If you’re considering gifting a phone this holiday season you’ve got several options available to you. Before jumping into my picks, it’s important to consider the recipient’s personal preferences. If they’re Team Blue Bubble, then you should avoid anything running Android and vice versa. But that doesn’t mean that your options are any more limited or easier to make. That’s why you’re here and this is what we recommend.
The end of the year means that there should be iPhone’s available at most Apple stores and online. If the person on your list has an affinity for gorgeously designed devices that “just work” then they are probably looking for an iPhone. For most people, the iPhone 13 Pro Max makes the most sense provided that they aren’t looking for a small form factor (in which case the iPhone 13 Pro will do just fine). What you need to know about the iPhone 13 Pro Max: it’s essentially the equivalent of an “S” model to last year’s iPhone 12 but the subtle upgrades make it great to use. An updated Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion (aka a 120Hz display) makes animations appear buttery smooth and improved colors make viewing content on the iPhone a dream. Cameras are exactly what you expect/demand from a flagship phone – the iPhone 13 Pro Max improves on all the previous specs including the addition of Macro photography on the Ultra-wide lens, a larger sensor to the primary lens, and up to 6x optical zoom across the three cameras.
The heavy lifting here is all done by the A15 Bionic chip that powers the iPhone 13 Pro Max – further improving battery life and allowing for the computational power to make the photography/videography tricks and improved gaming experience possible.
Price: Starting at $699
The Best Android Experience – Google Pixel 6
Despite my very vocal love of the iPhone and overall experience using Apple products, my first smartphone was an Android device. I’ve typically kept two phones in use since that time and in over a decade I can safely say that the Android Experience varies. Whether it’s regular OS updates or simply how menus function, it can be a wildly different experience across phone manufacturers. That’s why if you’re looking for the best experience on an Android device, look no further than the Google Pixel 6.
Google’s latest phones use Google’s proprietary Tensor chip that elevates the processing output from their devices while better managing power consumption. The biggest improvements are in what the Tensor chip can do for computational photography. Everything from improved skin tone reproduction to a better bokeh rendering to the ability to automatically remove unwanted subjects from your pictures the Tensor chip helps make that all reality. Like with the Apple options, there are some hardware upgrades to the camera lenses and image processors in them.
Why the Pixel 6 over the Pixel 6 Pro? For me it’s a matter of color options – “Sorta Seafoam” and “Kinda Coral” just look better on the Pixel 6’s silhouette. That and it’s the only flagship phone on this list with a budget price starting at $600. If you need/want three cameras (which you probably don’t) get the Pixel 6 Pro; otherwise you’ll be just fine with the Pixel 6.
Price: Starting at $599
For the Control Freak – Sony Xperia Pro-I
For some of us, content creation isn’t just a thing we say in passing – it’s a literal way of life. For these very niche groups of users, computational photography is a bug, not a feature. That’s why the Sony Xperia Pro-I (pronounced “eye” and not to be confused with their Xperia Pro III – pronounced “mark 3”) makes this list. From its 1-inch sensor, the same one found in the Sony RX100VI high-end point-and-shoot cameras, to multiple glass element construction of its lenses, to the manual iris controls for the cameras – this is a purpose-built phone designed for creatives that are looking for a serious piece of kit. Sony also includes a suite of software designed to make the most of the hardware on this phone including being the only Smartphone with Sony’s class-leading EyeAF, Object Tracking, and Video Pro collaboration software.
If every other phone on this list is made for you to share your adventures on TikTok or Instagram, the Sony Xperia Pro-I is designed for updating your clip portfolio and monetizing your YouTube. This is the phone you use when you don’t leave anything to chance (or algorithms) and always need 100% control. At $1800 it’s not for everyone by a long shot but if you’re looking for a serious multimedia creation device, the Sony Xperia Pro-I will fit the bill quite nicely.
Team Samsung – Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G
Samsung has truly built its brand over the years and has become the DeFacto premium Android phone maker (sorry, Google you know it to be true). And true to form the Samsung GalaxyZ Fold 3 5G needs a place in this roundup. Samsung has absolutely nailed the folding form factor (fixing previous issues with the hinge life) and made improvements to the screens that make the Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G a gem for multimedia consumption.
Our very own Jason Million has been using his for a while and has no complaints about the experience and pairs it with the UAG Civilian case. This one is perfect for those of us who want a tablet but don’t necessarily want to carry one around – the Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is truly a transformative device (get it?).
That’s Great but What About a Budget Pick
Hey, we’re not made of money either – so if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck consider the iPhone 11. Yes, it’s a two-year-old phone but hear me out for a second. If you choose to go for a $500 Android phone you’ll be looking to upgrade in a year, and you will not have nearly the bells and whistles that people expect from a smartphone today. The iPhone 11 is still a highly capable handset with some of the best cameras you can get on a phone at this price. So, yeah, it’s not as sexy as any of the flagships listed above but I’m sure you can find something fun to do with the extra cash in your pocket.
Of course, there are many phones out there that you think should be on this list, and you’re probably right. If you have a favorite phone that you think should be on here, then hit us up in the comments below and let us know why!