Whether it be from Samsung, Google, HTC or Nokia, you're bound to find an Android smartphone to suit your needs.
Fast Android phone facts
- The Android operating system is open-source software, which means that any smartphone manufacturer is free to use and modify it as they see fit.
- While Google is responsible for the core Android operating system, most smartphone manufacturers customise it with their own tweaks and proprietary software.
Google has expanded dramatically on Android's feature set over the years, introducing functionality that would go on to inform the design of both competing mobile operating systems and even full-blown desktop software. By this point, there are far too many features to break down one-by-one, but below you'll find some of the core features that have come to define the Android experience:
Voice commands have played a prominent role in the Android operating system since its inception. Originally, voice functionality was limited to performing a simple Google search, but it quickly expanded to support commands for calling, texting and querying directions. With the arrival of Google Assistant, voice capabilities grew even further to allow for natural-language questions, calendar management, online ordering and much more.
Unlike iOS, Android has long allowed apps to continue running even after you've switched away from them. This feature more closely mimics the operation of a standard computer, enabling you to watch a video and take notes at the same time, or continue playing a game while a stream buffers in the background. Support for multi-tasking also allows different apps to communicate with each other in real-time, which is how tools like custom keyboards and gesture shortcuts function.
The ability to dig in and customise nearly every aspect of the operating system is both one of Android's greatest strengths and also one of its biggest deterrents. Having the means to edit and replace core system software and configure everything from app icons to boot logos can be empowering, but at the same time, it can be both daunting and dangerous. Downloading the wrong app could permanently damage your phone or even steal your personal data, so it pays to be extra vigilant when messing with Android's deeper customisation options.
Running out of internal storage is rarely an issue with an Android phone since the operating system supports a wide range of external storage solutions out of the box. Most Android phones feature a microSD card slot, for instance, and many modern handsets support cards of up to 2TB in size. USB flash drives and external hard drives formatted using the FAT32 standard can also be connected via a USB-OTG cable, and even NTFS or other file formats are fair game if you download the necessary third-party drivers.
Google Play app store
Home to over 3.3 million apps (as per Statista), the Google Play app store builds upon the open framework of the Android operating system to provide users with an enormous variety of tools and experiences. From video games to accounting software to professional image-editing suites, most tasks traditionally carried out on a computer are viable on Android with the right app.
Support for external devices
Whether through Bluetooth or over USB, Android supports an extensive array of third-party accessories and devices. These range from basic input devices like wireless mice and keyboards to portable battery packs, video game controllers and external monitors.
With the first commercial release of Android launching alongside the HTC Dream back in 2008, Google has had a whole lot of time to iterate and expand upon every facet of the Android operating system. As of 2018, the latest commercial version of Android is 9.0, codenamed "Pie" as per Google's sweet-tooth naming convention.
While Android saw plenty of changes from version 1.0 through version 4.0, you're unlikely to find a smartphone for sale running anything earlier than Android 5.0 these days. As such, let's take a look at how Android has evolved from version 5.0 up to version 9.0:
Released in November 2014, Android 5.0 redesigned the Android interface using an approach Google called "Material design", which employed lighting and shadows to better organise content on screen. Android 5.0 also saw a significant revamp of notifications, which became accessible from the lock screen as well as in apps through top-of-the-screen banners.
With Android 6.0, Google aimed to improve usability by introducing the "Now On Tap" feature. By holding down the Home button at any time, Android scans the current screen and suggests actions and links it believes helpful to your current situation.
Security was another big concern for Google with Android 6.0. Apps now had to get your approval to access personal data and features like the camera or microphone, and you could adjust these at any time on a per-app basis.
Battery life received plenty of attention in Android 6.0, too. The new Doze feature automatically slowed CPU speed when the screen was dark, while the App Standby feature prevented apps you rarely or never used from chewing through battery in the background.
Multi-tasking took centrestage with the release of Android 7.0. Drawing from the desktop world, Google added the ability to run apps in windowed mode and display them side-by-side for simultaneous operation. This could be used to watch a movie while googling information on its stars or to compare products from different retail websites at the same time.
Higher-end Android smartphones scored a boost to gaming performance with Android 7.0 thanks to the integration of AMD's Vulkan API. On supported handsets, this provides games with lower-level access to graphics hardware for potential increases in both performance and visual fidelity. Select Android phones also enjoyed enhanced virtual reality support via Google Daydream, Google's own VR platform designed to work in conjunction with the Google Daydream View headset.
Settings and notifications received another revamp in Android 7.0. Along with customisable quick settings accessible by swiping down from the top of the screen, notifications introduced the ability to reply to messages instantly without having to open any apps.
At the nuts-and-bolts level, Android 7.0 added a new Data Saver mode for limiting how much bandwidth your phone uses. More customisation options for text and icon sizes were introduced as well as multi-language support for the stock keyboard.
Android 8.0 focused primarily on behind-the-scenes improvements to the core operating system. Boot speed saw an increase of up to 2x on certain handsets, while Google doubled down on curbing the power and data usage of apps running in the background.
Taking cues from its Chrome web browser, Google added an auto-fill feature to Android 8.0 that can remember your log-in details for apps and websites and automatically sign you in. Android 8.0 also offers suggested actions when you select text on the screen such as shortcuts for calling highlighted phone numbers and looking up highlighted addresses in Google Maps.
Expanding upon the multi-window feature of its predecessor, Android 8.0 added support for a picture-in-picture mode that lets you keep compatible apps running in a small window while you continue doing other things on your phone.
To speed up access to apps, Android 8.0 introduced the concept of Instant Apps that can be launched directly from a web browser with no need to download or install anything first. This was accompanied by the rollout of Google Play Protect, a built-in security suite that scans not just installed apps but all apps on the Google Play app store to weed out malware and other potential threats.
Each iteration of Android typically focuses on pushing the envelope with new features and expanded functionality. This is fine for your top-of-the-line, powerhouse smartphones, but all that added complexity can often prove too much for handsets at the budget end of the pricing spectrum. To combat this, Google released a custom version of Android 8.0 called Android Oreo Go that incorporates a number of performance tricks to deliver a smooth experience on less-powerful hardware.
The core of Android Oreo Go lies in its redesigned apps. Go-specific apps take up less space and require less resources to run than their regular counterparts, plus they feature streamlined interfaces to help you complete tasks faster. It's worth noting that these benefits only apply to apps built specifically for Android Oreo Go, of which there are currently relatively few. You can still use standard Android apps on Android Oreo Go, but they won't enjoy the same performance improvements and may run poorly or refuse to work at all.
For Android 9.0, Google leveraged elements of machine learning to create an operating system that adjusts itself based on how you use it. A new adaptive battery feature shifts power away from infrequently-used apps and services to increase battery life, while a smarter adaptive brightness setting recognises your preferred settings at different times of the day and adjusts them accordingly.
Android 9.0 also makes predictions about which apps and tasks are most relevant to you based on your typical behaviour. When browsing your app library, you'll see suggestions tailored to current conditions: in the morning, Android 9.0 might automatically suggest a Google Maps route to work; when you plug in a set of headphones, it might recommend continuing the playlist you were last listening to.
Working in concert with app suggestions are Slices. These are bite-sized snippets of information from apps like Uber and Google Maps that appear in your phone's search results, providing key details without needing to open up the app. For example, a Google Maps Slice could provide local traffic conditions, while an Uber Slice could show the time and price of a ride from your current location to your home.
Interacting with Android 9.0 differs from previous Android iterations thanks to the integration of gesture controls. By swiping up on the new virtual Home button, you can quickly switch between running apps, go straight to your home screen and call upon Google Assistant.
One of the meatiest additions to Android 9.0 is the suite of 'Digital Wellbeing' tools designed to help you better manage the time you spend on your phone. A new dashboard highlights which apps command most of your attention as well as how many notifications you receive throughout the day. You can then use this information to set daily usage limits for different apps to remind you when you're spending too much time trawling Twitter or watching Netflix.
Android phones come in all shapes and sizes, from premium-priced flagship handsets to more budget-friendly options. Despite the fact that they all share the same core operating system, they can differ dramatically in their capabilities depending on the hardware and design features a particular smartphone manufacturer chooses to include. This can make comparing Android phones a long and arduous process.
To help reduce the stress involved, we've summarised the most important factors to consider below. Keep these in mind when comparing Android phones to ensure the handset you pick is truly the right one for you.
Which Android phone is best?
As you may have guessed from the numerous considerations listed above, pinning down a single "best" Android phone isn't really feasible. Personal taste, practical needs, budget and many other factors specific to your situation influence which phone would provide you with the best value for your money. Singling out a particular phone as the unequivocal "best" would be misleading since it implies everybody wants the same thing out of their smartphone.
That said, we here at finder believe the years we've spent reviewing smartphones have given us enough perspective to recommend handsets suitable for the average Australian. We don't expect these recommendations to apply to everyone, but we do feel that our reasoning provides you with enough information to determine whether they're right for you.
Samsung Galaxy S9+
The complete package
Between its capable camera, its top-tier performance and its impressive battery life, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ truly delivers a premium experience.
Samsung's Galaxy S handsets have long stood alongside Apple's iPhones as the go-to choice for flagship smartphones. The Samsung Galaxy S9+ is a shining example of why this is the case. There's the vivid Infinity Edge display that maximises screen space while minimising the bezel; there's the high-quality cameras that support facial recognition and slow-motion video; and there's the snappy performance second only to Apple's latest iPhones. Combined with formidable battery life that leaves the iPhone 8 and iPhone X in the dust, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ easily stands out as the cream of the crop for Android smartphones.
Best Android phone for photography
Huawei P20 Pro
The Huawei P20 Pro is not only the best camera phone on the market, it is a solid premium smartphone with plenty of power at a competitive price point.
As the current champion of DxOMark's industry-standard smartphone camera leaderboard, the Huawei P20 Pro is the clear choice for photography buffs wanting a phone capable of substituting for a high-quality dedicated digital camera. Along with an impressive 40MP f/1.8 sensor for standard photos and a 3x 8MP f/2.4 zoom lens for distance shots, the P20 Pro features an intuitive camera app that can automatically adjust image settings to best capture a scene without any need for user input. Photography pros can of course turn this off and tweak individual settings to their liking.
For a more thorough assessment of the P20 Pro's camera chops, read our full review of the Huawei P20 Pro here.
Best Android phone under $300
Motorola Moto E5
Brilliant battery life on a budget
It may not be the most powerful handset on the market, but the Motorola Moto E5 delivers plenty of bang for your buck.
You have to be ready for compromise when purchasing a budget smartphone. Motorola typically handles this compromise well, paring back performance and features while still delivering solid value. The Motorola Moto E5 is a prime example of this. While its general app performance is pretty ordinary and its camera won't do much to further the career of aspiring photographers, it more than makes up for this with some of the best battery life we've ever seen in a smartphone. This makes it an excellent choice for those who don't want to deal with dead batteries or recharging their phone in the middle of the day. Add to that an affordable price tag of just over $200, and the Motorola Moto E5 represents top value for budget-conscious phone buyers.
For many Aussies, a smartphone is one of the most expensive pieces of technology they own. The latest and greatest handsets regularly fetch well over $1,000 at launch, and they continue to cost many hundreds of dollars even years after their successors hit the market.
Paying this steep sticker price upfront isn't a viable option for a lot of people, which is why many choose instead to purchase a phone on contract through a local Australian mobile provider. While spreading the cost of a phone out over a year or more is handy, finding a suitable phone plan from the thousands on offer can be tough. To help with that, you can use the table below to compare contract plans for the latest Android smartphones. We've populated the table with plans for some of the most popular Android handsets, but you can simply select "Filter results" to tweak the results to suit your needs.
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