The latest smartphones have screens as vivid as the best TVs, cameras that will make you a social media star, and sophisticated new security features.

They’ll even survive an unplanned dip in the bathtub.

But which one of them is right for you? Do you need an OLED screen for watching your favorite shows on the go, or is a dual-lens camera with portrait mode a must? 

Here's a look at the latest smartphone features and which new phones offer them, so you can find the model that fits you best. 

High-Tech Security

Fingerprint scanners are a convenient feature on many recent smartphones. For consumers, it’s a lot faster to unlock the screen by touching a sensor than by typing in a string of numbers. The newest biometric controls could be even quicker to use.

You can unlock Samsung’s Galaxy S8, S8+, and Note8 by scanning your face or iris, for instance, and the LG V30 includes both face and voice recognition.

But not all biometric features offer the same security. That’s why Samsung allows users to authorize a money transfer with its Samsung Pay service using an iris or fingerprint scan (or, of course, a PIN) but not with facial recognition.

More on Smartphones

One potential risk with facial recognition is that criminals could use a photograph to unlock your phone—though they’d need a very clear image of your face.

Apple says the new Face ID system in the iPhone X, released in November, makes the phone much harder to trick. The company says the system incorporates technology, including infrared imaging and advanced processing, to create a 3D mathematical model of your face.

Apple puts the odds of someone else being able to unlock your iPhone X at one in a million, making it safer than the company’s Touch ID fingerprint system, which is absent from the iPhone X.

The jury is still out on such claims—and on a bigger question: whether consumers will like using the new biometric technologies.

Water Resistance

Dropping a phone in a puddle or—yikes!—a toilet used to be enough to destroy it. Today, most high-end phones offer some kind of water resistance. The Samsung Galaxy S8, S8+, and Note8, and all Apple iPhones since the 7, have proved their water-resistance claims in our testing. Our testing of the iPhone X is still in progress.

Consumer Reports tests water resistance by lowering phones into a water-filled tube. A model passes if it survives a dunk as deep and as long as the manufacturer claims it can without being damaged.

Typically, it’s just a few feet of water for 30 minutes. But water has a habit of taking time to do its damage, so the phones are tested when they come out of the water and over the following 72 hours.

Remember that water-resistant doesn’t mean “good for swimming,” says Richard Fisco, Consumer Reports’ head of smartphone testing. And liquid is not covered by most standard warranties. Buy one of these phones, though, and there’s little need to fret if you accidentally drop it in a puddle.

Portrait Mode

People love to share photos on social media, as evidenced by the surge in active monthly Instagram users from 80 million in 2012 to 800 million today.

Phone makers are taking note: This year, several of them introduced a portrait mode that lets you take pictures with a clearly focused subject and a blurred background, creating an arty effect known as bokeh that is sure to win loads of likes, however you share your photos.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note8, along with Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus, do this through the use of two lenses; Google’s Pixel 2 phones (which we haven’t tested yet) also have a portrait mode but use just one lens and lots of software magic to accomplish the effect.


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Wireless Charging

LG, Google, and others have been offering phones with wireless charging for a few years, but this convenience is getting more buzz now that it’s available on Apple’s iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X. Other new phones with wireless charging include LG’s G6 and V30, along with Samsung’s Galaxy S8, S8+, and Note8.

The idea of juicing up your phone by dropping it on a pad on your desk (or one built into the table at a coffee shop) is enticing: Who doesn’t want to be free of a tangle of cords?

But Fisco says it can take longer to charge a phone on a pad than with a cord. Phones with wireless charging also can’t have solid metal backs, and a number of them have all-glass backs, which can make them more susceptible to cracking.

OLED Screens

TVs with these screens have done great in Consumer Reports’ testing, in part because they produce deep black levels and allow essentially unlimited viewing angles. On a phone, you get the same benefits, and OLEDs can bring a new level of vividness to videos, photos, and games.

You can find OLEDs on Samsung’s Galaxy S8, S8+, and Note8 phones, along with the LG V30 and Google Pixel 2 phones. The X is the first Apple iPhone to have one.

OLED screens tend to cost more than the LCDs used on most phones, and that can drive up the purchase price. Whether or not an OLED is worth the extra money largely depends on how you use the phone.

“If you watch a lot of videos and movies on your phone, an OLED could be an improvement,” Fisco says.

There’s really only one way to know how much you’ll notice that improvement—or care about it. “Before buying a phone for its OLED screen, compare it to a traditional phone to see if you think it’s a difference worth paying for,” he advises.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the January 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.