Most underrated smartphones of 2018

The barrage of smartphones released throughout the year can be inundating to the average consumer. The frequency is just relentless, with many of the heavy hitters announcing not just one flagship device during the year, but two! It gets overwhelming – to the point that many good devices fly under the radar after release.

Maybe their release coincided with that of an even better smartphone? Or maybe because a particular phone wasn’t deemed flagship-worthy? Whatever the reason, these are smartphones we love to classify as underrated – the ones that never generate the recognition that they truly deserve. Now that the year is at its closing, we want to recognize the chosen few that make our list of being the most underrated.

LG V40

We’re kicking things off with the LG V40, the phone that packed along a whopping 5 cameras – three in the back and two in the front. LG’s V-series has always been noteworthy, establishing itself as the choice for video creators because of its rich video-centric features, and this year's iteration is no exception!

Even though the LG V40 brought along a triple main camera system, it wasn’t the only one to offer this – nor was it the only one to offer a wide-angle front-facing camera. Contending against many other noteworthy flagships released in the fall – like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, iPhone XS Max, Google Pixel 3 XL, and Huawei Mate 20 Pro – the LG V40 was simply forgotten. While the V40’s triple camera system isn’t necessarily a new concept, it’s still way ahead of the competition when it comes to adhering to the needs of content creators. No other phone can match the V40’s unprecedented video controls and features, and when you add in the fact that it features a premium construction, wireless charging, and even a headphone jack, it doesn’t skimp out in being a flagship-caliber smartphone.

Nokia 7 Plus

A slew of Nokia phones were announced during Mobile World Congress earlier this year, with one of them being the Nokia 7 Plus. However, we sometimes forget about one thing when another iterative one is simultaneously announced, say the Nokia 8 Sirocco. Even though its sibling in the Nokia 8 Sirocco was prized for many reasons, the Nokia 7 Plus managed to exceed our expectations! Part of that is because of its solid value for the money.

Given that the Nokia 7 Plus didn’t get any traction or coverage in the US, mainly isolated to Europe, it makes perfect sense why it flew under the radar – more so when a lot of the attention went towards the Nokia 8 Sirocco. Despite that, it offered an incredible package consisting of an aluminum design, long battery life, stock Android, and a competitive price point of 350 euros (about $415) when it was released back in May.

Asus Zenfone 5Q

Finding itself in a very similar situation to Nokia/HMD, Asus never really managed to spark substantial interest from consumers – more so in the US market than anywhere else! It’s a shame, honestly, seeing that they’ve continually pushed out affordable smartphones that manage to perform nicely. Case in point, the Asus Zenfone 5Q and its strong push as a serious contender in the photography department with its camera!

Sporting a $300 price tag out of the gates, you wouldn’t think that it’d be the kind of device that would excel in the camera department, but it does! Add to that, the Asus Zenfone 5Q features a premium glass-meets-metal design, a really good-looking display, and an excellent battery life as well. Asus’ smartphones don’t really get as much attention, which is a shame because when you factor everything the 5Q offers with its aggressive price point, it’s certainly underrated!

Sony Xperia XZ3

Sony has been going through a rocky relationship with consumers for the last several years, but through it all, they’ve been able to persevere! Lost amongst the barrage of flagships from the competition, the Sony Xperia XZ3 surprisingly steered the company in a new direction. For starters, the engineers designed what’s arguably one of the most underappreciated smartphones – one boasting striking refinements over previous iterations that made it one of the more stylish phones released this year!

Furthermore, it featured everything you want in a flagship-caliber device – like a beautiful OLED screen, powerful dual-firing speakers, a water-resistant construction, wireless charging, and 4K HDR video recording! The only thing it lacked was a dual-camera system, but it still managed to deliver good results with its single 19MP camera. And we can’t forget about its ability to shoot super slow-motion video at 960 FPS and low-light images at sensitivity of ISO 12800! It may not be a dominant force in the flagship range, but the XZ3 still deserves recognition for taking the company in a refreshingly new direction.

HTC U12+

Another one in pretty much the same situation as Sony, Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC has lost significant market share. The last couple of years have been especially tough, but with this year’s HTC U12+, the company managed to finally get the recipe just about right – albeit, the phone couldn’t match the kind of notoriety and prestige that accompanies those from Samsung, Huawei, Apple, OnePlus, and even Xiaomi!

It seemed as though the U12+ couldn’t remove the sour taste that was left over from HTC’s previous offerings, but when you look deeper into how it featured everything we expect in a high-end flagship, paired with an even attractive $800 starting price, it was undoubtedly a high-value offering. However, it was simply overshadowed and somewhat forgotten, which is a shame because this was the best thing to come from HTC in a long while. It even featured a memorable trait with its semi-transparent glass surface, something we don’t usually see.

Honor 8X

How much can you pack into a $250 smartphone? Well, if you were to ask the Honor 8X, it might tell you it could pack quite a convincing list! The Honor 8X, released in the fall, was chock-full of goodies for something so inexpensively priced, which could be the reason why it didn’t spark the interest of consumers to the same degree that flagship-level devices are easily able to accomplish! When a phone sells under a certain price threshold, sometimes it’s just impossible to get people to take notice of it.

Considering that the Honor 8X featured a gorgeous premium design, an edge-to-edge screen, a long-lasting battery, and even a headphone jack, it’s hard to imagine that it would be overlooked. But then again, Honor doesn’t quite have the same established reputation as some of the A-listers in the space. When it comes to budget phones, the Honor 8X sprinkles a dose of what we get in some high-end phones!

Apple iPhone XR

When you’re positioned as a lower-tier device in Apple’s portfolio, it’s unlikely that you’ll overthrow whatever is at the top of the food chain. However, when the iPhone XR was released in the late fall, it without question blew away the expectations. Sure, the iPhone XS and XS Max may have the beefier specs and hardware, but the iPhone XR has its own peculiar qualities that make it an underrated smartphone.

It starts with its design, which doesn’t quite have the same level of substance that we see in the iPhone XS and XS Max – giving it that reputation of being a “cheaper” version of those phones. Secondly, it only features a single rear camera as opposed to the trendier dual-camera implementation. Even the specs of the display are somewhat unsavory by today’s standard. But you know what? The iPhone XR does right in the areas in which it needs to prove itself worthy! From its eye-catchy color choices to the camera’s exceptional performance, the excellent battery life, and the same industry-leading performance of its sibling, combined with its lower $750 starting cost, the iPhone XR is a perfect example of being underrated against bigger, beefier competition.

Moto Z3

You’re probably squinting your eyes and wondering how in the world the Moto Z3, of all devices, managed to make our underrated list. Quite simply, it was made an outcast right from the onset because even though it belonged to the brand's flagship line, the Moto Z3 packed last year’s Snapdragon 835. In reality, the focus for the Moto Z3 was the potential of being able to experience 5G through the help of a Moto Mod.

We’ll be the first to admit that it was one of the most shocking and puzzling releases this year, but people forgot that the Moto Z3 was attached with a sub-$500 cost when it was released. Factor in its charming looks, good battery life, excellent camera, and ability to leverage an extensive portfolio of Moto Mods, the Moto Z3 undeniably provided more than what people initially discredited for not having.

BlackBerry KEY2 LE

It’s another case of not being in that prized flagship range that prevented the BlackBerry KEY2 LE from garnering more attention. Sure, it may have been technically a mid-range device, but the KEY2 LE was nonetheless a versatile phone. On one hand, it’s largely regarded as just a downgraded BlackBerry KEY2, but on the other, the KEY2 LE was substantially more forgiving with its price point of $450.

Even with the lower price, it was still very much as capable as the KEY2. Being one of the few QWERTY keyboard-packing smartphones in this day and age, with its focus on productivity, the KEY2 LE didn’t let up from being a great-performing smartphone with a ton of utility thrown into its package.

Huawei Mate 20

Finally, we have our most underrated smartphone of 2018! This prestigious award goes to none other than the Huawei Mate 20, a phone that was pushed aside when the Mate 20 Pro showed us some of its special tricks. Sure, it didn’t feature an in-screen fingerprint sensor, nor reverse wireless charging, but the Mate 20 was every bit as capable as the Mate 20 Pro – with a lower price point attached to it too!

Indeed, the ~$900 cost of the Mate 20 is still pretty hefty when you think about it, but it’s still under that $1000 threshold that many of today’s ultra-premium smartphones are targeting. For a lower price than that of the Mate 20 Pro, you’re still getting the same triple camera system and processor found with the Mate 20 – while still boasting a headphone jack and the best battery life we tested out in a phone this year! It’s underrated because it’s following under the shadow of the Mate 20 Pro.



1. biagnosis

Posts: 106; Member since: Nov 19, 2012

List is on point

10. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

Quite a few good phones missing from this list. PA should do a long term test series and rate them again. A good example is the in screen fingerprint sensor on the NexS and the huge improvements with each update (it does work in the dark btw and it's definitely the 2018 flagship battery champ). On the other hand they only review phones available in the US/EU so that's wishful thinking.

12. AmashAziz

Posts: 2934; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

Personally, the moto z3, xr, and honor 8x shouldn't have been on that list. Especially the last one. Huawei is especially good at deceiving people into thinking its phone are awesome value when they are just good value. It achieves that through great marketing, and awesome looks. But in reality, Huawei is behind someone like Xiaomi when it comes to value (who isn't?). The honor 8x is very similar to Y9 2019, nova 3i, and honor 10 lite. And all these phones have great marketing and looks. Which deceives people and doesn't let them forget Huawei. The 8x also has a kirin 710 with a measly Mali g51 GPU, BT 4.2, micro USB port, and okay cameras. While something like the Mi A2 costs less but has much better SD 660 and other features (smaller battery is only major con). Same for some other phones from other brands. Sorry if this feels like a rant coz I don't want it to be. I am talking from experience and I love Huawei's flagships and good value phones. It's just that idiots think Huawei is the best at midrangers just like people used to think about Samsung a few years ago. Kindly open your eyes and see the ways Huawei is deceiving you by its looks and heavy marketing.

15. alanrock

Posts: 341; Member since: Oct 04, 2018

8X is budget phone and Mi A2 is cheaper for a good sucks.

18. luis.aag90

Posts: 279; Member since: Aug 12, 2014

How's the SD660 on the Mi A2 much better than the Kirin 710? The former has slightly lower single and multi core benchmarks, although the GPU is slightly better. Overall they're evenly matched

19. jellmoo

Posts: 2674; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

I mean, I'm not really gonna say that the 8x is a much better value, but you're ignoring things like the fact that the 8x has a headphone jack, expandable storage and a much better screen to body ratio.

21. Feanor

Posts: 1429; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

I would call the Mate 20 overhyped rather than underrated. It's UX design is a shameless copy of iOS which is not befitting to a $1000+ device.

24. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

The UI (UX?) design looks nothing like IOS. Have you even seen a Huawei before?

26. Feanor

Posts: 1429; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

UX=User Experience=UI Nothing like iOS? Check the Phone, Music, Health and Themes icons. More copy you die. Phonearena agrees; same icons, no app drawer, copying many of the gestures etc.

27. alanrock

Posts: 341; Member since: Oct 04, 2018

there is app drawer since EMUI 5 ? ....and tons of themes to choose. PA propaganda is strong within you tho.

28. Feanor

Posts: 1429; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

The app drawer is deactivated by default in order to make the UX closer to iOS than to stock Android. EMUI is a plain iOS copy, fact is fact. Whether it bothers people or not is a matter of taste, not a fact. ..."tons of themes to choose"?? Did I say something against? I said the Themes icon has an iOS flavour, not that there are no themes to choose...

29. alanrock

Posts: 341; Member since: Oct 04, 2018

you said "no app drawer" in your post and that fact is no fact at all...i won't talk about icon flavours because of tennis match that i need to watch...

31. Feanor

Posts: 1429; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

Better watch tennis than discuss things you don't understand. I'm designer, it's my job to know these things. I don't expect Phonearena to tell me whether EMUI is an iOS rip-off, I have seen it with my own eyes, thank you very much. If the copycat outline and graphics of the icons, the optional removal of the app drawer and the gesture system are not enough to qualify as an iOS rip-off, how would you imagine an actual rip-off? There are obviously limits of what you can copy from iOS when you build on Android, and EMUI (as well as some other Chinese skins) has nearly exhausted these limits.

30. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

I own a P10 and you can make emui look, operate and feel however you like, something that's the exact opposite of ios. It doesn't remind me of ios the way that miui and funtouch do but I change everything as soon as I get a phone anyway. Your accusation is a bit of a stretch. Citing PA destroys your credibility completely.

32. Feanor

Posts: 1429; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

You can customise ALL Android phones to your liking, not just your Huawei. The problem here is the cheapo, out of the box intention of the OEM. I can make my Sony look like a Samsung, if I want, but what speaks for Sony against all these Chinese OEMs is that its out of the box interface is just stock Android. No intention to copy any other popular OEM whatsoever. You cannot say this for 90% of Chinese phones, with only One Plus being the exception.

37. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

You pick on emui incorrectly. They give you the option to use various modes depending on preference. With or without an app drawer or gestures or use on-screen buttons or the home button to navigate. So if it was out of the box with an app drawer and on-screen buttons what would you call it then? As for stock android you can keep that one. It's garbage.

33. Feanor

Posts: 1429; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

Gee... These Chinese copy even each other's UX names; is it a coincidence that Huawei skin is called EMUI and Xiaomi skin MIUI? Oh my... I should stop writing, it feels silly even arguing about the obvious.

34. alanrock

Posts: 341; Member since: Oct 04, 2018

agree on that...also there is letter I on both of them which is straight copy of letter i from topic...Djokovic won Abu Dhabi vs K. Anderson.

35. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

Oh lawd, what is wrong with you? Emotion User Interface (EMUI), Mi User Interface (MIUI).

36. Feanor

Posts: 1429; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

Guys are you playing dumb? So Apple could have iUI and Samsung EXUI and that would be perfectly ok? How much more on your face can these copycat companies have to be for you to see?

38. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

No one is playing dumb. The blatant copy is Funtouch OS from Vivo, after that comes MIUI. EMUI is the furthest from being a copy of IOS. I know because I actually OWN a Vivo NexS, Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 (my son's now) and a Huawei P10. Have you owned any of these phones? I very much doubt it. Certainly not a Vivo because if you had you'd see how blatant it is. Of course being Android I just change the launcher and all is good.

2. dazed1

Posts: 811; Member since: Jul 28, 2015

Great list tbh

3. Elvis358

Posts: 286; Member since: Mar 25, 2018

Agree a great list. Idk why Huawei offers 2 versions of mate everyone knows that pro version will sell better just like it's with p series.

39. mootu

Posts: 1541; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

Probably for the same reason Samsung sells 2 versions of the S series, Apple sells 2 versions of the XS, and most other OEM's sell 2 versions of it's flagship.

4. yalokiy

Posts: 1124; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

Honor 8x is super popular in Russia and maybe in EU as well. About Asus Zenfone 5Q I read for the first time, or so it seems...

5. torr310

Posts: 1723; Member since: Oct 27, 2011

Simply change the Phone Arena scores for these phones if they are underrated.

6. limporgyuk

Posts: 376; Member since: Nov 06, 2013

Mate 20x would get my vote

7. JMartin22

Posts: 2413; Member since: Apr 30, 2013

How is the XR underrated if it’s the best selling iPhone in Apple’s portfolio? If anything, it’s overrated by sales volume and value ratio. People are literally paying a premium for hardware specifications that are not up to par, in some respects.

13. rouyal

Posts: 1598; Member since: Jan 05, 2018

Scrolled down to see if anyone was triggered by the XR on the list. Not disappointed

14. JMartin22

Posts: 2413; Member since: Apr 30, 2013

I’m not even an Apple hater, just pointing out what I think is the obvious. One of the best selling phones this year just isn’t underrated.

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