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Neither Apple nor Samsung made the most exciting phones I used in 2023

 OnePlus Open on a pedestal with home screen showing.
OnePlus Open on a pedestal with home screen showing.

It’s been a great year for smartphones, but you might have missed it if you only pay attention to the two biggest names. Sure, the iPhone 15 Pro is Apple’s most powerful iPhone ever, and the new titanium frame is very snazzy. And that Galaxy S23 Ultra is the best phone you can buy overall, with amazing cameras and more features than I’d ever need. Still, those phones were predictable upgrades. The real excitement came from Motorola and OnePlus.

I got to try all of the coolest phones this year, and the ones that blew me away were the Motorola Razr Plus and the OnePlus Open. Yes, foldable phones. I’m just as surprised as anybody. I’d been planning this story but still questioning my own judgement, until I saw my friend and colleague Michael Fisher (aka Captain 2 Phones, aka Mr. Mobile), who posted this on Threads:

Michael Fisher Threads post showing his favorite devices including a OnePlus Open and Motorola Razr Plus
Michael Fisher Threads post showing his favorite devices including a OnePlus Open and Motorola Razr Plus

Yup, Captain2Phones is carrying two folding phones; the two that impressed me the most this year. Why were these two so impressive, especially compared to staid flagship entries from Samsung and Apple? To start, one thing these phones have in common is great pricing.

The OnePlus Open costs $1,699 / £1,599, but in the US there is a trade in offer that gives you at least $200, no matter what phone you trade, so it’s effectively a $1,499 phone. In the UK, there’s no trade in deal, but OnePlus bundles fancy Pro earbuds and a nice charger, plus other offers. Samsung’s comparable Galaxy Z Fold 5 is $1,799.99 / £1,749 / AU$2,599, and the Google Pixel Fold is $1,799 / £1,749.

Motorola Razr Plus (2023)
Motorola Razr Plus (2023)

Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t recommend the Z Fold 5 or the Pixel Fold, not after using the OnePlus Open. The Samsung and Google Folds feel like a compromise. The proportions are wrong on both of them. They’re just weird, and considering these are the most expensive phones you can buy, they shouldn’t be weird. They should be amazing. The OnePlus Open is amazing.

The Motorola Razr Plus is $999.99 / £1,049.99 / AU$1,499, but it’s been on sale for as low as $699, and in fact it has spent more time on sale than it has at full price since it was launched earlier this year. Compare that to Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 5, which sells for $999.99 / £1,049 / AU$1,649. It’s dropped to $799 on sale, but it’s always more expensive than the Motorola Razr Plus.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 hands on cover display clock handheld 21:9
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 hands on cover display clock handheld 21:9

The Galaxy Z Flip 5 is actually a nice phone, but it can’t top the Moto Razr Plus. The Flip 5 is a cool foldable phone with good software and some nice features on the cover display. The Razr Plus, on the other hand, is so good that it creates a whole new category of device, with its incredibly versatile (and larger) cover screen that lets you run any app you dare. The design is much cooler, too, especially if you get the vegan leather magenta.

Setting new standards for foldable phones

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Galaxy Z Flip 5 are improvements over last year’s models, while the OnePlus Open and Motorola Razr Plus redefine my expectations for a foldable phone. I will no longer recommend a foldable phone if it doesn’t give me the same shape and feel as the OnePlus Open. I wouldn’t recommend a clamshell foldable that isn’t as versatile and cool as the Razr Plus.

These phones aren’t just the best in their class, they are genuinely cooler and more interesting than phones like the Galaxy S23 Ultra or the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max. I found myself holding onto both of these phones long after my review period ended, even though I own all of the above.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max REVIEW
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max REVIEW

So, why don’t these phones make the top of the best phones list if they’re so great? The problem is durability. Neither of these phones is water resistant enough. The Razr has a ‘splash-resistant’ coating. The OnePlus Open is IPX4 rated, which means it will survive a heavy rain, but not a drop in the bathtub.

The best Samsung phones are IPX8 rated, which means that they can literally go for a swim. You can use a Galaxy Z Flip 5 underwater in a pool. Even if you don’t care to swim with your phone, you’ll appreciate that durability if the phone takes an accidental dunk.

The OnePlus Open and the Motorola Razr Plus were the most exciting phones I saw this year, and I hope these phones, and the companies behind them, keep improving and offering new and exciting devices. Durability needs to be a key priority moving forward, because that exciting phone gets dull quickly if it stops working.

Motorola Razr Plus with iPhone 14 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4
Motorola Razr Plus with iPhone 14 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4

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