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The best smartphones of 2017

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

It’s been quite a year to say the least, but at least it’s nearly over. And so now is the perfect time to reflect on the single most important issue of 2017: the best smartphones of the year.

Our most recent trip around the Sun brought an incredible array of top-notch handsets that will help set the standard for smartphone design and technology for years to come. From Apple’s hugely anticipated iPhone X to Samsung’s comeback tour following the Note 7 debacle, it was a big year for the smartphone industry.

iPhone X — Best phone if money isn’t an issue

Apple’s iPhone X is one of the best, and most expensive, phones you can buy.

Apple’s (AAPL) most premium of premium devices starts at a cool $1,000, or about $41 to $49 per month depending on your purchase plan — putting it out of the reach of many consumers. It’s worth noting that price doesn’t include the cost of your monthly wireless plan.

But man is the iPhone X beautiful. Its 5.8-inch nearly edge-to-edge panel gently curves around its four corners and its OLED display technology produces brilliant colors and deep blacks. The X’s spot-on Face ID facial-recognition technology and fantastic dual-lens camera help make this just the kind of iPhone Apple needed at a time when industry analysts were questioning the company’s ability to innovate.

Sure, the loss of the Home button, which disappeared so Apple could make a full-screen handset, will turn off some users. But Apple has some slick touch controls to make up for it. And besides, if you’re looking for a phone that’s both elegant and screams wealth, the iPhone X is the only way to go.

Galaxy Note 8 — Best big-screen smartphone

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 is a powerful handset with a brilliant display, but it’ll cost you.

Samsung (SSNLF) essentially created the big-screen smartphone category with its original Galaxy Note in 2011. But the company took a major hit to the wallet, and in the press, when it released, and then recalled, its fire-prone Note 7 in 2016. But instead of killing the Note name, Samsung doubled down on it, releasing the Note 8 to rave reviews and going out of its way to explain how it worked to ensure the phone won’t, you know, explode into flames.

The Note 8’s vibrant 6.3-inch Super AMOLED display and dual-lens camera are among the best on the market. Throw in staples like the S Pen stylus and the phone’s note-taking features, and you’ve got one heck of a big-screen handset.

Like the iPhone X, though, the Note 8 is incredibly pricey. At $950, it’s second only to the iPhone X in terms of price on our list. However, the Note 8 might still be for you if you’re a fan of giant smartphone screens, want a great camera and will get a lot of use out of the stylus. If not, you might want to go for a different Samsung handset. Perhaps the …

Galaxy S8 — Best smartphone if you don’t want an iPhone

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is an impressive smartphone. Even more so if you’re tired of Apple.

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is the go-to smartphone for anyone who wants a high-powered handset and has an intense dislike of Apple’s iPhone 8. Not that the S8 is second to Apple’s mainstream smartphone. In fact, I’d put the S8 over the iPhone 8 thanks to its superior design, display and camera.

The S8’s curved, edge-to-edge display gives the handset a unique look, and its Super AMOLED display technology offers a greater range of colors than the iPhone 8’s LCD panel. What’s more, the iPhone’s display measures just 4.7 inches, while the S8’s measures 5.8 inches. And at $725, the S8 is just $25 more than the iPhone 8. That’s a pretty solid deal.

iPhone 8 Plus — Best smartphone for the Apple lover

Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus is a fantastic smartphone with an impressive camera and huge display.

Okay, so Samsung’s got a great phone or two, but that doesn’t mean much to Apple fans. And while the S8, and its larger stablemate the S8+, might beat out the iPhone 8, it can’t quite top the iPhone 8 Plus. Starting at $799, the iPhone 8 Plus has a large screen that, though not as colorful as Samsung’s, offers sharp visuals.

Then there’s the iPhone 8 Plus’ dual-lens camera, which lets you optically zoom in on a subject using the phone’s telephoto lens. Neither the Galaxy S8 or the S8+ can do that. And, I mean, it’s an iPhone. If you’ve got one already, chances are you’re going to want to stick with it.

Pixel 2 XL — Best smartphone for the Android purist

Google’s Pixel 2 is a phone the way Google believes it should be.

Okay, so you love Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Android, but you’re sick of all of that extra stuff manufacturers and carriers add to the operating system. I’m talking about duplicate apps, scams like map apps that charge you money and others. Then you’ll probably want to opt for Google’s Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL.

Starting at $649 and $849, respectively, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL give you the purest form of Android available. There’s no bloatware, no unnecessary menus to slog through — it’s just straight-up Android the way Google intended it to be.

The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are essentially the same phone with the exception of the Pixel 2 XL’s larger, curved screen display. Both handsets share the same processor, the same camera and offer the same features including the ability to squeeze their edges to activate Google’s Assistant.

The Pixel 2 XL, however, has been met with some controversy over potential screen burn-in, how the display looks cooler when viewed from an angle and crackling noise from its speaker. For what it’s worth, I only noticed the burn-in issue when I downloaded a grey background and focused on looking at the bottom of the display near the Android buttons. And that cooler color isn’t very noticeable unless you view the 2 XL next to the regular Pixel 2. I also never heard a crackling sound from my phone.

But if those issues concern for you, I’d go with the Pixel 2. It’s every bit as great as the Pixel 2 XL without the baggage.

OnePlus 5t — Best bang for your buck

The OnePlus 5t packs plenty of power for just $499.

The Chinese company OnePlus has made quite a name for itself in the smartphone industry despite little to no mainstream advertising here in the U.S. The company has pulled it all off by not only producing some impressive handsets, but also by selling them for what seems like a pittance next to the cost of other smartphones.

The OnePlus 5t is the follow-up to the OnePlus 5, and offers the same internal specs and camera as the 5. The main difference between the two is that the 5t gets an improved, nearly edgeless 6.1-inch display. The 5, on the other hand, has a 5.5-inch screen along with a classic home button design.

The best part is that the 5t costs just $499 and rocks the kind of on-board power you’d expect from any other leading smartphone. There are some drawbacks, though — the biggest being that you can’t use the 5t on either Verizon’s or Sprint’s networks. (Verizon is the parent company of Yahoo Finance.) Instead, you’ll have to use AT&T or T-Mobile. That’s because the handset doesn’t support the CDMA bands used by Verizon and Sprint, but does use GSM bands, which are used by AT&T and T-Mobile.

LG V30 – Best phone for music lovers

The LG V30 is the smartphone to get if you’re a complete audio fiend.

LG’s smartphones have always been also-rans to the likes of Samsung, and more recently, Google. But the V30, the company’s latest offering, helps put LG on a nearly equal footing alongside the category’s best. The handset’s 6-inch OLED display nearly reaches the phone’s edges and its design is among the best around.

But where the V30 really shines is in the audio department. Thanks to its quad-DAC (digital-to-audio converter) the V30 can pump out some incredible-sounding audio from its headphone jack. Oh yeah, it’s got one of those too.

Loaded with a slew of top-of-the-line specs, the V30 is easily the best phone for music fans looking for a handset that will do their tunes justice.

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.