For me, 2023 felt a bit stale. Last year I even got excited about some of midrangers, but this time around I couldn’t find one that stands out. Even the premium segment wasn’t particularly impressive to me, so that’s why I picked only four phones for my top list.
One brand that’s missing from my list is Samsung. Even though I’m not a huge Samsung fan, I’ve always liked the S Ultra series, but the Galaxy S23 Ultra just feels like more of the same to me. The same goes for the Galaxy Z Fold5 – it’s good, but unexciting.
Xiaomi 13 Ultra
Let’s start with my daily driver – the Xiaomi 13 Ultra. After using the Xiaomi 11 Ultra and the 12S Ultra, the 13 Ultra feels much more refined than its predecessors. Despite the rather weird design with all the slopes on the back, the 13 Ultra for me is the closest to a “zero compromise” smartphone you can get in 2023.
The first things I look for in a phone is the software and the latest installments of MIUI are great. All three Ultras I’ve used provide exceptionally smooth and snappy experience from day one. Reminds me of my first few years using OnePlus phones – fluent experience from start until the last day.
The second thing is cameras and the Ultra sure does cover all bases. For me, the perfect telephoto combo is 3x + 5x or 3x + 6x and luckily enough, the Ultra added a very potent 3.2x telephoto camera, giving me every reason to upgrade from the 12S Ultra.
It’s needless to go through the specs sheet once again because let’s face it – the chipset, display, fingerprint reader, charging, battery, etc. are all somewhat similar across all flagship phones. It’s a great phone with little to complain about.
I’ve always had a thing for small premium phones and I like to keep track of this rather niche segment in 2023. And I believe that the vanilla Xiaomi 13 is by far the best small flagship smartphone this year.
Most of what I said about the 13 Ultra applies to the vanilla 13 as well. It has all the bells and whistles and doesn’t skip on the telephoto as well, which is a rare find in compact phones. The Galaxy S23 is another exception to the rule.
The Asus Zenfone 10 and the Pixel 7, for example, both lack proper telephoto cameras.
There’s something about holding a small and powerful phone, especially if it’s well-built. And the Xiaomi 13 sure feels great in the hand.
Although a long-time fan of OnePlus, I haven’t been impressed by a phone from the maker in quite a while, especially after executives decided to kill OxygenOS. The company also lost its competitive edge in a sense.
However, the OnePlus 11 felt somewhat different. I had the chance to review it and aside from the unimpressive 2x zoom camera, the handset turned out to be an excellent all-rounder.
It could be due to the rising smartphone prices throughout 2023 in general, but the fact is OnePlus 11 was a great deal even at launch. In fact, the camera performance is impressive and the hardware is flagship-worthy as always.
Even the software felt snappy, feature-rich and welcoming. We were disappointed to see many of the older OxygenOS features go, but as they say – you win some, you lose some.
vivo X Fold2
I felt compelled to pick the best foldable for me this year as it’s clearly the future we are heading toward. As I said earlier, 2023 felt stale even in the foldable segment. However, the vivo X Fold2 stuck with me. The Xiaomi Mix Fold 3 gets an honorable mention as well due to its exceptional design and potent camera setup.
What I liked about the vivo the most was the design (I really appreciate faux leather backs), the almost crease-less inner screen, the usable outer screen (it didn’t feel like an afterthought) and perhaps the best feature to have on a horizontally-folding smartphone is the dual ultrasonic fingerprint reader.
I personally very much dislike side-mounted fingerprint readers as they force you to use the phone with your right hand and it’s tough to unlock when it’s placed on the desk, for example. The vivo X Fold2 fixes all these issues with two fingerprint readers – one on the cover screen and one on the main folding screen. You can unlock the device whichever way you like and the two scanners boost ease of use quite a bit. I wonder why no other manufacturer is doing this with its foldables as it makes so much sense.
That’s all from me this year and I hope we get some more exciting stuff in 2024. I’d like to see more midrangers with better cameras (I’m sick of the dated 8MP ultrawide shooters) and newer chipsets that make more sense in 2024. I would also like to see a significant step forward in the foldable segment.
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