To me, 2023 seemed a bit old. Last year, I was excited about some mediocre players, but this time I couldn't find a special one. Even the premium category wasn't particularly impressive to me, which is why I chose only four phones for my first list.
One brand missing from my list is Samsung. Although I'm not a huge Samsung fan, I've always loved the S Ultra series, but the Galaxy S23 Ultra feels like the same thing to me. The same goes for the Galaxy Z Fold5, which is good but not exciting.
Xiaomi 13 Ultra
Let's start with my daily driver – the Xiaomi 13 Ultra. After using the Xiaomi 11 Ultra and 12S Ultra, the 13 Ultra feels more refined than its predecessors. Despite the somewhat strange design with all the slopes at the back, the 13 Ultra is for me the closest thing to a “no compromise” smartphone you can get in 2023.
The first things I look for in a phone are software and the latest MIUI builds are great. All three Ultras I've used provide an exceptionally smooth and fast experience from day one. It reminds me of my first few years of using OnePlus phones – a great experience from the beginning to the last day.
The second thing is the cameras and the Ultra certainly covers all the bases. For me, the ideal zoom combination is 3x + 5x or 3x + 6x and fortunately, the Ultra has added a very powerful 3.2x telephoto camera, giving me every reason to upgrade from the 12S Ultra.
There's no need to go through the spec sheet again because let's face it – the chipset, display, fingerprint reader, charging, battery etc are all more or less the same across all flagship phones. It's a great phone and I don't have much to complain about.
I've always been interested in premium small phones and would love to follow this rather niche segment in 2023. I think the vanilla Xiaomi 13 is the best small flagship smartphone this year by far.
Most of what I said about 13 Ultra applies to vanilla 13 as well. It has all the features and doesn't skip telephoto either, which is a rarity in compact phones. The Galaxy S23 is another exception to the rule.
For example, the Asus Zenfone 10 and Pixel 7 lack proper telephoto cameras.
There's something about carrying a small, powerful phone, especially one that's well designed. And the Xiaomi 13 certainly feels great in the hand.
Although I'm a long-time OnePlus fan, I haven't been wowed by a phone from the manufacturer in a long time, especially after executives decided to discontinue OxygenOS. The company also lost its competitiveness to some extent.
However, the OnePlus 11 looked a little different. I had the opportunity to review it and apart from the unimpressive 2x zoom camera, the phone turned out to be excellent in every respect.
This may be because smartphone prices have been on the rise throughout 2023 in general, but the truth is that the OnePlus 11 was a great deal even at launch. In fact, the camera performance is impressive and the hardware stands out as always.
Even the software seemed fast, feature-rich, and welcoming. We were disappointed to see many of the old OxygenOS features go, but as they say – you win some, you lose some.
I felt compelled to pick my favorite foldable phone this year because it's clearly the future we're headed towards. As I said earlier, 2023 looked old even in the foldable sector. However, the vivo X Fold2 stuck in my mind. The Xiaomi Mix Fold 3 also received an honorable mention for its exceptional design and powerful camera setup.
What I liked most about the Vivo phone is the design (I really appreciated the faux leather look), the almost crease-less inner display, the usable outer display (didn't feel like it was an afterthought) and probably the best feature a horizontally foldable smartphone can have is the dual fingerprint reader Ultrasound.
I personally don't like side-mounted fingerprint readers very much because they force you to use the phone with your right hand and it's difficult to unlock when it's on a desk, for example. The Vivo You can open the device any way you want, and the two scanners enhance the ease of use to some extent. I wonder why no other manufacturer does this with their foldable devices because it makes so much sense.
That's all I've got for this year and I hope we get some more exciting stuff in 2024. I'd like to see more mid-range phones with better cameras (I'm tired of dated 8MP ultra shooters) and newer chipsets that will make more sense in 2024 I'd like Also to see an important step forward in the foldable sector.
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