PhoneArena 2023 Awards: These are the best phones of the year

PhoneArena 2023 Phone of the Year awards
As the weather gets colder and the days grow shorter, you know the year is drawing to a close, but that also means that it's time for us to look back and summarize.

What was new and what was exciting in 2023? And what exactly were the very best products we saw?

That's what we want to tell you about in our PhoneArena 2023 Phone of the Year awards and this year our team has voted across a number of categories to show you which devices excel where.

The results you will see below come from the PhoneArena team as a whole after a democratic vote, but even if we name just one winner per category, in some of those categories the battle was incredibly contested, so we will mention a few runner-ups as well.

So with no further ado, these are the winners of our PhoneArena 2023 Phone of the Year awards!

PhoneArena Awards 2023 — Best Innovation

Super Bright Displays

This category rewards a particular innovative feature and the company that created it, if there was one.

In 2023, the PhoneArena team vote goes to Super Bright Displays in general. Thanks to advancements in screen technology, most flagship phones this year got much brighter screens, and while there might be flashier new features, this is the one that we think makes the biggest difference in daily use and the one that ultimately matters the most.

Flagship phone screens now often claim max brightness levels of 2,000 nits and above, which means that you no longer have to squint your eyes or seek the shade when you use your phone out on a sunny day.

However, we also ought to mention one other contender that was competing for this award and which also received many of our votes:

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PhoneArena Awards 2023 — Best Design

Nothing Phone (2)

Last year's Nothing Phone (1) shocked us with its innovative and cool design, and the more refined Nothing Phone (2) also wins this year's design competition.

The Glyph interface on the Nothing Phone (2) is evolved and more functional, but it still looks just as showy and cool, and it seems that no other company is ready to do something a bit different in the design space, so most other phones just look... well, incredibly similar!

The exposed internals of the Nothing Phone (2), the transparent back, the cool new gray color, the slight curves on the back that make it more comfortable to hold are all very welcome improvements. And best of all, the Nothing Phone (2) is actually available in the US, unlike the first generation phone which was sold in limited markets in its first few months of availability. 

As for the rest of the design trends, it was mostly the same old for most companies. Apple did something different by using titanium instead of stainless steel, which makes the iPhone 15 Pro series lighter, but to be honest, the new iPhones are not uch lighter than aluminum Android phones, plus the new iPhone had more toned down colors that many people criticized for being too bland. And as for other Android makers like Samsung and Google, they bet on the same old design trends as in previous years.

PhoneArena Awards 2023 — Best Aging Phone

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Which 2022 phone aged best in 2023? That is the question we asked for this category, and the winner is... Samsung's Galaxy S22 Ultra.

The new Galaxy S23 Ultra sure is a bit faster thanks to a new chip, but the Galaxy S22 Ultra looks incredibly similar to it, there is practically no difference in the S Pen functionality, the cameras are also quite similar with an incredibly similar quad camera system which includes the same 10X native zoom. And the Galaxy S22 Ultra actually weighs less too. And with lower prices, the Galaxy S22 Ultra offers excellent value.

The one close runner-up in this category was Apple's iPhone 14 Pro Max, especially considering how there have been some great deals for that phone too.

PhoneArena Awards 2023 — Best Gaming Phone

Asus ROG Phone 7 series

When it comes to gaming phones, you need something special: more buttons, larger screen, big battery, overheating protection and some gaming tools too.

The phone that checks all those boxes and wins our 2023 Best Gaming Phone award is the Asus ROG Phone 7 series. 

With customizable action buttons on the frame of the phone and top tier hardware, you have what you need for great gaming. Add best in class cooling to the extent that the ROG Phone 7 practically doesn’t throttle during the 3DMark Wildlife Extreme stress test, and the AeroActive Cooler accessory, plus class-leading speakers, and you understand the value of this phone for gamers.

Camera is also pretty good, considering this is a gaming-centric phone, and you have battery optimizations to preserve long-term battery health as well.

PhoneArena Awards 2023 — Best Value for money

Google Pixel 7a

Google continues making the best budget phones and we are not surprised that it wins this category for one more year.

The Pixel 7a stands out with affordable price, but also with great camera quality and performance way above its peers thanks to the Google-made Tensor G2 chip. And the company has even addressed the biggest issue of the A series lineup by adding fast, 90Hz refresh rate on this model.

You could criticize the Pixel 7a for its bigger bezels, but there is not much else you can bring against this brilliant phone and it's no surprise that it won this category by a landslide.

In other news, it's slightly disappointing that Google bumped the price of the regular Pixel 8 up by $100, so it now starts at $700 and is not quite as great a deal as before. In any case, remember that these phones are also often discounted so you can get them at an even lower price.

PhoneArena Awards 2023 — Best Small Phone

Apple iPhone 15

The definition for a "small" phone has changed in the past few years, and while Apple tried to make a truly mini phone a couple of years ago with the iPhone 13 mini, that effort did not have commercial success. Last year, Asus tried to redefine the space with the Zenfone 9, but this year there were too few changes to the new Zenfone 10 model, while one phone received big updates and enough clout to replace last year's winner.

So the small phone of the year award this year goes to the Apple iPhone 15.

At 6.1 inches, this phone fits our new definition of "small", and it has a fast processor, solid battery life, and a big upgrade to the camera system now with better zoom, portrait mode at 2X and cool features like adding a portrait effect to regular photos of people and pets.

The Asus Zenfone 10 ranks second not too far behind, if you prefer an Android phone, but it could not win the top spot this year.

PhoneArena Awards 2023 — Best Flip Phone

Motorola Razr Plus (2023)

Flip phones have made a comeback in the past few years, but we basically had only one option in town: the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip series.

This year, there were a few, and one actually wins this year's best flip phone award: the Motorola Razr Plus (or Motorola Razr 40 Ultra as it is called in the UK and Europe).

This phone was the first to come with a full-sized cover screen which allowed you to do everything: view maps, watch YouTube videos, browse the web, pay, all without ever opening the phone.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 is still a great option, but it arrived a bit later and its outer screen was not quite as impressive, it was smaller and some features were restricted.

To be frank, it was a hot contest between these two, but the Motorla Razr Plus ultimately won the vote and ball is now in Samsung's court to show us if it can regain the crown next year.

PhoneArena Awards 2023 — Best Big Foldable Phone

OnePlus Open

You know you have a kind of a tough year when other phones win the category that you started.

After basically introducing foldable phones to the market, Samsung lost the first place in this category not just in the flip series, but also for big foldables.

The new winner is the OnePlus Open. This ambitious device does two things right: it has a more sensible ratio so its front screen is wider and more usable, and it includes a flagship grade camera system in a foldable phone, all things the current Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 does not do.

But what really impressed us about the OnePlus Open is the innovative Canvas multitasking design that makes switching between apps so much easier than on any other foldable phone. The concept is simple: when you multitask, the main app does not take up all of the screen space but leaves just a bit for other windows to be visible, so you can easily tap them to bring them up as your main app. This makes multitasking with two or even three apps a breeze, and the only thing that is missing right now is full support from all of the applications.

PhoneArena Awards 2023 — Best Smartphone

iPhone 15 Pro Max

Finally, we have the big, all encompassing smartphone of the year award. This is the ultimate award, the do-it-everything phone, the best out there.

And this year it goes to the... drumroll... iPhone 15 Pro Max.

This new iPhone still has a big screen, but it is much lighter and with thinner bezels, and the overall size is smaller. The new 5X tetra-prism camera might be first-gen technology, but it feels very refined and impresses with video stabilization and some incredible portrait shooting capability. Battery life remains among the best (if not the best) on a smartphone. And oh yes, it finally uses USB-C for charging!

Apple also continues working on iOS and refining the interface, and it certainly helps that the company also makes A. the most popular smartwatch by far, B. the most popular wireless buds and C. the most widely used laptops, and it all ties together in this one ecosystem.

And unlike many other brands, the iPhone 15 Pro series come in a large and a smaller size. 

Apple continues to lead the industry when it comes to performance and speed, it has arguably the most user-friendly and snappy camera, it has the battery life, and unlike many others, it offers its flagship in both a large size and a smaller size. Sure, it lacks quite a few exciting new features: it is a bit slow to charge, it doesn't have a periscope zoom camera, it doesn't have an S Pen, it's quite pricey (especially outside the US), but it remains the dominant force in the industry and gets the win in this category.

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