Smartphones comparison articles are a dime a dozen, especially on popular models like the above. I won’t compare them the usual way in this article, so let me know if you need me to point you to any review articles, if you haven’t found them on search engines already.
There appears to be a growing cynicism in bloggers/influencers/tech sites review. The irony is that it’s the sites with very low traffic that offer the most genuine opinions, yet they are the hardest to find through search engines.
I’m going to give a shoutout to Alex Hong. I knew his blog for quite a while, but content is sparse. Recently, he went full gear into YouTube video, and the content is fabulous. He buys the smartphones, tests them, then sells them off to fund for the next gadget.
Another person is Gary Cheng (@GaryTechie). He too buys smartphones and shares his opinions actively on social media and tech forums, though he does not write formal reviews.
So in this article, I am sharing my opinions on some of these smartphones that I have had the privilege to review. They are all loan sets from the respective brands. But does that mean my reviews are biased? That’s for you to decide.
Ultimately, any reader would want me to give a verdict: Which Smartphone Is The Best?
Let’s break it down.
Huawei P10 Plus
Huawei is gaining popularly since the P9 and its partnership with Leica. The P10 and P10 Plus continue this collaboration and the key selling feature is the dual lens. Thank Huawei for stirring up the interest for dual cameras in the market, just like how LG popularised double-tap to wake the screen.
Huawei has a lot of pre-conception from consumers to shake off, including myself. Before I reviewed the Mate 9, I was never keen on a Huawei phone and never thought I would like it. But I did. The UI was modern, the features are fresh. I listed down over 30 features in that review article. For instance, you can double-knock the screen with your knuckle to capture screen shot, or draw a line across the screen with your knuckle to invoke split-screen. It offers stereo audio by using both top-front speaker and bottom speaker, with the front-facing speaking pushing treble and bottom speaker delivering mids-bass. Premium Huawei smartphones like P10 Plus come with 2-year warranty.
As a smartphone, Huawei P10 Plus is great to use. The homescreen is snappy, apps load fast, the games perform impressively smooth. It comes with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage, both the highest among the phones compared here, yet it is one of the lowest-priced.
I actually like the single button navigation using the fingerprint sensor. So instead of the three virtual keys appearing on the screen, I can just do all the actions with the fingerprint sensor. Tap once equals “back”. Tap-hold equals “Home”. Swipe the button left/right equals “Recent Apps”. Swipe the button up equals “Google Now”. You can still enable the on-screen buttons if you do not like it.
I can go on and on, but for an extensive list, read my Mate 9 review.
Even if you have no interest in the UI, the wide aperture camera effect alone should convince you to get it. It really makes portraits and still photography pop. Hands down, the best smartphone for portrait photography.
In terms of device and apps compatibility, Huawei might be on the weaker side, partly due to non-mainstream Kirin processor. For instance, it does not seem to work well with Here One true wireless earbuds. It also could not connect with LG 360 CAM.
The G6 steers LG back on track as a desirable smartphone to own. Over the past years, LG was highly innovative in the design, but failed to impress consumers. This time round, to regain consumer interest, the LG G6 comes with 2-year warranty. It uses glass panels front and back, solid aluminium frames, IP68 rating. The screen display extends to almost bezel-less. With a 18:9 display ratio, LG introduces new features to split the windows to display equal square content. The camera app have additional shoot modes. Performance is similarly smooth, and the battery life is better managed compared to G5 and V20. A colleague of mine who switched to G6 upon my recommendation proclaimed that it is “the best phone”. I also hear of many consumers going for G6 instead of Samsung Galaxy S8 because it feels more solid with flat screen, and also has similar bezel-less long display. After all, LG and Samsung are eternal foes, being both South Korean electronic giants.
Personally, I have had positive experience with LG G5, followed by V20. For almost a year, these LG devices have been my primary phones (thanks LG Singapore for the extended loan), so I know the pros and cons inside out. Battery life is the main issue, but being an office worker, I can easily charge the phone and Qualcomm QuickCharge is really blazing fast. I am sold by the ultra wide angle lens, my favourite. V20 improves the G5 with a more solid metal material, built-in quad-DAC audio processor for the audiophile in me. Battery is also not that fantastic, though, and camera specs remain unchanged.
With G6, it’s yet another step to improvement. The quad-DAC delivers more transparent and detailed highs, the camera quality is also bumped to be more pleasing out of the box without the need for further tweaking. Battery life is also on-par with competition, giving me confidence to last the work day.
Among the phones in this article, the LG G6 feels the best on my hand, thanks to the narrower width and a solid metal frame.
Samsung Galaxy S8
The S8 (and S8 Plus) is so many things in one device, so much hardware. Other phones have one biometric sensor (fingerprint), S8 has 3 (fingerprint, retina, facial). Other phones have NFC for contactless payment, S8 has MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission). In addition, S8 can become an Occulus VR machine (with Samsung Gear VR), or a desktop computer (using DeX Station), or a 360 live camera (with Samsung Gear 360). It has wireless fast charging, IP68 rated, and the processor ranks one of the highest. The curved screen might not be practical, but it is the most beautiful smartphone design. And the phone is impossibly thin to have packed so many features.
Seriously, every tech reviewer has to find faults so that the S8 is more believable. There are some flaws in the S8 that irk consumers, much to the delight of competitors. The common problems raised by people include: less-than-stellar UI (although it is better than earlier generations), impractical curved screen (S8 no longer has a flat-screen variant unlike S7), breakable (almost guarantee to crack at first drop, so casing is a must), dedicated albeit redundant Bixby button, and small battery size given all the potential use cases that easily drains the power. For me, I add to the list with: poor Bluetooth audio quality as tested with a few Bluetooth headsets.
But given the immense popularity of Samsung Galaxy S-series, you would have no problem finding any solution to bugs or workarounds. That does not mean the S8 has no user issues (most phones have their own sets of unique problems), but it does mean you are quite likely to find a fix, be it short-term or permanent.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium
Prior to 2017, I would never recommend any Xperia phone. The Xperia Z5 I tried over a year back got me mixed reviews. The Xperias of 2017 however is good for me. XZs might be overtaken by XZ Premium, but it is still a fine smartphone, especially when you prefer a metal body and more compact size. Sony remains one of the few brands that offer premium spec smartphones in small form factor. Another uniquely Xperia feature: dedicated camera button that allows the camera to start up quite instantaneously.
Like XZs, the XZ Premium runs on almost stock Android UI, a favourite among Android purists (but not for me). The Sony ecosystem is comparable to Samsung, with apps offering curated content like themes, wallpapers, games, videos, promotions. The phone is also full of helpful hints, like optimising battery life with overnight trickle charging, warning on processor-intensive apps.
I do find the UI can get a little laggy, which I attribute it to remnants of inefficiencies. I suppose it will take a while to eliminate, since there are some proprietary features as described above that might contribute to the issue. But I am fine to overlook them, because the XZ Premium (and XZs) can shoot videos at 960fps, which is insanely therapeutic, if only it can shoot longer. But I’m going to give it another 2 years to get it on par with the RX100 series, where it can shoot 100fps over 6 seconds. Dope.
The phone also heats up quickly when the processors are in full gear, like when using the camera, or playing games.
Instead of doing side-by-side comparison, I will advise the characteristics of each camera after shooting hundreds of photos with all these smartphones. If you do enough research online, you would find that different reviewers give different opinions on the cameras. Even the photo quality varies among reviewers. That is because each camera has their own image processing algorithm which works differently, which means the sensor spec is not the main factor whether the images are good or not. Additionally, the firmware might be different, as a result of continuous tweaking of the smartphones to “improve” the photo quality. Ultimately, the images must be pleasing and in many cases, must contain sufficient dynamic range for editing.
Can you tell which photos are taken by which smartphone? All photos are not edited, hence the final output can be better if you edit the images before posting.
Here are my observations of the smartphones:
- The images are more saturated, more contrasty with deeper shadows.
- White balance may skew a little towards warm tone.
- Huawei has tuned the images to favour pleasant skin tones.
- I am not a fan of monochrome images, because shooting in that mode means I lose all colour information forever. So I prefer to always shoot in colour and convert to black-and-white if necessary.
- I always shoot with the Wide Aperture mode by default: it does not slow down the image capture, and I can always adjust aperture effects and focus point any time.
- It produces the most neutral images, with less aggressive HDR, hence they do not appear over-processed.
- White balance is generally accurate, and so are exposure.
Samsung Galaxy S8
- Its exposure is the highest among these smartphones.
- HDR and sharpening is slightly more aggressive resulting in better outcome.
- Image tones exhibit slightly red cast, which is generally more acceptable than blue cast.
- Night shots are the best among these smartphones because it is able to boost the exposure of the dark areas.
Sony Xperia XZ Premium / XZs
- The images are conservative in processing.
- There is a tendency for the white balance to skew towards warm tone.
I do not encounter any major dislikes about the cameras. There are occasional underexposure or off-white balance, but other than that, I am happy to use any of the 4 smartphones for shooting. However, each smartphone has differentiated themselves through unique features and so it makes the decision of ownership a little easier.
The Best Smartphone
Each brand has achieved something that was unprecedented. From the perspective of market success, Samsung appears to be the favourite. When judging based on user experience and lifestyles, these 4 smartphones are on par. It depends on how you use the phones.
Best Portrait Smartphone
If you take mostly people, portraits, still objects and needed photos that pop, Huawei P10 Plus is the smartphone to get.
Best Wide-Angle Smartphone
If you take landscape and crowds and love the expansiveness of wide-angle look, LG G6 will bring you places.
Best Slow-Motion Smartphone
If you want to enjoy the absolute slow-motion videography at 960fps, then nothing can beat Xperia XZ Premium.
Best General Smartphone
Finally, if you are a generalist and wants a multi-purpose smartphone, Samsung Galaxy S8 is a tried-and-tested camera to bring out the best exposure and colour vibrancy. With a f/1.7 aperture, the natural depth of field is the shallowest, though still not enough to create that DSLR effect.
My Favourite Smartphone (Personal Biased Opinion)
A favourite smartphone may not necessarily be the best. It is a favourite because it favours my usage, my lifestyle. You need not agree with me, but at least you will read why I rank them in the order.
#4 – Sony Xperia XZ Premium and XZs are great phones overall. The 960fps video capture feature creates out-of-this-world visual effects, letting us appreciate the finer details in life. The phone performs admirably smooth and I like the intelligent Battery Care system that offers me the longest battery life among these phones tested. But the camera does not offer me any unique experiences, and I am not a fan of stock Android UI. When using the phone, I was not able to capture stunning photos. The 4K UHD resolution is an overkill, I could not observe any exceptional differences with such a display compared to a 2K or Full HD. Full review
#3 – Samsung Galaxy S8 is an amazing phone in such a small polished physical form. It is the most popular smartphone among these tested, with the most number of functions, but also the most expensive. It captures great images with bright exposure levels, HDR effects and sharpness. The photos look great out of the cam, saving me time to edit. I can rely on it to snap usable images most of the time, overlooking the colour tone characteristics. If you only shoot standard day-to-day shots, the S8 will appear to meet the needs. For me, though, the camera can neither shoot wide angle nor deliver heart-popping portraitures. Full review
#2 – LG G6 is a transformed premium phone from LG, with a handful of refreshing features like additional shooting modes, thin bezels, IP68 rating. It delivers consistent good images that do not appear too over-processed. The wide-angle lens helps me capture a broader perspective, albeit optically imperfect due to distortion. Also, the wide angle distortion does not work on close-ups, so when using the G6, I shoot mostly landscape and wide shots. The G5 and V20 have been my favourite smartphones for months, and the G6 would have been too, but the next smartphone is a little better for my needs. Full review
#1 – Huawei P10 Plus is my favourite smartphone because of its ability to capture wide aperture effects without any special shooting workflow needed. The shot is captured instantly and I can adjust the focus area anytime in the future. I am quite a heavy camera user, and as a blogger and social media enthusiasts, creating visual content is a regular activity. Agree that the effects could look artificial in some situations, but I make do by either pushing back the blur effects or just remove it completely, turning it into a photo that looks no different from other competitors.
The phone continues to perform without significant issues, I do not recall the last time any app crashed. The 128GB storage is so generous, the 6GB RAM is probably too much to utilise entirely. The front fingerprint button works also as a home button, back button, recent apps button, and Google Now button based on gestures. The features I miss (which is available on the LG G6) are always-on display, double-tap to wake screen, water resistant, audiophile-grade audio processor. So if these are your must-haves, then the G6 should be your favourite smartphone.
Honestly, I am happy with all the phones above. Like a photographer who owns many lenses, I will carry all 4 phones and use it according to the situation.
- When I am lazy to process my photos, I shoot with Samsung Galaxy S8.
- When I want to shoot super slow-motion water effects or fast action shots, I dish out the Xperia XZ Premium.
- If I needed that super wide angle look, LG G6 is the only one I trust.
- If I needed depth of field to capture portraits or products and isolate the background, Huawei P10 Plus is the one.
In fact, I hope some manufacturer can build a phone with 3 camera lenses: wide-angle, standard, and telephoto, plus the ability to process wide-aperture effects.
I have been using all the phones for more than a month (except Xperia), and have not encountered any major issues. Like all electronic products, there is no guarantee that they work 100%. Performance and battery life varies depends on the apps you install. Based on my experience with hundreds of phones, only a few of them offers exceptional battery life to be noticeable. The important thing is that the smartphones must provide some form of power management so that you can choose to optimise the performance and remove any background tasks. For that, all of the above phones offer this feature, which is to say, you would have no problems about unusual battery drains, an important factor for smartphone users.
There are many other worthy smartphones that I have not reviewed, hence my recommendation may be limited. But I know just the person that you could check out if you needed an opinion about any popular phones on retail. Check out Alex Hong and his YouTube review videos.