The ever-changing landscape of the smartphone industry in India is always surprising. This year, there have been plenty of changes and several newcomers in some segments to make for a very interesting mix of devices for eager buyers to choose from. While most regulars like Xiaomi and Realme have seen a handful of launches in the budget segment, brands like Motorola and Infinix have gone in all guns blazing. Xiaomi has been making headway into the higher end of the budget range and the mid-range instead.
The battle between Samsung and OnePlus has never been bigger than 2023, when OnePlus launched its first book-style foldable, the Open, late this year (after several delays). Brands like Oppo and Motorola took things a step up with foldables and premium smartphone offerings, while Samsung took it relatively easy with the same, but delivered a rather capable camera-focused flagship with its Galaxy S23 Ultra. Google ushered in the age of AI on smartphones, but definitely missed out on the ‘folding’ bit in India, which has seen its fair share of buyers this year.
And with so much choice and variety in certain segments, it gets equally hard to pick and choose the right smartphone. Unfortunately, not all the smartphones that we have reviewed over the past year have managed good scores as per our ratings. Fortunately, there are several that stood out, and basically managed to deliver what was expected from them. So, we have come up with a list of devices (in no particular order) which we consider to be the best at what they do. If you are looking to bring in the new year with a brand new smartphone, or have been a bit unsure about switching to a new device type or segment, this one’s for you!
|Gadgets 360 rating (out of 10)
|Price in India (as recommended)
|Motorola Razr 40 Ultra
|Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
|Samsung Galaxy S23
|Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
|Apple iPhone 15
|Google Pixel 7a
|Nothing Phone 2
|iQoo Neo 7 Pro
|OnePlus Nord 3 5G
|Samsung Galaxy A34 5G
The OnePlus Open (Review) can best be described as a breath of fresh air in the book-style or horizontal foldables space which has been dominated by Samsung with its Galaxy Z Fold lineup since the category showed up in India. For a phone that’s managed to surpass our expectations from every possible angle (not just as a foldable but even a regular smartphone), it sure seems like an achievement to get so many things right in the first attempt.
The Open managed to outdo Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5 (the latest version of its best foldable yet) by a large margin by offering a slimmer and lighter design (with an IP rating), fast charging (sans wireless charging), better battery life and the very obvious imaging capability. Its Open Canvas software feature also seems like a different and novel take on the multitasking front. Its compact form factor and broad cover display make it function like a regular smartphone when folded, which is not the case with the Z Fold 5. While it lacks wireless charging (which Samsung offers, it makes up for it with 80W wired charging, and it all comes at a price that’s a lot lower than Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5 with plenty more storage and RAM.
Motorola Razr 40 Ultra
Another smartphone that managed to take us by surprise this year was Motorola’s latest Razr 40 Ultra (Review) foldable. It packs in quite the punch for a smartphone this compact and slim. It may lack the latest Snapdragon processor, but its main use case lies in its well-optimised cover display software experience, which is second to none in the clamshell foldables segment.
Its IP52-rated design makes Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 5 and the Oppo Find N3 Flip appear chunky. There’s also that large cover display with a rather unique, embedded floating camera layout, which looks unreal and radical. Camera performance is good for a foldable, and the battery life will give you a day of use. But this phone also does well when it comes to gaming. It won’t bring back any memories of the iconic Razr (V3/V3i) flip phones of the early 2000s, but it sure sets a new standard by bringing in its own iconic style, which has been hard to mimic to date.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
When it comes to zooming in, there is really no competing with Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra (Review). With Huawei not around anymore, Samsung’s Galaxy Ultra lineup has made its cosy space between the regular Galaxy S23 phones (S23, S23 Plus) and its Galaxy Z Fold lineup and dominated this segment while competing with Apple’s Pro-range of ultra-premium devices. Priced at Rs. 1,24,999, it’s a space that no other brand (on the Android side of things) has dared to enter late when designing regular slate-type smartphones.
Samsung has also managed to justify this pricing by continuing to retain what made the now-defunct Galaxy Note series unique. This would include an S-Pen (which slides into a built-in silo), a massive display that supports the stylus. There’s also a desktop-like Dex functionality for the productive types. And then it takes forward the bits from the Galaxy S series lineup by adding an excellent 200-megapixel camera, the capability of which remains unmatched in India (no matter which camp you come from). The customised Snapdragon SoC and excellent battery life are simply bonuses that buyers can take advantage of. We just wished it came in a smaller, more compact package, as this phone is quite a handful.
Samsung Galaxy S23
Just like the Galaxy S23 Ultra, the Samsung Galaxy S23 (Review) has made its peace with the world and still continues to be the only compact flagship in its segment. Despite commanding a high price tag of Rs. 74,999 and looking very similar to its predecessor, this compact powerhouse has plenty of under-the-hood improvements over the previous model. While the SoC upgrades were what we expected, Samsung also packaged a vapour cooling chamber into its compact footprint, keeping this phone cool when stressed. Battery life has also improved over the Galaxy S22, and it can easily handle a day of heavy usage on a single charge. Camera performance is top-notch (even though it has seen no upgrades) and delivers what one would expect from a Galaxy S series device. Despite no new or added features over its predecessor, the Galaxy S23 still remains the compact flagship to beat solely because of its form factor.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
As Apple struggles to add new and upgrade-worthy features to its smartphones, it’s finally going back to basics (with some help from the EU). The iPhone 15 Pro Max (Review) manages to do pretty much what it claims to do and that is quite the leap from the iPhone 14 Pro, which banked heavily on Dynamic Island as its highlight feature. This year, Apple worked on tweaking and optimising its cameras, including the new telephoto camera, which exceeded expectations when it came to zoom performance.
It’s not all about the cameras, either. There’s a new customisable Action button and the big shift to USB-C, which many more users will appreciate. Along with the standard Pro model, it’s also the first globally produced smartphone that makes use of titanium for its frame, which also makes it lighter compared to its predecessor. It can also run AAA gaming titles with jaw-dropping graphics thanks to the impressive A17 Pro (3nm) processor. It’s the iPhone that is worth upgrading to even if you own the previous iPhone 14 Pro.
Apple iPhone 15
After several years of incremental upgrades to the standard iPhone lineup, we finally have a regular iPhone that actually packs in some notable upgrades. The iPhone 15 (Review) despite not having any segment-leading features (compared to other Android smartphones at this price point), still manages to be quite an exciting product for iPhone users. This is mainly because of the ‘Pro-grade’ features that have trickled down from the high-end models.
This would include a better Apple A16 Bionic chipset from last year’s iPhone 14 Pro, better higher-resolution cameras (one of which also offers lossless in-sensor zoom), USB-C and Dynamic Island. It still retains a 60Hz display (probably in place to deliver better battery life), but it will be the go-to iPhone model for years to come thanks to Dynamic Island and USB-C. And this automatically makes it the base iPhone model that newcomers will crave.
Google Pixel 7a
The Google Pixel 7a (Review) is the only Pixel phone to be launched this year, which seems to offer immense value for money. While it may look similar to last year’s Pixel 7, it does pack in a ton of upgrades. This would include the upgraded Tensor G2 SoC, which enables a number of AI-related photo editing features and camera tricks, new high-resolution cameras, a reliable fingerprint reader (compared to the Pixel 6a) embedded into a high-refresh-rate 90Hz display and wireless charging.
All of the above is available at an attractive price tag of Rs. 38,999, which is indeed really good value for money, given that you are getting a near-stock serving of Android, which will also be the first to receive software updates, along with the fun Feature Drops which Google releases every few months.
Nothing Phone 2
While the Nothing Phone 2 (Review) was launched at Rs. 44,999 in India which seemed borderline good given its core hardware, it new lowered price of Rs. 37,999 makes it bit more convincing for buyers who are looking for something different in an Android smartphone.
From its unique transparent looks to its custom software skinning and the Glyph light notification system, which has become more useful with the latest software updates, it is a special and unique experience for those tired of looking at the same icons and widgets on every other Android device. The Phone 2 also offers a better set of cameras than the previous model’s average camera performance. Indeed, the Phone 2 sure helps Nothing get past the image of being an artsy, fashion-forward phone to a practical one that works well even as a primary device.
iQoo Neo 7 Pro
iQoo has always delivered when it came to good value, matched by equally good performance with their Neo series. But it’s recent Neo 7 Pro (Review) goes above and beyond, making it a worthy recommendation in this shortlist.
For starters, there’s the faux-leather option in terms of design, and it’s all packaged into an IP52-rated body. Inside, iQoo offers a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 SoC, which is rare in this segment and offers premium-level performance. There’s a 120Hz high-refresh-rate display with skinny bezels and a large 5,000mAh battery with 120W wired charging that is fast enough to go from 0-100 per cent in under 30 minutes. The primary camer’s performance is quite impressive as well. All in all, the iQoo Neo 7 Pro turns out to be a flagship killer of sorts.
OnePlus Nord 3 5G
The higher-end of the budget smartphone range has been growing in popularity because of the many features brands can pack into these phones, increasing their overall value. This is not the case with the mid-range, which struggles to add premium features at a palatable price tag while attempting to appear unique and stand out in terms of cosmetic design. Out of the many mid-range smartphones we have reviewed this year, the OnePlus Nord 3 5G (Review) sure stands out.
It offers distinctly mid-range specs by going with the MediaTek Dimensity 9000 SoC. But it pairs it with a premium-looking IP54-rated design with razor-thin bezels on its 120Hz refresh rate AMOLED panel, which also supports HDR10+ content. There are quality cameras all around, and they’re all backed up by a large 5,000mAh battery with 80W fast wired charging support. Perhaps the most impressive detail about this mid-ranger is its price, which has now been dropped to Rs. 29,999, making it an easy recommendation.
Samsung Galaxy A34 5G
Another phone that has managed to be an all-rounder in the budget segment this year is Samsung’s Galaxy A34 5G (Review). We called it the ‘Jack of all trades’ in our review, and it was for good reason because this phone manages to pack in a lot of hardware and features at an impressive price point and somehow manages to deliver on those well.
The Galaxy A34 5G may not be as powerful as other smartphones in its class because of its MediaTek Dimensity 1080 SoC, but it gets along fine with multitasking and most 3D gaming requirements. There’s enough RAM, storage and even expandable storage so that this phone will check a lot of boxes for various buyers. Camera performance is good in all conditions, and the battery easily lasts a day on a single charge. Its design is also very similar to the premium Galaxy S series, but it’s not just about looks, as it also has a solid IP67 rating for dust and water resistance, which is rare in this segment.
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