With 2023 coming to an end, it’s time to reflect on what phones stood out. I like compact, premium devices and I’m certainly not a power user, an experienced photographer, or a heavy mobile gamer. The thing is, compact phones are hard to come by these days but Apple, Samsung and Google did offer one each. And while foldables are not intrinsically compact, Oppo and Samsung offered two great options that deserved a spot in my top 5.
iPhone 15 Pro
The iPhone 15 Pro series represents a monumental shift in Apple history. It’s not just because of the USB-C port on the bottom, though that is one welcome change for Apple users. My biggest design gripes with the last two iPhone Pro models was their weight attributed to the stainless-steel frame. That was addressed with the 15 Pro generation which is 20 grams lighter than their predecessors and offers the new Titanium frames which don’t show wear and tear as easily as the shiny stainless-steel ones on their predecessors.
My pick is the smaller 15 Pro due to its size and minor tradeoffs compared to the 15 Pro Max. It’s got a class-leading ProMotion display with excellent brightness and color reproduction. There’s performance to spare for years thanks to the 3nm Apple A17 Pro chip and iOS is still an “it just works” experience. Battery life leaves something to be desired but, it’s sufficient for daily use. Add in the iOS exclusives like AirDrop, FaceTime, and iMessage alongside the excellent software support and you’ve got a phone with no major flaws.
Google Pixel 8
The Pixel 8 and 8 Pro are Google’s most competitive flagships in years and while the 8 Pro features more capable cameras, it’s the vanilla model that captured my attention. It’s got an ergonomic back design which makes the phone pleasant to hold without digging into your palm and the visor is the most unique-looking camera design choice on any smartphone and a defining part of the Pixel look.
The brighter 120Hz OLED screen is a fantastic addition over the Pixel 7 and the smaller 6.2-inch footprint combined with the slimmed-down bezels make it one of the best compact phone screens on the market. The Pixel camera experience is still top tier and the bevy of AI features make it one of the most fun ones to experiment with. Factor in the regular discounts and the Pixel 8 represents one of the best values in the world of Android flagships.
Samsung Galaxy S23
Galaxy S23 may not excel at any specific point but it’s a well-rounded compact premium phone which gets my vote. Battery life improved noticeably over the S22 and so did performance with the Snapdragon 8 Gen finally making its way to all markets. OneUI is arguably the most feature-rich Android UIs and Samsung’s focus on providing timely software updates has made the flagship S-series easy to recommend for those who want to keep their phone for at least three years.
Samsung DeX is another top-notch feature that’s still exclusive to flagship Galaxy phones and the trio of cameras on the back cover all shooting scenarios though, it might be time for Samsung to update those aging sensors. If you want a compact flagship with premium design, great software and top-notch hardware then the S23 is an easy recommendation.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip5
If slab phones don’t excite you anymore then foldables are worth considering and the Z Flip5 is one of the best compact devices in its segment. Samsung refined the Z Flip5’s design with an improved hinge mechanism that now folds flat, offering a little bit more peace of mind. The big update this year is the 3.4-inch cover screen which adds a whole new dimension of interacting with the device so you don’t need to unfold for basic tasks.
And that’s the key thing with flip foldables, they don’t take that much space in your pocket yet you have instant access to a large screen with a swift unfold. Z Fold 5’s 6.7-inch AMOLED is great for media consumption and its tall aspect ratio fits more vertical information in social media apps. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 at the helm can hold its own against the very best chips out there and brought improved battery endurance compared to the Flip4. The dual 12MP cameras get the job done and offer added versatility when you prop the phone as a tripod but the sensors could certainly use an update which will hopefully come with the Flip6.
Oppo Find N3/OnePlus Open
The Oppo Find N3 or OnePlus Open as it’s known in some parts of the world is my favorite book-style foldable from 2023. It offers the ideal blend of power, polished software and top-notch cameras with a touch of Hasselblad tuning.
The aspect ratios on both the cover and main screens make the Oppo and OnePlus foldables more enjoyable to use than some of their direct competitors. Both devices also share great build quality and clean and understated designs. The three-position mute switch, camera tripod mode, dependable battery life and feature-rich software experience make the Find N3/OnePlus Open a worthy consideration in the foldable space.