My top 5 phones of 2023 – Ivan

Hello, I’m Ivan and I take the majority of the lifestyle images on GSMArena dot com. You could say I like the phones with the best cameras the most, though it’s more complicated than that.

The wide-angle cameras on most phones are great these days and they take mostly the same-looking photos. It’s the zooms that I like most – they give me the creative freedom to snap interesting shots with unique perspectives. So, in reverse order, here are my top 5 phones of the year.

Nothing Phone (2)

Wait a minute, the Nothing Phone (2) doesn’t even have a telephoto camera, what’s up with that? Yes, the Nothing Phone (2) isn’t the phone I carry nor is it a phone I would, but it’s unique, it’s flawlessly smooth, and it’s plain fun to use. It’s also one of the best phones you can buy if you’re looking for a reliable and thoughtful device that’s also reasonably priced. It’s an easy recommendation when someone on a budget asks me what phone to get.

My top 5 phones of 2023 - Ivan

OnePlus 12

The OnePlus 12 might just be the least settling phone ever made. Its specs sheet reads like a best of the best – 6.82-inch 1440p display with 120Hz and 4,500 nits, a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, up to 24GB of RAM, a 5,400mAh battery with 100W wired and 50W wireless charging, IP68 waterproofing – top tier stuff.

But what I’m more impressed by is the camera system, which we already tested on the OnePlus Open – it’s a selection of quality sensors with great lenses in front. The zoom is especially impressive for me – 70mm is one of my favorite focal lengths and it’s paired with a f/2.6 lens with near-macro focusing abilities and a big half-inch sensor – sign me up!

My top 5 phones of 2023 - Ivan

vivo X100 Pro

The vivo X100 Pro is pure smartphone excellence. It inherits the 1-inch type sensor from the X90 Pro, which I absolutely loved when I compared it to the 200MP S23 Ultra and the rest of the 1-inchers, but adds a unique 100mm telephoto that might just be the best zoom in a phone today. It uses the same OV64B sensor that sits behind the zoom on the OnePlus 12 (OnePlus Open, Oppo Find N3) but it’s cropped down to a 50MP portion of its original 64MP and mated to a unique Zeiss-approved periscope with floating elements. Why are those important? Because they allow for an 18cm close focusing distance – true macro from a long lens – amazing stuff.

My top 5 phones of 2023 - Ivan

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

I’ve ended every year with the current Galaxy S Ultra phone since the Galaxy S20 Ultra was around but in 2023 the Galaxy S23 Ultra would have to settle for second place in my pocket. I’ve used the Galaxy S23 Ultra since it launched in February and have enjoyed it since. I’ve grown to love the S Pen and it’s become an integral part of my memories – taking long-distance selfies with my friends at our annual end-of-summer trip is now an S Pen tradition. The display is amazing, One UI is easy to use and reliable, and Samsung has been excellent with software support.

I’ve taken 99% of my personal photos with it since February and can say that its 10x zoom camera, while not the best in technical terms, is unique and I hope Samsung finds a way to keep it in the S24 Ultra – possibly by stretching a superior 5x unit to 10x. But as I said, 70mm is one of my favorite focal lengths and at that level, Samsung’s 3x is inferior to most flagships that have one – the Xiaomi 13 Pro, the Xiaomi 13 Ultra, and…

My top 5 phones of 2023 - Ivan

Oppo Find N3

The Oppo Find N3 (and its global doppelganger the OnePlus Open) has the best 70mm (3x) camera on any phone at the moment and is the phone that is in my pocket as I close out 2023.

The entire Hasselblad camera system of the Oppo Find N3 is top-notch – capable hardware and meaningful software combine to take the Find N3 a level above all other foldables and most other phones. But I consciously chose the Oppo Find N3 over the OnePlus Open for two reasons – the Gold model is the most beautiful phone I’ve photographed in 2023 – and for whatever reason, the Oppo lets me use the 3x in the dark, while the OnePlus defaulted to its main camera and digital zoom. Same hardware, and supposedly the same software, yet the Oppo is perfectly happy to shoot with its native 3x, while the Open used it only in the brightest of low light.

My top 5 phones of 2023 - Ivan

2023 was the year that normalized great camera systems on foldables and it brought us closer to a future where all flagships have uncompromising cameras – it’s inevitable, it may even come in 2024 – here’s hoping. Happy Holidays, everyone!

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