My top 5 phones of 2023 – Hristo



Hi there, I’m Hristo, the lead news editor here at GSMArena and I have the honor of wrapping up this year’s installment of the “My top 5” series. Being arguably the biggest foldables fan at the office I don’t share the sentiment expressed by some of my colleagues that the year was boring. Granted, the bar phones have been a bit meh for a good while, but incremental upgrades are what you get in a mature market. The foldable space, on the other hand was booming and I’m loving every bit of it.

My top 5 phones of 2023 – Hristo

I couldn’t quite fit within the 5 phones required by the format, so I’ll begin with a couple of honorable mentions and then go up my personal ranking in reverse order.

Honorable mention: Tecno Phantom V Flip and Phantom V Fold

Tecno’s journey over the past few has been remarkable – from an entry-level maker barely recognizable of outside Africa to the creator of some of the most exciting phones out there. The X2 Pro from last year with its unrivaled natural bokeh was impressive, but the entrance to the foldable segment in 2023 is more so.

The company gave us the most affordable horizontal foldable in the Phantom V Fold and managed to bring it to a number of overseas markets too. Samsung has been left to run unopposed in the segment outside China for too long and I welcome any competition.

Tecno Phantom V Flip review

The Phantom V Flip was equally aggressive with its pricing and packs one of the better camera systems among clamshells. I really dig its circular external display, even if I’ll readily admit it’s not the best solution when it comes to usability. Sadly, the promises of an even wider launch for this one never materialized and it only made it to a few Asian markets.

This is also the reason why the V Flip didn’t make the actual Top 5, while the V Fold was let down by its UI, which is unable to properly take advantage of the internal screen for multitasking purposes – the key selling point of the entire category for me. I sure hope Tecno keeps on the same trajectory, however, and deliver more exciting phones like this in 2024.

5. Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max

The odd one out in more ways than one on my list grabs the final spot. The iPhone 15 Pro Max is not the most exciting phone out there, nor is it necessarily the best bar phone to come out this year. However it’s by far the one that made me say “Fucking finally” the most during its debut. There’s the move to USB-C, which while not entirely voluntary, will make life easier for people on both sides of the OS divide.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review

The adoption of a periscope camera finally brought Apple up to speed with the Android cameraphone top dogs, while the move to 256 GB storage for the base version was long overdue. I also appreciate the switch from a stainless steel frame to titanium one. While not as tough the new material is an acknowledgement that the weight of modern smartphones is getting out of control and something needs to be done about it. Better yet, the company finally replaced the sharp-edged frame with a more rounded version that doesn’t dig in your palm and fingers when you hold the phone.

The importance of these changes is magnified by the fact that Apple is the biggest trend-setter of the industry, and that makes the iPhone 15 Pro Max one of the most important launches of the year.

4. Motorola Razr 40 Ultra

The Motorola Razr 40 Ultra or razr+ as our US readers know it is the kind of technology limit-pushing phone that you can’t help but admire. The cover screen encompassing the entire half-panel and capable of running most apps in full is both practical and cool looking. Gone are the days when clamshell foldables needed to be opened for the simplest of tasks and now we can have the best of both worlds.

Motorola Razr 40 Ultra review

There are still some compromises involved – notably smaller camera sensors and battery capacity compared to the Razr 40, but the Razr 40 Ultra still embodies the kind of innovative spirit that I just love to see.

3. Honor Magic V2

The Honor Magic V2 would have probably topped my list, had it managed to hit international markets within 2023. Alas that was left for 2024, so what is arguably the best piece of hardware I tried in the past year has to settle for third.

With its sub-10mm thickness and 231g of weight the ground-breaking phone matches the feel of a conventional bar phone when folded, while still delivering an 8” screen. It’s really an amazing feat of engineering and almost hard to believe the first time you handle it. It really makes no sense to even consider those boring old bars then, unless you really need a powerful periscope camera.

Honor Magic V2 hands-on review

Honor still needs to up its game when it comes to multitasking on the large screen, but Magic OS 8.0 will hopefully be ready in time for the global rollout in the next couple of months. It might be a 2023 phone, but I’m still excited about it at the start of 2024. With Samsung doing the bare minimum when it comes to hardware development of its Fold lineup over the past three years a phone such as the Magic V2 shows that there is, indeed a lot of room for improvement.

2. Oppo Find N3/OnePlus Open

In another milestone development the OnePlus Open and its Oppo Find N3 doppleganger have the exact same camera setup as the OnePlus 12 flagship bar phone. Better yet the Open got it before the 12 and was the most capable cameraphone OnePlus was making for a good few months. In fact it might still be, thanks to the extra flexibility enabled by the form factor – selfies with the main camera and being its own tripod.

Oppo Find N3 review

Ever since the start of their existence, foldables have been absent from the cameraphone race, excusing themselves on the split bodies being unable to accommodate the large sensors needed for that. Yet Oppo/OnePlus delivered definite proof that you can, in fact, have your cake and eat it too.

Oneplus Open review

Better yet, the Oppo-made duo has the best multitasking UI outside of a Galaxy phone. In fact it closed the gap so much that at this point you can be almost equally productive with either of them.

1. Samsung Galaxy Z Flip5

The Galaxy Fold5 may have been a disappointment, but the Galaxy Z Flip5 is a well thought out upgrade that brought more people to the foldable game than any before it. It finally made the external screen usable and it dropped the unsightly gap when folded – the latter far more of an issue on the design-first clamshells than the productivity focused book-style foldables.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip5 review

There’s the improvement in battery life to consider thanks to the new Snapdragon chipset, but moreso due to the fact that you no longer need to open the phone and light up the large main screen just to read a message. And with the pricing in Europe currently hovering around €800 the Z Flip5’s popularity is easily understandable.

With the durability issues of the early generations a lot of people are understandably hesitant to give foldables a try. The best way to fix those is get the new units in people hands, where they can prove their worth. And since no phone has done better at this than the Z Flip5, it ends up on top of my personal ranking for the year.


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