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Best phone in SA for 2020: the top 10 smartphones we've tested

Best phone
(Image credit: Samsung, Apple)

Our best phones list has changed dramatically thanks to 2020's newest smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S20 line that's upset our standings to come out on top. But one shouldn't discount the top phones coming in at the end of last year, like the Galaxy Note 10, and iPhone 11.

Picking up one of these top-tier handsets is an expensive investment, no matter if it comes from Samsung, Apple or Google. Some of these phone prices have crept up to - and above - R20,000, so you'll want to take your decision seriously. But don't worry: we're here to guide you through the ins and outs of each... along with our professional opinion about where they rank compared to each other.

Our idea of the best phone has a larger display, yet is easy to handle; packs a camera suite capable of replacing a point-and-shoot; and has enough processor power and battery to get work done while you're on the go. You won't find slow smartphones with anything less than all-day battery life on this list.

This year's top smartphones will certainly be 5G phones like the Samsung S20 line - and other flagships will follow suit given the Snapdragon 865 chipset practically requires 5G connectivity. But eventually, we'll see some foldable phones with 5G creep into the list, starting with the Huawei Mate Xs and perhaps the Samsung Galaxy Fold 2 if and when it comes. But foldable phones are unproven, and 5G in SA hasn't properly kicked off yet. Our list will remain practical.

Why we have more than a just one pick: We have a top pick, but not everyone looks for the same smartphone features. Some will demand iOS 13 and cling to Apple's iMessage, while others will want customisations and Google Assistant tools available in Android 10. Our phone reviews and this best phone list reflect that diversity. 

Our pick for best phone isn't just crowning the newest iPhone and calling it a day, though our list does have a lot of familiar names: Apple, Samsung Huawei and LG, all in the top 10. However, brands new to SA like TECNO and Vivo, and some veterans like Nokia and Hisense have not made the list this time around. 

Best phone at a glance:

  1. Samsung Galaxy S20 / S20 Plus
  2. iPhone 11
  3. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
  4. iPhone 11 Pro / Pro Max
  5. Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
  6. Samsung Galaxy S10 / S10 Plus
  7. LG ThinQ 8X  
  8. Huawei P30 Pro
  9. Samsung Galaxy S10e
  10. iPhone XR

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Samsung Galaxy S20

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1. Samsung Galaxy S20 / S20 Plus

The big phone is the best, but the standard is also great

Release date: March 2020 | Weight: 186g | Dimensions: 166.9 x 76 x 8.8mm | OS: Android 10 | Screen size: 6.7-inch | Resolution: 3200×1440 | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 12GB | Storage: 128/512GB (up to 1TB with card) | Battery: 4,500mAh | Rear camera: 12MP + 64MP + 12MP | Front camera: 10MP

Latest and greatest specs
Great 30x zoom max
120Hz is smooth as silk
Price bump is aggressive
In-screen fingerprint sensor is poor

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus is the best phone on our list, though the S20 is so similar (and only slightly inferior) that we've lumped them together here. There are minute differences, but mostly in price: the standard S20 starts at R18,999, while the S20 Plus starts at R20,999. 

Screen: The Infinity-O AMOLED displays on both phones - 6.2 inches for the S20, 6.7 inches for the S20 Plus - are gorgeous, with a maximum WQHD+ resolution of 3200 x 1440. The notches are both centralized like the Note 10, but they're much smaller this time around, and the S20 Plus only has a single lens. The result: more screen. Also new this year is a 120Hz maximum refresh rate for silky-smooth media and gaming, though you'll mostly notice it while browsing - and you'll have to drop your display resolution down to FHD+ to enjoy it.  

Battery Life: The S20 packs a 4,000mAh battery, while the S20 Plus has 4,500mAh of capacity. That is, to put it lightly, a lot, and frequently got us through over a day without recharging. Keep in mind that battery life estimate will dip down if you set the refresh rate at 120Hz, use a ton of 5G connectivity or lend juice with Wireless PowerShare, so adapt accordingly if you're looking to keep your phone going longer. 

Camera: The S20 and S20 Plus have truly spectacular cameras. No, not their 12MP main shooters, which are fine - it's the 64MP telephoto that really shines. While it only has 3x optical zoom, it still manages to crop zoom in to a muddy 30x digital zoom - which means the interim intervals are still a good deal more impressive than the competition. The 12MP ultra-wide performs adequately, while the 10MP front-facing camera works just fine. Another first-time bonus: 8K 24fps video from the rear camera.

Mini verdict: While the Samsung Galaxy S20 is impressive enough, it's the S20 Plus that we vouch for as the best phone right now, even if it's more expensive than expected. The combination of incredible cameras with top-tier specs and a great display makes it an unquestionable winner with more battery life than its smaller sibling. 

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus review and Samsung Galaxy S20 review