It’s been a wild year. But for geeks like us, the year 2020 was full of surprises and loaded with cool gadgets. Talking about gadgets, let’s discuss smartphones and how they pushed even more boundaries in a year that brought the entire industry to a halt. Foldable phones are finally a thing we can no longer call an expensive vanity item, small phones are back, mobile cameras have made another huge leap, and we finally got ‘good’ budget phones. With 2020 coming to an end, Pocketnow is taking a look back at all-things-smartphones to recognize the devices that stood out. Yes, it’s time for Pocketnow Smartphone Awards for 2020. 

The Pocketnow team tested a ton of smartphones this year. From foldables that burn a $2000 size hole in your wallet to a $350 smartphone that can click terrific pictures, we tested it all. And trust me when I say this, we really pushed them to their limits. Now, we honor all those awesome smartphones that left a mark this year across price brackets, categories, and performance parameters. Let’s dive right into it:

Best Smartphone – Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2

When we pick up the best smartphone for any year, the award usually goes to a device that offers the most refined smartphone experience by amalgamating fast innards, feature-rich software and a pleasing design. Pocketnow’s award for the best smartphone of 2020 goes to Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, because it does everything we described above, and then some more. It carries the weight of innovation and will likely be remembered as the first truly good foldable smartphone in a category that is still in its nascent stage.

Yes, it costs a bomb, but you get the best hardware you can find on any ‘regular’ flagship out there, and a great software to go with it too. Additionally, it offers the versatility of a tablet-sized display that can be folded and carried comfortably in your jeans pocket. The inner high refresh rate foldable panel is damn good for split-screen multitasking and productivity tasks, aside from being eye-candy for multimedia consumption and gaming. And the best part? The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 is not plagued by any of the display or hinge issues that almost doomed its predecessor.

    Best foldable experience
      Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the perfect concoction of peak smartphone capability and innovation, something that has given new meaning to how we use smartphones and boost the productivity aspect by blending two form factors in one. It is sleek, fast and a clear glimpse into the future.

    Honorable Mentions

      iPhone 12 Pro

      If you’re not a fan of giant phones but still want the best of what Apple currently has on the shelves, the iPhone 12 Pro presents the best of what Apple has to offer in terms of raw power, camera prowess and design, all of which combines to give the best iPhone experience right now.
      Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

      Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is among the most powerful smartphones when it comes to raw photography prowess. Rocking a 108MP main camera and 48MP telephoto camera with a periscope design, it offers an insane Super Resolution Zoom output of 100x.

    Best Smartphone Manufacturer – Samsung

    Samsung made some great smartphones this year across almost every price bracket. From wowing us with the camera-centric Galaxy S20 Ultra, the productivity beast that is the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra to some great value for money smartphones such as the Galaxy A51, Samsung made a solid statement in the face of its rivals. But one area where Samsung left the competition far behind is innovation, both in terms of smartphone design as well as their internals. 

    The chaebol went all-in on foldables, a category that is hardly being explored by other smartphone makers. Samsung launched the Galaxy Z Fold 2 this year, arguably the best foldable smartphone out there that is targeted at demanding users. And for folks who want to get a taste of Samsung’s foldables without spending a fortune, the company is also offering them in a more affordable clamshell form factor via the Galaxy Z Flip line. Additionally, the company unveiled a smorgasbord of smartphone camera sensors with improved imaging capabilities in 2020. 

      Samsung
        Samsung truly upped the ante for smartphone innovation this year. Aside from launching some impressive flagships with the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20 family, the company took a big leap towards cementing foldables as a class of phones. And the best part is that Samsung’s foldable phones no longer look like experimental hardware, but are extremely refined products.

      Honorable Mentions

        Apple

        Apple made the big jump from Intel to in-house silicon for its Macs this year, but that was not the only big news. The company finally launched a great budget phone in the form of the iPhone SE 2020, made huge progress when it comes to smartphone camera capabilities, and brought us the tiny powerhouse that is the iPhone 12 Mini.
        HUAWEI

        The shift away from Google services ecosystem cost HUAWEI dearly, but the company kept making stunning smartphones with one-of-its-kind camera capabilities that leave the competition far behind. It is also making great progress with foldables and is creating a whole new software ecosystem with HarmonyOS.

      Best Budget Smartphone – OnePlus Nord

      The first budget phone from a brand known for making ‘flagship killers’, the OnePlus Nord turned out to be a terrific value. The on-paper specs are powerful and the asking price of €399 was alluring, but it was the overall experience that made it a great device. I loved the 90Hz OLED display, smooth performance, the versatile cameras (especially that 32MP selfie shooter), and great battery life. Seriously, what’s not to like here?

      OnePlus even threw in 5G to the mix for that asking price, while the feature-rich OxygenOS skin kept me hooked to it. And the best part? It doesn’t look half-bad either. Yes, it misses out on an IP-rating, wireless charging support, and a 3.5mm headphone jack, but the compromises made by OnePlus Nord are far outweighed by the overall value you get. Pound-for-pound, the OnePlus Nord is the best budget smartphone you can lay your hands on right now.

        The budget champion
          One of the best budget smartphones to hit the market lately, OnePlus Nord offered a perfect mix of powerful specs, clean software, and an appealing design. Additionally, the phone’s versatile camera hardware also proved to be impressive for its asking price.

        Honorable Mentions:

          Google Pixel 4a

          Pixel 4a is a great successor to an already well-received product. Rocking a pleasingly compact factor and a minimalist design, this phone offers a great blend of performance, reliable cameras and excellent software at an affordable price.
          Samsung Galaxy A51

          Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of the best and most well-rounded budget smartphones from the company in a while. It packs a beautiful AMOLED display, a sufficiently powerful octa-core processor and a versatile set of rear cameras.

        Best Flagship Smartphone – Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

        The battle for flagship smartphones was intense this year, but the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra emerged victorious. In my opinion, if you’re in the market for the most powerful smartphone that offers it all, and then something more, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the best bet. I am not a big fan of large phones, but I’ll make an exception for the Samsung offering because of what it brings to the table. And that design, well, it is hard to take your eyes off the luxurious bronze shade.

        A gorgeous high refresh rate display, top-of-the-line processor, great battery, and one of the best camera hardware you can find out there – you almost get everything you need. And then there is the super useful S Pen and the ton of productivity features Samsung has baked into the software. To put it succinctly, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is every power user’s dream phone. And don’t just take my words. Check out Jaime Rivera’s review to find out for yourself. 

          The ultra flagship
            Samsung’s latest note is one of the most powerful Android smartphones out there. Rocking an eye-catching build, feature-rich software, great cameras, and the ever-useful S Pen, the Galaxy Note 20 is a productivity powerhouse that gets it right.

          Honorable Mentions:

            iPhone 12 Pro

            If you’re not a fan of giant phones but still want the best of what Apple currently has on the shelves, the iPhone 12 Pro presents the best of what Apple has to offer in terms of raw power, camera prowess and design, all of which combines to give the best iPhone experience right now.
            Samsung Galaxy S20

            The Samsung Galaxy S20 is one damn fine devices that amalgamates an exquisite design with a top-of-the-line processor, immersive 120Hz AMOLED display and a fairly capable trio of snappers at the back that offer complemented by a ton of camera tricks.

          Best Design – iPhone 12 Pro Max 

          “This phone is gorgeous. The contrast between the glossy borders that are actually visible from the front and the frosted back are crazy elegant,” said Pocketnow’s Jaime Rivera in his iPhone 12 Pro review. And we wholeheartedly agree. The shiny flat sides made of stainless steel provide a perfect contrast to the frosted glass finish at the back. But that’s just half the story, as the iPhone 12 Pro feels really premium and well-crafted in the hands.

          But beauty is not just skin deep here. Apple used what it calls a Ceramic Shield layer on the display that offers 4x better protection. Plus, the water resistance has also received a boost with this generation. While a lot of folks have been raving about the new Pacific Blue color, I am in love with the silver trim that perfectly complements the glossy rear panel with the chrome sides. I am a die-hard Android fan, but the iPhone 12 Pro’s design might finally convince me to get an iPhone. 

            Max beauty
              Apple turned back the years and took inspiration from the classic iPhone 4 form factor to design the iPhone 12 series, and it actually works. The stainless steel frame with a metallic lustre complements the glass-made rear panel, creating a beautiful contrast that is hard to take your eyes off.

            Honorable Mentions:

              Samsung Galaxy S20

              The Samsung Galaxy S20 is one damn fine device that amalgamates an exquisite design with a top-of-the-line processor, immersive 120Hz AMOLED display and a fairly capable trio of snappers at the back that are complemented by a ton of camera tricks. And with hefty price cuts, it gets even better
              Sony Xperia 1 II

              One of the most under-rated Android flagships out there, the Sony Xperia 1 II rocks a design unlike any other out there, thanks to its tall display with a cinematic 21:9 display. Packing the fastest innards you can find in a phone out there, it further sweetens the deal with some professional-grade camera features.

            Best Mid-Range Smartphone – Google Pixel 4a 5G

            At Pocketnow, we often argue that specs are only half the picture when it comes to smartphones. And one phone that actually lived up to that motto of ours is the Google Pixel 4a 5G. The Google offering has a lot going for it, such as a minimalist design, sufficiently powerful internals, 5G support, and the smartest Android experience you can get out there. But the biggest highlights are the excellent cameras and a palatable price tag.

            Google finally added an ultra-wide camera to its phones, and it delivers. The Pixel 4a 5G has one of the most reliable and consistent camera setups you can find on a mid-ranger, and it continues to be a benchmark for smartphone photography in that segment. There is little to dislike here. The Pixel 4a 5G is just an excellent no frills-no fuss type of smartphone, and it is hardly a surprise that we picked it as the best mid-range smartphone of 2020.

              Pixel for masses
                Google finally tasted success with the Pixel portfolio when it launched the Pixel 3a, and has now replicated the formula with the Pixel 4a 5G. This phone packs a lot of punch in terms of processing power, rocks a minimalist design, and of course, terrific cameras.

              Honorable Mentions:

                OnePlus 8T

                OnePlus 8T offers arguably the best mix of top-notch specifications, great software, eye-catching design and almost unparalleled price-to-value ratio. There’s a reason OnePlus devices are called budget flagships, and the OnePlus 8T fits that mold perfectly.
                Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro

                Xiaomi has been known for making great smartphones at an almost unbeatable price, and the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro just carries that legacy forward. The device comes equipped with a 120Hz display, flagship chip and triple rear camera setup highlighted by a 108MP sensor.

              Best Camera – HUAWEI P40 Pro+

              HUAWEI’s P-series smartphones have been at the vanguard of smartphone camera innovation for the past few years, and the latest entrant in the series – the HUAWEI P40 Pro+ – is no exception. It rocks a 50MP Cine Camera, a 40MP ultra-wide camera, an 8MP folded lens telescope system with a whopping 10x optical zoom range, and another 8MP telephoto camera that delivers a 3X optical zoom range. And oh, there is a 3D depth-sensing camera at the back too. 

              As impressive as it sounds on paper, the actual results are even more so. The stellar 10x optical zoom output of the HUAWEI P40 Pro+ is simply unparalleled, thanks to a unique periscope system that reflects light five times for better magnification. The HUAWEI offering clicks detailed images with rich colors, great control over dynamic range, superior quality portrait shots, and impressive low-light images. The advanced computational techniques also make a difference and help it stand tall above its rivals when it comes to raw camera prowess.

                Photography expert
                  HUAWEI’s smartphone cameras have been giving Samsung and Apple flagships a run for their money for while, and the HUAWEI P40 Pro+ carries that legacy forward. Armed with custom-tuned sensors that can offer a class-leading 10x optical zoom, this one is for shutterbugs.

                Honorable Mentions:

                  iPhone 12 Pro Max

                  If you are a fan of large smartphones, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is arguably the best choice. Flaunting a sleek design, the iPhone 12 Pro Max takes the smartphone photography experience to the next level with features such as native Dolby Vision HDR video capture and playback.
                  Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

                  Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is among the most powerful smartphones when it comes to raw photography prowess. Rocking a 108MP main camera and 48MP telephoto camera with a periscope design, it offers a drool-worthy Super Resolution Zoom output of 100x.

                Best Value For Money – Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

                Alright, so Samsung has not made a good budget flagship for a while now, but boy did the company set things on fire with the Galaxy S20 FE. This ‘Fan Edition’ phone comes in a wide array of gorgeous colors, but the innards are nothing to scoff at. The blazing-fast Snapdragon 865 handles things under the hood, you get wireless charging (as well as reverse charging), feature-rich software, and a very versatile set of cameras.

                “This doesn’t look, feel or behave like a cheap phone, and yet it’s priced like one. In the current world situation, it’s unrealistic for companies to pretend that people are ready to spend thousands of dollars on a smartphone when they can get a very similar experience on a budget. In my opinion, it is exactly what this phone is – what consumers need right now,” says Jaime Rivera in his review. That pretty much sums it up as to why we picked up the Galaxy S20 FE as the best value for money smartphone in 2020.

                  For the fans
                    Samsung has attempted a few budget flagships in the past, but the Galaxy S20 FE finally got it right. The South Korean electronics giant has made almost no major compromises here, and this device delivers on all parameters, ranging from aesthetics to camera output and raw performance.

                  Honorable Mentions:

                    OnePlus 8T

                    OnePlus 8T offers arguably the best mix of top-notch specifications, great software, eye-catching design and almost unparalleled price-to-value ratio. There’s a reason OnePlus devices are called budget flagships, and the OnePlus 8T fits that mold perfectly.
                    Google Pixel 4a

                    The Pixel 4a retains the signature Pixel software experience and offers a fantastic camera output, but at a very accessible price point. However, one aspect that made me fall in love with the latest Google offering is the compact form factor that makes one-handed usage a breeze.

                  Best Compact Phone – iPhone 12 Mini

                  Ask me what the best industry trend of 2020 was, and I’ll confidently say it was the return of compact phones. In an era of large phones that really test the strength of your hands and reach of your digits, a compact phone that allows comfortable one-handed usage without cutting too many corners sounds like a dream come true. And the iPhone 12 Mini is just that. 

                  The latest Apple offering has a stunning design, an extremely powerful processor, a pair of fairly capable cameras, a beautiful OLED display, and even 5G support. Also, it starts at a rather accessible price point of $700, which makes it an even more compelling package. On its own, the iPhone 12 Mini is a fully decked out flagship that won’t leave you wanting for more. But its extremely pocketable form factor puts it into an altogether different league of desirability.

                    King of small phones
                      Alright, this is our favorite for reasons more than one. Terrific cameras, an immensely powerful processor, a beautiful OLED display, and a buttery smooth software. However, the best part of iPhone 12 Mini is its compact size, which means one-handed usage would be a comfortable experience.

                    Honorable Mentions:

                      iPhone SE 2

                      One of the best compact phones of the year that won’t burn a huge hole in your pocket, the second generation iPhone SE 2 gets a lot of things right. You get a powerful processor, a fairly capable camera and buttery smooth UI, all in a compact form factor with a familiar design.
                      Google Pixel 4a

                      The Pixel 4a retains the signature Pixel software experience and offers a fantastic camera output, but at a very accessible price point. However, one aspect that made me fall in love with the latest Google offering is the compact form factor that makes one-handed usage a breeze.

                    Best Smartphone Innovation – Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2

                    Not long ago, hardware failures of the first-gen Samsung Galaxy Fold catalyzed many experts to write off foldable smartphones as an expensive experiment. And yet, here we are! Samsung has launched four foldable phones so far, with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 being the best one yet. Samsung has refined the hinge technology, used the more durable Ultra-Thin Glass layer for the display and has equipped the Galaxy Z Fold 2 with upgraded internals to make it a truly remarkable device. 

                    No more display woes, or complaints about a teeny-tiny cover display. The Galaxy Z Fold 2 is a feat of engineering excellence and a device that pushes the boundaries of how we use our smartphones. A gorgeous high refresh rate display, flagship-grade cameras, blazing-fast chip, and some neat software tricks to make the most out of its folding factor. Yes, it is pricey at almost $2000, but you also get an experience unlike any other with the Galaxy Z Fold 2. 

                      Best foldable experience
                        Samsung finally made a great foldable phone that is not fraught with issues. Aside from being a foldable device that offers the convenience of a larger display hidden in a small form factor, it rocks a flagship design, great cameras, a refined hinge mechanism and an eye-catching design.

                      Honorable Mentions:

                        LG Wing

                        For a while, it was assumed that era of smartphones with weird and experimental designs is over, but LG proved us wrong with the Wing. Rocking a dual-display form factor with a swivel mechanism, this device actually makes good use of the dual display design with some neat software tricks.
                        Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

                        Samsung’s experiment with a tablet-cum-phone design culminated with the Galaxy Fold and its successor, but the company also ventured into the domain of clamshell foldable phones. The result was the Galaxy Z Flip 5G, which blends some powerful hardware with a unique design.

                      Best All-Round Phone – Google Pixel 5

                      pocketnow google pixel 5

                      So, what makes a great phone? Some would say an amalgam of the best hardware you can lay your hands on, but that is something that would cost you above a thousand dollars in 2020. How about a device that offers a buttery smooth performance, the best software experience on the Android side of the ecosystem, and adds a dash of camera excellence for $699? If that sounds right to you, the Pixel 5 should be your next smartphone purchase. 

                      Instead of a flagship chip, Google packed the Pixel 5 with an upper mid-range SoC that is still snappy and fast enough to handle any game you throw at it with ease. But the true value of Pixel 5 lies in the pure Android experience with a tonne of smart features from Google’s side that defines the signature Pixel experience. And those cameras, well, they are still among the best in the industry, especially for stills and low-light photography. 

                        Pure Pixel goodness
                          Google’s last flagship - the Pixel 4 - received its fair share of flak. Back to the drawing board, Google cut down on brute processing power as well as cost, and added an ultrawide camera to the package. The signature Pixel camera and software experience is here at an accessible price and wrapped up in a beautiful design.

                        Honorable Mentions:

                          iPhone 12

                          iPhone 12 is the 2020 iPhone that many will buy, and for good reasons. Succeeding an already well-received device, iPhone 12 ups the ante by offering a refined camera hardware, faster processor, a new charging system called MagSafe and of course, a cool design makeover.
                          OnePlus 8T

                          OnePlus 8T offers arguably the best mix of top-notch specifications, great software, eye-catching design and almost unparalleled price-to-value ratio. There’s a reason OnePlus devices are called budget flagships, and the OnePlus 8T fits that mold perfectly.
                        I’ve been writing about consumer technology for over three years now, having worked with names such as NDTV and Beebom in the past. Aside from covering the latest news, I’ve reviewed my fair share of devices ranging from smartphones and laptops to smart home devices. I also have interviewed tech execs and appeared as a host in YouTube videos talking about the latest and greatest gadgets out there.
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