What was the best phone of 2020? That's a question people keep asking us. It has been a tough year all around but that hasn't stopped smartphone manufacturers from releasing pretty awesome products. Most of the smartphones we've tested this year have been good and worth recommending, irrespective of their pricing. However, this also makes our job harder when it comes to picking the best of the best.
To come up with the best smartphones of 2020, we've broken it up into the most popular categories and chosen a winner in each of them. The winners are not necessarily the most expensive flagships (although a few are) but rather smartphones that do a particular task exceedingly well compared to the competition. Let's begin.
Technically, any smartphone with a 700-series Qualcomm SoC, or a G8x and above MediaTek SoC can be considered suitable for gaming since even demanding titles are very playable on such devices. However, what sets the best gaming smartphone apart from others are gaming-specific features that could give you a tactical advantage if you ever decide to game competitively.
For such occasions, only one name really stood out this year and that is the Asus ROG Phone 3 (Review). Asus managed to improve upon the already successful formula of the ROG Phone 2, by making this third revision sleeker and even more powerful. It's one of the few phones we had in India with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ SoC, which was the most powerful chip available for Android phones in 2020.
The gaming-specific features of the Asus ROG Phone 3 included a superb AMOLED display with a 144Hz refresh rate, enhanced cooling, cutting-edge RAM and storage technologies, more feature-rich AirTriggers, a variety of accessories, and of course, RGB lighting. Other than the excellent gaming features, the Asus ROG Phone 3 performed general-purpose duties very well too, offering very good battery life and cameras to boot.
For the best smartphone camera, we had to look at this year's flagship offerings alone since this is where the most innovation happens. Even without the Google Pixel 5 launching in India, picking a winner was tough. Samsung's impressive 100x Space Zoom in the Galaxy S20 Ultra (Review) was hard to ignore but ultimately, we settled on the iPhone 12 Pro (Review) and iPhone 12 Pro Max (Review) purely because of one game-changing feature: Dolby Vision HDR video recording. It's something you have to see for yourself to appreciate, but once you get used to it, there's no going back.
Besides this, the Pro models in the iPhone 12 series are consistent and reliable performers when it comes to shooting stills and video. Image quality is excellent, dynamic range is wide, and the autofocus is spot on. The iPhone 12 Pro Max features a larger sensor and a more advanced stabilisation system, which doesn't necessarily shoot better pictures in the daytime, but does make capturing low-light images a lot easier. Both phones also boast of LiDAR scanners which assist in nailing the focus for close-up low-light photography.
One sure way to get a crazy amount of battery life is to match a high-capacity battery with a low-power SoC and low-resolution display. Most entry-level Android smartphones tend to follow this rule. However, getting excellent battery life without compromising on the display and SoC is the mark of a great smartphone and the Samsung Galaxy M51 (Review) checks all the boxes to clinch this title.
For starters, it packs in a 7,000mAh battery which posted superb times in our internal battery tests. This is a phone that should easily last you two full days before you need to even think of charging it. What sets this phone apart is that Samsung hasn't compromised much in other areas. It has a large, high-resolution AMOLED display and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G SoC, making it a powerful smartphone for even demanding apps and games.
We originally wanted to call this category the ‘best compact smartphone', but come to think of it, we didn't really see many compact smartphones launch in India in 2020. While handling and ergonomics are very subjective, we think there's no arguing the fact that the iPhone 12 mini (Review) is currently the best option available in India. It's basically an iPhone 12 (Review) but in a smaller body — which is something many people have been waiting for.
Well, maybe you do compromise a bit on battery life since there's only so much you can cram into such a small space. All things considered, this is not a huge deal-breaker considering the great cameras, speedy performance, and all the frills you get such as proper water-proofing and wireless charging.
Samsung is rumoured to have rung the death knell for the Galaxy Note series and this could be the last in the line. If that's indeed true, then the Note series is going out with a bang, as this year's Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G (Review) is simply the finest Note experience Samsung has delivered till date. The S Pen received even more features, the cameras are top-notch, and overall design simply screams luxury, especially in the Mystic Bronze colour.
In terms of getting things done, few other smartphones have even attempted to take on the Galaxy Note series, and that's because Samsung is way ahead of the game in terms of successfully developing the hardware and software to make a stylus useful, and that too, in one of its most expensive offerings.
Value for money is very subjective. Some may find an iPhone great value despite its astronomical price, while others would define it as spending the least possible money for a relatively decent phone. This was another tough one to pick, but if we were to look at which phone offered good hardware at a relatively low price and could be considered future-proof, the OnePlus Nord deserves this.
With its price ranging from Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 30,000, the OnePlus Nord (Review) offers a lot of flagship-level features in a well-crafted and good-looking body. It checks most of the specification boxes one could ask for, and the cherry on top is that it also has 5G, so it's ready for future high-speed networks. The display is good, the cameras are versatile, battery life is excellent, and there's that impressive OnePlus software experience.
Xiaomi's Redmi Note series phones have usually been overachievers, and have often been in very high demand thanks to great hardware and very aggressive pricing. This year, the Redmi Note 9 Pro (Review) turned out to be the most popular smartphone, whether it was purely by search volume or sheer amount of engagement we've seen around this on our stories and videos. It's not hard to see why.
The Redmi Note 9 Pro is certainly not perfect and does lack many of the features we would like to have today such as a 90Hz display and fast charging. However, when it launched back in May, Xiaomi's aggressive pricing coupled with the then-unique design really helped it stand out. On top of that, the powerful specifications, decent cameras for daylight shooting, and strong battery life made it a very popular contender in the mainstream segment.
Are Micromax In 1b, In Note 1 good enough to take the brand to the top in India?? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.