Fabulous phablets: the best large-screen smartphones
The Samsung Galaxy Note8 is a smartphone truly designed with big-phone fans in mind.
Bigger is better, right? That seems to be the thinking of many smartphone makers—and consumers—these days. The industry analyst IDC says global sales of smartphones with displays 5.5 inches or larger rose 2.5 per cent to 437 million units last year, accounting for 30 per cent of all the phones sold.
The firm also predicts that phablet sales will rise from a projected 611 million units this year to 1 billion units in 2021. According to IDC, consumers are increasingly using their phones for videos, gaming, and social media, making display size a big factor when they’re shopping for a new device.
The iPhone X, iPhone 8 Plus and Samsung Note8 are among the phablets highly rated by Consumer Reports, but other devices combine clever features and top-notch performance, making them solid choices for any smartphone buyer. As with all of the smartphones in our ratings, Consumer Reports, a non-profit that reviews products, bought all of these phablets at retail and ran them through an extensive range of tests to evaluate the display and camera quality, battery life, and more.
1. Samsung Galaxy S8: This one of the biggest phones you can buy, and it’s one of the best. The Samsung Galaxy S8, which boasts a 5.8-inch screen, is Consumer Reports’ top-ranked phone overall. One feature that makes the S8 display stand out, along with that of its large S8+ sibling, is that it stretches beyond the typical aspect ratio of 16:9 to 18.5:9, making it considerably taller and narrower than other big smartphones. The shape allows Samsung to give the phone more screen area without making it too wide to operate comfortably with one hand. The display is nearly bezel-less, significantly reducing wasted space on the front of the phones. The OLED screen is super-sharp too, providing a viewing experience that rivals that of many high-end TVs. The S8 is also the first to support Samsung’s virtual assistant, Bixby, which provides a new way to interact with your phone. While Bixby does a lot of the same things as Google Assistant, it has a few extra bells and whistles. Samsung says that Bixby will learn over time, becoming more useful.
2. Samsung Galaxy S8+: For fans of Samsung’s Galaxy phones that need just a little more screen, there’s the S8+, which features a 6.2-inch display. Like the slightly smaller S8, it’s one of our top-ranked phones, so you’re getting size and quality, too. The S8+ features the same easy-to-hold tall and skinny shape with an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, and the same nearly bezel-less construction. The S8+ boasts the same super-sharp OLED display as the S8, and a button to summon the Bixby personal assistant.
3. Apple iPhone 8 Plus The iPhone 8 Plus, which boasts a 5.5-inch screen, looks pretty much like the 7 Plus that came before it. It has the same dimensions, screen resolution, and overall feel as last year’s model. But it’s what’s inside that counts. The 8 Plus packs camera improvements that include portrait model, (allowing for the fancy bokeh effect many photographers like), along with top-of-the-line 4K HD and slow-motion video modes. There’s also a turbo-charged processor, longer battery life, and—for the first time in an iPhone—wireless-charging capabilities. Note that while the 8 Plus screen isn’t quite as large as the display on the Samsung S8 and S8+, the phone can feel bigger and clunkier due to the home button and sizable bezel that surrounds the screen.
4. Samsung Galaxy Note8: This is a smartphone truly designed with big-phone fans in mind and is one sure to please fans of the Note7, which was pulled off the market last year after a series of battery fires. The Note8’s rectangular shape, included stylus, and 6.3-inch screen make it feel more like a tablet, or an actual notepad, than pretty much any other mainstream phablet. As with the S8 and S8+, Samsung went with an aspect ratio of 18.5:9, giving the Note8 the same tall and narrow body as those phones. You can use the stylus to write notes or just doodle, even when the phone is locked. And the phone features the same super-sharp display as the S8 and S8+. The Note8 also gets points for being the first Samsung phone to include a dual-lens camera. And it has a long-lasting battery that will give you 24.5 hours of juice. Like the S8 and 8+, the Note8’s screen stretches from one side of the phone to the other with a minimal bezel.
5. Samsung Galaxy S8 Active: The S8 Active comes with all the same features as the regular S8, including a 5.8-inch screen, but it’s wrapped in a permanent protective case, ideal if you tend to be hard on your phone. This is important to note because the S8 and the S8+ failed our tumbler test; their glass screen broke after repeated drops. But the S8 Active’s didn't. In addition, the S8 comes with a bigger battery, providing 30.5 hours of battery life, making it one of our top finishers in that area, too.
6. LG G6: The LG G6 packs a large and unusually tall 5.7-inch display into a case that’s trim enough to comfortably hold and operate with one hand. Yet it’s tough enough to resist damage from drops, dust, and dunks in water. It looks similar to many other smartphones but has a taller and narrower aspect ratio of 18:9, compared with the 16:9 ratio of most smartphones and HDTVs. The G6’s elongated proportions, along with an ultrathin bezel, allow for a big screen in a tight package. The shape makes it very comfortable to hold in one hand, but it can be tough to get to icons at the top of the screen. When you hold the phone in landscape mode, apps that work in multiview show two equal-sized, square-shaped windows side by side. We found this to be useful. The G6 is also loaded with many forward-looking features, such as rapid charging, a USB Type-C port, and dual cameras that let you take wide-angle shots. But it lagged behind some other top performers in photo-image quality.
7. Apple iPhone X: The iPhone X, Apple’s flagship phone, is an innovative device with a beautiful OLED display and a top-rated camera. The screen is somewhat bigger than the one on the iPhone 8 Plus: 5.8 inches for the X compared with 5.5 inches for the iPhone 8 Plus. But it’s in a more compact case thanks to the elimination of the classic Home button and most of the bezel around the screen. The iPhone X—as in 10, not the letter that follows W—falls a bit lower in CR ratings than the iPhone 8 Plus because it’s more likely to break if you drop it. That’s a good reason to use a case if you do choose this phone. The iPhone X’s screen earned excellent marks in CR testing, with vibrant colors and deep black levels. And another standout is the camera. Like the 7 Plus and 8 Plus, the iPhone X has a second 2X zoom camera on the back of the phone. And this model has the highest-rated smartphone camera Consumer Reports has tested. Note that the iPhone X has no Home button. You’ll need to learn a series of new swipe and button commands to operate the phone. And a facial-recognition technology called Face ID replaces the fingerprint sensor found on other iPhones. It lets you unlock the phone simply by taking a look at the screen. (You can also type in a PIN.) We found the setup and unlocking process to be quick, easy, and reliable.