Let’s start with me acknowledging that having access to all sorts of phones is a privilege few enjoy and even fewer can do on a regular basis. And we, the reviewers, are surely spoiled in this aspect. It is certainly one of the best parts of the job.
But as the year 2023 comes to a close, I can say one thing for sure – this was one of the worst years for smartphones. Plagued by various wars (trade, patent, territory, religion), an innovation stalemate, and a global recession, it was only natural for the whole industry to slow down and play it safe.
And safe it was across all major manufacturers, with little improvement and mostly incremental updates.
So, long story short, there is not a single phone that wowed me this year. There are a few devices that stood out, though, and those are the ones I am going to list here.
Xiaomi 13 Pro
This is one of the first smartphones I reviewed in 2023 and it is still super nice. The 13 Pro offered outstanding design and build, display, performance and stability, and what a camera!
The Xiaomi 13 Pro is probably the perfectly flawed cameraphone as it not only had the best imaging hardware on the market, but also offered the best image and video quality. Flawed, because of the dated selfie camera, something that still bothers me to this day.
I was not a fan of foldables. I acknowedge the productivity gains and the coolness of those things, but they were just not my cup of tea. Why? Because they were thick and weirdly uncomfortable when folded. That was until the OnePlus Open.
The Open had it all figured out – proper size, superb design, excellent performance, lovely camera, good battery life, fast charging. It was notably better than the Fold5, classier even, and managed to impress me all the way through its reviewing process and the weeks after. And that is why it is on this list.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
This is the phone I am using as my daily driver. I’ve been using iPhones since the 3GS and while the latest and greatest it is not the perfect phone for sure, that’s more to do with the limiting iOS. But it is my phone, one that I have to love because I am married to the Apple ecosystem. And while I can use the best wireless earbuds on the market on any device – the AirPods – if I have to divorce the iOS and its apps – it will cost me a lot more than just half of my digital belongings. So, yes, it’s too late for me.
Luckily, the iPhone 15 Pro Max got lighter this year, thanks to the switch to titanium and aluminum. I really don’t care about the materials, but I do appreciate the lighter design. Oh, and the USB-C port was a long overdue change.
Overall, the iPhone is also a close to perfection device – it aces design, display, performance, camera hardware, and a ton of other little things that many just don’t need. But it remains flawed for its still gargantuan notch and iOS. Let’s not forget Apple’s messy image processing, too.
Nothing Phone (2)
I was skeptical about the Nothing Phone, but I was happy to be proven wrong. And I was twice as happy to review the excellent Nothing Phone (2). It was one of the very few unique phones on the market that offered something others don’t have – Glyph UI. It was a gimmick, that is a certain, but it was still in the development phase.
The phone was incredibly fast and fluid, something that was once a OnePlus trait. And the Phone (2) behaves like the fastest smartphone on the market, I am not kidding. The Nothing OS is perfect – fluid, clean and no-nonsense. And if I had to choose an OS for my phone, that would be it.
Huawei P60 Pro
I love Huawei phones for their cameras and that never changed. I can even make a case for buying a Huawei phone or a tablet, but this is not the time or place. Anyway, the Huawei P60 Pro is one of the best phones for photos with the variable aperture main camera and the most natural image processing I’ve seen. It is also one properly good phone with a likable design, a great screen, powerful hardware, and super-fast charging.
The P60 Pro has no Google apps and services, no 5G, and many of the users believe the Chinese government is spying on them via the Huawei phones.
Still, it was one of the phones I’ve actually used after reviewing it for some time and I did love it and I am quite happy with the photos I got.
The Nord 3 impressed me with its perfectly rounded specs sheet and affordable pricing. It is one of the best mid-range phones out there and I recommended it to more than a dozen close friends and half of them got it and are very happy with it. If you are not after cutting-edge technology and pricy phones to brag with, the Nord 3 will probably give you all.
The vivo V27 Pro is not the best phone out there, with limited availability at that. But it is beautiful, it has one excellent OLED, fast hardware, great battery life with super-fast charging, and most importantly (for me) superb camera quality, selfie included.
Overall, it was a boring year, but it still gave us a few nice smartphones and I surely hope for 2024 to give us more interesting and innovative ones. I know it is a long shot, but still.