Multitaskers and people who enjoy playing the latest graphically intense games on their phones will need more horsepower than the rest of us. If that’s you, be mindful of the phone’s chipset and RAM. For high-performance situations like the ones we’ve mentioned, you’ll want the fastest-processing cores and the most RAM you can afford. If you’re considering an iPhone, getting the best performance means buying a device from the most recent hardware generation: They all share the same chipset (at the time of writing, it’s the A12 Bionic), though the new XS and XS Max pack a handful of features that the less expensive XR doesn’t.
As for Android phones, it’s relatively easy to figure out which devices have the level of performance you’re looking for — and it’s all thanks to Qualcomm’s near-monopoly on mobile chipsets. At the top of the heap is the company’s 800 series, which offers the best possible performance. For now, the Snapdragon 845 is the company’s flagship chipset, and it’s inside nearly every premium smartphone we’ve tested in 2018. If your budget precludes you from buying a flagship phone, Qualcomm’s simple numbering scheme is your friend: The upper midrange 600-series chipsets outperform the lower midrange 400-series chipsets, which are more powerful than low-end 200-series silicon.
In our experience, devices with 400-series processors perform adequately enough for people on tight budgets, but the 600-series chipsets tend to provide the best balance between price and performance; there’s enough power there to fuel most people’s routines without issue. There’s also a fairly new Snapdragon 700-series chipset, the 710, which seems tailor-made to provide near-flagship performance for people who don’t want to spend $1,000 on a phone. That said, we haven’t yet come across any phones that use it.