Your buying guide for the best big phones in 2017
Many a time we’ve been guilty of reviewing a smartphone and blasting it for not fitting comfortably in the palm of your hand, or for requiring two hands for comfortable operation. But every one of us is different, and while some of us prefer our phones sleek and compact, others prefer them big and powerful. Also see Best smartphones 2017 and Best tablets 2017.
Large-screen phones aren’t useful only for those with poor eyesight or fat fingers, they’re also a good fit for avid mobile gamers and those who watch a lot of video. Also see: Best Phone Deals
Generally speaking, a phablet (as they are known in the industry – a cross between phone and tablet) should be no less powerful than a standard smartphone. With more room inside the case they tend to have higher-capacity batteries, but you should also take into account that their larger screens may drain power faster than the smaller screens of phones with lower-capacity batteries.
What is a phablet?
We class smartphones with screens of 5.5in-plus on the diagonal as phablets. However, the line between standard smartphones and phablets is becoming increasingly blurred as we raise our expectations of standard smartphone screens.
Despite its 5.7in screen we wouldn’t consider the Galaxy S8 to be a phablet, because its tiny bezels mean it’s not a huge handset, yet we would consider the Pixel XL and iPhone 7 Plus to be phablets both of which have 5.5in screens. So we’ve applied some discretion in our ranking of the 10 best phablets you can buy today.
What screen resolution should you expect on a phablet?
Take into account that the number of pixels will be stretched over a larger screen area, so a Quad-HD screen will be appreciated here more than it would on a compact phone. That said, though, even a full-HD screen will look crystal clear on a big phone – just watch out for anything lower in resolution than this.
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The Galaxy Note 8 sure is expensive, but the finest things in life don’t come cheap. The reality is the price will likely have dropped a good hundred pounds by Christmas, and you’ll possibly be looking to buy it on a contract anyway.
If you can stomach the price, we are really taken by the Note 8. Until you see it you’ll find yourself wondering why anyone would choose it over the cheaper Galaxy S8+, but the S Pen alone justifies this price difference for us. It really is the kind of thing you need to see to believe just how good it is, so we urge you to try out the Note 8 in a local high-street store if at all possible.
Performance is bang-on as always, the screen is amazing, and photography is difficult to fault. Even Bixby has shown itself to be anything but the over-hyped, unnecessary feature we feared it could be.
If all we can throw against the new Note 8 is an expensive price tag, a slightly awkward fingerprint scanner and a very tall glass body that could be more fragile than metal-body phones, we find it absolutely deserving of our Tech Advisor Recommended badge.
Read our Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review.
We’re really impressed by the Galaxy S8 Plus, just as we are with the regular S8. Samsung has done a great job of making last year’s phones even better.
Both offer the infinity edge screen and most people will be better off saving money and going for the S8 unless you specifically want the Plus’s larger display. Otherwise it’s hard to find any other reason to buy it over the smaller phone.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review.
The Pixel 2 XL is a fantastic phone. It’s well designed, well built and looks great. The screen issues could put you off, and don’t forget there’s no headphone socket or microSD slot.
This is where the Galaxy S8 Plus comes in: it’s slightly cheaper and has both of those features and matches the Pixel in just about every area.
The Pixel does win out on camera quality – just – but has the advantage of quick updates to future Android releases and unlimited photo and video storage for three years.
Read our Google Pixel 2 XL review.
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is a stunning smartphone, both in terms of design and performance. The mirror-like look isn’t for everyone due to the appearance of smudges, but it helps provide an elegant, high-end look.
The 4K HDR display is one-of-a-kind, bright and vibrant, and shows off snaps taken by the impressive Motion Eye camera perfectly. The camera itself can handle almost anything you can throw at it, although performance does slip in low-lit conditions and the super slow-mo video mode takes some practice.
If you’re looking for a gorgeous high-end smartphone with a huge focus on display and cameras with above average battery life, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium is a solid option.
Read our Sony Xperia XZ Premium review.
We remain huge fans of the Mi Mix family, but rather than the revolutionary beast it once was Xiaomi’s ‘bezel-less’ phone has been brought kicking and screaming into line with other Android flagships.
It may have lost some of its wow factor, but in the most part we’re pleased with the changes: we love the new design, both smaller and lighter and therefore more manageable than before. We also love the improved connectivity, now with complete UK 4G support.
We don’t love the reduction in battery life, though, nor the loss of the headphone jack, and we’re not enamoured with the new camera bump.
But the Mi Mix 2 is still a fantastic phone: significantly faster than its predecessor, and much better looking. Better still, it’s as affordable as ever, making it a great alternative to other Android flagships – provided you can either live without or cope with having to set up Google services yourself.
In the Mi Mix 3 we would love to see Xiaomi’s dual-camera implemented, plus a higher-resolution screen. Waterproofing and wireless charging would also be good shouts.
Read our Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review.
The iPhone 7 Plus is an excellent phone. It’s Apple’s best yet, but it is also Apple’s most expensive yet, with a huge starting price. In some respects, the upgrades seem to justify this, but at the same time some features are arguably only catching up with what the competition has been offering for a while now – water-resistance for one.
Taken as a whole, the performance, battery life, camera quality and stereo speakers are all compelling reasons to upgrade. But our advice remains much the same as for the iPhone 7: if you already own the previous generation, there’s not enough here to justify ditching a 6S Plus, especially if you’re halfway through a two-year contract. Those just coming out of contract on the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus would do well to grab a 7 Plus.
Read our Apple iPhone 7 Plus review.
Huawei’s Mate 9 is, in our opinion, the best in the Huawei line-up, boasting an impressively large battery alongside powerful internals, an improved dual-camera setup and a sleek, gorgeous design. The benchmark results were some of the best we’ve seen, bringing excellent value for money. EMUI 5 makes a huge difference to the overall experience too, and we can’t wait to see whether Huawei’s new technology will actually improve the performance of the smartphone over time.
Read our Huawei Mate 9 review.
The Mi Note 2 was wrongly overshadowed at its launch. This is a gorgeous big-screen Android phone with very decent performance, a great camera and plenty of storage. We’d like to see a Quad-HD screen on Xiaomi’s flagship phone, but this one should prove plenty sharp and clear. Google apps are not preinstalled, but there is a workaround if you are happy to do some tweaking.
Read our Xiaomi Mi Note 2 review.
The iPhone 8 Plus is a hard phone to recommend. Sure, it’s powerful, but so is every other flagship – and with a dated design and huge body, the 8 Plus is lagging behind. Throw in the fact that the wireless charging is slow, the fast wired charging costs you extra, and flagship camera feature Portrait Lighting just doesn’t work well enough yet, and the 8 Plus is a tough sell.
If you’re coming from an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus there’s not much to justify the upgrade – though moving from a 6 or 6s is more understandable. And if you’re currently an Android user, you’ll find phones that are just as fast, with modern designs, for far less money in the Android ecosystem.
Read our Apple iPhone 8 Plus review.
10. Asus Zenfone AR
The Asus Zenfone AR is an incredible piece of kit for those looking for something AR- and VR-ready, as it’s the only smartphone to boast both Project Tango and Google Daydream support. The AR capabilities are incredible, although it’s somewhat limited by the apps available on Google Play at the moment. Moving beyond that, the smartphone is sleek, gorgeous and features an incredibly detailed WQHD display that’s more than enough to display the highly detailed images you’ll capture on the rear-facing 23Mp snapper. The only downside to this amazing piece of tech is the software – it features ZenUI on top of Android 7.0 along with a fair bit of non-removable bloatware.
Read our Asus Zenfone AR review.