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Latest Which? tests uncover three new Best Buy mobile phones – and one to avoid

The latest Which? smartphone lab-tests have covered some of the broadest ranges of pricing and scores we’ve ever seen. We’ve welcomed three new phones to the Best Buy club, with the most impressive scoring 75%. But, we’ve also seen one model fall way below expectations.

A Don’t Buy through-and-through, the offender left our lab with a paltry 34%. Six new mobile phones were tested, and there’s something for everyone. The most expensive was Sony’s new shrunken-down premium phone, the Xperia XZ2 Compact, priced at GBP529 – not unreasonable for a phone declared to be top of the line by its manufacturer.

We also have the newest entry to the ever-popular Samsung mid-range A-series, the Galaxy A8, coming in at a more affordable GBP399. And right at the other end of the spectrum is the Nokia 1, a GBP50 entry-level device designed to help strengthen the fallen Finnish giant’s burgeoning place in the Android smartphone market. Read on to find out more about all these models, plus the rest of the bunch.

Mobile phone Best Buys[1] – browse all of our highest-scoring smartphones

Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact – GBP529

Around five years ago the Compact versions of Sony’s Z-series handsets were some of the most impressive and popular Android devices on the market. In the age of the IMAX-sized super-phablet, though, their popularity has waned. We tested the full-sized Xperia XZ2[2] back in May, but it’s the Xperia XZ2 Compact that’s the most interesting of the two.

What makes it so interesting is that it’s a virtually identical to its big brother. It has the same high-end Snapdragon 845 processor, 4GB of Ram with 64GB of storage, 1,080 x 2,160 pixel resolution display, and Sony’s own-brand 19Mp rear-facing camera – all of that, while being crammed into a body more than 13% smaller. That Full-HD resolution is only being spread over a 5-inch display rather than a 5.7-inch one, too.

The real notable absence is the lack of wireless charging, a choice we can only presume was down to limited space within the handset. The battery is a little smaller, but that might not too detrimental – the display is by far the biggest drain on power with a smartphone, so a smaller handset needs less battery power. If you’re looking for a smartphone that won’t give you wrist cramps or stretch out your jeans’ pocket, then this could be the one for you.

Find out how it fared in our tests with our full Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review[3].

LG G7 ThinQ – GBP599

If you’re after a full-sized premium phone, the LG G7 ThinQ has a screen that’s 1.1 inches bigger XZ2 Compact – and it’s only GBP70 more expensive. Perhaps aware of its dwindling influence in the smartphone world, LG has released the latest update to its premium range at a very competitive price (for comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S9+[4] is a whole GBP270 more expensive). It actually has a great deal in common with its Sony-made rivals: you get the same state-of-the-art Snapdragon 845 processor, 4GB of Ram, and 64GB of storage.

It ups the resolution though, with its sizeable display measuring 1,440 x 3,120 pixels – that’s Quad HD. It also follows the dual-camera trend, both 16Mp just as we’ve seen previously on the Samsung Galaxy S9+. It’s the successor to the LG G6, but you may be wondering why the name has changed. ‘SmartThinQ’ is the name for LG’s new platform that connects a whole host of its products.

From washing machines to fridges to robot vacuum cleaners, any SmartThinQ product can be connected and controlled from one central app. That central app resides on the LG G7 ThinQ. Tired of the same big names?

Or perhaps you just want to save a little money – make sure you see if this is the right mobile phone for you with our LG G7 ThinQ review[5].

Huawei P20 lite – GBP299

A few months back we tested the Huawei P20[6] and P20 Pro[7], the Chinese company’s first handsets to truly attempt to disrupt the top end of the market here in the UK. We found the slick, pearlescent lustre of the handsets particularly striking, and we’re pleased to say that the aesthetic has been carried over to the P20 lite. As the name suggests, it’s a more cost-friendly, stripped-back version of its two namesakes, and it could certainly fool an unsuspecting passer-by at a glance.

A deeper look into it and the differences are a little more obvious: the processor is a little weaker, the battery is a little smaller, and you get 64GB of storage (as opposed to 128GB) – plus the back of the handset is plastic rather than glass. That said, the similarities are quite impressive. It has an ample 4GB of Ram, just like the P20, and its Full-HD display is virtually identical (it’s 0.04 inches larger).

You still get a dual-lens camera, too. There’s a 16Mp main sensor paired with a 2Mp secondary one that’s primarily used for depth perception. It probably won’t have the same wow-factor as the two-headed monster on the P20, but to see a dual rear camera on a handset this cheap is still exciting.

Could this be the perfect compromise of price and performance? Click the link to read our full Huawei P20 lite review[8].

Samsung Galaxy A8 – GBP399

Sitting comfortably between the glamorous Galaxy S series and the cheap-and-cheerful Galaxy J range lies Samsung’s Galaxy A devices. The most popular mid-ranged devices out there right now, the Samsung Galaxy A8 is the latest addition to the family.

Coming in at just under GBP400 it’s certainly pushing the constraints of what could truly be considered ‘mid-range’, but one look at the specs and it’s easy to understand why. Fronted by a 5.6-inch Full-HD AMOLED display it’s powered by Samsung’s own Exynos 7885 octa-core processor and 4GB of Ram. The body is constructed similarly to the Galaxy S9 with an aluminium frame and a glass back, and once you factor in the dual-lens rear-facing camera (16Mp and 8Mp respectively) it’s hard to see where Samsung actually cut costs.

The only obvious place was in loading it with the dated Android 7.0 Nougat – but even that can be updated to 8.0 Oreo straight out of the box. For practically half the price of its flagship sibling, this is a tempting choice for Samsung fans. To find out how it fared in our test lab, read our Samsung Galaxy A8 review[9].

Nokia 7 Plus – GBP349

If you’re looking to save even more money you may be interested in the Nokia 7 Plus.

Nokia still has some way to go to rebuild its reputation, but the 7 Plus may represent a big step in its journey. With looks that strongly resemble the old Lumia range, it’s a big-bodied aluminium and copper handset featuring a 6-inch Full-HD display, a mid-range processor famed for performing beyond its modest status, 4GB of Ram and twin rear-facing cameras – in other words, exactly what you’d be looking for at this price. Combine that with a genuinely impressive 3,800mAh battery and this could be an unexpected choice for your next upgrade.

Is it time to go back to Nokia? Find out the answer in our full Nokia 7 Plus review[10].

Nokia 1 – GBP50

No, that’s not a typo, and no, this isn’t a 2018 re-imagining of the 3210 – this another fully-fledged Android smartphone courtesy of Nokia. Well, fully-fledged with one small caveat.

The Nokia 1 actually comes running Android Go, which is a tailored version of Google’s popular operating system designed to run on especially cheap handsets. While it still has access to the full suite of apps, the Google essentials that come pre-loaded on it (such as Gmail and Messages) are tweaked to take up less space and run more smoothly – and the Google Play Store is even customised to show Go-friendly apps first. That should tell you a little about the sort of calibre of phone you’re dealing with.

At GBP50 it’s, understandably, made of the most basic components possible: a 4.5-inch 480 x 854-pixel screen, 1.1GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of Ram and a very modest 5Mp main camera. Perhaps the only real unforgivable cut-back is the paltry 8GB of on-board storage, but you can at least expand that with a micro-SD card. We can tell you right now that there’s no way it’s going to be challenging the Apple iPhone X[11], but even the greediest of customers wouldn’t expect that.

It does have a great deal of potential for those who just want a simple, cheap handset that does the basics right. If you only want basic communications and use of a few apps then it could be a smart money-saver. Bargain of the year or bargain bin?

See what our lab experts made of it with our Nokia 1 review[12].

Still having trouble deciding?

Read our guide on how to buy the best mobile phone[13].

References

  1. ^ Mobile phone Best Buys (preview.internal.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ full-sized Xperia XZ2 (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact review (www.which.co.uk)
  4. ^ Samsung Galaxy S9+ (www.which.co.uk)
  5. ^ LG G7 ThinQ review (www.which.co.uk)
  6. ^ Huawei P20 (www.which.co.uk)
  7. ^ P20 Pro (www.which.co.uk)
  8. ^ Huawei P20 lite review (www.which.co.uk)
  9. ^ Samsung Galaxy A8 review (www.which.co.uk)
  10. ^ Nokia 7 Plus review (www.which.co.uk)
  11. ^ Apple iPhone X (www.which.co.uk)
  12. ^ Nokia 1 review (www.which.co.uk)
  13. ^ how to buy the best mobile phone (www.which.co.uk)

Five exciting tech innovations for 2018

We’ve just returned from Mobile World Congress (MWC) – the annual mobile industry trade show where brands big and small showcase their latest phones, gadgets and technology. Over the four days the big hitters delivered as expected – including the unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy S9+[1] and the revamped Nokia 8110 4G[2]. But behind the crowds buzzing about the main stands were a quiet confluence of guests intrigued by some of the more eyebrow-raising innovations and developments.

Read on for some of the highlights, including a smartphone with an under-display fingerprint sensor, toe-tapping shoes and a pop-up webcam. Can’t wait for the future? Browse the Best Buy smartphones[3] you can pick up right now.

1.

Vivo Apex – a bezel-less concept phone with an under-display fingerprint scanner

Vivo is a smartphone brand with little presence in the UK. But it seems to be leading the charge when it comes to integrating a fingerprint sensor underneath a phone’s display. The future of smartphone design is bezel-less and minimalistic.

We’re seeing more and more phones with very small bezels surrounding the display, notably the Apple iPhone X[4], LG V30[5] and Samsung Galaxy S9[6]. But in the march towards this design, it’s vital that important features aren’t lost. One problem has been trying to get a fingerprint sensor to work underneath a display – and the Vivo Apex concept phone is the latest iteration.

It’s an improvement on the Vivo X20 Plus UD. While this phone shows that an under-display fingerprint sensor is possible, the fingerprint sensor section on the display is very small. With the Apex, you can place your digit almost anywhere on the bottom half of the screen for it to unlock.

As you can see, the Apex has incredibly tiny bezels surrounding the screen.

It has managed to integrate the phone’s earpiece underneath the display, but unfortunately not the front-facing camera. Selfie fans needn’t be concerned though – incredibly the camera pops out from the top of the body.

The Apex is ultimately a concept phone, but it’s an exciting example of how smartphones in the near-future could develop.

2. A smartphone with five-day battery life

As smartphone displays get bigger and better, tech brands are working frantically to ensure the batteries can keep up.

At this year’s MWC, we’ve had our hands on a smartphone that takes mobile phone battery life to another level. You may think of Energizer when buying batteries for your TV remote, but the company also produces its own range of smartphones. This year’s most hyped mobile, the Samsung Galaxy S9[7], arrives with a 3,000mAh battery.

But that’s not nothing compared to the Energizer Power Max P16K Pro – it has a mind-boggling 16,000 mAh battery. We’re told it can last ‘up to five days’ on a single charge. Of course, that chunky battery has to live underneath the display, and the result is a smartphone that feels bulky in the hand.

But if battery life is important to you, you might be willing to overlook a slightly cumbersome design. Other features of the Power Max P16K Pro include a 5.99-inch Full HD display, 6GB of Ram and fast charge support. See what Energizer is up against in our guide to mobile phones with the best battery life[8].

3.

Vuzix Blade AR smart glasses

AR could be the new VR, if you believe the hype. Augmented Reality works slightly differently but is arguably more useful, and works by overlaying information onto the real world around you. Think walking past a shop and seeing opening times or special offers in your peripheral vision, or seeing what a sofa looks like in your home before you buy it[9].

Apple[10] is interested, having recently released its ARKit – software that allows developers to get involved and make apps for its phones, and something caught our eye at MWC that could well be the sort of thing Apple had in mind. Vuzix claims its Blade Smart Glasses offer this hands-free connection between the digital world and the real world – you don’t have to take your smartphone out of your pocket or bag to check your notifications – instead, they’ll float into your view while you’re wearing the glasses. They can also do things like show you directions, so you don’t need to constantly check your phone to make sure you’re on track.

You can control the new glasses via voice command as well as by touch. The addition of an 8Mp rear camera also means you can quickly take photos on the move, increasing your chances of capturing the unexpected. The Vuzix Blade Smart Glasses live in the shadow of Google Glass, which proved unpopular.

To be successful, the new release needs to be genuinely useful and not too interfering. We’re not completely sure on UK price or release date just yet – but we think they’ll cost close to GBP1,000 and be available to buy before the end of the year. As for Apple’s own smart glasses, we’ll have to wait and see.

If you haven’t given Virtual Reality (VR) a try – there’s never been a better time. Find out how to try VR for free on Apple and Android phones[11].

4. A hidden laptop camera

It’s not just smartphones that are aiming for thinner bezels – the new Huawei MateBook X Pro, with its stunning 13.9-inch 3K touch display, has such thin bezels running around the edge of the screen, there’s no room for an integrated webcam.

Huawei has come up with an ingenious way to make sure MateBook owners still get to make video calls – by installing a pop-up camera lens. It sits at the top of the keyboard, and a simple press on the camera key will see it rise slightly to reveal a wide-angle lens.

We expect to see pop-up cameras appearing on more laptops in the future from other big-name brands. Aside from providing a solution to thinner bezels, not having a webcam lens pointed at you all the time may give security-conscious users some peace of mind.

Find out more about Huawei’s MateBook X Pro laptop and MediaPad M5 tablets[12].

5. ‘Morse code’ smart safety shoes

Now for something a little bit different. A slightly bizarre addition to the MWC exhibition were safety shoes, designed by Intellinium and integrated with Sierra Wireless’ technologies. The shoes include a built-in smart Sim card, vibration module and audible alarm.

They’re pitched at teams of industrial workers, with the idea being they can tap out warning messages in a form of morse code to let others know of safety issues on site. Managers can also send alerts to workers’ shoes, which in theory they can feel or hear above noisy construction equipment. Putting visions of tap-dancing construction workers aside, these ‘smart shoes’ do seem to have potentially life-saving application – provided it’s easy enough to tell the difference between tapping ‘bad weather on the way’ and ‘two sugars please’.

What else did we see at MWC 2018?

Despite a lack of ‘flagship’ mobile phone launches from a lot of the big brands, there was plenty else to see and do at this year’s MWC.

The good news for those who feel phone prices are now too high, is that high-end features now appear to be filtering down to lower-end models. Our round up of the latest budget smartphones[13] shows what you’ll be able to buy for a song this year, and if you can spend a bit more, these mid-range mobiles[14] look pretty capable as well. One brand that did have a big presence was Nokia, which announced four new smartphones.[15] Nokia has really looked to cover all the bases with a handset for practically every budget, and we even saw the return of the ‘banana phone’[16], first launched in 1996.

And if you are happy to pay premium prices – Samsung has of course announced its new flagships for 2018.

Find out how the Samsung S9 and S9+ compare with the iPhone X.[17]

References

  1. ^ Samsung Galaxy S9+ (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ Nokia 8110 4G (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ Best Buy smartphones (www.which.co.uk)
  4. ^ Apple iPhone X (www.which.co.uk)
  5. ^ LG V30 (www.which.co.uk)
  6. ^ Samsung Galaxy S9 (www.which.co.uk)
  7. ^ Samsung Galaxy S9 (www.which.co.uk)
  8. ^ mobile phones with the best battery life (www.which.co.uk)
  9. ^ seeing what a sofa looks like in your home before you buy it (www.which.co.uk)
  10. ^ Apple (www.which.co.uk)
  11. ^ how to try VR for free on Apple and Android phones (www.which.co.uk)
  12. ^ Huawei’s MateBook X Pro laptop and MediaPad M5 tablets (www.which.co.uk)
  13. ^ latest budget smartphones (www.which.co.uk)
  14. ^ mid-range mobiles (www.which.co.uk)
  15. ^ announced four new smartphones. (www.which.co.uk)
  16. ^ the return of the ‘banana phone’ (www.which.co.uk)
  17. ^ how the Samsung S9 and S9+ compare with the iPhone X. (www.which.co.uk)

Hands-on: the latest smartphones under £200

Samsung grabbed headlines at Mobile World Congress (MWC) with the S9 and S9+, but buyers on a budget still have something to get excited about. Several sub-GBP200 phones have been shown off at MWC here in Barcelona, and we’ve had our hands on them for some initial impressions. Features typically found on premium smartphones, such as dual lens cameras and facial recognition, are trickling down the price ladder.

Below, we’ve rounded up the cheap phones that caught our eye at MWC.

[embedded content]

Best Buy smartphones – top-notch performance whatever your budget.[1]

Alcatel 1X

This is the cheapest Alcatel smartphone of 2018, coming with a 5.3-inch display and 16GB of storage. It’s being touted as the first smartphone with an 18:9 screen that costs below EUR100. As it has just 1GB of Ram, Android Oreo (Go edition) comes pre-installed.

Android Go is purpose-built for smartphones with low amounts of memory: non-essential features are removed, making the Google apps on board run more smoothly.

The 1X could be an option if you want a phone that can manage basic tasks and take decent pictures. It has an 8Mp rear camera and a 2Mp front camera. There’s no fingerprint sensor, but it does support facial recognition.

Alcatel refers to it as ‘Face Key’. The Alcatel 1X will go on sale from April.

Alcatel 3

Also starring in Alcatel’s refreshed smartphone line-up is the 5.5-inch Alcatel 3. A 13-megapixel camera sits on the back of the phone, and on the front there’s a 5Mp camera for selfies and video calls.

You get only 16GB of internal storage out of the box, but there’s a micro-SD card slot if you need more space for pictures and videos.

The phone runs on 2GB of Ram and has a fingerprint sensor on its rear. That should mean decent performance for most, but if you watch lots of video and enjoy gaming on the go, you might want to look for something more powerful. We like the look of the Alcatel 3’s glossy back, but be warned: it’s a fingerprint magnet.

Some may find themselves forever polishing it. The Alcatel 3 is slightly pricier than the 1X at EUR150. It goes on sale in March.

Nuu G3

Previously, Nuu has kept its focus on selling smartphones under GBP150.

But now, it’s launching its priciest smartphone yet, and the company is hoping a feature-packed spec sheet will turn some heads.

The Nuu G3 has a 5.7-inch 18:9 display. We got a chance to try it out at MWC and were impressed by the vibrant colours on screen. The G3 runs on 4GB of Ram (good enough for running multiple apps at once) and comes with facial recognition.

There’s also a 3,000mAh battery tucked inside. On the back of the Nuu G3 you’ll spot two lenses, comprising a 13Mp main camera and a 5Mp depth-sensing camera. The 13Mp front-facing camera is wide-angle, so you’ll be able to capture yourself and plenty of the background.

Nuu told us to expect the G3 some time in April, when it will be on sale online for GBP199.

Nokia 1

Shopping for a smartphone under GBP100? The new Nokia 1 is battling rivals for a spot in your pocket. The 4.5-inch mobile fits snugly in the palm of your hand, and you can inject some personality into it by clipping an Xpress-on cover onto the back.

It ships with 8GB of internal storage, a 5Mp rear camera and a 2Mp front camera, so don’t expect crystal-clear shots from the Nokia 1. Like the Alcatel 1X, it has 1GB of Ram and runs on Android Oreo (Go edition). It’s Nokia’s cheapest new smartphone, costing just £85.

We’re still waiting for word on UK pricing. See how we score Nokia mobiles with our Nokia smartphone reviews.[2]

Cheap mobile phones in our test lab

Not everyone wants to splash out on the latest flagship mobiles from the likes of Apple and Samsung. But as our rigorous lab tests prove time and time again, you don’t always need to spend big for a capable mobile phone.

To see our full line-up of affordable smartphones on test, see our guide to the best cheap mobile phones[3].

References

  1. ^ Best Buy smartphones (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ Nokia smartphone reviews. (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ the best cheap mobile phones (www.which.co.uk)

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