“What’s the best phone?” is probably the question that I’m asked more than any other (as a tech journalist). And it’s fair enough. Smartphones are, for most people, the part of technology they care most about. If only I could give them a simple answer.
Personally, I think the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max are the best smartphones on the market. Anyone who buys one of these will not be disappointed (they’re the same phone in different sizes). Yet, I also think that it’s too much smartphone for the majority of people. And so, it’s also too expensive for the majority of people.
Apple CEO, Tim Cook, clearly agrees with me. That’s why Apple, in the post-Steve Jobs era, has started selling “affordable” iPhones. The current examples are the lower-spec iPhone 12, 13, 14 and iPhone SE devices that are still available. All are very good handsets, but they’re some way off the iPhone 14 Pros regarding what’s inside them and what they can do.
Here’s the thing: a lot of the time, people don’t need the advanced features that come with the most expensive phones. There are plenty of “cheaper” devices that will allow you to do everything you want with your device.
With that said, the more expensive devices often come with features that push them slightly above their cheaper counterparts. Faster processors, better cameras, longer lasting batteries and nicer displays all contribute to the price, but they also contribute to how much you can do with the phone.
So, with that in mind, this article will offer a ranked list of what are the best phones available to buy in New Zealand based on features and functionality, not price.
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Best Phone NZ 2023
1. iPhone 15 Pro Max (& Pro)
Specs – Screen: 6.7in, 2796 x 1290 / 6.1in, 2556 x 1179 Camera: 48MP (wide), 12MP (ultra-wide), 12MP (periscope telephoto); Processor: A17 Pro; Storage: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB; Operating System: iOS 17
The iPhone 15 is a testament to Apple’s relentless pursuit of perfection.
Visually, it mirrors the elegance of its predecessor, yet the iPhone 15 houses a plethora of enhancements. The new titanium material is classy and sleek and at last, the iPhone is compatible with USB-C charging.
To put it bluntly, this phone can do it all. It takes great pictures, has market leading battery life, is easy-to-use and works seamlessly within the Apple ecosystem.
Sure, it commands a premium price tag, and only introduces a few minor changes, but Apple has set the bar even higher, and competitors will be chasing its shadows for years to come.
2. iPhone 14 Pro Max (& Pro)
Specs – Screen: 6.7in, 2796 x 1290 / 6.1in, 2556 x 1179 Camera: 48MP (wide), 12MP (ultra-wide), 12MP (telephoto); Processor: A16 Bionic; Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB; Operating System: iOS 16
The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro are exactly the same except for the size of battery and the physical size of the device. And both are even better than their already brilliant iPhone 13 Pro range counterparts.
While they look incredibly similar to their predecessors, Apple has introduced a number of improvements that make the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max the best phones on the market.
The notch has been replaced with Apple’s Dynamic Island which is functional and allows you to quickly access apps. The phones are even faster with the new A16 Bionic chip. The 12MP main camera has been upgraded to a 48MP camera, the display has a massive 2,000 nits maximum brightness, and the battery lasts even longer at over a full day.
While they are expensive, these are the best phones on the market and Apple’s competitors have quite a way to go to catch up, especially when it comes to performance and battery life.
Here’s my iPhone 14 Pro Max review.
3. Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Specs – Screen: 6.8in, 3088 x 1440 Camera: 200MP (wide), 12MP (ultra wide), 10MP (periscope telephoto), 10MP (telephoto); Processor: Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy; Storage: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB; Operating System: Android 13, One UI 5.1
Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra gets everything right. It improves on the S22 Ultra’s weakest aspects and maintains its strongest ones to create an even better flagship device.
Not everything has changed, the display and the S Pen are the same as its predecessor, and the UI and design are almost identical. But none of this needed changing or improving. It worked well in the S22 Ultra, and it works well here.
The massively improved 200MP main camera allows for even better photos, and the 10x telephoto optical lens is still the best-in-class for zoomed photography. But the main standout here is the improved 5,000 mAh battery.
The stylus won’t be for everyone and the 45W maximum charging capabilities is still a bugbear but that’s all there is holding this device back. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is a beast of a phone, and it’s the best Android device available.
Here’s my Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review
4. iPhone 15 (& 15 Plus)
Specs – Screen: 6.1in, 2556 x 1179 / 6.7in, 2796 x 1290 Camera: 48MP (wide), 12MP (ultra wide); Processor: A16 Bionic; Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB; Operating System: iOS 17
The iPhone 15/15 Plus melds Apple’s familiar design with new introductions like a 48MP camera and a USB-C port.
Driven by the A16 Bionic chip, the device shines in terms of camera performance and low-light photography. Its 4,383 mAh battery promises all-day use, while the display retains the 60Hz refresh rate.
Although the phone impresses on many fronts, it feels less revolutionary when juxtaposed with its Pro counterparts.
Overall, the iPhone 15 Plus offers solid upgrades but may not be a game-changer in the Apple lineup.
Here’s my iPhone 15 Plus review
5. iPhone 13 Pro Max (& 13 Pro)
Specs – Screen: 6.7in, 2778 x 1284 / 6.1in, 2532 x 1170 Camera: 12MP (wide), 12MP (ultra wide), 12MP (telephoto); Processor: A15 Bionic; Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB; Operating System: iOS 15
The iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max are brilliant smartphones only eclipsed by the new and improved iPhone 14 Pro range.
The devices are exactly the same (apart from the size and battery capacities) and the performance of the onboard camera rigs is way ahead of the competition.
Stir in the boost to battery life and Apple finally bringing 120Hz displays to its smartphones, and it’s impossible to ignore just how good these smartphones are.
The question you should ask yourself is whether you really need to pay for the pro-grade specs and features these devices offer. If you’re not sure if you’re “pro” enough, I’d suggest taking a look at the also-excellent iPhone 13 instead. It doesn’t disappoint either.
Here’s my iPhone 13 Pro Max review.
6. Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Specs – Screen: 6.8in, 3088 x 1440 Camera: 108MP (wide), 12MP (ultra wide), 10MP (periscope telephoto), 10MP (telephoto); Processor: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1; Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB; Operating System: Android 12, One UI 4.1
Although the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is more of a niche device for those who like a stylus with their phone, it’s still a powerhouse unit.
It’s a big phone that feels more like a Samsung Note than a Galaxy device but there’s really no competitor in this space at the moment. If you want a phone designed with a stylus in mind then this is the best of the best.
It will handle anything you throw at it thanks to the powerful and efficient Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset. The 6.8in, 3088 x 1440 display is best-in-class, it’s big and vibrant boasting a massive 1,000 nits maximum brightness, and the 120Hz framerate means it’s smooth to navigate.
It also takes great photos with its 4-camera array. The 10x telephoto lens is the best telephoto lens on the market.
Here’s my Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review
7. Oppo Find X5 Pro
Specs – Screen: 6.7in, 3216 x 1440 Camera: 50MP (main), 50MP (ultra wide), 13MP (telephoto); Processor: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1; Storage: 256GB; Operating System: Android 12, ColorOS 12.1
In regards to performance, the Find X5 Pro is on par with the Samsung S22 Ultra. They both use the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor and it flies.
What makes the Find X5 Pro different is its battery. This device has the best charging capabilities on the market. Supporting 80W wired SuperVOOC charging and 50W wireless AirVOOC charging, you can charge from zero to 100% in just 12-minutes. This is twice as fast as the S22 Ultra and four times faster than the iPhone 13 Pro Max
The Find X5 Pro is a great-looking device, it has a vibrant display and a smooth 120Hz refresh rate. The only reason it isn’t higher on this list is because of its camera array. It boasts 50MP main and ultrawide cameras and a 2x telephoto lens. This isn’t necessarily a bad array, it will allow you to take images you’ll love, but the 2x telephoto is behind the competition by quite a margin.
Here’s my Oppo Find X5 Pro review
8. iPhone 14 (& 14 Plus)
Specs – Screen: 6.1in, 2532 x 1170 / 6.7in, 2778 x 1284 Camera: 12MP (main) 12MP (ultra-wide) Processor: A15 Bionic; Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB; Operating System: iOS 16
The Apple formula just works. The iPhone 13 was better than the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 14 is better than the iPhone 13.
Other than their physical size and the size of the battery, the iPhone 14 is exactly the same as the iPhone 14 Plus, with the Plus having a larger battery and being physically bigger.
Each year Apple introduces welcome new improvements to their devices and while it’s a tad repetitive, there’s no denying these phones are good, really good.
The iPhone 14 takes great photos, it utilises the same, impressive A15 Bionic chip found in last year’s iPhone 13 Pro range, it has a long-lasting battery, and it looks great.
Apple has a knack of knowing what its customers want. The iPhone 14 Plus is the same size as the Pro Max without the premium price tag and is the standout here. With all day battery and superfast performance, it’s a very good phone.
Here’s my iPhone 14 Plus review
9. Google Pixel 6 Pro
Specs – Screen: 6.7in, 3120 x 1440 Camera: 50MP (wide), 12MP (ultra wide), 48MP (telephoto); Processor: Google Tensor; Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB; Operating System: Android 12
Although not “officially” released in New Zealand, you can easily get the Google Pixel 6 Pro here.
The Pixel 6 Pro is a powerful and affordable alternative to the main Android phones available in New Zealand.
One of the best Android phones on the market, it’s a solid competitor for best phone in New Zealand.
The large 120Hz display looks great, it has a unique design that will standout and it’s been developed and created from the ground up by Google.
Google’s very own Tensor chipset is extremely fast and capable meaning the Pixel 6 Pro will handle anything you throw at it. And all for a fantastic price.
It also takes great photos. Its triple-camera array is just as good as other premium phones and the magic eraser feature is a standout.
Buy the Google Pixel 6 Pro here.
10. iPhone 13 (& 13 mini)
Price: $1,429 (& $1,249)
Specs – Screen: 6.1in, 2532 x 1170 / 5.4in, 2340 x 1080 (mini) Camera: 12MP (wide), 12MP (ultra wide); Processor: A14 Bionic; Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB; Operating System: iOS 15
The iPhone 13 and 13 mini gets three important things right. Its camera(s), performance and battery life are all big improvements from its predecessor, the iPhone 12 and 12 mini. And that’s the ball game for Apple.
So while there isn’t anything new or exciting here, the upgrades the iPhone 13 does have represent a significant step forward for Apple’s most popular smartphones (and the mini).
And what all this means is pretty simple – anyone looking/needing to upgrade their phone in the next 12 months will find it hard to ignore all the things the iPhone 13 and 13 mini gets right.
Camera, performance and battery life. It’s pretty simple.
Here’s my iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini review.
11. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Specs – Screen: 6.8in, 3200 x 1440; Camera: 108MP (wide), 12MP (ultrawide), 10MP (telephoto), 10MP (periscope telephoto); Processor: Exynos 2100; Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB; Operating System: One UI 3.1, Android 11
This is a device for those who want the best display a smartphone can provide. It features the best camera(s) a Samsung phone has ever had; there’s also super-fast performance on offer too due to Samsung’s new Exynos 2100 chip; and a battery that lets you push it to its limit all day.
This device rivals the iPhone 12 Pro Max for the best smartphone on the market and won’t let you down.
Here’s our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review.
Best Phone in NZ 2023: 5 things to consider
1. Apple vs Android
There’s no right or wrong answer to this question; They’re both very good operating systems. And ultimately, it comes down to personal choice.
If you like iOS then I suggest you stick with it. It’s a solid operating system that’s fast, well designed and simple to use. It doesn’t disappoint, and it’s as secure as they come.
Similarly, if you feel Android’s open nature is more suited to your needs, then buying Android phones is a solid choice too. There’s no noticeable difference regarding mainstream app availability anymore.
That said, it’s worth noting that Android is more fragmented than iOS by nature. Apple has designed iOS specifically for its iPhones, and as a result, it’s a more efficient operating system than Android.
Android is an open-source OS that will run on a ton of different phones. But it’s not as optimised as iOS. This is important to keep in mind, as you’ll notice that Android’s specs wipe the floor with Apple’s regarding battery size, RAM and arguable raw processing power. However, the performance of these specs running a one-size-fits-all Android OS is far less efficient than what the iPhone and iOS are capable of.
Android manufacturers are also often guilty of butchering the performance and usability of the OS further with their own Android overlay (sometimes referred to as UI or launcher). For example, Samsung calls its overlay One UI, Oppo’s is ColorOS, and Huawei’s is/was EMUI. They all suck. They’re an added layer of branding/marketing that, in my opinion, detract from stock (best) Android experience.
The launcher/overlay that OnePlus runs is the best version of Android you’re going to get unless you buy a Pixel.
Every manufacturer will claim they make the phone with the best camera. The reality is that they all have strengths and weaknesses. Why? Because they’re all calibrated slightly differently re their hardware and software.
Knowing what to look out for here is really tricky. In the Android world, Sony sensors are king – but they have confusing names such as the IMX586 or the IMX555. Whereas Apple, as per, designs and manufacturers its own sensors.
The camera hardware inside a phone only tells half though story though. The way an image is processed also has a huge impact on the quality of a photo. This opens another set of problems with each manufacturer tuning their images slightly differently, resulting in different hues, tones and contrasts.
A smartphone camera’s “zoom” is another thing that needs to be taken into consideration. The Samsung Galaxy S21, for example, claims that it offers 100x zoom, which isn’t strictly true. In fact, it only has an optical zoom of 10x. The difference is made up with its digital zoom, which isn’t zoom at all – it’s cropping and AI processing.
Apple designs and builds its own chips. A15 is the latest and greatest work, and you’ll find it in all iPhone 13 devices.
The Android equivalent is something called the Qualcomm Snapdragon Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. Make sure you lookout for this, or something with similar performance if you want a high-end Android device.
4. Battery life
As a general rule, bigger is better here. The more mAH you can get, the longer your phone should last. High-end features such as 90hz (or even 120hz) displays and lower-end processors, will cause your battery to drain more rapidly. So look for auto-scaling displays and, as I mentioned above, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset for optimal power performance.
The iPhone is the exception that proves the rule here, though – benefitting from its purpose-built ecosystem that optimises power consumption a lot (lot lot lot) better than its Android rivals.
I think we’ve reached the stage where you don’t really need to worry about the quality of your phone screen anymore. Smartphone display’s pixel density exceeds what our eyes can see a long time ago. If you’re buying a flagship device that’s been released in the past couple of years, it’s going to be good.
If, however, you want the best. I suggest looking for OLED displays with refresh rates above 90hz. What size you should go for is up to you.
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