2023 was a bit of a surprise. If you had asked me at the beginning of the year for this list, I wouldn’t have included most of them, even if I knew they were coming. One, in particular, caught me completely by surprise and every time I mention it to people I have to emphasize just how serious I am about liking this device, lest they think I’m joking.
The four devices listed below were the ones that naturally came to mind while writing this down. I could have included one more for the sake of a more pleasing top 5 list but everything else I used this year had at least one annoying quirk that prevented them from being here. Then there’s also some stuff I never got to use.
So with that said, here’s the list of my top phones of 2023 that I used this year, in a very specific order.
4. Google Pixel 7a
After years of using Pixel phones, I have come to the sobering conclusion that Google isn’t very good at making flagship phones. The recent Pixel 8 phones are no different and if this was my worst of 2023 list they’d definitely be in here.
Google Pixel 7a
But what Google is exceedingly good at is making mid-range phones. The company already proved this in the past with the Nexus series and continues to do so with the A-series Pixel phones.
This year’s Pixel 7a was quite the gem of a phone. The compact design made it a joy to use, the performance from the otherwise anemic Tensor chip was perfectly adequate for the price, and the cameras remain some of the best on the market. Add to that the clean Android experience and the suite of Pixel exclusive features and it was an easy recommendation, especially for first-time buyers.
The Pixel 7a underlined the fact that smartphones need not be complicated to be good and there is something special about a device that does few things but does them well. It reminded me of the heydays of the Nexus series and how good Google can be when it simply focuses on making good phones rather than posturing alongside the iPhones and Galaxies of the world.
3. OnePlus Open
When foldables first launched in 2019, they set out to answer one question, ‘What if you combined a mediocre tablet and a substandard smartphone into one overpriced device?’. Since then, we have seen different iterations of more or less the same formula where the inside screen isn’t worth using most of the time and the outer screen is worse than any regular smartphone.
The OnePlus Open is the first foldable that understands the importance of being a good smartphone first and a tablet second. It understands that people spend more time on the outer screen and it needs to be as good as any non-foldable flagship smartphone. It’s not a foldable that closes into a mediocre phone, it’s a really good phone that opens into a foldable. And that makes all the difference.
2. Apple iPhone 15 Pro
Picking an iPhone for the best of the year list reminds me of the time when the Mercedes Benz S-Class would get picked year after year as the best car in the world. ‘Oh, one of the fanciest, most expensive things is also the best? Who would’ve known?’ Not everyone agreed and most had their favorite that was better at one thing or the other. But the S-Class didn’t win because it was good at any one specific thing. It won because it was good at everything.
Apple iPhone 15 Pro
The iPhone 15 Pro isn’t the absolute best on this list but that’s mostly because I found something a bit more interesting. But objectively speaking, this is the best phone I used all year. It does everything and it is the best at nearly all of it. You could say that’s boring but it requires a superhuman level of skill to achieve it. To do that year after year is no easy task and no one else does it.
You may scoff at that, just as people did when they named the S-Class the best car in the world. One could argue there is no such thing as the best phone but if there has to be, this is it.
1. Nothing Phone (2)
No one saw this coming. Carl Pei himself couldn’t have predicted this. But the Nothing Phone (2) was my favorite phone I used all year.
Nothing Phone (2)
At first, I thought it would be difficult to explain why but it’s actually not. It’s the phone I enjoyed using the most. The combination of clean software with just the right amount of customizability, a sublime UI performance that puts the 2x more expensive Pixel 8 Pro to shame, a nice screen, and that unique design pressed all the right buttons for me. I used this phone for months and I only switched because I missed having a proper telephoto camera.
But in those months I had what was arguably the best Android phone. A lot of phones are destructive with their customization of the Android OS or tuck it away somewhere like it’s something to be ashamed of. Nothing’s software celebrates the core design of its Android OS with only minor, tasteful customizations. It reminded me of the good ol’ days of early OxygenOS and how good Android can be when handled with care and reverence to the OS and the user. More importantly, it was just a damn good phone and one I felt I could rely upon everyday.
If they take this phone and add a good telephoto camera to it, next year’s list is going to be just one item long.