What are the best smartphones for mobile productivity?


The advent of the smartphone totally changed our views of mobile technology. Prior to the first-generation iPhone and other smart mobile devices from the likes of Palm and HTC, mobile phones were basically just phones, but that's no longer the case.

Today, we're seeing all sorts of features that we never would've expected to see on our mobile phones, such as cameras that rival the quality of entry-level DSLRs, high-resolution displays for streaming movies and other types of video, powerful internals for multitasking and productivity, and the list goes on. In many ways, the smartphones in our pockets are more like computers than portable communication devices.

With that being said, we've come to realize that, as advanced as even budget smartphones have become, not all smartphones are created equally. Some devices are designed with content creators in mind while others are made more for content consumption. Every new flagship is launched with a specific type of user or consumer in mind. Considering that our smartphones are increasingly the hub from which we orchestrate our personal and professional lives, it's a good time to take a look at which of the current crop of smartphones are best for on-the-go productivity.

(As an initial disclaimer, let me clarify that, considering how advanced technology has gotten, almost any phone that's smart can be a great tool for productivity. After all, the allure of the original smartphones was their ability to perform computer-like tasks on the go. But there are some devices with more power and better features as well as greater overall potential for portable productivity. Those are the devices I am highlighting here.)

So let's jump right into it.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

The only flagship to include a built-in stylus for writing, note-taking, and art

I'd be remiss if I didn't start with the latest in Samsung's own smartphone line of productivity powerhouses, the Galaxy Note 8. From its boxy and somewhat utilitarian design to its top-of-the-line specs, virtually every aspect of the Galaxy Note 8 has been optimized for mobile productivity. But what are the Note 8's specific features that make it such a great productivity tool?

One of the features that's unique -- and virtually synonymous with -- Samsung's Note line is the S-Pen stylus. Generally, the stylus is a relic of pre-iPhone smartphones in today's mobile landscape, yet the S-Pen continues to be a defining feature of a Samsung Galaxy Note. If you're not accustomed to using a stylus with your smartphone, it's an easy feature to dismiss; however, many Note users have come to be quite fond of the included stylus and dependent on it for some scenarios at least.

Pros

  • 6.3-inch OLED display (best of any smartphone?)
  • Built-in S-Pen stylus (powered by Wacom)
  • Compatible with DeX desktop station
  • Among the best cameras on an Android phone

Cons

  • One of the most expensive flagships in 2017
  • DeX is a separate purchase (and additional investment)

If you're a professional in 2017, chances are you find yourself signing important documents from time to time. There's no better example of the S-Pen's utility than when someone sends you a digital document and you slide out the S-Pen to sign on the dotted line right there on the display. But there are other productivity tools that have become baked into the Galaxy Note 8's identity. 

The Note line tends to lead the industry when it comes to increasing display size. Most would agree that the term "phablet" -- which is seldom used anymore as smartphones seem to be moving toward display sizes of 5.5 inches and more as a standard -- largely originated in reference to the Note line. As you can imagine, having the additional screen real estate is beneficial in many scenarios, whether you're a writer who prefers seeing more text on the display or an artist who benefits having a larger canvas for creating digital art.

Let's not forget that Samsung continues to find new ways to ensure that the Note line remains a go-to for productivity needs. With the Note 8 in 2017, Samsung also launched DeX, a special dock that allows you to transform the Note 8 into a desktop running a Chrome OS-like version of Samsung's TouchWiz-skinned Android. Even with the industry-leading 6.3-inch QHD display of the Note 8, there's nothing quite like having an actual desktop monitor for working on PowerPoint presentations or reviewing spreadsheets; with DeX, your Note 8 can basically double as your desktop in addition to being your smartphone. Just take your DeX dock with you to be able to plug your Note 8 into any monitor, turning into a desktop for more intensive computing sessions.

(On a side note, if you're looking to save a few dollars, the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is virtually identical to the Note 8, from the latest chipset to the incredible quality of the displays. In fact, the main differences include some more gentle curves in the S8's design and, of course, the stylus you get with the Note 8. At this point in the holiday season, you'll see some pretty good deals on the Note 8, too, but the S8 Plus will just be that much cheaper if you don't happen to want or need the S-Pen.)


LG V30

An impressive multimedia experience with great features for content creators

Much like Samsung has the Note line to accompany the more mainstream S line, LG introduced the V line a few years ago as a more productivity- and media-enhanced version of the G line. Historically, one of the defining features of LG's V smartphones has been the secondary display, a marquee or ticker-like addition to the top of the main display, containing various shortcuts and scrolling info pertaining to app notifications. With the latest addition to the V series, the LG V30, the secondary display has been removed in favor of a software-based solution and larger main display, which is now a 6-inch OLED instead of the 5.7-inch LED of the previous generation.


Although it's undoubtedly a productivity powerhouse, the LG V30 has a somewhat different approach to productivity than the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. While many of the Note's productivity features are centered around the built-in S-Pen, the V30 is more clearly focused on photography, videography, and content creation. Many industry critics agree that the V30 has one of the best dual-camera setups of all flagship phones, featuring a 16 MP (f/1.6, OIS, laser & PD autofocus) main sensor and a secondary wide-angle lens at 13 MP (f/1.9).

Pros

  • Ample screen space
  • Numerous multitasking features
  • Impressive dual camera
  • Premium design and build
  • Less expensive than certain competitors

Cons

  • Lost the secondary display

If its strong camera performance isn't enough, the LG V30's other accoutrements include a highly-praised 32-bit Quad-DAC setup for outstanding audio performance. For anyone who listens to lots of music via a smartphone, there's virtually no better audio experience. But we're here to talk about productivity, so what makes the LG V30 so great for professionals and entrepreneurs?

There's no question that the V30 is a powerhouse of a mobile phone. Like the Note 8 and other 2017 flagships, the LG V30 features the year's best Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and GPU, so basically anything you could need to do on the go will be smooth as butter. Plus, if you're someone who creates content for a living, you can do no wrong with the V30's combination of camera, built-in DACs, and an impressive 6-inch display. By most standards, the LG V30 is basically every bit the productivity powerhouse as the Note 8, just without the S-Pen.


OnePlus 5T

Flagship-level specs and impressive performance at a very reasonable cost

Sure, it doesn't have the kind of flash that you get from Samsung's and LG's flagships, but the OnePlus 5T consistently makes lists of the best smartphones of 2017. After launching the OnePlus 5 just a few months ago, relative newcomer OnePlus launched the 5T in November with many fans and critics agreeing that this mid-cycle refresh is what the OnePlus 5 should have been in the first place. 

In line with the year's other big releases, the OnePlus 5T features the trendy 18:9 elongated aspect ratio on a 6-inch 1080p "Optic AMOLED" display, the Snapdragon 835, Adreno 540 GPU, and a precedent-setting 8 GB of RAM on the 128 GB model. And considering its starting price of $499, the OnePlus 5T undercuts the competition by as much as half.

Compared to the previous entries on our tour de productivity, the OnePlus 5T lacks some of the bells and whistles that have come to be associated with flagships. For instance, the device lacks the wireless charging of the Note 8 and the 1440p HDR display of the V30; however, the OnePlus 5T brings Apple-esque Face Unlock, which works extremely fast despite being less sophisticated and secure than FaceID on the iPhone X. But what about productivity features?


The OnePlus 5T is great for productivity because of its performance, which is almost entirely the product of OnePlus making practical use of the feedback of its large community of dedicated users by incorporating the community's feedback into the development and creation of their next devices. 

For instance, it's due to this feedback that OxygenOS -- the nearly-stock version of Android that runs on OnePlus devices since the OnePlus 2 -- is one of the most lauded iterations of Android with numerous purists even preferring OxygenOS to stock Android. So while many have complained about how Samsung's and LG's versions of Android can become slower over time, OxygenOS on the OnePlus 5T is a productivity machine if there ever was one. Specifically, the 5T stands out from the crowd is its ability to speed through almost any app or process you could possible need to do on your mobile device.

Pros

  • 6-inch 1080p "bezel-less" OLED display
  • Among the fastest Android smartphones
  • Includes Android's native multitasking features
  • Great bang for buck

Cons

  • Dual-camera performance has been mixed
  • Face Unlock isn't as secure as other biometrics
There are many ways to take advantage of the 5T's productivity potential, and among the most ideal of scenarios would be to pair a wireless mouse and keyboard to the phone, allowing you to really make use of its processing potential. Alternately, you could invest in a stylus -- they're super inexpensive -- to make more use of the largest display to ever be featured on a OnePlus device. 

Best of all, the 5T costs much less than competitors although there are other flagships with more productivity features. Overall, you'll be hard-pressed to find the level of performance you get from the OnePlus 5T from other devices at a sub-$500 starting price point.


iPhone 8 Plus

A beast of a smartphone with the most powerful processor of any mobile device ever

Wait, what about the iPhone X? Before donning torches and pitchforks, consider this: Almost all of the iPhone X's internals are also featured in the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. The main differences between the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus are don't really affect productivity. Even the difference in displays -- the 5.8-inch OLED panel with 19.5:9 aspect ratio on the iPhone X versus the 5.5-inch LCD display with the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio of the iPhone 8 Plus -- aren't significant differences to casual users.

With the iPhone 8 Plus, you get the same A11 Bionic processor that's in the iPhone X; as demonstrated in numerous benchmarks, this is the most powerful chipset in any smartphone and can match or even exceed the performance of some desktop computers. As well, wireless charging came to the iPhone this year, and while that's not particularly beneficial for productivity, it's a welcome quality-of-life convenience feature. And let's not forget that the iPhone 8 Plus starts at $799 for the 64 GB variant, which is $200 less than an iPhone X with the same amount of storage. In short, it's simply better bang for your buck.

Pros

  • A11 Bionic is most powerful mobile processor to date
  • TouchID still among best for smartphone biometrics
  • Adds wireless charging and (wired) fast charging
  • Dual camera is great
  • Less expensive than iPhone X

Cons

  • Design is outdated
  • Lacks certain iPhone X-exclusive features
Much of the productivity potential of the iPhone 8 Plus is the result of Apple's impeccable software and the iOS ecosystem. If you've ever used a Mac computer, you may have some experience with using the Microsoft Office-like suite of iLife programs for creating spreadsheets, presentations, documents, and so on; these same programs are available on the iPhone, allowing you to start a project on your Mac computer and continue on your iPhone 8 Plus, and vice versa. 

Granted, continuity isn't totally absent from Android, but by comparison, continuity between Google devices and services almost feels incidental and jury-rigged while it's a fundamental aspect of Apple's ecosystem. After all, if you ask an iOS user why they continue to stay with iOS devices, there's a good chance that he or she will cite the incredible ease and seamlessness of switching back and forth between the company's line of devices on a daily basis.

So what really makes the iPhone 8 Plus so great for mobile productivity? For starters, the iPhone 8 Plus gives you actual desktop-like levels of power that you can carry with you in your pocket. If you take a look at the iPhone 8 Plus Geekbench scores, its single-core performance is more than double what is currently the top-scoring Android phone -- the international version of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 with the Exynos processor. Likewise, there's a substantial difference in multi-core performance with the iPhone 8 Plus achieving 156 percent of the international Note 8's score. Of course, benchmarks aren't always the best indicator of real-world performance, especially when there are so many key differences in how Android works versus how iOS works. But when benchmark comparisons between the latest iPhone and the top-performing Android device is this substantial, there's undoubtedly some significance there.


Google Pixel 2

Arguably the best Android experience while lacking the problems of its big brother

To a degree, it's a little difficult to recommend the unofficial successor of the budget-friendly Nexus line on a best-of-productivity list when the other compelling option with a stock-like Android experience is nearly half the cost, but the Pixel 2 -- Google's second-generation premium flagship that, like the first-generation Pixel and Pixel XL, is manufactured by HTC -- stands out from the OnePlus 5T for productivity in a couple key ways.

With the first-generation Pixels having arguably the best software experience of any Android smartphone, we naturally came to expect a slick software experience from devices "made by Google" ( although, technically, this year's Pixel phones are manufactured by HTC and LG). Sure enough, software is where the Pixel 2 and the 2 XL really shine, especially with artificial intelligence as the central feature of Google's Pixel lineup. The issue is that the display on the LG-made bigger brother of the two Pixel phones was found to be well below expectations, especially when you consider that it has a base cost of $849 in the United States. As a result, the regular ole Pixel 2 has become the safer choice, and it happens to have a more agreeable price tag that starts at $699.

Pros

  • Reliable OLED display
  • Latest and cleanest version of Android
  • First to get new productivity features

Cons

  • "Only" a 5-inch display
  • Price is a little high
Though the Pixel 2 has a 5-inch 1080p panel compared to the edge-to-edge 6-inch 1440p QHD panel of the Pixel 2 XL, many critics have come to agree that the display on the Pixel 2 is vivid, crisp, and quite pleasing overall. Meanwhile, both models have the same top-shelf specs with a camera setup that has set a new record with DxOMark as the best camera on any smartphone to date. In fact, it's really just the physical footprints, display specs, battery size, and their accompanying price tags that serve as the distinguishing features of the 2017 Pixel phones. In any case, both Pixel 2 devices have been carefully created and optimized by Google to be finely-tuned machines.

If you want to avoid all the drama surrounding the display issues of the Pixel 2 XL -- although it's worth noting that Google has been quite diligent in issuing software updates that address many of these issues -- the Pixel 2 is still a productivity dream for Android users. Even though it's available for virtually all Android phones and even on iOS, the Google Assistant continues to be at the forefront of the Pixel experience, which now includes the "squeeze" feature we first saw in the HTC U11 from earlier in the year. The squeeze capability was included as a way to making accessing the Assistant even easier than before. And it's having such easily access to Google's voice assistant (which is also increasingly woven throughout the operating system) that really takes the Pixel 2 to the next level for productivity; whether you're scheduling meetings, making calls, sending messages, or doing some Google searches, a surprisingly large number of tasks can be performed totally hands-free by using the Google Assistant.

There are certain features that, while they may seem somewhat gimmicky today, have serious potential for productivity as they become more refined over time. A prime example of this is Google Lens, which debuts on the Pixel 2 with Android 8.0 Oreo. Google Lens brings contextual awareness based on what the camera sensor on your smartphone can see. In essence, Google's artificial intelligence and machine learning work to identify the contents of your photos, and then provide you with additional/supplemental information on those contents. While there are certain limitations to its utility now, Google Lens could be immensely valuable in the future when the feature is tied to other Google services and apps, making it useful for organization, scheduling, and overall convenience.


Like the OnePlus 5T, the Pixel 2 lacks an obvious productivity tool like the Note 8's S-Pen stylus, which was so clearly made with productivity in mind. Rather than having such overtly productivity-oriented features, one of the greatest strengths of the Pixel 2 for productivity is that it's an incredibly refined Android experience. Even simply navigating the Android OS feels like gliding across ice despite the fact that the increasingly robust Google Assistant seems to be making actual OS navigation less integral to the experience. With the Pixel 2, we're getting closer to the point where your smartphone can actually be less a tool for productivity and more like a nearly-autonomous personal assistant.


Although the Note 8, LG V30, OnePlus 5T, iPhone 8 Plus, and Pixel 2 are exceptional smartphones for personal productivity, that's not to say that there aren't others that are great for similar purposes, too. Instead, this list merely represents some of the standouts of the year with each entry offering unique ways to maximize your on-the-go efficiency, organization, and time management.

But now I'd like to know your thoughts about mobile productivity. Is your smartphone essential to your professional success? Does one of the smartphones I mentioned above help promote career growth for you? Is there a device that you think should be added to our list? Leave your thoughts and feedback in the comments below.

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44 Comments

1. jellmoo

Posts: 2563; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

The KeyONE isn't on this list??? That and the Note 8 are the only ones that should be.

15. meanestgenius

Posts: 21778; Member since: May 28, 2014

Totally agree. Can't give you enough green thumbs for your comment. The KEYᵒⁿᵉ is a productivity beast, and the Note 8 is such a great productivity device that I actually ordered one for myself. Should have it before the week is out.

23. Peacetoall unregistered

literally my every favourite youtubers and bloggers uses keyone for productivity.

34. meanestgenius

Posts: 21778; Member since: May 28, 2014

It's an awesome productivity device.

52. Leo_MC

Posts: 7210; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Except each and every person that edits video (in 4k) on the go.

27. darkkjedii

Posts: 30969; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

True words indeed.

33. meanestgenius

Posts: 21778; Member since: May 28, 2014

Can't believe the KEYᵒⁿᵉ isn't up there, when BlackBerry handsets are literally made for productivity. It definitely should have been on this list, let alone being the only other handset on this list besides the Note 8. Can't wait until I get mine, btw. I'm eager to test it out.

40. darkkjedii

Posts: 30969; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

You'll love it MG, very good and capable device. As much as I still like the iPhone, having the Note makes it hard to justify spending the money on one. The Note was the chief reason, I returned the X I wanted to try.

2. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

Every year same old story. The LGg V series is great for videos. Then you watch samples, stabilization is far from great. Same for sound recorded. U11 and XZ Premium are much better to record videos.

3. PhoneCritic

Posts: 1354; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

I don't know if I can agree at all with the writers assessment. Yes, we all technically have a mini laptop in our pockets to some degree but the one that offers the most closes to a productive device in the close sense to a laptop or desktop is simply the Note 8 IMHO- because it employs a stylus that operate very much like a track pad or Mouse. It was pushed to target a small minority market as Samsung likes to assert - the "power user" so to say that the others were also designed with this in mind is a bit of a stretch as all of them were basically knee jerk reactions to success Samsung saw with the note series. For years the note was mocked and teases as being the most "ugliest and huge tablet phone with a outdated pen who would want that?" But other oems took ( excuse the Pun) Note that A large number of people preferred larger displays/input device in order to accomplish certain task "power users". So everyone jumped on the band wagon but Samsung had already forged ahead an is many generations ahead of every one in this so called phablet segment. So my whole point is I really don't see the others ( maybe LG and its fantastic Dac is close) as really meeting the productive banner. But that's my opinion. @Jellmoo thanks for pointing that out PA should have inclued a BB on the list as that was what their entire line was created for,

4. bur60

Posts: 981; Member since: Jul 07, 2014

HAHAHA so the Note 8 has expensive as a con, but iPhone 8+ has ''less expensive than iPhone X'' as a plus. Oh god.

13. toosmoove

Posts: 914; Member since: Sep 28, 2017

Right. And they Dex as a pro AND a con. The Note 8 has a better dual camera than the iPhone 8 but that's the only dual camera listed a a pro between the two.

7. Smat1234 unregistered

Note8 with KNOX security is the only phone that the US Dept. of Defence aproves. Iphones licensed some of its functionalities but not secure enough. Chinese phones ARE the ones we should protect our data security from.

9. skyline88

Posts: 697; Member since: Jul 15, 2013

Note 8, 5T and V30. the rest are rubbish.

10. syam7863

Posts: 73; Member since: Sep 15, 2016

Hihihih, DEX has to be bought separately is a con for Note 8, Separate fast charging and brick is not a con for iPhone eh?

30. makatijules

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

Even weithout Dex you can do more on a Galaxy. Any Galaxy Note or S, you can but a USB Hub, and attach any USB drive, USB Mouse and USB keyboard, even ones that use wireless dongles or even use Bluetooth mice and keyboards. With the latest S8/Note 8, Samsung includes a USB adapter and Samsung device support the same wireless display capabilities like many Windows 8/10 PC's. Since the Galaxy S and Note both support splitsceen apps and the ability to use multiple displays too, with the right dongles of course, you can work with apps of any kind and thanks to the open file system work with any file type. Even though this video is old -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vI-Rbm-m5Kk - it shows a Note 2 being used as a PC with a DEX capability. All Galaxy smartphones can do this. The latest models have wireless connect to a display capabilities. I use my TV as a display for the Note 8 and I don't even have to use my DEX station. Please learn about what Samsung devices can do. Also because the S8/Note 8 USB Type C is USB 3.x, you can power any USB 3.0, 2.0 or 1.0 device up to 127 devices, which si the USB standard.

36. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3123; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

Screen mirroring and DeX are not the same. Please learn about what Miracast is.

41. makatijules

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

I know what Miracast is. Android has supported Miracast since Android 4.0.

11. p51d007

Posts: 704; Member since: Nov 24, 2013

Huawei Mate 9. I use the phone, camera, A LOT during the day. 1500-2000 minutes per month, just on the phone, tons of email, text, web browsing, scanning barcodes, photos, streaming music. Phone EASILY lasts the entire day, on weekends, it's charged Friday night and still has around 40% battery left Sunday night. Great phone, good build, great value.

14. twens

Posts: 1172; Member since: Feb 25, 2012

I wish there was a better way to say this without sounding baise or a fanboy. All phones are great but when it comes to being productive none comes close to the note. I mean the phone has no limits besides it not being able to run x86 apps. Anything you can think of mobile wise the note can practically do it. I multitask like crazy. From open widgets to pop up video players etc. Clipboard, USB otg , spen etc. I mean let's be serious for ones, this is not a phone. It's a mini pocket pc period.

53. Leo_MC

Posts: 7210; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

There's a better phone for video editing purposes and for ecosystem related tasks (Office - mail included, sync).

17. jphiller87

Posts: 92; Member since: Apr 23, 2015

Pixel 2 over Mate 9/10? whoever put this together should be fired lol

18. darkkjedii

Posts: 30969; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

The Note 8, and S8's...duhhh.

22. iinkmywholebodie

Posts: 3; Member since: Dec 19, 2017

WHERE IS THE BlackBerry KEYone!! This site is trash!

24. yalokiy

Posts: 954; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

Hm, no Mate 10 Pro?

25. makatijules

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

I'm a bit confused. The title suggest specifically, which mobile phones are the best productivity tools. So I am curious how most made the list and how others didn't. Technically any phone can be a productivity tool. But size is only a metric of productivity. The Note is where it should be, as it screams productivity with the ability to split screen apps, the inclusion of the S-Pen, and because the phone comes installed with apps that take advantage of the those features. Also the DEX capability gives a near full desktop experience. How can you be productive on the other models? Especially anything that runs iOS? No open file system, no pen support, no keyboard/mouse support and no USB Mass Storage capabilities. Even though the other Androids in the list off mouse/keyboard support and mass storage support, that is hardly enough to make them productive. Where are Blackberry devices? What about Samsung's Galaxy Tab, which has both phone and productivity capabilities. I mean I know its a tablet, but it is a hybrid device as the Note is. "whether you're scheduling meetings, making calls, sending messages,"

54. Leo_MC

Posts: 7210; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Let me see what ecosystem, other than iOS, offers you a market, consisting in 1 billion devices for your released app. Let me see what other device syncs your files the same way as iCloud does between mobile devices (iOS) and PC/laptop (Mac). Productivity means doing stuff and iPhones are doing all the stuff a professional needs done by the phone, ALL the stuff.

39. ColinW

Posts: 412; Member since: Jun 04, 2014

iPhone Arena shows its bias once again. How can it be a disadvantage that you have to pay extra for Dex, a feature that is clearly not common, while having to pay extra for a fast charger, a now pretty much standard feature on phones of the level, is not? Same with the fingerprint reader, if it is an advantage on the iPhone, it is on other models here to not to mention others have choices of biometrics.

43. Omran2000

Posts: 101; Member since: Aug 18, 2016

The mate 10 pro deserves being on this list instead of iphone 8 plus

44. KingSam

Posts: 1425; Member since: Mar 13, 2016

Keyone, V30 and Note 8. End of list.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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