , or more affordable options like the OnePlus 7T and the Moto G6, we’ve got you covered with the very best smartphones on the market…

How we choose the best smartphones

Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year – a handful of which are smartphones from the likes of Apple, Samsung, Google and LG. So how do we come to our review verdicts? And why can you trust them?

We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Bath, where our team of expert reviewers do all our in-house testing. This gives us complete control over the review process, ensuring consistency. 

We spend time with the phones; we live with them, testing every feature and spec exhaustively, from screens to cameras, sound quality to battery life. We focus particularly on audio and video performance, so if you spend a lot of time listening to music or watching videos, you should read on before making that all-important buying decision.

All products are tested in comparison with rival products in the same category, and all review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than a single reviewer, again helping to ensure consistency and avoid individual subjectivity.

The What Hi-Fi? team has more than 100 years experience of reviewing, testing and writing about consumer electronics.

From all of our reviews, we choose the products to feature in our Best Buys, such as this one. That’s why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended below, or on any other Best Buy pages, you can rest assured you’re getting a What Hi-Fi?-approved product.

Best smartphones 2019

(Image credit: Future)

1. Apple iPhone XR

The sweet spot of Apple’s current iPhone range

SPECIFICATIONS

Screen: 6.1in LCD | Resolution: 1972 x 828 | Features: Siri assistant, 12MP wide-angle lens | Battery: 2942mAh | Operating system: iOS 12 | Dimensions: (hwd) 15.1 x 7.6 x 0.8cm | Weight: 194g

Reasons to Buy

Entertaining, musical sound

Natural picture

Good battery life

Reasons to Avoid

OLED rivals are punchier

Headphone dongle is extra

While significantly cheaper than both its XS and XS Max siblings, the XR delivers a huge chunk of what the pricier models offer. The user experience is virtually identical, as is the processing power on offer. No, the camera isn’t quite as good as its siblings and picture quality can be bettered, but you’ll need to pay more upfront.

Not only does the XR boast better battery life, you also have the option of a 128GB version, which should cater for most people, and it’s a size that isn’t available for the XS or XS Max. It not only stacks up well against its family members, it displays a level of musicality that rivals brands can only dream of. A smart choice for those who want a bite of the Apple for a relatively affordable price.

Read our full Apple iPhone XR review

Best smartphones 2019

2. Apple iPhone XS Max

Simply the best smartphone out there for movies and music

SPECIFICATIONS

Screen: 6.5in OLED | Resolution: 2688 x 1242 | Features: Siri assistant, HDR10 support, Dolby Vision | Battery: 3174mAh | Operating system: iOS 12 | Dimensions: (hwd) 15.8 x 7.7 x 0.7cm | Weight: 208g

Reasons to Buy

Stunning big OLED display

Better audio than before

Robust and water-resistant

Reasons to Avoid

Size may not suit some

Expensive

Got a bit more cash to splash? For anyone who uses a smartphone as a mobile cinema screen, the boast of having the ‘biggest display ever on an iPhone’, and of the OLED kind, immediately makes the iPhone XS Max a source of serious excitement. 

The idea of a scaled-up iPhone X was always appealing and, with 2018 being one of Apple’s generally small-step ‘s’ years, it came as a pleasant surprise that the iPhone XS Max managed to deliver a serious step up in performance. Pictures on the OLED screen are impressively detailed, with subtle colours and excellent motion control. It’s a fabulous picture. 

With music, the XS Max is just a little clearer, more dynamic and punchier than any rival out there, improving on the iPhone X, which was already a class-leader. All told, the iPhone XS Max is comfortably the best smartphone out there for movie and music lovers.

Read our full iPhone XS Max review

Best smartphones 2019

(Image credit: OnePlus)

3. OnePlus 7T

The best value Android phone on the market

SPECIFICATIONS

Screen: 6.55in AMOLED | Resolution: 1080 x 2400 | Features: USB-C headphone jack | Operating system: Android 10.0 | Battery: 3800mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 16.1 x 7.4 x 0.8cm | Weight: 190g

Reasons to Buy

Superb screen to watch and use

Bright, insightful camera

Ultra-fast charging

In-screen fingerprint scanner

Reasons to Avoid

No 3.5mm jack

Dark picture detail could be better

OnePlus may be slowly increasing the asking price of its handsets, but it’s packing in more tech too and rapidly closing the gap between mid-market phones and their flagship equivalents at twice the price.

Like the 7 Pro before (and here, below) it, the 7T is a great value mid-market marvel with a great camera and screen, plus features you wouldn’t expect on a handset of this price, and certainly one that deserves consideration.

Read our full OnePlus 7T review

Best smartphones 2019

4. Samsung Galaxy S10+

Samsung is on to a winner with this big-screen smartphone

SPECIFICATIONS

Screen: 6.4in OLED | Resolution: 3040 x 1440 | Features: Bixby assistant, HDR10+ support, Dolby Atmos | Battery: 4100mAh | Operating system: Android 9 | Dimensions: (hwd) 15.8 x 7.4 x 0.8cm | Weight: 175g

Reasons to Buy

Premium look and feel

Superb, colourful screen

Good, detailed sound

Reasons to Avoid

Biometric sensor needs fine-tuning

Edge design isn’t perfect

Bixby

The 10th anniversary of the Samsung Galaxy range has been marked with the launch of not one, but three, new Samsung Galaxy S10 phones. The Galaxy S10+ is the biggest, most powerful and the most expensive. It comes complete with a 6.4in screen, a new “Infinity-O” OLED display, HDR10+ video support, Dolby Atmos audio, an Ultrasonic Fingerprint sensor underneath the front of the screen, a triple rear camera lens, a hefty 4100 mAh battery, the option of a 1TB memory, a microSD card slot – and even a trusty 3.5mm headphone jack. 

It’s not perfect – the biometric sensor, edge design and that Bixby button all need some fine-tuning – but if you’re in the market for a flagship Android phone with a slim but big-screen design, and value audio and video quality, this really should be at the top of your wishlist.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S10+ review

Best smartphones 2019

(Image credit: OnePlus)

5. OnePlus 7 Pro

Flagship features for midrange money

SPECIFICATIONS

Screen: 6.7in AMOLED | Resolution: 3120 x 1440 | Features: USB-C headphone jack | Operating system: Android 9.0 Pie | Battery: 4000mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 16.3 x 7.6 x 0.9cm | Weight: 206g

Reasons to Buy

Gorgeous, eye-catching screen

Detailed, lively sound

Impressive camera

Reasonable price

Reasons to Avoid

Sound quality lacks subtlety and composure

No 3.5mm jack

Not officially waterproof

Best smartphones 2019

If you’re an Android fan who can’t afford to splash out four figures for a smartphone, OnePlus’ latest flagship could be the phone for your pocket. Apart from a few minor issues, such as the absence of the 3.5mm headphone jack and the lack of waterproofing, the 7 Pro is a force to be reckoned with. 

With an appealing screen, detailed, lively sound and a cracking camera, as well as a cool in-screen fingerprint scanner and pop-up selfie camera module, there’s plenty to like here.

Read the full OnePlus 7 Pro review

6. Google Pixel 3a XL

This affordably priced smartphone is the Pixel for the people

SPECIFICATIONS

Screen: 6in OLED | Resolution: 2220 x 1080 | Features: 3.5mm headphone jack | Operating system: Android 9.0 Pie | Battery: 3000mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 16 x 7.6 x 0.8cm | Weight: 167g

Reasons to Buy

Vivid, punchy OLED screen

Class-leading camera

3.5mm headphone jack

Seamless Android OS

Reasons to Avoid

Sound quality is lacking

Plastic body feels cheap

The Google Pixel 3a XL handset inherits many flagship features from the 3 XL (below) but adds an affordable price tag and a 3.5mm jack, making it very much the Pixel for the people. The OLED screen is a real winner for the price, and many will appreciate the stock Android 9.0 user experience. Only mediocre sound holds it back.

Read the full Google Pixel 3a XL review

Best smartphones 2019

(Image credit: Google)

7. Google Pixel 4

Google ups its photography game to reinforce its reputation in an ever-evolving market

SPECIFICATIONS

Screen: 5.7in OLED | Resolution: 444ppi | Features: USB-C | Operating system: Android 10.0 | Battery: 2800mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 14.7 x 6.9 x 0.8cm | Weight: 162g

Reasons to Buy

Improved camera experience

Useful motion gestures

Better screen

Reasons to Avoid

Lacklustre sound quality

Battery life takes a hit

A substantially improved camera and small upgrades across the board all add up to a better phone than Google has produced in previous years, albeit it one that won’t necessarily cause Pixel 3 owners to rush out and upgrade.

A truly excellent, market-competitive camera carries it through, strengthening Google’s reputation for producing some of the best camera phones out there. Just beware that it isn’t hugely competititve in the audio or battery departments.

Read our full Google Pixel 4 review

Read our full Google Pixel 4 XL review

Best smartphones 2019

8. Motorola Moto G6

This budget phone gives you a lot of bang for your buck

SPECIFICATIONS

Screen: 5.7in LCD | Resolution: 2160 x 1080 | Features: Dolby Audio, 3.5mm headphone jack | Operating system: Android 8 | Battery: 3000mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 15.4 x 7.2 x 0.8cm | Weight: 167g

Reasons to Buy

Good camera

Surprisingly responsive

Decent OS

Reasons to Avoid

Sound could be more exciting

Image needs refinement

This is a low-cost phone with better-than-budget performance. Motorola’s G-series smartphones have always been good value for money – and the new G6 is no exception. Features aren’t missing either, there’s a fingerprint scanner, a headphone jack and a USB-C port for charging the 3000mAh battery. A Snapdragon 1.8GHz octa-core processor, combined with the Android Oreo 8.0 operating system, keeps this phone running pretty smoothly. A good picture and decent sound, considering the price, make this an ideal choice for anyone wanting a cheap phone that does the basics well.

Read the full Moto G6 review

Best smartphones 2019

9. Apple iPhone XS

This smartphone is a sensational AV device

SPECIFICATIONS

Screen: 5.8in OLED | Resolution: 2436 x 1125 | Features: Siri assistant, HDR10 support, Dolby Atmos audio | Operating system: iOS 12 | Battery: 2658mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 14.4 x 7.1 x 0.8cm | Weight: 177g

Reasons to Buy

Crisp vibrant picture

Clear, rhythmic sound

Easy to use

Reasons to Avoid

Price

Battery life can be bettered

It was always going to be hard to follow the launch of the original ‘X’, a phone that introduced new tech and features to an Apple smartphone for the first time, including an OLED display and Face ID. Yet the iPhone XS still manages to spring a few surprises, especially where its AV performance is concerned. More processing power, increased efficiency and improved camera quality are all positive points, but it’s the boost in both picture and sound quality that really cement this iPhone upgrade. 

The iPhone XS is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished mobile phones out there.

Read our full iPhone XS review

Best smartphones 2019

10. Google Pixel 3 XL

Google’s ultimate Pixel phone is a master of most trades

SPECIFICATIONS

Screen: 6.3in OLED | Resolution: 2960 x 1440 | Features: USB-C | Operating system: Android 9 | Battery: 3430mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 15.8 x 7.7 x 0.8cm | Weight: 184g

Reasons to Buy

The best Android experience

Excellent OLED screen

Superb camera

Reasons to Avoid

Average audio quality

No 3.5mm jack

While it’s not the newest flagship Pixel anymore thanks to the arrival of the Pixel 4 series (above), this is still a great Android handset – especially for the now-reduced price.

The Pixel 3 XL isn’t revolutionary, nor does it offer a giant leap forward from its predecessor. But if you want a big-screen Android phone for taking photos, watching videos and everything else you can do with your phone, there might not be a better option. Our only gripe comes with the audio quality, which means if you do want the optimum music performance into the bargain, there are better options around.

Read our full Google Pixel 3 XL review

Best smartphones 2019

11. Samsung Galaxy Note 9

The biggest and best Samsung Galaxy Note yet

SPECIFICATIONS

Screen: 6.4in AMOLED | Resolution: 2960 x 1440 | Features: Bixby assistant, HDR10 support, USB-C, 3.5mm headphone input, AKG audio | Operating system: Android 9 | Battery: 4000mAh | Dimensions: (hwd) 16.2 x 7.6 x 0.9cm | Weight: 201g

Reasons to Buy

Bright and punchy screen

Smooth, speedy performance

Huge battery life and storage

Reasons to Avoid

iPhones offer better sound quality

Expensive

It won’t suit everyone, but the improved Note 9 is one of Samsung’s best. Bigger screen, bigger storage, bigger battery, bigger price tag. Though the Note borrows heavily from the excellent Galaxy S9+, it improves the experience by adding perks of its own beyond just size. 

The screen delivers sharp, punchy colours, deep blacks and crisp edges. It’s silky smooth in use, fast and has a clean interface. It can play hi-res audio and the sound quality overall is full-bodied and detailed. The S-Pen stylus now comes with Bluetooth, giving it some neat functions such as opening the camera app, and it feels more responsive. A huge battery and plenty of storage capacity is a bonus, too.

If you like big, powerful phones, you’ll love the Note 9, even if the just-announced Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ has stolen some of its thunder.

Read the full Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review