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Fabulous Phablets: The Best Large-Screen Smartphones

Consumer Reports' testers give the nod to devices from Apple, Samsung, and others

Bigger is better, right? That seems to be the thinking of many smartphone makers—and consumers—these days.

The industry analyst IDC says sales of smartphones with displays 5.5 inches or larger rose 2.5 percent to 437 million units last year, accounting for 30 percent of all the phones sold in the U.S.

And the people who buy these so-called phablets use their phones more than consumers with smaller-screened models. After all, it's hard to beat the extra real estate of a truly large display for playing games, viewing multimedia, or juggling several apps at once.

More big screens are on the way, with a new Samsung Note likely to debut this summer and new iPhones coming this fall. But there's no need to wait: The following phablets are all highly rated by Consumer Reports, combining clever features and top-notch performance, making them solid choices for any smartphone buyer.

They have screen sizes of at least 5.5 inches. And with the exception of the iPhone 7 Plus and the LG V20, all of these models support rapid charging, which can replenish a near-dead battery to about 50 percent capacity in less than a half-hour. 

Check our buying guide and ratings for smartphones.

1
Samsung Galaxy S8+

Samsung Galaxy S8+

 

The two biggest phones in this list just happen to also be Consumer Reports' top two phones overall. The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ boast 5.8- and 6.2-inch screens, respectively.


One feature that makes the displays of both smartphones stand out is that they stretch beyond the typical aspect ratio of 16:9 to 18.5:9, making them considerably taller and narrower than other big smartphones. That shape allows Samsung to give the phone more screen area without making it too wide to operate comfortably with one hand.

The phones also are the first to support Samsung's recently launched virtual assistant, Bixby, which provides a new way to interact with your phone. While Bixby does a lot of the same things as the still included Google Assistant, it has a few extra bells and whistles, too. And Samsung says that Bixby will learn over time, allowing it to become more useful. Both the S8 and S8+ include dedicated buttons on the side to launch Bixby.

The S8+ gets top marks for its battery life, hitting 26 hours of conventional talk time. The S8 didn't fare quite as well, with 23 hours of talk time. (As a rule of thumb, the bigger the phone, the bigger the battery and the longer the phone will run between charges.) With both phones, it took only about 30 minutes to bring a drained battery to roughly 40 percent capacity using the charger and cable that are included. They also support both Qi and Powermat wireless charging pads out of the box.

Both phones lived up to the water-resistance claims, surviving a 30-minute dunk in 5 feet of water. And their 12.2-megapixel main cameras and 8-megapixel selfie cameras are among the best out there.




    2
    Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

    Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

     

    The S8 and S8+ rank higher in Consumer Reports' testing than the S7 phones that preceded them, but the Galaxy S7 edge is still near the top of ratings, and it's less expensive than its newer siblings. And some people might prefer the more traditional wider and shorter dimensions. The screen is slightly smaller, though still big, at 5.5 inches. Like the newer Samsung Galaxy phones, the Galaxy S7 edge has a brilliant display, graceful curves, and tapered edges.


    The main 12.2-megapixel camera is among the best we've tested, producing excellent image quality and very good 1080p video quality. The stills are ultra-sharp with highly accurate colors, even when shot under low-light conditions.

    In terms of battery life, the S7 edge can go the distance. Its 3,500 mAh gave us more than 24 hours of talk time.


    As with the newer Galaxy phones and several top-end smartphones, the Galaxy S7 edge can handle immersion for up to 30 minutes in up to about 5 feet of water.

    And it's hard to beat this phone when it comes to charging options. It took us only about 30 minutes to bring the battery to roughly 40 percent capacity using the charger and cable that are included. It also supports both Qi and Powermat wireless charging pads out of the box, a convenience for households that use a mix of smartphones.




      3
      LG G6

      LG G6

       

      The LG G6 packs a rather large and unusually tall 5.7-inch display into a case that's trim enough to comfortably hold and operate with one hand. Yet it's tough enough to resist damage from drops, dust, and dunks in water.

      It looks similar to many other smartphones but has a taller and less wide aspect ratio of 18:9, compared with the 16:9 ratio of most smartphones and HDTVs. (It's not quite as tall and narrow as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, however.) The G6's elongated proportions, along with an ultrathin bezel, allowed LG to squeeze the display into the case of a smaller-screen phone. It's practically the same size as its G5 predecessor, which has a 5.3-inch display.

      The shape makes it very comfortable to hold in one hand, but it can be tough to get to icons at the top of the screen. When you hold the phone in landscape mode, apps that work in multiview show two equal-sized, square-shaped windows side by side. We found this to be useful. The display's taller 2:1 screen ratio provides more space to view details of e-mails while in split-screen mode.

      The G6 is also loaded with many forward-looking features, such as rapid charging, a USB Type-C port, and an interesting dual-camera arrangement that allows you to take wide-angle shots. And this sleek phone is among the best performers in our ratings, though it lagged behind some other top performers in photo-image quality.




        4
        Apple iPhone 7 Plus

        Apple iPhone 7 Plus

         

        Consumer Reports' tests confirmed that the iPhone 7 Plus is the best of Apple’s large-screen models, edging out the iPhone 6s.

        Some iPhone fans may want to wait for the new device set to debut this fall, which is rumored to represent a major refresh. But if you like the look and feel of recent generations of iPhones, you're very likely to approve of the 7 Plus. (In the past, prices on older models of the iPhone have dropped right after a new model was released, so it could pay to wait for a 7 Plus if you don't need a phone right away.)

        There's a welcome advance from the iPhone 6s Plus for many butterfingered iPhone users: This model can survive a dunk in 3 feet of water for 30 minutes.

        Also new are the dual cameras on the back, one of them with a unique 2x optical zoom. The optical zoom is a step up from the digital zoom on the old model's camera.

        The front-facing selfie camera received an upgrade as well. The higher-resolution sensor (7.2 megapixels vs. 5 megapixels on the 6s) allows you to record videos at full 1080p resolution. On the 6s, video recording is limited to 720P.

        As with all late-model iPhones, the 7s Plus display earned high marks for color accuracy and contrast, and it's also easy to see in bright light.

        The phone’s stereo speakers, a first for iPhones, sound a bit louder than the single speaker on the iPhone 6s Plus, though our engineers say the audio is somewhat thin and tinny.

        Apple got a lot of attention—and some flack—for removing the headphone jack from its new iPhones. But our testers found that it didn't harm the audio performance. The sound quality of the new Lightning EarPods appears to be no better or worse than that of the headphones that came with the 6s phones. 




          5
          LG V20

          LG V20

          You may have expected the LG V20 to be a bit better than its LG V10 predecessor, but in Consumer Reports' testing, it fell just short.


          Like its predecessor, the V20 has a unique hardware addition, a separate 2.1-inch screen to handle settings and notifications, and to launch apps while you continue using the main 5.7-inch display. And that quad HD display is still among the largest and sharpest we've tested.


          The performance of its main 16.3-megapixel camera, which has manual controls, is very good but not quite as good as the LG V10, according to our tests, for still images and videos. The V20's still image was almost identical to the V10's, but there was a noticeable decrease in dynamic range, the camera's ability to capture a wide gamut of black and white tones. The additional wide-angle camera works well in daylight but yields a grainy picture in indoor lighting. The V20's video was noticeably not as sharp as the V10's.


          Battery life was excellent, making LG V20 one of the top performers in our testing.


          Like the V10, it's brimming with useful features also found on other flagship LG smartphones, including one of the best virtual keyboards you can find. But one thing we don't like is the rear-mounted power control/fingerprint sensor button, which can require some hunting to find when you are looking at the screen.



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